Saturday, February 21, 2015

No Secrets

I am reading a book, Once A Runner by John L. Parker, Jr., that was lent to me for inspiration. I am a little more than halfway through this fictional story came upon a part where the main character touches on why runners run. They struggle to answer the question and then they do not answer it at all. When people ask me why I run I always struggle with an answer myself. I guess the truth is, I don't really know. I know that running gives me a pleasure that I would describe as primal. It is how we were built to travel. I didn't realize this until I suffered my first running injury.

I started running to train for my first triathlon years ago. I had been bicycle commuting since moving to our home in Northwest Philadelphia. I enjoyed bicycling and I enjoyed being in the water, so I thought I would "just have to tolerate running." I had not run since high school gym class and had no ambition to be a runner. I started my training for my first triathlon in December. I would make my bicycle commute part of the training by adding a loop that would be part of the course I would race on in June. I alternated days of swimming and running in the evenings after cycling home. For days I swam, I would cycle home and then hop on the motorcycle to get to an indoor pool. For days I ran I would cycle home and change quickly and head out on a little loop through the neighborhood that included a local high school track. The runs started as walk-runs, a couch-to-5K program. I found it intriguing that I could travel around the neighborhood this way. By the time I was running complete 5K's I was surprised it was coming along so easily.

When I competed in the first triathlon it went like this, I was absolutely terrible in the swim. I suffered two lower leg cramps on the swim course and finished dead last in my wave. I performed much better on the bicycle. Even though I rode my daily commuter, complete with a bell I would ring as I was passing other riders (they seemed not to appreciate this) and made up good ground. When the run section came I made up even more ground and found I was now passing people in my wave. I competed in three more sprint triathlons the following year, but it had been decided for me. I was a runner.

During this time I had suffered an Achilles injury, was referred to a podiatrist and given the diagnosis as an over-pronator. I picked up a pair of corrective footwear and was back at it. Soon thereafter I found myself having knee pain during and after my runs. My primary physician told me "Maybe you shouldn't run, maybe you are not a runner." I had also shown signs of early onset arthritis. I found this news heartbreaking. I felt so good that first year, what could have gone wrong? A friend of mine was in the middle of reading Born To Run. He suggested I take off my shoes and try running barefoot. We went back and forth for the next few weeks and I was not willing to do it. Why would I substitute hurting my feet in lieu of hurting my joints? Finally though, I felt I was running out of options. I went back to the neighborhood high-school track took off my shoes and started my trot. I think I may have yipped and repeated "shit" with each step. Once I finished getting around a quarter of the track I stopped to walk. I walked the next quarter of the track and started my trot again. I noticed something else this time, my knee had no pain. I had also noticed that my form had changed. This was much slower, but I was willing to sacrifice speed for comfort.

I was now a disciple of the barefoot running movement, spreading the word and having nearly everyone I told the story to tell me I was completely crazy. I didn't care because I was enjoying running again.

Cut to years later and I am still running. It has not been without other injuries, aches, pains and downright being humbled, but I still get that primal feeling of "this is how I am meant to travel.

The character in Once A Runner gets frustrated with people asking the question "What's your secret?" when he performs better. The thing is, there are no secrets, you just move forward. We all have the same aches, pains and sometimes even injuries, usually from mistakes or trying to take shortcuts in training. You just learn to do your best the next time around. Just like life, simplified.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Rocky Mountain High

I met my friends Jack and Jeff on a winter climb of Mt. Washington. Out of a group of about 10 people that were on that climb, the three of us clicked and I am thankful we did. Jack, Jeff and I have been back to New Hampshire's White Mountains since and Jack and I have had other epic trips together. Some of the things we have done include riding bicycles on New York City's Five Borough Bike Ride, a bike ride from Washington DC to Pittsburgh via the C&O and GAP trails. If you ever have an opportunity to do either of these things, I would highly recommend it. If you get the opportunity to do these or any other thing with Jack, I double-recommend that.

For about a year before our most recent trip together, Jack and Jeff had been suggesting visiting Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Fest (GABF). Jack had been in Colorado off and on for about a year, visiting a ton of national forests and parks out west in the meantime. Jack is my friend, but he is also kind of my hero and he is just damn fun to watch. He has peaks and valleys like the rest of us, but man he lives.

After seeing all of the photos posted to Facebook and texts from Jack's excursions out west, when it was suggested we get together amongst the Rockies this year, I couldn't resist. We made the plans and another epic trip was on.

During Jack's time out there, he had been living mostly out of his truck. He had rigged his Jeep Grand Cherokee to house a mattress on a platform so he could store all the essentials under it allowing him to live out of it months on end. So when I told people my plans for this vacation was "to go be homeless in Colorado with my friend Jack for a week." Now, some might say I have had ambitions to live a hobo life for some time. That's not entirely far from the truth.

