"And you know I'll be where my heart feels free, and my thoughts are free to fly.
Oh mama, please don't make me lie, I need my freedom, need my open sky." ~Railroad Earth

21 August 2014

Bike Touring on Texel Island

I'm in Delft! This post is not about kayaking...

Bridget spontaneously decided to come visit for 2 weeks after her work cruise in Romania was cancelled. The Netherlands is close to Romania, right? She arrived a day after me and we've been exploring the city of Delft together. Of course, our first inclination was to get out of the city, so we made plans to visit Texel Island, which is one in a string of barrier islands (the Frisian Islands) along the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. The map below shows the West Frisian Islands, along the Dutch coast. Texel island is the furthest west, and connects to the mainland (city of Den Helder) by ferry.

From the Delft train station (~1 mile from my apartment), we took two trains to reach Den Helder. From there, we wandered along the levee in Den Helder until we found the ferry terminal (vaarhaven).

The levee/seawall along the coast in Den Helder. No beach left here...
Almost at the ferry terminal
Texel Island is best seen by bike, so we rented bikes next to the ferry terminal when we arrived. We rented the cheap bikes (no gears) for 12 euros/person for 2 days. It took some finagling to attach my backpack to the back of the bike. This was my first overnight bike trip, so it was all new to me. Bridget informed me that this was NOT how bike gear is normally organized. We rode 12 km to Den Koog, which is on the northern coast of the island. On either side we were greeted with picturesque fields of sheep, cows, and horses.

Happy Bridget, moments before her backpack fell off the bike.
Massive backpack strapped to bike.
The rest of the afternoon was a combination of (covered) patio drinks, window shopping, beach wandering, biking, and admiring the Dutch style of camping (Monster tents with wifi, front porches, fully equipped kitchens, and multiple rooms). We scouted out a lunch spot behind a beach bar which was in a wind shadow, only to have sand dumping on our heads and picnic from above. Mmmmm crunchy cheese. We spent a few hours huddling in the tent during the afternoon thunderstorms, after which we went on a much less gear-laden bike ride to the neighboring Dunes of Texel National Park and watched the sunset from the beach.

One example of a massive Dutch-style encampment
Hiding in our mini tent during one of many afternoon thunderstorms
Sunset walk at the Dunes of Texel National Park

The next morning we woke to a reasonably dry tent and a glint of sunlight. However, by the time we had packed up our bags, the rain was pummeling the tent once again. We conducted the worlds fastest tent take-down and ate our last bread and cheese in the campground bathrooms (less gross than you're imagining). We returned to our bikes and unlocked the super fancy Dutch locks (which lock across the spokes of the back wheel, simply preventing it from rotating. This allows you to leave the bike standing anywhere). On the trip back to the ferry terminal we encountered a massive deluge of rain and hail. After a few minutes of the intensity, we took shelter behind a small shed, huddling next to a French couple. We saw some of our biking acquaintances (other bikers who passed/we passed intermittently) battling the storm and waved from our happy dry spot. Back at the ferry terminal we shared grins of mutual understanding: we survived the storm together.

Huddling behind a shed, hiding from the hail and torrential downpour.

14 August 2014

The Kayak Burrito

It's a sad day for Big Purple. She's been winterized, thanks to a giant waterproof painter sheet and my step brother, Antoine, to help wrap. Big Purple is now a 16.5' black burrito and will gaze longingly at the pond next to our house in Boston, for the next year:

We've had some epic times together recently, but now it's time for me to do a year of terrestrial wandering in the Netherlands! I was going to say "drier wandering" but then reminded myself of the weather forecast. It's even hard to say "terrestrial" when most of the country is below sea level. Hey, maybe it won't be that different.

Flight departs for Iceland this evening, where my mom and stepdad will stay for the week. We'll go look at some puffins for a few hours before I get on my flight to Amsterdam!

12 August 2014

Days 21 - 24: Revisiting Owasco Lake, BayCreek, and NYC

This weekend I met up with Maya at her grandpa's lake house on Owasco Lake where we spent the day kayaking with her brother Kiran and sister Mallika. We launched from the lake house (east side of the lake) and paddled north. Back in 2010 I paddled around the southern half of Owasco, so much of this territory was new to me.

