During the latter half of October 2009, it rained quite a bit in Maryland. Hence, I set my eyes on doing some fresh water small river/creek paddling.
Lisa was nice enough to loan me her Prijon Catalina. Up until now, Norma had gone all year without paddling a solo boat. She had only been in my tandem Ocean Kayak Cabo with me. Lately, she had been wanting to test her skills and work her kayaking muscles. I felt that putting her in the Catalina would be a good opportunity for her. Not only was it a solo boat but it was also a cockpit boat (not a sit-on-top). Norma had never been in a cockpit boat. This was a good chance for her to learn.
Since this was a new experience for Norma, I thought it best to take her on something I knew was both easy and scenic. I picked the good ole reliable Monocacy River.
The Monocacy River, designated a state Scenic River in 1974, commemorates the natural and cultural heritage of central Maryland from the days of American Indian and European villages to today's rural and urban communities. The river collects the waters of 1700 tributaries and streams as it meanders 58 miles through Frederick Valley between the Catoctin Mountains and Parrs Ridge. As the state's largest tributary to the Potomac River, the Monoacy eventually feeds into - and reflects the health of - the Chesapeake Bay.
- from sign at Pinecliff Park
The last time I paddled the Monocacy River was on September 7, 2009 with Norma. Back then we kayaked what I call the "Upper Monocacy." I considered taking her on the "Lower Monocacy" but I knew there was a short section of whitewater which she probably wouldn't like. Hence, I decided to take her on the "Middle Monocacy."
I did this route was by myself on April 27, 2008. This was done via bicycle shuttle. This time, Norma and I would use a car shuttle to get back to the launch area. Yet another first in that we had never transported a kayak on her Saturn.
We dropped off her car at Pinecliff Park. The water looked pretty high and muddy due to all the recent rain. According to U.S. Geological Survey Real-Time Water Data (Bridgeport), the water was flowing at 526 cubic feet per second (cfs) when we launched. But the Bridgeport reading isn't as accurate for paddling on the water trail as the reading for Monocacy Boulevard. The U.S. Geological Survey Real-Time Water Data (Monocacy Boulevard) chart showed 3060 cfs.
Next, we drove my vehicle to Devilbiss. The two of us launched at about 1350 on October 25, 2009.
I started out in the Catalina (see first photo) with Norma in the Cobra Expedition. She has paddled this boat several times before so she was somewhat used to it.
The current moved us along at a pretty good pace. The water was cold but we had our wetsuits to keep us warm.
I found a duck decoy and had Norma tie it to the back of my boat. See photo two.
After about 6 miles, we stopped for lunch and to swap boats. We also donned additional insulation as the sun was getting low.
Norma felt a little unsteady in the Catalina but I assured her it had very good secondary stability so she wouldn't fall out. She maintained a very good pace and found the boat quite responsive. Like me, it took her awhile to feel comfortable in Lisa's boat.
The Catalina is a better winter boat than my Cobra simply because it is a cockpit boat. My feet were quite cold in the Cobra because they were constantly wet. That's just the way sit-on-tops are.
We saw one power boat but otherwise, we had the whole river to ourselves.
One mature and one immature bald eagle were seen.
After 3.25 hours, we were done, having paddled 14.4 miles.
Norma's car carried both boats back to the start with no problem whatsoever.
We made it back to my car just in time. The park rangers close the gates to the launch sites at sundown and had we arrived a few minutes later, my car might have been locked in for the night. I was fortunate.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
For a trip report of my October 3-4, 2009 paddling trips to see the petroglyphs and islands on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, see Susquehanna 2009.
It seems the paddling I enjoy most is on narrow creeks. They offer the best scenery and the best chance to see wildlife. Unfortunately, in Maryland, many of the creeks are too low in the summer.
Long boats are not good for exploring creeks. They typically don't maneuver as well and it is often hard to get them around obstacles. My S1-A is especially poorly designed for this task because it is 18 feet long, made of carbon fiber and fiberglass (lightweight but not durable), and has an under-stern rudder. This last feature allows the boat to make sharp turns but prevents it from getting over shallow obstacles that a rudderless or kick-up rudder boat might otherwise negotiate. My Cobra Expedition has a kick-up rudder that can be retracted and is made of plastic (very durable) but it too is 18 feet long.
My kayaking season typically ends at the end of October. The air gets cold, the water gets cold, and the days get short. With a sit-on-top kayak, you're always wet. If I had a cockpit boat, I could stay warmer and drier.
Could I have a good creek boat AND a good winter boat all rolled into one? I think so. The first person I asked was Lisa. She has a nice Prijon Catalina. At 15'3", it isn't too long and at 21.75" wide, it isn't slow. It is made for paddlers between 90 and 180 pounds so it is ideal for us smaller folk. It is made of plastic so it is durable but at 49 pounds, it isn't too terribly heavy. It can be a little hard to find.
Lisa was kind enough to loan me her boat. She even delivered it to my house! I took it out on October 21, 2009, launching at Pier 7.
The weather the weekend prior sucked. It rained on both Saturday and Sunday and temperatures were in the 40s. It was not a good day to be outdoors. But on October 21, it was sunny with a high temperature of about 70. It might be one of our last warm days of the year.
I was eager to get out on the water and try the Prijon. I launched at 1610 and paddled upstream (west) on the South River. Lisa's boat doesn't have a rudder but it is certainly set up to take one. Given a strong beam current or wind, it would certainly be helpful but I definitely didn't need one that day. The boat tracked (stayed on a straight path) much better than my Expedition with rudder retracted. For a plastic boat, it is pretty fast too. Using a carbon fiber wing paddle, I maintained a moving average of 5.2 mph for several miles.
At first I found the boat a little uncomfortable but I think it is just because I am not used to cockpit boats. After stopping to adjust the foot pedals and my leg position, I found it reasonably comfortable. Sitting with my knees pointed outboard rather than up (as we typically do with sit-on-tops) seemed strange.
I paddled past highway 50 then under Defense Highway. The area between is full of large fish...carp I believe. I saw about 8 jump out of the water. I don't think any were shorter than a foot. The largest might have been 18 inches! As I paddled by, several churned up the murky water, hit the boat, or hit my paddle. Sometime I would like to return and see how far past Defense Highway I could venture. Looking at satellite photos, I don't expect I'd get more than 200 meters further. It was 4.4 miles from Pier 7 to Defense Highway.
I circled the grassy island between highway 50 and Defense Highway then returned. The sun was starting to set and it was getting cold.
I made it back at 1800, having kayaked 8.9 miles. There were 24 people at Pier 7 that night. A memorial service was planned for Alan A., a Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) member who recently passed away. We gathered around in our boats for the service to begin but it was canceled at the last minute due to a family member medical emergency. Unfortunately, I didn't know Alan.
Back at Pier 7, we ate soup made by Ralph H. and homemade bread bakes by Jenny W-P.
There are some other boats I am considering to fulfill my creek/winter boat niche. It might be difficult to find something better than the Prijon Catalina but here are a few that come close:
Wilderness Systems Zephyr 155: While it is advertised as being for a smaller frame paddler, it has a maximum capacity of 275 pounds...more boat than I need. It is 15'6" long, 22.5" wide, and 52 pounds which makes it a little longer, wider, and heavier than Lisa's boat.
Tsunami 135: This boat too is advertised as being for a smaller frame paddler and has a maximum capacity of 275 pounds. Is the average kayaker that big? It is 13'6" long, 23" wide, and 53 pounds.
Necky Eliza: A chick boat but as long as it isn't pink, what do I care? It is 15'3.5" long, 22" wide, and 49 pounds. This is a VERY close match to Lisa's boat.
Like the Prijon Catalina, the Necky Tikani is no longer in production. This is what Marla A. paddles. It is 13'10" long, about 22" wide, and 49 pounds. It has a rudder.
LL Bean 14' Calypso: This LL Bean women's kayak has a 23.5 inch beam and weighs 48 pounds (51 pounds with a rudder). Not as narrow as I'd like. Its shorter and stockier LL Bean 12' Calypso is 24.5 inches wide and weighs only 38 pounds. Pretty light for a plastic boat, eh? The price is equally impressive. But just be forewarned that the plastic is pretty thin and flexes quite a bit so it isn't quite as rugged as most plastic boats.
Prijon Viper: If you're smaller than me (70-135 pounds), then you might be interested in this boat, designed for teenagers and small adults.
