Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Nemesis has Returned


It was a sluggish start to the day, in large part due to my old nemesis, the wind. He was back looking for revenge. It just made me think how nice it will be to paddle when we finally have the river running in our direction and that odd day with the wind at out backs.

Another reason it didn't seem that we were making any progress was that the river meandered around quite a bit. For each of the first two days, the distance we paddled was double the linear distance between our start and finish points.

One other setback was that we had tire blowout. Tire blowout, you ask? Yes, a tire blowout. We are carrying a small wheeled aluminum frame on which to carry the kayaks when we need to portage over land. I guess the heat of the sun caused the tube to expand and burst. It woke me up. It sounded like a shotgun blast. Kobie and I both looked around for a second until we realized what it was.

We started seeing wildlife along the river: deer, fox, many raptors and tons of fish leaping out of the water to catch a meal. We contemplated bringing a fishing pole, but it was just additional gear to carry and worrying about the licensing requirements between the various states was more than we cared to deal with.

As it worked for us once, we figured that camping on private property was the way to go. We were getting further out of Winnipeg and there were fewer areas on the banks of the river that were cleared. We did however find an area on a farm that was doable; less than ideal, but doable. This time I wandered up to a farm house to ask permission and sure enough we had a place to camp. Thanks Will.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Away We Go

Our initially intended departure point was from somewhere in Winnipeg on the Red River. Just down the road from the outfitter however was the Assiniboine River, which connected to the Red. It was much easier to get there so that was the new plan. Much to our surprise, that morning a Winnipeg Newspaper was notified about our planned trip and was at the river to greet us.

We spoke to the girls from the Winnipeg Free Press a bit while hastily stuffing our kayaks full of gear. I nearly threw my back out just carrying the kayaks down to the river. While I generally travel as light as possible, I was carrying 30 liters of water, weighing in at approximately 60 pounds. I thought I might need a mask and snorkel as I would be paddling a submarine. Dawn from Wilderness Supply, who drove us down to river shook her head and expressed some concern as to how low our kayaks were sitting in the river. Whatever was to happen would be fully documented by the Winnipeg Free Press, whose article can be found here. A few things about the article: I was not a stock broker, but did work on Wall Street. I have a few miles left to hike on the Appalachian Trail, due to an injury which is believed to be Compartment Syndrome. I have also been to about 60 countries but only 40 since leaving work.

As we paddled along with the current we gained confidence but was a slight bit shaken when much to our surprise a boat came roaring around the corner. We took our first break after about 5.5 miles when the Assiniboine river Joined the Red at "The Forks". The Forks is an esplanade with a number of shops and restaurants, so we each wandered around there for a bit to stretch our legs.

As we set off on the Red River the difference was immediate in that we were now paddling against the current. Not only that, but it is a wider river, so there was no place to hide from the wind that was, of course, blowing in our face. The forecast was for winds gusting up to 70 knots. Sweet.

Towards the end of the day we began scanning the banks for a place to stop and camp. The problem with the Red River though is that the banks are generally fairly steep and muddy. The only places with any reasonable place to exit the river were private homes. We were after all, still in Winnipeg proper. We found a grassy patch down by the river only to realize that there was a house up off the river just a bit. As it was late in the day and light was fading, we decided to go up and knock on the door. Our new friend Rick could not have been nicer and gave us the go ahead to camp on his lawn. Thanks Rick.

Kobie and I had a few concerns about raccoons or what have you giving us a hard time in the night, but the mosquitoes proved to be a worse hassle. I never thought Canadian mosquitoes could be so ravenous. They were worse than in the jungles of Borneo; seriously. As the wind howled I didn't get the best nights sleep but I can think of worse ways to end day one.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Kayak: T-1


It took a little doing; some legwork and extremely helpful people, but Kobie and I are all outfitted and ready to start paddling tomorrow.

Our first course of action in Winnipeg was to check out the Red River, which we will be paddling for the next few hundred miles. We will be paddling against the current those few hundred miles, but fortunately the river isn't running very hard. Having not scoped out the river prior to concocting this scheme it could have been the case that Kobie and I would be doing the equivalent of running up a down escalator, but fortunately no.