This will be a new tradition for future Finger Lake paddles
Maya recounts her experience in the bullets below, which she wrote while we drove to NYC on Sunday night... [Nena's comments in italics]
  • Nena is supposed to get to Owasco Lake at 8 a.m. Maya wakes up at 8:30 a.m. and is very miffed when Nena strolls in at 10 a.m. [Sleeping in was worth it. Also, the drive was longer than I expected!] Maya angrily eats pie for breakfast.  
  • Nena arrives! We chat in the cottage for a while. She catches up with Liz, KK, Maya, Kiran, Mallika, and Grandpa. We talked about [The!] Netherlands – about Vermeer the painter.
  • Nena and Maya sat on the dock with lemon mint iced tea (mint picked on the side of the road leading to the cottage). Joined by Mallika and Kiran, we talked about previous blog entries – Maya proves she reads Nena’s blog diligently by remembering the beer Nena drank in [? okay maybe not that diligently...] was strawberry beer. [The strawberry beer was in Bismarck, ND! I am very impressed. Maybe someone actually reads this blog]
  • After freezing on the dock because the sun hasn't reached the lake side of the cottage yet, we decide it will be best to start the kayaking excursion right away, to get out into the sun and embrace the day.
Kiran, Maya, and Mallika fresh and full of energy
Nena feeling overly geared-up.
  • Kiran and Maya lug three kayaks from the porch down to the shore, while Nena prepared her much more professional grade kayak and paddle for the trip. Maya and Kiran frantically search the cottage for life jackets and paddles – there is a time crunch, because Mallika is on call for her job at Anthropologie and if she has to work, she will have to be back in a half an hour. [How can you have 3 kayaks and only 1 paddle?]
Mallika calling Anthropologie to see if she has to work - the answer is no!
  • We begin our journey. Maya soon needs to use the bathroom. The sun is bright but it's at our backs. We pass the YMCA camp and various seagulls. 
  • We see a bald [is it actually bald?] eagle. Exciting stuff. 
  • Maya uses the bathroom on the side of the lake, in a very scenic area. [FYI... it's not called the bathroom when you're peeing in the woods...]
Kiran, Maya, and Mallika
  • Soon after, another kayaker approaches us using a Greenland style paddle. We discover the Greenland kayaker’s name is Mike; he lives on the lake, and a friend made his paddle. Nena and Mike discuss paddles, talk about Lake Ontario and the Rough Riders, discuss Hudson River paddling. They discover they have a mutual friend: Dennis Mike, Facebook enthusiast. Mike writes Nena’s name on his boat. [This seems odd in retrospect. Maybe his boat is a giant whiteboard.] Nena claims she will someday make her own kayak. Whether this is true or not is yet to be seen. [It will happen some day!] Kiran, Mallika, and Maya contribute nothing to the conversation. We don't even know how far away we are from our own cottage. 
  • Mike, finding the latter three kayakers’ skills and speed wanting, departs after exchanging names with Nena. [No silly! He decided to turn around when we were going to check out the creek!]
  • We decide that instead of kayaking around the curve and landing at the shore beneath Tom Thumb, the most famous ice cream shop in all of the Lake Owasco region, we will stop before the curve and explore an adjoining creek. 
  • Some brief rough waters attack Maya’s boat and fill it with water, the first sign that our trip is quickly devolving into a series of hardships and anguish. We decide that we are going to continue an additional “unit” north. Nena has begun to describes distances in "units" in order to militarize our supposedly fun trip and make us regret our decision to join her on this endeavor. [ :) ]
  • We reach our destination and curve right into a creek area [Dutch Hollow Brook on Burtis Point], where we are greeted by two older gentlemen, anchored in their rowboat, fishing, and smoking the reefer. They greet us, and we try not to disturb the fish as we sail past gracefully (Maya hits a rock with her boat, and she and Mallika fall back, complaining about heat, hunger, thirst, the need for ice cream, etc.). 
Nena is happy before she finds out her water bottle is filled with contaminated water
  • We take a quick break on the creek, past the two friendly gentlemen. Exhausted and craving hot dogs, Maya and Mallika rest while Kiran and Nena explore the remainder of the creek. We discover Nena has filled her water bottle with toxic tap water rather than purified thermos water. Is this the beginning of the end for our ill-fated crew?
Kiran courageously paddles up the rapids.
  • Nena and Kiran return approximately five minutes later, claiming to have reached rapids. We doubt the veracity of their tale. [Rapids may have been an overstatement.] The crew decides to turn around and hit the lake again. We pass the two fishermen again, and they inquire after the stableness of Nena’s boat, Big Purple. “Your boat, it’s different than… that yellow boat. I think I have that yellow boat. Just the way your boat is… it’s very… narrow. Is it hard to balance?”
Maya and Mallika looking slightly less energized
  • We reach the main body of the lake, where we are despondent to remember that we have to kayak back the way we came. Famished, dehydrated and suffering from heat stroke, we make our way back. As we pass a green house, we see Mike. Somehow, he catches up with us in his kayak (we are traveling slowly due to aforementioned heat stroke). We learn that he, too, lives on Wide Waters. He offers Maya a lighter paddle and she declines, but he insists, so she accepts. He and Kiran and Nena chat. 
  • Mallika flounders toward the back of the group. Maya splashes water on herself in a feeble attempt to revive her senses. 
  • When we finally reach the lake house, Maya and Mallika jump into the water. We return to the cottage for some iced tea, kosher hot dogs, yellow rice, tortilla chips, salsa and corn on the cob. 
  • The three siblings are traumatized and vow never to kayak again. Meanwhile, Nena plans her next kayaking trip. 
Date: Sunday, August 10th, 2014
Distance: 8.5 miles
Duration: 3 hours

