Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Running Wild

There is nothing so beautiful as a wild river.
It is the most powerful force on earth.
It can be tapped, it can be managed, it can be harnessed, but it will always seek freedom.
I pledge to always let them run free.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What motivates us?

Recent discussion had me thinking, what motivates us to do anything?

People arguing about why we should canoe makes me think, if you spent more time on the water and less time bitching, you'd probably have more fun.

Just a thought

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Chronicles of Tupac & Biggie – Part II

I’ve been thinking more about the differences between East and West Coast living, in an attempt to determine which I like more. When I first started, there were aspects of the west that I truly loved, the laid back lifestyle, the vastness of it, but I was afraid I was too deeply rooted in East Coast lifestyle. East Coast, to me, is fast-paced. You drive 90 on the freeways to get to work, to go to a ball game, to pick up milk. You don’t drive slowly and take it in, you just get there. And there have been times in my life where I’ve been outside of the Northeast, and I was fed up with the “let’s just drive slowly and look around” mentality. And I’m afraid that’s what waiting for me on the West Coast. It’s not that driving slow, or the larger aspect, living slow, is wrong. I’m just too damn impatient.

Regardless, I decided to start writing a little bit about my perceived differences between the East and the West. And I decided to start with the beauty of each place. Reason? If I become more patient and decide to drive slow and smell the flowers, will it be worth it?

Beauty on the East Coast requires work. The interstates and highways on the East Coast don’t pass by many spectacular vistas; many just go through the industrial wasteland of the megalopolis. Take I-95 through Jersey and you would think the entire state is a wastewater treatment plant and refinery. Take 287 and you’ll think everything is under construction. But if you take a rural road, you’ll wind over rolling hills, alongside small streams in a, well, un-Jersey-like fashion.

Drive around on the West Coast and everything is big sky and mountains.
Snow-capped peaks of the Olympic and Sierra Nevada ranges dot the horizon, and the powder-blue sky stretches all the way back to Utah. Towering 6,000-foot peaks, higher than nearly every mountain back east, are just “hills” to the locals. Sometimes it is hard to focus on the road when you are surrounded by the spectacular.

The East, however, has its places. The Adirondacks are still stunning, and there are plenty of “scenic overlooks” on the highways that provide an ample view. The rolling farmlands of Western New York, punctuated by the occasional tree line or twisty trout brook, are beautiful to me. But most of the beauty in the East, I have found, is not large-scale. It is something you must get right up and see.

On the West Coast, you have those spectacular vistas, those beautiful mountain ranges, canyons, rivers, etc. But when you get right up to the land, the simple dirt that makes up those vistas, often you find that at close range, the view does not hold up. The scraggly brush and powdery dirt paint a beautiful picture from afar, but up close the brush strokes are too jagged, too barren to be great.

The East Coast, on the other hand, is much more suited for close inspection. Countless times in my travels out here, I have found something small, unique, and breathtaking. The interlocking trees on Fish Pond, the crystal-clear water of the Deerfield River come to mind. And then there is the Bog River. That has scenic vistas, some of the best in the East. But you have to work; it’s a five mile paddle and a three mile hike. But there is also a small scale that I love. There is a marshy bog with a twisting path to a granite erratics. And there is a sandy hill, where rain and the elements have washed away the vegetation. When I first saw it, I thought it was rather ugly, but when I looked closely, I noticed that the pebbles in the sand withstood the erosion of the water. The pebbles kept the sand underneath it from washing away, leaving small pyramids of sand standing like the spines of a porcupine. It took hard work getting there and a careful eye to see, but there is beauty on the East Coast.

And that is what I see now. I think the West has a lock on “spectacular”. It’s hard to find any other place where you can see the mountains, the snow, the rivers, the prairies all in one view. But the East, despite the built-up, industrialized nature of it, still has its beauty; you just have to look.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Whitewater Progression

Longer post; I'm still working on the family one.

I’ve been thinking a lot about whitewater, mostly about why I like it so much. I’ve had serious interests before, but nothing quite as addicting as boating. One of the big reasons I like whitewater is because you can so easily track your progression.