I caught a flight from Philly to Denver the weekend before the GABF. I was to meet Jack in Denver and we would spend a few days visiting many of the places I had seen in photos the last few months and some new places for us both. Jeff was to arrive later in the week and we were to converge on the GABF together. It ended up that Jack had to return to his home back east for an emergency, so I was on my own for the first day.

A coworker of mine had been in Denver a few weeks before my trip and gave me some tips on where to visit in Denver. Top of the list was a place called Epic Brewing. It was the first address I placed into the GPS once in my rental. In the end, it was kind of fitting that Epic was the name of my first stop. By the way, my rental was a Dodge Ram extended cab pickup truck. No compact cars were available and as I was wearing a cowboy hat at the counter, the clerk and I agreed it was only appropriate. Denver, Miki has landed.

 Mah Whip

Once I arrived at Epic, I ordered a flight of my choice and the seating was communal. A couple of cyclists had pulled up chairs next to me and we chatted about our plans for the week. One of the cyclists was visiting from Pittsburgh and the other had moved to the area. They also had plans for hitting some 14ers and sticking around for the Beer Fest. Turns out I am quite the chatty fellow a few tiny beers into it and we had a great time talking. While there, I booked a pet friendly room for the night near Golden, CO. Jack has two dogs in tow and he was planning on arriving overnight. The two dogs are an English Bulldog and a French Bulldog, Spencer and Gracie. Gracie had not been feeling well before the trip and there were some concerns she wouldn't make the trip. When Jack arrived at around 4:30 AM, she was bouncing around the room. She's a good girl.

We were close enough to Red Rocks that Jack suggested we catch the sunrise their. He also mentioned that lots of runners hit the trails surrounding the complex. I was game. I donned my running gear and we headed out. We parked in top parking lot and heading there we saw headlamps bobbing on the surrounding trails. These are my people.

We got out of the Jeep and I started warming up in the parking lot and taking in the place. We headed out on the trails. It was just before dawn and not headlamps were needed for us. The first animal I spotted was a jackrabbit darting across the trail. It was a good short run and I got the feel for how my lungs were going to handle the higher altitude, I felt great. We got back to the Red Rocks complex just in time to catch the sunrise.

Iconic Red Rock

Red Rocks Sunrise

We headed back to the hotel for a quick breakfast and to pack up. It was Sunday and we had no plans other than being back in Denver by Wednesday to pick up Jeff. We headed back to the airport to drop off my rental and then headed for the Rockies. One cool thing about Colorado is it is full of National Forests and they have free campsites scattered throughout them. Another cool things is they surround or are in the Rocky Mountains. Another cool thing about the time of year we were there is that the Aspen trees were changing to their famous fiery yellow. 

One of the things I wanted to do, being a trail runner, was to check out Leadville, CO. Leadville is home of the Leadville 100,  one of the most brutal ultra trail runs in the world. Jack was very accommodating, and we hit a couple of cool vistas along the way. We arrived at the Leadville Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. In the center of the building was a map that highlighted the Leadville 100 course. The gentleman manning the place, mentioned there was a NF campground on the other side of Turquoise Lake. 

 Leadville 10,200 Feet

We started driving to the camp. I was still in my running gear from the morning, you know, just in case. We got to the lake and I saw a trail that headed off into the woods. I recognized that the trail headed around the lake on the opposite side from the road, but they both ended up at the camp. I asked Jack to stop the truck and told him I wanted to run the trail and meet him at the camp. I am not so sure he was at ease with this choice of mine, but he let me go. The sun was setting and I took my chances without the headlamp, which was buried under some other things in the truck. Jack offered his lamp, but I passed. I jumped out, grabbed my hydration pack and headed down the trail. Though I knew I was short on daylight, I couldn't help but to snap some shots of the sunset from the lakeside.

Turquoise Lake Sunset
The trails went through some other backpacker campsites and then through a lakeside aspen grove. The trail was covered in slick, golden aspen leaves and they were still falling around me. Six miles later I exited the trail, just as it was getting dark, and Jack was at the campsite with his arms raised. He has spaghetti boiling and the dogs were roaming around the site. A couple of fisherman were packing up lakeside and I started hanging the hammock amongst a few small pines sturdy enough to hold me and block the wind pretty well. After a good meal and a celebratory brew, we headed in for the night.

 We traversed the whole southwestern corner in the next few days, camping in the National Forests. We had hoped to do more climbing than driving for the visit, but the scenery we were taking in was awesome nonetheless. We probably packed in about a weeks worth of site seeing over the first few days. I was way okay with that.