Later, I found a few of these boats for sale at The River Store which, unfortunately, is no place close to me.
For a trip report of my October 3-4, 2009 paddling trips to see the petroglyphs and islands on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, see Susquehanna 2009.
The weather reports were calling for 1-2 inches of rain during the latter half and evening of September 26, 2009. It held off while Norma and I completed our volunteer work to remove invasive species during our National Public Lands Day work in Hyattsville. Then the downpour began.
Unfortunately, the downpour was just a slow and steady rain that didn't amount to much. The following morning, I checked the U.S. Geological Survey - National Water Information System to obtain water levels for the Catoctin, Conococheague, and Monocacy Rivers. I figured at least one of these would be sufficiently high for kayaking. I was wrong. The rivers weren't even close to being full enough.
Norma and I wanted to paddle someplace not far from Hagerstown since we would be visiting her sister, who lives there, afterwards. With no adequate creeks, I put together a last minute plan to paddle on the mighty Potomac River on September 27, 2009.
While Norma visited her sister, I scouted out a route. I studied my Potomac River Water Trail and the C&O Canal maps...in particular "Map 6: Shepherdstown, WV to Williamsport, MD." Then, I drove to Big Slackwater. There I found a nice boat ramp, adequate parking, and porta-johns. This take-out was about 1.2 miles upstream of Dam 4, which appears to drop about 20+ feet (see first photo at left).
Dam 4, one of the finest masonry dams of its day, was built in 1856 after the first rubble and brush dam proved vulnerable to flood damage. The dam watered the canal between here (mile 84.4) and Dam 3 near Harpers Ferry (mile 62.2). The dam created Big Slackwater, a pool reaching 13 miles upriver. Because of rocky cliffs that reach down to the water's edge, canal boats entered the river at the inlet lock located one mile upstream. The towpath was cut into the rocks.
- from trail sign
The section downstream of Dam 4 looked shallow but scenic. See second photo. I would like to return and paddle about 11 miles from Taylors Landing to Antietam Creek. Then I could return via bike shuttle on the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath, stopping to explore Snyder's Landing and Killiansburg Caves.
Next, I drove to River Bottom Park in Williamsport. This would be our put-in. My map showed a danger area at the power plant dam so I walked about 0.75 miles downstream from the launch site along the shore to check things out. I did indeed find a dam but it was very small. The first drop was perhaps a foot. About 3 feet later was another drop of about 1.5 feet. See third and fourth photos. It was nothing like Dam 4.
Maybe 0.15 miles downstream of the power plant dam was a rocky obstruction that stretched across the river, leaving an opening only at the far west side. See fifth photo. My map showed nothing else that would be of concern.
I drove out to Norma's sister's house, and hung out there for a bit. Then Norma and I drove to Big Slackwater, left her car there, and drove mine to Williamsport. Along the way, we saw several rock walls that probably date from the 1800s. We also saw some longhorn cattle...not something we see very often in Maryland.
We launched at 1400. The aquatic vegetation at River Bottom Park was thick but since we paddled my rudderless Ocean Kayak Cabo, this was not much of a problem.
The water was very clear and cool and we saw several fish, some up to 6 inches long. While the water was cool, the air temperature was comfortable. No need for wetsuits.
Just before the power plant dam, I got out of the boat, walked across the first part of the dam, then pulled the boat over. Then Norma dismounted and we pulled it across the second half. Easy as pie.
The rocky obstruction gave us a little whitewater action for about 30 feet. That was fun.
During the first part of our trip, the water was often only a foot deep. We scraped bottom in several sections though I knew it would have been much worse in the creeks. It really wasn't much of a problem and we only had to get out of the boat a couple of times to get unstuck.
We heard something approaching. Norma thought it was a boat. I thought it sounded like a plane. Normally, these shallow waters would make power boating impossible but the vehicle that approached was an air boat. I remember seeing these on the television show "Flipper." This was the first time I'd ever seen one in action. See sixth photo. It was extremely loud.
Soon the water deepened and it felt like we were paddling in a reservoir.
It rained for about 20 minutes.
The Maryland side was mostly undeveloped since most of the area near the river is part of the towpath. But the West Virginia side on our right (facing downstream) was full of what appeared to be vacation homes. Private piers led down to pontoon boats. There were numerous power boats on the water...too many to our liking.
We didn't see much in terms of wildlife. I saw a turtle swimming under the boat and another on a log. I expected we'd see some eagles but we saw none. Perhaps the power boat noise made them seek refuge elsewhere.
By 1800, we finished after paddling almost 15 miles. This was my first time kayaking since Labor Day. It felt good to get on the water again.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
International Coastal Cleanup
This doesn't really have to do with kayaking but it does involve the water...somewhat.
Three years ago, on September 16, 2006, I participated in the International Coastal Cleanup. My company was participating this year and I wanted to be a part of it. I sent out invitations to try and recruit friends and fellow paddlers but I had no takers.
This cleanup takes place on several waterways. I probably could have found one fairly close to home but instead, I chose to go to the Barcroft Park location at 4200 South Four Mile Run Drive, Arlington, Virginia. This is about a 50 minute drive from my house in light traffic. I wanted to be part of the team comprised of my co-workers.
I arrived at 0850 for the 0900 effort on September 19, 2009. It was scheduled to last until 1200. There were about 8 people there. The organizer was just finishing up his description of the effort. It seemed strange he didn't wait for everyone to arrive before talking. About 10 more people trickled in right around starting time but they got a much more abbreviated talk. People weren't asked to introduce themselves and there was no effort to actually organize us into teams or assign us areas of responsibility. Despite the fact that many of these people were my co-workers, I didn't know anyone else there.
Not having designated work areas, we all pretty much started at the same place and most of us overlapped an area where someone else worked just a few minutes ago. I thought it would have made more sense to designate teams to walk upstream or downstream on one or the other side of the stream. Also, to have some folks start from the endpoints and work their way in.
I teamed up with a nice family. But after about an hour, the young daughter saw a snake, panicked, then didn't want to work anymore. So they left. I continued to work on my own.
I observed some of the other teams. There seemed to be too much socializing going on and not enough working. Sometimes, it was just plain goofing off. I don't mean to sound like a Scrooge. One can have fun while working but long after everyone else left (well before noon), I observed a considerable amount of trash remaining. I continued to work alone.
We were instructed to pick up trash between the two bridges that bound the stream near the park. Considering how much trash I found, I find it hard to believe that anyone worked to the endpoint.
A little after noon, I returned to where we met to find several of my co-workers mingling near their cars. After our initial meeting, I never saw the organizer again. There was no group photo and nobody afterwards to say, "Thanks for coming, good job."
My company generally does a very good job of keeping morale high by providing snacks, drinks, t-shirts with the company logo, etc. Someone usually comes around to take photos for the company newsletter. The leader typically comes around to see how folks are doing. But this was totally different. We lacked leadership and organization. I felt no sense of cameraderie.
I'm guessing I picked up about 60 pounds of trash. The most common item was cigarettes. Plastic bottles comprised the bulk of the volume. Styrofoam parts (packing peanuts and broken coolers) was also found in large numbers.
Compared with other cleanups in which I participated or led, I didn't get a nice warm fuzzy feeling from this one. Disappointing.
I paddle for a variety of reasons. It keeps me fit, helps me escape from society, gets me out in nature, and it helps me relieve stress. For the last few days, I'd been feeling down. That's why this is my third consecutive day of paddling mixed with swimming and running. For reasons I won't go into, I really needed to get out on the water and clear my mind.
This year, I spent a good deal of time exploring the Chester River and its tributaries. Most recently, I explored Morgan Creek on August 29, 2009. My next goal was to explore a tributary of a tributary, a little further downstream.
On August 31, 2009, I only needed to work a half day to get in my hours for the month. I did just that then took advantage of the flood tide to explore Island Creek.
I donned my iPod and listened to my favorite artist, Kid Rock. His music speaks to me. Now one might think paddling while wearing an iPod is unwise (I won't disagree) but I only wear it when I paddle where there is little boat traffic. If I am wearing it, I look back and to my sides frequently, stay out of channels, and keep the volume low enough so I can hear my own paddle splashing the water.
From the Southeast Creek launch, it is only a half mile trip downstream on Southeast Creek to the mouth of Island Creek. It is another 2.1 miles to Island Creek Road, which passes over the creek, then another 0.1 miles to where Granny Finley Branch splits off. I paddled up this branch and only got 0.5 miles before it got too shallow to continue. Not particularly interesting.