I was practically born in a canoe. As early as I can remember, I was in the bow of my father’s Curtis Companion, paddling up and down the twisty Bantam River, pulling errant golf balls out that fell in from nearby Litchfield Country Club. And I learned how to solo a boat on Saranac Lake during a summer vacation, paddling that same Companion along the shore to fish for perch. I soloed a boat on a trip for the first time two years ago, still paddling that same Companion. And I was content, I thought, to continue paddling on flat water, seeing beautiful places that required a little hard work in a unique craft to see.

Then I discovered whitewater. I took a class with my brother in June of last year. We learned how to paddle tandem on the Lehigh River. The first day on the river, I had literally never paddled a rapid before in my life. I had floated down a swift in the nearby Delaware River a few times, and waded a boulder garden once in Algonquin. I had seen rapids before, bigger ones than the Lehigh could ever produce. But the first time I sat in the stern of the boat, watching the river drop away, watching my brother literally go downhill, that was it. I was hooked.

I paddled a half dozen more times in that tandem, learning the lines and the basic maneuvers. I learned how much respect one had to give the river, because the river is stronger than you will ever be, and the river never gets tired. But I also learned how fun the river can be, how beautiful it can be, and how rewarding it can be.

In July of last year, I drove up to Albany one day and bought a solo whitewater canoe, a Mohawk Probe 11. It was old, only a few years younger than I was. But it was a great boat, strong and forgiving. That August, I paddled it down the Lehigh for the first time. The level was nearly twice what I was used to, but I managed to get down the river with a strong brace and no swims. It was at that point that I promised myself that I would canoe as much as I possibly could.

This year, I stayed true to that promise. I paddled the Lehigh so much that I have the rapids memorized, and could talk someone down the river over the phone. But by July, I felt like I needed a bit more of a challenge. It wasn’t that the Lehigh wasn’t a difficult river. It always presented a different problem to solve, and I have swum more than my fair share of times. But I needed to prove to myself that I could begin to do something different, more difficult.

I went to the Deerfield River in July. While most of the river is innocuous Class I, the Fife Brook section ends in the difficult Zoar Gap, a III+ rapid, the biggest I had paddled to that point.

I stood in the shoulder of the road overlooking the gap. I watched the river constrict and then drop into a chute, with two mammoth holes, nearly the width of the river, providing the bulk of the difficulty. Rec boats tried to pass through, but were constantly stopped and thrashed by the holes. But as I watched, I saw a line on the left. Punch over a pourover, keep the boat on the left, sneak between the hole and the river bank on the left. I decided that the line could be run, then I decided that I could run the line. Then I did.

After two more Gap runs, one successful, the other, well, see the video, I realized that it was the progression that I liked. I thought I was a solid Class III boater, so I paddled a III+ rapid. A few weeks later, I decided that I needed a river with multiple Class III rapids, so I went to the Lower Yough. I paddled that twice as well, with only two dumb swims.

I’m not listing these to rattle off a bunch of achievements like a jackass. I’m only pointing out that whitewater gives me a measuring stick that I really like. You know how good of a boater you are based on what level rapid you can paddle, and how well you paddle that rapid. For me, after a few clean runs on a river, I feel ready to push onwards, and when I ready, upwards.

With a few tweaks to my outfitting, a roll, and a bomber forward stroke, I feel like I will be ready to tackle some Class IV next year. I’ll be spending my time this off season working on those three things, so that I can continue to progress. I’m sure at some point, I will hit a wall, unable to paddle anything bigger without taking unnecessarily dangerous risks. But I don’t know where that level is. So for now, I can only paddle to that limit.

--Post Note: After having posted this, I proceeded to swim on the first rapid of the Lehigh, at its lowest level ever. Just goes to show the river demands a little humility.--

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lower Yough

Just a short post while I try to write a longer one about familial obligations.

Some pictures from the fellows at Outdoor Adventure Photography. Immediately previous to me in the first series is Joe, a great open boater. Previous to me in the second series is Sarah.

July 31 - Hour 10 - Page 21

August 1 - Hour 8 - Page 2

More paddling this weekend on the Lehigh!