The Non-Kayaking Portion: Just a quick recap this time since a lot happened and most of it wasn't kayak-related. On Friday (the day after Rough Riders - the previous post), I went into the kayaking shop with Dave, Morgan, and Jeff, where I spent the day working remotely, blogging, and uploading pictures. Since my last pair of Chacos ripped a couple weeks before leaving the Bay Area, I bought a new pair. Normally I'm not a huge fan of blue, but these ones matched the foot-finger lakes so well:

It was a typical day at the shop. Charlie was there paddling around his SUP. I made 2 trips Wegmans - the first with Jeff to pick up BBQ foods for dinner and the second with Morgan to return recyclables and unsatisfactory baby diapers. Morgan was working as hard as ever, even though her baby is due in 3 weeks. She even led a 2 hour nature tour in the evening.

Dave photographic morgan during her nature tour
The shop is looking spiffy these days, with new storage bins and a solid sun-roof over the porch!
In the evening we all returned to Dave & Morgan's house in Rochester where we met up with Pat, Mike, and Mindy. Dave grilled up some chicken with his favorite marinade (State Fair Chicken Sauce), Pat sauteed the squash and zucchini to a very soft consistency (a.k.a. Jello Squash), and I made a Caprese salad. Mindy and Mike brought some amazing desserts and a spicy salad. It was quite the feast!

One of my favorite activities: Porch sittin' at D&M's house
The next morning we were all back at the shop by 9am. We said some sad goodbyes and took goofy photos before I headed off to Syracuse to visit Marika.

Super happy reunion with Marika in Syracuse! I finally got to meet Theo, the SnapCat, and get a tour of Marika's new apartment near campus. We visited Green Lakes State Park and drank cider while we walked around the lakes. The lakes are a crystal-clear green color and were formed by glaciers during the last ice age, 15,000 years ago. The lakes are meromictic, which means that there is no fall and spring mixing of surface and bottom waters. This is very unusual, and only ~25 lakes in North America are classified this way. Interestingly enough, Wikipedia lists Irondequoit Bay as meromictic - but it's certainly not as pretty as Green Lakes!

Next, we went for a short bike ride along the shore of Onondaga Lake, on a newly completed bike trail around the north end of the lake. My butt reminded me that it does not like bike seats, and we soon turned around when we hit a patch of rough pavement that was being re-paved.

Hanging out on a lakeside bench.
We went home and made two fantastic pizzas. Our simple experiment showed that it's better to coat the pan with olive oil than to use wax paper.

Marika had to work at 6am on Sunday, so I slept in before driving to Owasco Lake to visit Maya. See the kayaking post above for our day at the lake. In the evening Maya and I drove to NY, battling traffic much of the way. Maya's new apartment on 105th street is very cute! In the morning I had to move my car, and spent 45 minutes trying to find a new parking spot. I met up with Sam (Cornell friend) at a much-loved bagel shop for breakfast, and we strolled north through Riverside Park catching up. We made a quick stop to tour General Grant's tomb before turning around.