I kayaked back to the split then went upstream on the main part of the creek, progressing only 0.75 miles. The scenery was mediocre.
On my way back downstream, I noticed that one can launch on the upstream west side of Island Creek Bridge, the bridge over which Island Creek Road passes. Bingo, I found another launch site...and best of all, it isn't regulated by the county.
I paddled back to the mouth of the creek and stopped for a snack at a nice little beach peninsula on the west side (photo one). The way the sun reflected off the sand gave me a nice feeling of isolation...as if this mini-beach were my own little island with nobody else in sight. It was a brief moment of Zen (photo two).
My goal of exploring Island Creek was accomplished yet I drove fairly far and paddled little. So I decided to check out Browns Branch, just 1.2 miles east of my launch.
This narrow creek is more heavily forested, unlike Island Creek. My experience in the Chesapeake Bay waters and its tributaries has told me that given two creeks, one with grassy shores and the other wooded, the wooded one will be deeper. I don't know if it is because the woods like solid ground or if the trees keep the soil from eroding (a chicken versus the egg question) but that's how it tends to be.
Browns Branch is a real gem. See photo three and four. Unfortunately, as one gets further upstream, there are many fallen logs. I was able to pass over them but I was at times doubtful my kelp cutter wouldn't get damaged. This is a better trip for a boat with a retractable skeg, retractable rudder, flip-up rudder, no skeg, or no rudder.
I saw 2 adult and 2 juvenile bald eagles.
I made it 1.6 miles up Browns Branch. At that point, the creek was only about 14 feet wide at times. I know this may not sound far but it was a trip worth while. Combining Browns Branch with a trip to the most upstream paddleable portion of Southeast Creek (as I did on May 9, 2009), would definitely be a winner. Just make sure to paddle at high tide and bring a saw.
I returned to my launch site, having put in just under 15 miles at a casual pace. This wasn't a workout trip...it was a mind-clearing trip.
As I loaded my boat, a light breeze blew on my wet shirt, making me a bit cold. The water temperature was noticeably much cooler than it was just two weeks ago. It is sad to think that the summer is ending.
I thought about something Slick Rick once said. He went to an Army hospital for a back injury. Rick was feeling down about it. Then he met a young Iraq War veteran with no legs. The legless soldier cheerfully introduced himself. At that point, Rick knew his troubles were trivial compared to those of the disabled vet...and yet the disabled vet maintained a positive attitude.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
On August 30, 2009, I wanted to get out on the water (when don't I want to get out on the water?). But where to paddle? I decided it would either be Island Creek on the eastern shore, or the Potomac River near the monuments. Tomorrow I planned to paddle again and I know Washington D.C. driving is a bitch during the work week while crossing the Bay Bridge can be frustrating on the weekend so it made more sense to do the Potomac trip today, Sunday.
It took me 48 minutes to get from home to Columbia Island Marina. I've kayaked in this area before by launching at Gravelly Point but never Columbia Island Marina on Lady Bird Johnson Park. I didn't arrive until late morning but much to my surprise, there was plenty of good parking available.
Directly across from the ramp was the Pentagon (see first photo). From ground level, it didn't look so impressive. The flags were at half mast...I assume to recognize the death of Senator Edward Kennedy.
I began by paddling northwest on Boundary Channel, the section between the island and the mainland. The waterway narrowed, got shallow, and was filled with thick vegetation. After 1.3 miles, I was scraping bottom. I returned then paddled under the George Washington Memorial Parkway and past the Navy - Merchant Marine Memorial.
This put me on the Potomac River, where I could clearly see the Washington Monument. I paddled towards it then pulled ashore on a section of rip rap that had fallen. This is one advantage of paddling a sit-on-top kayak. I can land almost anywhere. I walked ashore, stretched my legs, and looked around a bit. It was a lovely day and several people were out running, walking, and biking. I also caught a nice view of the Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Rosslyn skyline (second photo).
I resumed kayaking, heading upstream on the mighty Potomac. At this point, it was about a third of a mile across. Several boats passed full of tourists eager to catch a view of our National Capital's monuments.
I passed Theodore Roosevelt Island, the Washington Canoe Club, the Kennedy Center, and Jack's Boathouse. Jack must have been making a fortune that day because I'd never seen so many people out on rental kayaks in my life. I'm guessing I saw 50 people on canoes and kayaks...a large proportion appearing to be rentals. I did see one fellow in a QCC Kayak who launched at Columbia Island just after me. Clearly, his boat was not a rental. He had a pirate flag amast behind his cockpit.
A little further upstream, I saw someone paddling what I believe was a K1 racing boat. She was tall, superfit, blonde, and paddling with absolutely flawless form. She saw my S1-A, slowed down, and commented, "Nice boat." I thought to myself, "Is this the world famous Pam Boteler?" Thinking I didn't hear her, she repeated, "Nice boat." Being somewhat awestruck, I replied, "Thanks, you too" or something awkward like that. She does train at the Washington Canoe Club so it might very well have been her. If it wasn't, I don't want to know.
Continuing onward, I passed several boulders in the river. I pulled up along some and tried to take a powernap on a large flat rock but couldn't get to sleep.
I saw one fellow on a Stand Up Paddle Board.
I came to the Chain Bridge. Here, the water moved fairly fast. There were numerous people fishing along the shore and just a few kayaks. But I did see the fellow with the pirate flag.
I made it about an eighth of a mile upstream (northwest) of Chain Bridge. Now, the mighty Potomac was only about 15 meters across. See third photo. Whitewater rushed down Little Falls. I'm guessing it was class 2 (fourth photo). I tried to paddle further upstream but my efforts were futile. When I turned to go back downstream, my 18 foot long boat was unwilling to turn any angle other than perpendicular to the current. I paddled into an eddie and behind some rocks where I rested and ate.
Paddling downstream, I easily maintained an easy 8 mph in the Chain Bridge area (with the help of the current) until the river opened back up.
I saw a bald eagle.
A couple paddled a canoe with the man in the back paddling forward and the woman in the front facing the man while paddling backwards. Very creative though probably not very effective.
I finished paddling 3.5 hours after I started, completing just under 16 miles. It was a good day to get out. It is my favorite way to see Washington D.C.
If kayaking is supposed to be relaxing, all that was undone on the drive home. Getting to the marina was easy but I don't believe there is an easy way to drive north on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. At the airport, I tried to get to the northbound exit but ended up in Crystal City, Virginia. I managed to get back to the airport then on the parkway, heading north. On the beltway, it was stop and go traffic after the highway 270 merge. I finally made it the highway 95 turnoff and thought it would be smooth sailing after that. But it was just more stop and go traffic. While it only took me 48 minutes to get from home to the marina, it took me 85 minutes to get home! Still, it was worth it.
Later, I found out the woman I saw in the K1 was NOT Pam Boteler. Too bad.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
On August 29, 2009, Ralph H. led a Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) trip on Morgan Creek.
Ralph, Sue, Rich, Jill, Ed, Rita, Carol, Marcie, Doug, Tom, James, Dorothy, Suzanne, and I met at the town dock in Chestertown then drove to Rileys Mill. See first photo at left. Sue is demonstrating how to dance the Twist. Here we launched at about 0945 under cloudy skies.
The tide was going out but being the hard chargers that we are, we paddled upstream.
I pulled a cicada out of the water (second photo). It remained on my boat for the next hour then flew away once it was dry.
The creek was fairly narrow and in many parts, the water was quite low. But it was fairly scenic. See third photo.
Rich stayed at or near the front and for the first part, I was right with him. We got some nice views of two bald eagles (see the first in the fourth photo).
After 1.8 miles, the creek split. My global positioning system (GPS) didn't indicate which was the main branch so we took the right (east) side. After another 0.1 miles, we came to a fallen tree. Ralph and I pulled out our saws and cut through an 8 inch diameter section that permitted the group to pass. See fifth photo. Photo courtesy of Ralph H.
But after another 0.1 miles, we were stopped by a log about 16 inches in diameter. Too much for our handheld saws. Hence, we turned around.
We explored the west half of the split but we only made it up about 0.1 miles before things got too shallow.
I only saw one turtle throughout the day.
A short distance later and we were back where we started. Since this was a beginners trip, a few people decided to head home. The rest of us continued paddling downstream.
