Sunday, February 10, 2013

"I think I am blocking the river"

While 2012 was a drought filled year that made finding acceptable water levels a challenge, 2013 has started out with a nice combination of snow and rain giving the kayaking world hope that the upcoming year will be an improvement.  As the RSVP's poured in, Dan felt like a high school reunion chairman or better yet one of the Blues Brothers as he hustled to put the band back together.  Kent, Tom, Russ, JD, Jim H. fell into place.  Hell, even Jim M. dug through his vast collection of toys and dusted off ole' yeller.  Dan smiled to himself and in his best imitation of  Animal House's Flounder exclaimed: "This is gonna be great!" But wait....something was missing.  Where was our Curly of the Three Stooges, our Chrissie of Three's Company, the other woman in our dreams of a Menage a Trois? Yep, although an original member of the consecutive month kayaking club, Pat has long established his kayaking preference is that of a loner.  He has become the Grand Bu pah of the solo yak...a Master masturyaker as it were. 

Clockwise from upper left: Dan, group, Jim H., Kent, Jim M.,  Russ, JD, Tom
  Enjoying mild temperatures in the thirties, the seven yakkers put in at Hidden Lake and headed towards the Arboretum.  As Kent and Russ power stroked ahead as if trying out for the last spot on Yale's sculling team, conversation at the tail end of the group eventually landed on the legality of entering the Arboretum via the river.  Were we trespassing or not?  Although the question has been asked many times before and opinions on the topic are unlimited, a definitive answer never seems to be forthcoming nor would it on this trip.  As the five stragglers came around a bend they saw Russ and all 12 feet of his kayak stretched across the width of the river.  Apparently thinking that the best way to get over a submerged tree limb was sideways like a high jumper doing the Fossberry Flop instead of a hurdler attacking it head on, Russ got caught up on the tree.  As the realization set in that he was now blocking the rest of the group Russ shrugged his shoulders and sheepishly said "I think I am blocking the river!"  No SH!#  Sherlock!!  After a few minutes the obstruction was removed (as well as the tree limb!) and the trip continued. Dan shook his head and muttered under his breath "FNG Russ". 
 While the increased water level provided some nice riffles in multiple sections, it did cause some concern about the chosen departure location...a gushing spillway. Despite his little mishap earlier in the trip Russ took the bull by the horns and roared right up to the fast flowing water.  The whole group held their breath in anticipation of the impending disaster. For some of us, this would not be the first time we have witnessed a fallen brethren sitting in the freezing water next to this spillway.  Much to our shock (and relief), Russ calmly stepped out of his yak onto shore like he was getting out of his recliner to fetch another brew. The ease in which he did this maneuver was surprising to everyone especially after they all struggled to get onto shore themselves.  Although I love the label, maybe it is time to remove the FNG tag.  Kent, practicing a self imposed alcohol moratorium, went to get his car while the rest of the group enjoyed a nice cold beer, next to the river a mere 100 yards from the police station.  Hard to think of a better way to kill some time on a lazy winter afternoon!  SYOTR.
The boys enjoy a cold one after a successful trip

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Duper...we have a PROBLEM!

February had arrived, the rivers were at a nice level after the recent rain and the snowfall the night before set the scene for what should have been a great winter kayak trip.  Dan (extending his streak to 87 consecutive months), Tom, Katie and Russ set off on what was planned to be the North avenue to Beecher route. All was good initially until we rounded a bend and saw a large tree creating a major blockage.  With a 2 foot ice shelf guarding the 4 foot high bank, the kayakers were facing some crucial decisions. While finding a place to get out for a potential portage was proving difficult, the unknown prospect of trying to successfully get back into the yaks after the tree ultimately sealed the deal. The decision? We would paddle back upstream and abort the original plans.  While it involved more effort than we typically like to exert, things were going well until we hit the "rapids".  We would have to portage if we liked it or not. Taking advantage of his insulated waders, Dan got out and pulled Katie to a safe spot while Tom and Russ looked for another option.
Russ, Katie and Tom enjoy the majestic winter beauty not knowing what was around the bend
While the snow can make for a beautiful backdrop to a winter kayak trip, it can also hide unknown dangers to the unaware. After struggling up the steep embankment to "solid" ground, Russ and Tom set off upstream to scout out a re-entrance point to the river to continue the trip back to the cars.  They had only taken a few steps when old man winter kicked Tom in the teeth.  What he thought was a safe spot to step turned out to be trap.  As the ground gave way, Tom plunged into the frigid water below.  The shocking bite of the 33 degree water caused Tom to scream out in shock.  Dan whipped his head around just in time to see the smirk on Russ's face that seemed to say "I knew you shouldn't have stepped there dumb@$$ !!"  As it turns out only one leg went in about knee deep and disaster was avoided.
A desperate Tom reaches out for assistance from Russ 
Once everyone was safely back in their kayaks, the paddle upstream was without further incident.  Back on shore the group stood next to their ice covered gear and enjoyed a nice cold bottle of brew.  Topics changed quickly from the ice cold temperature of the beer, to the need for upgraded winter kayaking gear to the changed kayak transport situation due to the altered route. Attempting to be funny Russ pointed out that his truck and kayak were already here and all he had to do was make the quick trip back home (thus stranding Dan with a kayak, no car and no ride). Not receiving the panicked reaction to his comments that he was hoping for, a few minutes later Russ repeated his whimsical comment hoping maybe that the group would think he was really serious if he said it again. Dan took the bait and disgustingly said "If it wasn't funny the first time you said it why did you think it would be funny the second time?". The group enjoyed a chuckle, sucked down the last few ounces of beer and loaded up the gear all agreeing that this adventure was a first (and one that no one would want to repeat).  Till next time...see you on the river.