We totally lucked out in that Winnipeg is a paddling city, so that we were able to pick up everything we need. That being said, we didn't have 100 kayaks to choose from, let alone a half dozen. We did however each find a kayak that fit us, if not our budget. It seems rather silly to spend nearly two grand on a 17 foot piece of rotomolded plastic. Its not like there are any computer chips in the thing. I was able to load up my boat with all my gear, food and water. My kayak may turn our to be a submarine when I put it in the water, but all the stuff fits.

I don't think I could go any further without giving a big shout out to Wilderness Supply in Winnipeg, especially Kat and Dawn. They helped in getting all our stuff together, gave us invaluable advice, loaned us a car, were more than patient when both of us initially had our credit cards declined (you would think after three and a half years my credit card company would stop declining transactions because they are large sums in foreign countries) and took us for a tour of Winnipeg. Thanks again girls.

So here we are in Winnipeg taking care of a few last minute things before we impose on our friends again to give us and our kayaks a ride down to the river. Wish us luck...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Arrival in Winnipeg, Canada


I flew to Winnipeg via Calgary and was at least a little concerned when I saw snow in the mountains outside of Calgary. While changing planes in Calgary I quickly popped outside and it was colder than I thought it would be. I was chilly in long pants and a short sleeve shirt.

I got a kick out of the departure board in Calgary airport as it was loaded with all sorts of towns I only knew as some pro hockey player or another came from there: Moose Jaw, Yellowknife, Medicine Hat & Kamloops among others.

There were a few stares in my direction as I carried my PFD (life vest) on the plane. I also felt ghetto as I used an over sized tupperware container as luggage. I am not about to paddle down the river with a suitcase strapped to the top of my kayak, so I needed something disposable and a big plastic container fit the bill.

I got to Winnipeg without incident, other than having the usual annoyances one encounters while sitting in the back of the plane: getting hit in the elbow with the drink cart, the entertainment system not working and having the person sitting next to me being somewhat less than ideal to be plunked next to for umpteen hours. Why is it that I always get "that" person sitting next to me? Sitting in the departure lounge and without any previous knowledge I can usually pick out the person that will be seated next to me. It's usually the one that carried on a dog, had been chain smoking in front of the airport just before the flight and has a screaming infant in tow.

My paddle partner, Kobie, also made it to Winnipeg, but only after being detained by immigration in the U.S. before catching a bus to Winnipeg, which arrived two hours late. So here we are in Winnipeg, ready to get outfitted for our adventure...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Addition to the Kayak Trip

I mentioned in an earlier post that there was a little change in the kayak trip. That change is that there is another person on this planet foolish enough to undertake the kayak trip I laid out, so I will have a paddling partner. After having rolled solo for the last three and a half years it will be a welcome change to have a partner in crime...or we will kill one another within a week. It’s a coin toss.

I will be joined by my good buddy Kobie Rhodes that, well, where to start? He was born in the UK, lived a majority of his life in New Zealand, made his way across the Tasman Sea to live in Australia for three years before settling in Singapore…for now. His place in Singapore also served as my home base for my travels through Asia. Thanks Kob.

As far as Kobie’s adventure travel resume is concerned, I couldn’t fit it all in here, but his last three major trips were: a bike ride from Anacortes, WA to Bar Harbor, ME, mountain biking from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide Trail and hiking the length of New Zealand. Kobie has been chronicling his adventures on his website: www.roadwarriorsnews.com Kobie will also have his take of our adventure posted here.

Kobie is also a dive instructor, climber, firearms expert and filmmaker (so expect a movie of this trip).

I will be meeting Kobie in Winnipeg on the 27th to equip ourselves before setting out a couple of days later. Stay tuned

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Vacation

The second half of my R&R included a trip to South Carolina to visit my dad. The biggest problems I have there is that I eat and drink far too much and don’t always get enough exercise. I attempted to go for a run, but given my leg injury, it didn’t go well.

Fortunately for me, Tropical Storm Fay made a left turn instead of shooting straight up the coast to South Carolina. That left me with blue skies and an opportunity to do some paddling. I packed a lunch, rented a kayak and paddled the Waccamaw River. It felt great to get out on the water despite the mercury pushing the mid 90’s. I haven't done nearly as much training for the kayak trip as I had for my two previous trips, but an easier start will make up for that.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lobster Diving

From Vermont, Matt and I motored over to Massachusetts to meet up with his cousin who organized the diving. I have done quite a bit of SCUBA diving and have an advanced certification, but most of the time when I dive the water temperature is in the 70’s; not so much in Massachusetts.