Numerous turkey vultures were seen. I guess it was a good day to find dead things. See sixth photo. Several were at Morgnec, another launch site just off Morgnec Road (route 291). See seventh photo. While this site has plenty of parking, the launch area is just a small muddy patch. Clearly, Ralph took us to the better of the two locations.
Three miles downstream of Rileys Mill, we came to the mouth of the creek. We then kayaked downstream on the Chester River for 0.1 miles then landed at a sandy area where we ate lunch. There really weren't many choices for suitable group stops prior to this.
We headed back upstream on the Chester River then Morgan Creek, finishing the day with 12.3 miles of easy paddling.
Ralph then led us to Rita's ice cream stand where we packed on the calories that we just burned off. But by golly we earned it!
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
About once or twice a year I get a wild hair up my ass. I end up challenging myself, physically pushing myself to near exhaustion. This happened on September 8, 2006 with my 34 mile Kent Island solo circumnavigation then again on September 20-21, 2008 with my 45 miles of paddling and 44 miles of biking in two days. It happened again on August 16, 2009 but unlike before, I didn't know it would happen until I began.
After spending 10 days in Maine from July 25 to August 3, 2009 then the next several days getting only moderate physical activity, I was wanting to get back into my normal training routine. Actually, I wanted to make up for lost time. So on August 13, 14, and 15, 2009, I worked out pretty hard. I was sore but I was still feeling behind in terms of exercise. On August 16, I said I would get in at least 20 miles on the water.
I launched my S1-A at Farmington Landing at 0930. The water and wind were fairly calm and the day was sunny and hot. It ended up getting to 90 degrees with 74% humidity. The water temperature was 83.5 degrees. I was preferring the 55 degree Maine water temperature.
I launched at this same location just 2 years ago on May 5, 2007. Back then, I explored north on the Potomac River. This time I would explore south.
As I paddled west on Piscataway Creek, I noticed that there were an unusually large number of osprey. Not that many nests, but certainly a plethora of these raptors. Perhaps the fishing in this creek was good. I did notice that many of them were carrying a catch.
My pace was only about 5.9 mph until I rouned Mockley Point and got on the Potomac. Then I caught the outgoing tide. My paced jumped to 6.5 mph. It was then that I knew 20 miles would not be enough.
I remained on the east side of the river, staying a good distance from the shore. At this time of year, the aquatic vegetation gets quite thick and makes paddling slow. It was reminding me of my September 13, 2008 kayak trip at the northernmost end of the Chesapeake Bay. This led me to think that the section of the Potomac on which I paddled was fresh water. That would explain why I saw no jellyfish.
I crossed the Potomac at Fenwick, reaching Hallowing Point in Fairfax County, Virginia. I ventured a bit further then turned around at Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge. It would have been nice to explore the refuge a bit but the aquatic vegetation was slowing me down to a mere 3 mph.
I paddled out to a man-made island. Actually, it was just rip rap but there must have been soil because there were a few trees growing on it. I'm guessing it was about 60 feet long and 20 feet wide. It didn't appear on my map.
The tide changed to flood and as long as I stayed on the Potomac, I would maintain a moving average of 6.3 mph, paddling upstream. I did paddle into Gunston Cove and Dogue Creek just a bit but if I wanted to maintain a respectable time, I would have to explore them another day.
At the Mount Vernon Wharf, I caught a huge wave produced by a triple decker tour boat. I surfed it, obtaining a maximum speed of 11.1 mph!
Near Fort Hunt Park, I crossed back over the Potomac. I paddled by Fort Washington Park. This brought back memories of the April 12, 2008 bike ride that Norma led. On that trip, we stopped at the park and saw the Potomac from the fort. This time, I was on the Potomac and saw the fort from the water. See first photo. But in order to get a photo, I had to be in the middle of the Potomac, just outside of the channel. There was considerable boat traffic which made photo ops difficult.
By the time I reached the Piscataway, I paddled 24 miles and drank over 2 liters of water. My legs were trembling, probably due to lack of salt. I read the packages of the food I brought and ate the stuff with the most sodium. Then I continued at a much slower pace. With the distance I was paddling and the heat, I should have brought diluted Gatorade.
I paddled past Atlantic Kayak. They have quite a few rental boats but I only saw 2 in the water. I only saw one other kayaker on the Potomac. Such a shame.
Continuing east on the Piscataway, I saw a bald eagle. Then I ventured the narrow creek section where the width is only about 30 feet across. In contrast, the widest part is about three quarters of a mile across while the widest part of the Potomac on which I paddled that day is about 1.5 miles across. What a contrast!
The narrow part of the Piscataway was the only real scenic part of my trip. Everything else was just too wide. I saw a deer, a turtle, and several more osprey. I think I saw more osprey that day than any other day. I also saw some Swamp Rose Mallow flowers (Hibiscus palustris). See second photo.
I finished my trip 6 hours after I began, having paddled 30 miles. This means an overall average of only 5 mph but this includes water breaks, photo taking, lunch, getting slowed down by aquatic vegetation, etc. I'm guessing my moving average was close to 6 mph.
I drove home and ate everything in sight. Then I slept. I was too tired to do anything else. After a few hours, I got my energy back.
This is only the third time I've paddled 30 miles or more. The conditions were far from ideal. I did have help from the tide but the high heat index, aquatic vegetation, and soreness from previous days of training definitely slowed me down. I definitely did not plan this out carefully. Maybe next year I'll try for an overall time of 5 hours.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
For a trip report of my July 25 to August 3, 2009 paddling trips in the largest New England state, see Maine 2009.
Pine Creek Gorge
For a trip report of my July 3-5, 2009 paddling trips on Pine Creek in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, see Pine Creek Gorge 2009.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is officially called the William Preston Lane, Jr., Memorial Bridge. Popularly called the Bay Bridge, this facility near Annapolis crosses the Chesapeake Bay as part of US-50/US-301...the same highway 50 that runs less than a mile from my childhood home in Sacramento, California.
With a shore-to-shore length of 4.3 miles, the bridges are among the world's longest and most scenic over-water structures. The two-lane original span (see first photo at left) was opened to traffic in 1952. The parallel structure opened in 1973 and has three lanes for westbound travelers (see second photo). The main span has a horizontal navigational clearance of 1500 feet, and a vertical navigational clearance of 186 feet (see third photo).
- from Chesapeake Bay Bridge
For more information, see Chesapeake Bay Bridge History.
Prior to June 30, 2009, the first and only time I paddled across the Chesapeake Bay was around 2001. A friend and I used my Ocean Kayak Cabo on a sunny weekend day filled with boat traffic and turbulent waters. I was very cautious and while we were in no real danger, I knew if I paddled across and back again, it would be under much different circumstances.
Todd had been wanting to do a Bay crossing for some time. It was an personal goal of his. I planned to accompany him across the bay on June 8, 2009 but the forecast was calling for a good chance of thunderstorms so I aborted the mission. While the total mileage across the Bay and back isn't very far, the weather needs to be ideal. The Bay can be very unforgiving.
A fellow kayaker suggested we do an early morning paddle rather than a twilight paddle. This worked for both Todd and I so on June 30, 2009, we met at Sandy Point State Park at 0500. Nobody manned the entrance but we were able to put our $3 entrance fee in a machine which allowed us entry. This would be a good place to return for a night paddle.
Only the most serious fishermen were out at this pre-dawn hour.
The forecast called for a 4 mph wind from the west by 0800 and temperatures around 70 degrees. Ideal!
Todd has an orange Wilderness Systems Tsunami 165. I chose to bring my blue Cobra Expedition. Crossing the Bay, I want power boaters to see me and blue is not an ideal color for this. Thus, I wore my blaze orange hunting cap. I also brought one for Todd to wear.
My Cobra is a good boat but the thing I hate most about it is that the hatches leak when waves crash atop. To prevent this, I put duct tape over the hatch seams. I like the fact that my hatches are so large but if I would prefer the smaller and more watertight hatches of the Australian Cobra Expedition.
Safety is of the upmost importance for an endeavor such as this so I let Todd use my paddle float and an extra paddle leash. Then before we got too far from the boat ramp, I had Todd demonstrate a wet exit. We practiced an assisted rescue. After re-entry, he pumped the water out of his boat with a bilge pump then re-set his spray skirt. It was highly unlikely we would need to use these skills on the Bay but if we did, I wanted to be sure we could do so easily in a controlled environment first.