I had initially planned to kayak around Governor's Island and get some photos of the Statue of Liberty, but kayaking alone is not very fun and a desire to avoid rush hour traffic in Boston led me to leave NYC earlier. I'll be back next summer to do this paddle! I stopped by Maya's office in Riverdale to say bye on the way out.

Fast forward a few more hours and I'm finally in Boston, 24 days, 5150 miles, and ~85 hrs of driving later. Off to the Netherlands on Thursday!

07 August 2014

Days 19 & 20: Rough Rider Reunion on Lake Ontario

Yesterday evening turned into Rough Riders Reunion 2014. In the wise (and paraphrased) words of Mike Peet: "Paddling like it's 2009!" The turn-out was fantastic (26 boats!), and the waves were apparently the largest of the summer. It was a perfect evening for rock gardening and practicing towed rescues. A bunch of the original Rough Riders were present, including Jeff H, Mike, Steven, Dan, Jeff B x 2, Rita & Garnetta, Sue, Ann-Marie, Nick, Dave, and I. It was also fun to meet some newer (i.e. in the last 3 years, so maybe not so new) members. Matt from Brooklyn was in the area for a couple weeks and recently bought a boat from BayCreek. I'll be in NYC on Monday to visit friends, and he provided some helpful tips for kayaking around the City. 

So many boats!
Dave explaining the plan for rock gardening and rescue/tow practice
The Rough Riders - a BayCreek Paddling Center group - has been around since 2008 and meets at Durand Beach on Lake Ontario every summer Thursday evening. Yesterday's excellent turnout resulted in a late (6:30pm) start, but everyone launched successfully into the breaking waves and we were soon on our way. We paddled 1.5 miles to the jetty at the mouth of Irondequoit Bay. We were paddling with a rear quarter wind/waves, which means that the waves and wind were at our back, but at an angle. This is one of the trickiest conditions to paddle in. With each stroke the boat turns very easily, making it difficult to maintain a straight course. Since we were in a large group, boats were swerving and bumping into each other all around. 

The launch site at Durand Beach
Dan, Matt, and Jeff bouncing around in the waves
When we arrived at the jetty, Dave managed to split us into two groups and explain the exercises over the sound of wind and waves. The first group practiced rock gardening by kayaking along the outside of the jetty. Here the waves crashed most intensely since they were coming from the NW. With each trip up and down the jetty we found ourselves daring to get closer to the rocks. I was immediately aware of the wave frequency. On the west coast, there is typically between 9 and 15 seconds between waves, providing lots of time to adjust and anticipate each wave motion. Here on Lake Ontario (which is a much smaller body of water than the Pacific Ocean), the wave period is shorter, so waves were arriving every 4 or 5 seconds. Sometimes your boat would be touching two waves at the same time, which leads to very different boat behavior/handling. It also made it harder to predict what the waves would do after they crashed into the jetty and reflected back.

Rock gardening along the jetty
Mike testing his boat control skillz
The second group practiced deepwater rescues with towing. When someone capsizes near rocks or other obstacles (which is quite common since these areas can have confused waves/currents), it may be too dangerous to rescue them in place. This rescue involves two rescuers: one person who performs the standard assisted rescue and another person who tows the rescuer's boat towards safer waters. Usually it's best to have the capsized boat empty and parallel to the rescuer's boat before towing, as the process of emptying can be difficult while in-tow. 

Pink helmet selfie
After some practice, the groups switched. I did a rescue with Dan and a newer member who was feeling a bit sea sick. I was the rescuer and Dan towed. The rescue went pretty smoothly, and she was back in her boat in a couple minutes. However, I stuck both our paddles under the front decklines and found that I was not able to extract them at the end of the rescue. The paddles get thrashed around in a wavey rescue. Next time I'll stick them through decklines closer to the cockpit.

Paddling back into the Lake Ontario sunset. Mark, Dave, Janet, and others in the distance
In true Rough Rider fashion, most of us went out for drinks and dinner at Salvatore's, which is just up the road from the kayaking shop. It was so fantastic to see everyone again, even if only for a short while.