To dive in water that was in the low 50’s at depth, we wore seven millimeter wetsuits, boots, gloves and hoods. I felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man waddling around on the shore, not to mention the fact that I was baking in the sun and sweating fiendishly. In wearing all that gear it not only offers warmth, but it provides additional buoyancy, not necessarily what you are looking for when SCUBA diving. I had to wear a weight belt with 24 pounds of lead to assist in pulling me down.

It took me a good 15 minutes underwater to just get used to wearing all the gear. It took another five to get up the courage to try and grab a lobster that was threatening me with its two open claws. I discovered though that for the most part, having my fingers clamped in the claws of a lobster didn’t hurt all that much. Not while wearing seven millimeter neoprene gloves anyway. I wouldn’t want to get my fingers caught in there absent the gloves.

Lobster diving was very different from the other diving that I had done in that I have mostly been diving recreationally where the goal is just to look around and see what kinds of things you can spot down there. Here I was, with my arm shoulder deep under a rock in an attempt to convince a lobster to come along for the ride.

Some of the ocean bottom was sandy and the lobster were walking along the sand. Mostly though, lobster hang out in rocky areas where they can hide if threatened. I found that going at them with a quick grab worked best (and prevented me from getting clamped). Also on the ocean bottom were quite literally hundreds of commercial lobster traps. I weaved in between the traps as I swam along trying to find lobster.

On the second dive I was far more comfortable in all the gear and had some experience in grabbing the “bugs” as they are referred to. The diving was tons of fun as there was an objective. And in the end it would mean dinner. It made me overlook the fact that in rental gear fees I probably ended up paying about thirty dollars a pound for the lobster.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Vermont

The weather didn’t seem to want to cooperate with our little fishing excursion in Vermont, so we had to cancel our first day. Instead of fishing we opted to visit the nearby Long Trail Brewery for lunch...which lasted five hours. We had a late lunch and stayed on for a few beers afterwards. As the employees finished their shifts they joined us for a couple of drinks and a chat. Matt and I enjoyed a few beers and talked with the staff, collecting some interesting local knowledge, including the fact that there used to be a number of gold mines in the area. I wouldn’t have guessed that in Vermont.

When we finally did manage to get out and do a little fishing, it wasn’t without incident. We rented a boat on Lake Bomoseen as we had done a number of times before. In this case though, we managed to burn out the first motor on the boat in all of five minutes. After calling the marina they came by with a replacement motor, but it too was dead. We had to be towed back to the marina to get set up with motor number three. The third motor was the charm.

The fishing in Vermont was typical for this time of year; many small and varied fish. There were small mouth and rock bass along with a collection of pan fish. We certainly didn’t come up with any record or even particularly large fish, but there was plenty of action.

On a separate fishing excursion we decided to fish from the shore at Kent Pond, which the Appalachian Trail happens to run right past. So as we walked around the lake, we ambled along the muddy Appalachian Trail. I would like to have hiked there from down south, but it wasn’t meant to be at the time. In just walking along near the shore of the lake I was pretty sure that my plan of heading back to Great Barrington, MA and knocking off another part of the trail was out. All I wanted to do was hike the section from Great Barrington, MA to exactly where I was in Vermont. I didn't see it happening though.

I thought I might spot someone thru-hiking the trail that I would recognize, but that portion of the trail was unused except by the two of us fishing in the rain. Our catch was several small mouth bass and nothing more.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Decision Time...Remix

What to do? I have been resting my leg for the last few days and it is feeling marginally better. I was bouncing around the idea of heading to Bermuda and/or perhaps to South Carolina to visit my dad for a little R&R. There are so many variables now, the most important being whether I can walk any significant distance on a daily basis. It turns out that my buddy Matt is switching jobs, so as part of my recovery program and his time off, we will head up to Vermont to do some fishing and then to the Massachusetts coast to go lobster diving.

On a positive note, I called Leki, the company that makes my hiking poles and explained to them what happened to the one pole when I took a tumble. “No problem”, they said, “we will send you a replacement”. The unconditional warranty was how the guy in the store sold me on that brand of poles. I had a feeling that I would be making use of it. Thanks, Leki.