If someone couldn't paddle (also unlikely), I had a tow rope. In a worst case scenario, I could send a distress signal over channel 16 on my Very High Frequency (VHF) radio.
We set sail at 0600. Sunrise was at 0542. See fourth photo.
The tide was going out. It pulled us starboard. We were glad to have rudders.
A big ship passed under the bridge. Other than that, we saw few boats on the first half of our adventure.
The worst part about paddling to Kent Island in the early morning is that the rising sun is blinding. That is one reason I almost always paddle wearing a cap.
I was hoping to see a ray or a shark but we saw none.
Traffic was noisy. The trip was far from a scenic nature paddle but that isn't what we wanted.
We made it across the Bay to Kent Island at 0910. See Todd in the fifth photo. After a 10 minute rest, we headed back.
The tide seemed a little weaker now.
The sun was now out of our eyes and on the bridge which made for nice viewing. See sixth and seventh photos.
Todd and I saw a dead osprey that got caught in a line. It hung from the bridge by its foot.
There were a good number of fishing boats out, cruising along at slow speed. I only remember one speeding powerboat.
We made it back to Sandy Point at 0940 after having paddled 9 miles.
If I had to do things differently, I probably wouldn't change anything. It was just warm enough when we started and not too hot when we finished. The water was warm but the jellyfish weren't out. No rain, no chance of thunderstorms, little wind, and light boat traffic. I think we were well prepared and chose a good day to accomplish this goal.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
It had been about three years since I paddled with the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) at Pier 7 in Annapolis. I have fond memories of both the location and the people.
They meet on Wednesday nights from mid-spring through mid-autumn...I think during daylight savings time. June 24, 2009 was the first Wednesday in awhile where no rain was predicted so I brought my S1-A for a fast training paddle. My training route is a little over 10 miles and goes from the Pier 7 beach around the island containing Turkey Point (which I call Turkey Point Island), then back.
I launched at 1700. David M. was the only other surf ski paddler there that night. He brought his Futura C-4, a slower and heavier surf ski than mine...but a classic. For a good three miles, we were almost even, pushing each other all the way. But as we approached Turkey Point, he headed across the South River and I begun my circumnavigation of the island.
My speed started to drop. Unlike my fast June 13, 2009 paddle, I never really felt like I got my technique down. I was muscling the paddle. My shoulders were sore. Things weren't smooth. I think the difference is that yesterday I lifted weights pretty hard then swam a fast mile. I was totally into the groove during my swim; my rhythm was good. But I think swimming and paddling use many of the same muscle groups which weren't recovered yet. I guess this reinforces my claim that freestyle swimming is good training for kayaking.
I finished by paddling 10.21 miles in one hour and 41 minutes. This includes about 4 quick stops for water, a stop to see a two foot wide ray (hog nose or bat), then to tell Sue about the ray (she saw two in the same area). My average pace was 6.06 mph...very poor.
I stuck around for a nice chicken dinner made by Rick. Attendees can partake in dinner if they provide dinner one night during the year. I signed up to provide food on August 12. By signing up, I'm sure I'll be back many more times during the season for paddling. It is hard for me to pass up free food...especially when there is kayaking involved.
There was a lovely sunset that night.
Nassawango and Dividing Creeks
For a trip report of my June 20-21, 2009 paddling trips on the Nassawango Creek and and Dividing Creek, see Nassawango and Dividing Creeks 2009.
On June 15, 2009, I slept with the window ajar. When I heard birds, I awoke, as I often do. Usually, I just ignore them, shut the window, or put in earplugs then go back to sleep. But this day was special. I was planning a 6.5 hour drive for a road trip to Grayson Highlands. It had been awhile since I last took out my S1-A and I wouldn't have the chance to do so during the weekend unless I went paddling before my long trip began.
I was out of bed by 0440 and launching at Broening Park by 0545. I would just paddle past Fort McHenry, to the northwest side of the Inner Harbor, and return. It was a trip I've done countless times before. Nothing special except that today I would be booking.
It had been a few years since I've last raced. In my C4, I had no chance of doing well in a serious race. Compared to a sea kayak, it is fast, but compared to other surfskis, it is an old boat made with heavy materials and an outdated design. But my S1-A if a different story. It is fast, light, and while it isn't always the best boat for the situation, it most certainly was that morning.
It wasn't quite dawn but there was plenty of light. The air was cool but not too cold. The water was dead calm. Almost no boat traffic...just a few small fishing boats. There was an approximately five mile per hour wind. The conditions were ideal to get some serious speed.
I can paddle fast for short distances or far for long distances well. But maintaining a race pace to the Inner Harbor and back would be challenging.
I focused on torso rotation, using my legs, and "spearing the fish" during the catch phase of the stroke. I paddled hard but not so hard that I was getting winded.
I expected to see several early morning joggers and dog walkers out but at dawn on Saturday morning, I saw few. It was ironic to be almost alone yet in the heart of a big city, surrounded by big ships, skyscrapers, and factories.
I took two short breaks, not to catch my breath but to let the feeling return to my left hand. It was numb. I forced myself to loosen my grip on the push phase of the stroke when my right hand was pulling. That helped a bit but it was clear that my left hand was my weak link.
I finished my trip one hour and 29 minutes later after having paddled 9.7 miles. This means I maintained a pace of 6.54 miles per hour! Without a doubt, this is my personal best. It may not be enough to win the coveted Wye Island Regatta but it would be fast enough to finish respectfully.
Over the last year and a half, my left knee has given me problems. After paddling, it was aching. Not terribly, but definitely noticeably worse than before. The cockpit of the S1-A is very small and my feet must touch to fit in the boat. This forces me to sit in a rather unnatural bowlegged position that aggravates my knee slightly with each power stroke. It isn't the kind of workout I'd want to do often but I could certainly see myself going all out like that maybe once a month. I guess I'll just need to keep up with my physical therapy exercises...at least during kayak season.
That which does not kill me only makes me stronger
On the morning of Friday, June 5, 2009, I sent out a last minute e-mail to 21 kayakers, asking if anyone wanted to join me to scout Conocoheague Creek the following day. I've never paddled this creek or anywhere so far west in Maryland. I had only read about paddling it in Edward Gertler's Maryland and Delaware Canoe Trails. Regarding this creek, Gertler says
Good levels usually exist during winter and spring within a week of hard rain. At least minimal levels usually prevail until mid summer in an average year.
Since we had been getting a significant amount of rain over the last few days, I figured this would be a good place to paddle.
As usual, I had no takers for my invitation so I loaded up my bicycle and Cobra Expedition then headed out to Williamsport. This town is known for serving as a hospital for the thousands of wounded Confederate soldiers returning from their defeat at Gettysburg. Additionally:
In 1790 Williamsport nearly became the National Capital as President George Washington visited the town in his search for the site for the future Federal City. But this was not to be. Decades later as construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal reached Williamsport in 1834, the town developed into a "classic canal town."
- from sign on Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath
I first stopped at Cushwa Basin, a national historical park on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. See first photo at left. I thought I might find a launch area here but instead I found the Building America's Canals museum, a small store (that sells Gertler's book), and a family fishing tournament. It was a nice area but not what I sought.
I then found River Bottom Park which would be my take-out. I locked my bicycle to a tree then drove to find my only known obstacle in the river.
My obstacle was the five foot high Kemps Mill Road Dam. When I saw how much water was flowing over it, my first words were, "Oh sh*t!" See second photo. But after noticing that the water looked pretty deep and that the drop occurred over about 10 feet, I thought I might want to simply go over the dam. There was a very good chance I would capsize but it was very unlikely I would get hurt being as the only protrusions were logs that were clearly visible. If I chose to take the easier route, I could easily portage around the dam on the east side.
Finally, I drove to the Route 494 bridge over the Conococheague. I scouted all four sides around the bridge and finally decided that the southeast side was best, both for parking and for carrying down to the water. It was about a 50 meter walk through mostly tall grass. Tall grass often harbors ticks and I thought about the ones I encountered on my visit to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge on May 25, 2009.
I launched at 1045, catching a 2-3 mph current. The water was definitely high. According to USGS Real-Time Water Data for Conococheague Creek, the gage height at Fairview, Maryland was 4.2 feet while the cubic feet per second of water discharge was 1440. In contrast, the mean for this data based on 81 years of data is only 546 cubic feet per second.