Date: August 7th, 2014
Distance: 3 miles + (exercises at the jetty)
Duration: 2 hrs

The Non-Kayaking Portion: A lot of driving and work happened on Days 19 and 20. I'll skip these parts and just say that after Traverse City we drove to Ann Arbor, spent the afternoon in Amer's (a popular student cafe), made a quick visit to the Arboretum and law library at U of Michigan, and met up with Julia for dinner. Julia's first day of classes was the next day, so we had a quick dinner at Blue Nile, an all-you-can-eat Ethiopian restaurant. Yummy!! We also drank Michigan beer (Bell's Oberon - so delicious) on Julia's new porch with Alex, another Cornell ski-team alum and the local groundhog:

Julia and the groundhog

05 August 2014

Day 18: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The Legend of Sleeping Bear (courtesy of NPS)
Long ago, along the Wisconsin shoreline, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. The bears swam for many hours, but eventually the cubs tired and lagged behind. Mother bear reached the shore and climbed to the top of a high bluff to watch and wait for her cubs. Too tired to continue, the cubs drowned within sight of the shore. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear. You can see the two islands in the zoomed out map below (we paddled along the blue lines - see zoomed in map further down in this post).

Our trip (blue line below "Sleeping Bear Dunes") and the two baby bear islands from the legend
The launch site: Village Park in Empire, MI
Today we kayaked along the shore near the sleeping bears. Jeff and I drove across the UP and down to Empire, MI in 5 hours this morning, where we met up with Elizabeth (my future roomie in Delft, who I'd never met before!) and her sister Ali. Jeff and I successfully jammed up the parking lot waiting for a spot to free up, but the car was parked things went smoothly. Parking was ~$1/hr. Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak delivered 3 kayaks to the Village Park beach from their shop a few blocks away. The wind was whipping up some small, choppy waves on Lake Michigan, but we launched successfully (with an intentional refreshing dip by Elizabeth and Ali before departing). 

Elizabeth (front) and her sister Ali (back) paddling into the wind
Elizabeth and I chatted about Delft and "quitting" our jobs (Elizabeth is also going to work part time remotely) as we paddled into the wind. Along the shore the beaches were very narrow, with an actively eroding scarp (I was later informed that water levels in the Great Lakes are very high this year due to the extremely stormy/snowy winter). 

Our first stop was North Bar Lake, a small freshwater lake attached to Lake Michigan through a shallow channel. We dragged our kayaks over the low sandbar at the mouth of the lake and weaved through swimming children, trying not to be pelted by the various beach-related toys flying through the air. The water in the small lake was significantly warmer than in Lake Michigan. 

Arriving at the entrance to North Bar Lake. The water was so clear!
The crowded inlet channel to North Bar Lake
We continued up to the southern tip of the Sleeping Bear Dunes to have a brief photo shoot. We watched tiny tourists running/rolling down the 400-ft dune in the distance and wondered how they would ever get back up. The return trip was significantly easier/speedier thanks to the tailwinds pushing us along. 

Elizabeth and I doing the kayak-win-cheer!
Jeff and the gorgeous view of Empire Bluffs in the other direction
Date: August 5th, 2014
Distance: 7 miles
Duration: ~4 hrs

A zoomed-in version that shows the launch site (Village Park in Empire), our stop at North Bar Lake, and the bottom tip of the huge sand dunes.
The Non-Kayaking Portion: After our paddle, Elizabeth gave us all a ride in her convertible (first time, woo!) to Glen Arbor where we visited Cherry Republic. Elizabeth rightfully called this a "campus," as there are three buildings dedicated to cherries: snacks (free samples galore), drinks (cherry wine and hard cider), and ice cream. Our stomachs full of cherries and cheez-its (we'd snacked on these in the car), we returned to Elizabeth/Ali's home in Traverse City. Together with their parents, they cooked up a delicious dinner (BBQ chicken, pasta salad, caprese salad, and mango salsa), which we shared on their back patio with various pink drinks. We were informed that there was a skunk stuck to a fence somewhere on the property and that a snack had been spotted earlier, but otherwise the garden was beautiful and peaceful. We spent a great deal of time examining each other's kayaking tans/burns (it was super sunny today). A few showers later, we chatted about all things Dutch. In particular, we stalked our future Delft friends on Facebook, discussed gravy sticks that come out of vending machines, and mapped out a plan to bike/ferry to London. I can't wait to move to the Netherlands!

First convertible ride ever. Headbands are essential in the windy back seat!