With so much water, I was often able to maintain a 6.5 mph pace while only exerting 5 mph of effort. In some areas, I hit 7.5 mph without much effort!
The forecast called for partly sunny with a high near 80. It seemed a bit colder though that could have been because there was so much cool water all around and because the trees offered so much shade. All the greenery (see third photo) reminded me of my September 7, 2008 trip on the Monocacy River. About the only differences are that the latter is just slightly narrower and the surrounding landscape is flatter. In contrast, the land around the Conococheague often had one side that was hilly, a characteristic more common in western Maryland. See fourth photo.
In about the first 20 minutes, I saw a bald eagle. I also saw countless turtles. In two adjacent trees, I saw about 20 vultures. Unfortunately, I saw no snakes.
I saw a female duck try to fly out of the water but she seemed to be having a hard time getting airborne. I thought maybe her wings were soaked below the oily coating. A little further ahead, another female duck appeared to have the same problem. Then I noticed that the duck was fine...she was trying to lure me away from her ducklings which hid on the side of the creek. There were about 6 ducklings, each only about 4 inches long. As I paddled further, I saw more ducklings and more mother ducks pretending to be lame.
The water remained deep. I had no problems with submerged rocks or logs. I regret not checking the depth of the water but it seemed pretty deep.
There were some small roads that followed the river very closely. It seemed some of them might make for good put-ins.
The current was slowing down.
After 14.9 miles, I came to Kemps Mill Road Dam. Though I couldn't see the other side from my boat, I could see a bit of water spraying into the air and I could definitely hear the water falling. I pulled ashore about 40 meters upstream then walked over to check and see if the conditions were the same as a few hours prior. I know from my October 28, 2007 paddling on Deer Creek that water conditions after a heavy rain can change quickly so it was good of me to double check.
I blew into the air valve on my hybrid personal floatation device (PFD) to fully inflate it. I also checked to make sure all my gear was secure. I knew there was a good chance I would capsize so I wanted to be ready. Some boys fishing on the bank asked if I was going over the dam and I nodded.
I paddled to the dam, approaching it at a perpendicular angle. Going over it wasn't so bad. I enjoyed the feeling of speeding up and the 5 foot drop. It was a little like an amusement park ride. The next thing I knew, my boat capsized. I'm not exactly sure what happened but I think that since my Cobra is so long (18 feet), any angle deviations get amplified with fast moving water. I was able to touch the bottom of the river. It seemed to be about 4 feet deep just downstream of the dam. I held onto my paddle and since it was tethered to the boat, I ensured my boat didn't get away. I hopped back on my kayak, gave the boys a thumbs up, then continued paddling downstream.
That was the first time I've done such a thing. I was a bit scared but I knew there was very little danger. Even though I fell out, it was fun and I would definitely do it again...though perhaps on a warmer day.
Downstream of the dam, the current picked back up.
I paddled under the Conococheague Creek Aqueduct which was built in 1834. See fifth photo.
Eleven aqueducts were built from Georgetown to Cumberland to carry water over water. The aqueducts, literally "water bridges," carried the canal over the large streams and rivers flowing into the Potomac River.
- from sign at Cushwa Basin
At the mouth, I kayaked into the Potomac, then caught the downstream current which I estimated to be moving at 4-5 mph. I paddled under the Potomac Street (route 11) bridge (see sixth photo) then landed at River Bottom Park. Here I saw numerous waterfowl. See seventh photo.
Having completed my 18.5 mile kayak trip, I unlocked by bike, locked up my boat, then biked 11 miles back to my car. See my River Bottom Park to Route 494 Bridge route. It was a very nice ride, passing through the city of Williamsport then along the creek, and past farmlands. I saw numerous goats and cows. The terrain was often rocky. See eighth photo. This bike ride had much different scenery than my previous rides this year on the eastern shore.
It was a good day. I got to take advantage of the heavy rains in days prior. I found 3 new launch sites and a new access point to the C&O Towpath. I learned a little bit about Maryland history. Best of all, I got to explore a creek I've never paddled before. I started thinking about future trips I would like to do in this area. There are few things I enjoy more than exploring and if I can do it on boat and bicycle, that is all the better.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
For a trip report of my May 27, 2009 paddling trip on the Pocomoke River, see Parents' Visit 2009.
Sussex County Paddling
For a trip report of my May 16-17, 2009 paddling weekend in Sussex County, Delaware, see Sussex County.
Queen Anne's County Paddling
For a trip report of my May 9-10, 2009 paddling weekend in Queen Anne's County, see Queen Anne's County.
The day before my kayak trip, I worked 12 hours at Rebuilding Baltimore, where I helped replace rotted joists under a kitchen floor then redo the floor. I assisted John, a hardworking bodybuilder and former recon Marine. It was a long day but the results were satisfying.
On April 26, 2009, I drove to Quaker Neck Landing and locked my bicycle to a sign. Then I drove to Shadding Reach. Along the way, I saw a turkey vulture sitting on a post with its wings spread eagle. It was huge. I launched at 1015. High tide would occur at 1030.
It was warm, sunny, and dry. This would be my first trip of the season without a wetsuit. The water was still cold but if I fell in, I knew I would warm up quickly once I got back on my boat.
I didn't have time to explore upstream of Shadding Reach though I really wanted to. I knew the meandering narrow headwaters would be scenic if it looked anything like the area immediately around the lanunch site. See first photo at left.
I paddled downstream, seeing a few turtles as I passed. There was a significant amount of greenery and I never had problems with the water being too shallow.
There were numerous small tributaries on either side of me but I wasn't out to explore them. Today was a long distance fast paddle. I quickly took advantage of the ebb tide and raced downstream at at 6 to 7 mph. There is no way I could have kept that pace for so long without the tide helping me. Listening to Metallica, Megadeth, and Marilyn Manson on my iPod helped too.
I don't believe I saw any eagles though I wasn't exactly out to look at wildlife. But I did manage to see a 2.5 foot long water snake about 250 meters from the shore. I assume it was a Northern Water Snake. I followed it for awhile until it dove under.
I stopped for a snack at a small floating dock just southwest of the drawbridge in Chestertown (see second photo). This was the same area I visited with Norma on March 15-16, 2008.
The trip down the Chester River was nice (but not spectacular) and certainly more scenic than some of the monotonous grassy wetland areas. Both sides of the river were generally tree-lined.
I reached Quaker Neck Landing after what seemed like a relatively short time. This was probably the easiest 20.5 miles I've ever paddled.
I unlocked my bicycle, locked up my boat, then biked 19 miles from Quaker Neck Landing to Shadding Reach.
Along the way, I saw three 10-12 inch tall birds in an open field near the road. See third photo. After passing the photo around, I now think they are guinea hens.
Passing a bank thermometer sign, I knew it was 91 degrees at 1500. I was a little overdressed but feeling comfortable.
I finished the ride then went back to Quaker Neck Landing to retrieve my boat. It was a fine day to spend outdoors.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
The original plan was to paddle the upstream section of the Patuxent River (Pax). I really enjoyed my March 31, 2009 Pax trip from Governor Bridge Canoe Launch to Patuxent Wetlands Park and if the uppermost portions were anything like it, I knew Norma would just love it.
The night before, I pulled out my Patuxent Water Trail Map to figure out where to launch. I thought there were quite a few launch sites upstream of Governor Bridge but on closer examination, I discovered that wasn't really the case. There was an error on the map I had which showed Davidsonville Park as being upstream of Governor Bridge when in fact it is downstream. Also, all the launch sites further upstream were actually in the reservoir. I quickly came up with plan B.
April 18, 2009 would undoubtedly be the nicest day of the year. To remain indoors on such a lovely day would be a damn shame. Hence, Norma and I loaded up my Ocean Kayak Cabo and headed out for the eastern shore. We drove about 90 minutes to Windyhill. I found this oasis of a launch site on September 30, 2008. I vowed to return to explore some of the smaller creeks nearby and today was that day.
We launched at 1115 with the temperature in the high 60s. Wearing an Under Armour top and a farmer john wetsuit with the top pulled down was just perfect...not too hot and not too cold.
Norma and I kayaked 1.25 miles upstream on the Choptank River to the mouth of Miles Creek. Then we paddled up the creek. We saw a couple of guys paddling a canoe and another two men out fishing in a powerboat. There was also a couple fishing on the Bruceville Road Bridge which lies 1.65 miles from the mouth of the creek. The nice thing about this bridge is it lets kayaks and canoes though but keeps powerboats out.
The lower portion of the creek was grassy without a lot of trees. Further upstream, trees often lined one side. About 2.5 miles upstream of the mouth, we found a bald eagle nest. Last year I saw more eagles than any other year and I've got a feeling that I might even see more this year. See first photo at left. About another 1.5 miles upstream, we saw another nest. See second photo. There were more eagles out than I could remember though it might be that we kept seeing the same ones...flying away only to perch in another location that would come to later. Still, I think I saw more eagles than osprey and heron combined, which is a first.
As things became shallow, the water turned clear and fresh. The paddle-able portion ended at 6 miles from the mouth. Stopping for lunch (third photo), we saw a couple of large brown tadpoles on a submerged log. Each was about 3.25 inches long with the head and body alone being 1.5 inches. These were goliaths compared to the tiny tadpoles I used to see at my grandfather's farm. But those tadpoles grew into small tree frogs. The ones in Miles Creek would undoubtedly grow into something much larger.
Heading back downstream, we explored a couple of small tributaries. One was about 2.25 miles from the mouth and on the southeast side. See fourth photo. We managed to follow this for quite a distance until we came to a beaver dam.
Numerous small fish jumped out of the water in the shallow areas as we paddled by. Some much larger fish (probably carp) made big splashes as we approached or passed.
Miles Creek was fairly scenic and full of wildlife. We saw two muskrats and more muskrat mounds than I'd ever seen. See fifth photo. There were kingfishers, wood ducks, sandpipers, red winged blackbirds, and more turtles than I can remember. We investigated what appeared to be old blackbird nests. I was hoping to see some snakes but it might be too early for them. Or perhaps they were hiding from the eagles.
I only have two regrets. One was not launching an hour or two earlier. Some parts of the upper portion of the creek and tributaries were quite shallow so exploring at high tide would have made things easier. My other regret was not exploring the large tributary 1.5 miles from the mouth on the northwest side. But that would have made for a very long day and we were getting a bit tired.
Norma and I finished the day after paddling almost 15 miles. It was a long trip for our first kayak outing together of the year but we couldn't have picked a nicer day or a more enjoyable way to spend it.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
The canoe cleanup that never was
For a trip report of my annual Patuxent River canoe cleanup, see Patuxent River Cleanup.
Governor Bridge to Patuxent Wetlands Park
Ever since my February 7, 2009 hike with the Mountain Club of Maryland, I've been wanting to launch at the Governor Bridge Canoe Launch. Well on March 31, 2009, I did just that.
My March 27, 2009 paddle with bicycle shuttle left me pretty tired so I wanted to do a car shuttle this time. That's where Vince came in. He, like me, was willing to take the day off from work to enjoy the 62 degree sunny weather. He was also the ride back to my car...and good company.
I brought my Cobra Expedition because I expected we would encounter quite a few obstacles. I've paddled a few miles upstream from Patuxent Wetlands Park and knew that as the river narrowed, fallen trees would likely be encountered. But that was several years ago. Since then, the Patuxent Riverkeeper was created. One of their missions is to keep the Patuxent Water Trail clear. Still, they can only do so much; so as insurance, I packed my saw.
We got a late start but that was just fine as it was quite a bit warmer at 1100 than 0900.
The first few miles involved good maneuverability to get around all the fallen trees. But only one required us to actually get out of the boat. I managed to stand on the fallen tree and pull/push my boat over. Paddling a sit-on-top made that easy. Vince simply carried his boat on land around the obstacle. There were a few spots where we were stuck for a little while but there was nothing too terribly difficult. Still, it was definitely good that we had plastic boats since anything weaker would have surely shown wear.
A significant amount of wildlife was seen: mallards, wood ducks, kingfishers, ospreys, a cardinal, a turkey, great blue herons, numerous turtles, two groundhogs, and a beaver. I only caught a quick glimpse of the beaver which I originally thought was the biggest groundhog on the face of the planet.
Much of the river was only 50 meters wide and when it did widen up, it usually wasn't significantly more.
We paddled past the Renditions Golf Club where I was tempted to yell, "Fore!" from a hidden location while one of the golfers concentrated to sink a putt...just for sh*ts and giggles.
Next, we kayaked under the Central Avenue (Route 214) bridge. See first and second photos at left.
Vince and I passed by the Queen Anne Canoe Launch which has a very nice aluminum pier.
I was surprised at how many folks were taking the day off from work like Vince and me. There were lots of fishermen out and we saw one reel in a 6 incher as we passed.
We stopped at Wooten's Landing which the Patuxent Water Trail map says has a boat launch but it does not. Even if it did, one would need a canoe/kayak cart to get the boat to the water. One could launch from this site if desperate but it would be extremely muddy. In the third photo at left, Vince toasts the camera with a beer...no, actually it is some trash he found at Wooten's Landing that he carried off. He was warming up for the big Patuxent River Canoe Cleanup I'll be leading in a few days.
During the last couple of miles, there were some sections that were quite shallow, despite the fact that the river was a good bit wider than when we started.
After paddling 13 miles, we made it to our destination, Patuxent Wetlands Park. Unfortunately, the tide was low so the last 120 meters up the little tributary to the dock was very shallow. Then, we had to step into deep mud to get our boats out of the water. Again, a good warm-up for the cleanup.
Finally, we made our way to Grand Fortune Chinese buffet in Gambrills where we ate our fill. I tried dim sum and liked it. Actually, I think I might have had it before but didn't know it.
It was a good day of exploring. The trees were still bare but I reckon that in a month or two, this section of the Patuxent might be one of the most scenic places to paddle close to home.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Jackson's Landing to Clyde Watson
With my annual Patuxent River (Pax) canoe cleanup only 8 days away, it was time for me to perform a reconnaissance of the area of operation. Our cleanup would basically be an amphibious landing...and history has shown just how important it is to gain intelligence about a site prior to the landing.
The first WWII amphibious landing attempts were costly in terms of casualties...most of which were sustained before troops could put their feet on dry ground. The invasion of the island of Tarawa proved to be the costliest and most deadly amphibious operation mounted...While immobilized on unseen reefs and other underwater obstacles, the Tarawa invasion force became a "target of opportunity" for the well manned, well trained and protected Japanese gunners. The Japanese guns were deadly accurate against the stranded American invaders. Of those not killed immediately by enemy gunfire, many men, laden with full combat gear drowned in their attempts to make it to the beach. The Tarawa invasion, although successful, made it readily apparent to American Naval Commanders that some form of "pre-invasion" landing site reconnaissance would be of paramount importance...
- from "US Navy SEALs"
With the numerous times I've paddled in the area, one might ask why a reconnaissance (recon) needs to be performed. While the overall landscape may not change much from year to year, the vegetation changes through the seasons and the amount and type of trash (the enemy) changes. Although I have led a few Pax cleanups, I learn something new each time. Additionally, scouting the area a few days prior will mentally prepare me for the event.
On March 27, 2009, I locked up my boat at Jackson's Landing in Patuxent River Park then spoke to Stephanie J., a park naturalist. In previous years, she was my point of contact for this event. I chit-chatted about new launch sites then confirmed that we were good-to-go for the April 4, 2009 canoe cleanup.
Next, I drove to Clyde Watson Boating Area (a.k.a. Magruders Ferry). I spotted quite a few great blue herons, including some that agreed to pose for a few photos. Can you find all 4 in the first photo at left?
I biked back to Jackson's Landing, via my Clyde Watson Boating area to Jackson's Landing in Patuxent River Park route. Along the way I saw a beaver dam and a beaver lodge. I also stopped in at Nottingham Country Store for a bite to eat. For location and hours, see the above link.
The weather was ideal for biking. It was sunny and cool with little wind. The traffic was unnerving at times as there is usually no shoulder on the road. But it would have been much worse on the weekend or during commuting hours. To get back to Jackson's Landing, I really didn't have much choice regarding my route.
Back at Jackson's Landing, I paddled upstream to Mount Calvert Historical and Archeological Park. I thought this might be a good place to have our lunch break during the canoe cleanup. See me at their pier, second photo. As I climbed the hill that led to the historic house, I caught a fantastic view of the surrounding area. See third photo. It was also a great way to see the lowest points on the shore. These would surely be the ones with the most trash.
Paddling back downstream, I noticed several old tires in some of the muddy areas between Jackson's Landing and Mount Calvert on the west side of the river. It was low tide so there is a good chance they may not be so easily recovered...or even seen on the day of the cleanup.
While I wasn't able to see much trash, my years of leading river cleanups and Adopt-a-Highway cleanups has taught me that the trash is often not seen until you are almost on top of it. For river cleanups, the tide, the lowlands, and the vegetation are the big keys. Trash settles in the lowlands, which in this case is the river. The water level pushes some of it up either through tidal or flood activity. Smaller debris like bottles and cans get trapped by the vegetation. But tires are a different matter. I still haven't figured out why they settle in some areas and not others.
Downstream of Jackson's Landing, I deemed the west side of Jug Bay to be unsuitable for a canoe cleanup north of the canoe campsite. Sometimes I was out 300 meters from the shore and the water was only a foot deep. While a higher tide would allow me to get closer, it would still make getting to shore via canoe very difficult. Despite what appears to be a large amount of water in Jug Bay, the fact of the matter is that except for the section that is dredged, the bay is extremely shallow...typically too shallow to paddle efficiently.
South of the canoe campsite wasn't so bad but with the steep vertical ledges that almost come to the water, there would be very few places for trash to hide, and what did reside could be more easily removed from land.
By the time I got to Shelby's Landing, my recon was complete. I would recommend to Stephanie that my group continue to clean up the section upstream of Jackson's Landing...to Mount Calvert and maybe even a little further north if time permits. But this was just my recommendation. I would let the park staff have the final word.
The rest of my kayaking adventure was comprised of simply getting back to my car. Unfortunately, I was fighting a 1.5 mph flood tide (low to high tide) which made for a long day.
It wasn't all work. I saw my first turtles of the year. The first had a 12 inch shell and he jumped into the water as I paddled by. The second was floating near the surface with its head in the air and popped under as I approached. I saw countless osprey. See fourth photo. Of about 15 nesting platforms, I only saw one that was vacant. Mating pairs were busy building their nests.
On one section of the river, I saw about 10 dead fish in a quarter mile stretch. They all appeared to be about 5 inches long, perhaps of the same species. Since it was in such a localized area, I don't imagine it is due to disease, which I think would spread further.
While my bike ride was sunny, most of my paddling was overcast. As I got further from Jug Bay, things seemed less interesting though I wonder if it was because I was getting fatigued and having to ration my drinking water.
At the take out, I found a 15 inch long feather, fifth photo. After skimming through Identification of Eagle Feathers and Feet, I believe I found an adult bald eagle wing feather.
I finished my trip which started with a 14 mile bike ride (mostly uphill) and ended with a 14 mile kayak trip (against the tide). I was cold, tired, hungry, and thirsty. I thought about how the Tarawa Marines must have felt. Then I quit complaining for I knew my trip was like a walk in the mall compared to what they went through.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.
Floater in the Baltimore Inner Harbor
The weekend of March 21-22 was a physically active one. On Friday, March 20, I biked 21.5 miles. On March 21, I ran 5.5 miles. Then on March 22, I ran another 2.5 miles. But I saved the best for last. On the afternoon of March 22, I called up David T. and convinced him to go paddling with me. With sunny weather and high temperatures in the low 60s, it would have been sacreligious to not go kayaking.
I launched at Broening Park which is close to my house. David launched at Canton Waterfront Park which is close to his house. We paddled and met in between, near Fort McHenry.
Next, we paddled to the Baltimore Inner Harbor. The water was quite calm with temperatures in the high 40s. With my 3 mm thick farmer john neoprene wetsuit and a 1.5 mm thick neoprene top, I was comfortable but David was a little too warm in his 5 mm thick wetsuit. But he can wear his wetsuit to paddle in the middle of winter whereas I cannot.
We kayaked past about 20 police officers. David lives in Baltimore and paddles the Inner Harbor often so he was pretty sure they found a dead body in the water (a floater). He was right. It was confirmed later that day in the news.
There were very few boats in the water but we did see a Duck Boat. Naturally, the passengers quacked at us as they passed. Then, we saw the dragon paddle boats. I don't know what they are officially called but they are not to be confused with the dragon boat canoes that people in China race. The former are the big, wide boats that two people can sit in side-by-side and propel with their legs. Some of the boats have dragon heads and they are made for tourists. Their top speed is about the same as my crawl.
At the northwest end of the Inner Harbor, we stopped to see a street performer. It was hard to see anything from the water since the crowd was standing so David watched my boat while I rolled out of my boat onto the sidewalk. The entertainer stood on a bowling ball while he juggled three swords. Very impressive.
It was good to see so many people out on such a nice day.
Continuing counterclockwise around the Inner Harbor, we paddled past the Maryland Science Museum then the Baltimore Museum of Industry.
David and I chased a powerboat then drafted it for awhile.
A little later, I saw Wesley, a member of the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA) who I hadn't seen for a few years.
We saw three stand-up paddle board people. Up until now, Neil was the only person in Maryland I'd seen with one of these things.
Back at Fort McHenry, David jumped in the 40 something degree water to cool off. Then we headed back to our launch sites. I got in a good 12.5 miles and spent some time catching up with a good fellow.
Little Patapsco River
When people think of the Pataspco River, they sometimes think of the big body of water that connects Fort McHenry to the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge then drains into the Chesapeake Bay just after Fort Smallwood Park. Other people associate this water with the narrow river that separates Baltimore County from Anne Arundel County or Baltimore County from Howard County. The fact of the matter is that both answers are correct. But in Saki-speak, the former is called the "Big" Patapsco River while the latter is the "Little" Patapsco River.
On March 11, 2009, I paddled the "Little" Patapsco River.
The high temperature was forecast to be 67 degrees in the afternoon. For March, this is unusually warm so I decided to take advantage of this anomaly by leaving work early and launching my Futura C4 at Southwest Area Park. From here, I paddled upstream. While I planned all this at the last minute, my choice of boat and launch site were both good. Not having paddled in several months, I wanted a boat that was fairly stable and I definitely wanted a flip-up rudder since parts of the river are shallow and there are many submerged objects near the surface. I also wanted a place close to home that was moderately scenic and natural. But my timing was bad. I didn't bother to check the tide table and it turns out low tide at Fort McHenry was at 1410. I launched at 1435. After about an hour, it was obvious that if I wanted to get further upstream, I would need to do a good deal of walking. I turned back about a quarter of a mile upstream of the Baltimore Washington Parkway (highway 295).
I wasn't out to get in umpteen miles, set speed records, or explore a new area. I just wanted to paddle. With such a low expectation, it was easily met. But I accomplished quite a bit more.
About 2 miles upstream of the launch site and a tenth of a mile west of the Baltimore Washington Parkway, I saw a large nest on the south side of the river. I was pretty sure it was a bald eagle nest. I saw a bald eagle in a tree about a quarter of a mile downstream on the way up. I brought my boat ashore and went to investigate on foot. As I approached the nest, which was about 40 feet above the ground and 150 meters inland, a bald eagle flew out. Jackpot! See first photo at left. I then saw another bald eagle. Clearly, they were a couple. They would circle then either land at nearby trees or back at the nest. They weren't comfortable with me being there but they didn't want to get far from their home either. I only stayed long enough to get some photos.
In addition to the eagle nest, I saw some other wildlife. I spotted about 7 great blue herons in a tight group. I thought there might be a rookery nearby but I saw none. I saw some old wasp nests and evidence of lots of recent beaver activity. There were quite a few geese out too. See second photo. I only saw one osprey that was carrying its dinner (or someone's dinner) as it flew.
Further downstream, I saw a juvenile bald eagle. See third photo. Unlike the adults, the juveniles are not camera shy.
I spoke to some boys who were fishing and retrived a sinker caught in a tree for one of them.
Most of the day was dark and the water was still very cold but with a farmer john 3 mm thick neoprene wetsuit and a 1.5 mm thick neoprene top, I was comfortable as long as I kept moving and stayed low. But once I stood up and caught the wind, I got cold. Of course the initial shock of cold water entering a totally dry wetsuit is chilling but it or a drysuit is necessary for kayaking at this time of the year...especially in a surf ski. But after a minute or two, the water trapped in the wetsuit warms up to ensure a safe and comfortable trip.
I paddled just over 7.5 miles at a slow pace. It was the first of what I hope will be a multitude of wonderful paddling trips this year.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.