 Turquoise Lake Sunrise

Changing Aspens, Somewhere

We hit San Isabel National Forrest, San Juan National Forrest, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Arapaho National Forrest and Boulder in those days. Jack was kind enough to take me to Boulder where I met up with Steven Sashen and grabbed a replacement for my lucky water bottle from University Bikes. Jack was very accommodating to my whims.

After a long day we headed back toward Denver as we had to pick up Jeff from the airport the next day. After I declined a spot near Central City (something about the place had me spooked), which appeared to be an active mining spot, we started driving back toward Denver. Too close to the city now for national forest camping we settled on a Wal-Mart parking lot in Lakewood. We cruised the parking lot looking for a spot where I could string up the hammock. After the first pass there were some trees behind the store's dumpsters, but it was occupied by a sketchy dude who appeared to scratching himself to either torture or delight. After the second pass, that dude was gone and so I made the decision that this was the place. Now, the area where I decided to "camp" was also adjacent to a Motel 6. Some of you might be saying, "At this point, why didn't you just stay at the Motel 6?" My answer to that question is "Because we were camping dammit!"

After climbing into the hammock, and Jack into his accommodations (in the Motel 6 parking lot), I heard some obvious coughing. It was the sketchy dude and he had his eye on me. He was sitting on the steps of the loading dock. I peaked my head out of the hammock and looked over at him. I then lowered back into the hammock and thought, "Whatever dude. I am going to sleep." Meanwhile thinking that this dude was going to shank me in my sleep. I was too tired to care, or at least I thought I was. Then about 1:00 AM rolled around, when the sprinklers were scheduled to activate. I awoke to water pouring over the hammock and onto me. I jumped out and quickly took down my gear. Now, luckily since were closer to the city the temperatures were in the moderate 50's. The previous mornings we had awaken to frost. 

I strung the gear over a fence in the Motel 6 parking lot and surveyed the scene. There was a kids' battery powered car that seemed to be pretty well dilapidated. Either out of frustration or instinct I started tearing the body apart and placing the pieces over the sprinkler heads. Once they were all covered I strung the hammock back up and climbed back in. I still had to deal with the pounding sounds of sprinklers hitting plastic fenders, but at least I was not getting pelted with the water.

I awoke to a visibly upset Jack. Gracie had run off and he had no idea where she went. We spent some time looking for her and inquiring with the security guard patrolling the parking lot. There was no sign and Jeff was going to be arriving in a few hours. We made our way toward the airport and Jack was able to contact the local animal shelter for Lakewood, and they had Gracie.

We picked up Jeff and made our plans for the next couple of days. This included frequent visits to the animal shelter and they were not very cooperative as Gracie appeared to be ill. Remember, we weren't sure she was going to make the trip. Jack was visibly shaken, but maintained to be a gracious host. Since the trip, Jack and Spencer have been reunited with Gracie and both are happy. Gracie keeps on keepin' on.

The three of us headed back toward Boulder to hit up Bear Peak as a warmup. Getting a late start to the day we headed up to the ridge and turned around to get back to Denver for we had a GABF to attend. As it turned out we ended up hitting the GABF specials at the local bars in lieu of the Beer Fest itself. We discussed our options with some locals and they agreed this was the best way to handle it. What was the other part of this option? Oh, just seeing Steve Winwood and Tom Petty at Red Rocks! It rained on us during the show, but it was still pretty awesome!

We ended up hitting some specials for the GABF the next night and were transported via Uber and Curb to and fro. We got to spend some time with the brewers and reps from Stone Brewing Co. who were showcasing some things only available for GABF. The rep is from West Chester and used work for Yards, here in Philly. The bartender also attended Bryn Mawr College. What a small world it is.

The next day we headed for the Rockies to get one climb in before the trip ended. We headed for Mt. Democrat. There are four 14er (over 14,000 foot elevation) peaks along a ridge here; Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron and Bross. We arrived at a very windy Kite Lake trail head and met some others that were turned around on their attempts after hitting a couple of the peaks. We decided to give it a go anyway.

Jeff on the trail up to Democrat from Kite Lake

Jack was not feeling well at all. Remember, the GABF activities were the night before. Jack ended up turning around and headed back for the Jeep for a rest. Jeff and I climbed up to the ridge where we were met with whipping winds, but some spectacular views.

Jeff on the ridge

 West view from the ridge

After feeling the winds at that elevation I was not sure a summit was possible. Jeff was willing to push on and I told him I would make a very slow descent so he could catch me on the way down. I kept an eye on him as I slowly made my way back down the trail. After the third or fourth check I noticed he was also headed back down. We met back up and headed back to Kite Lake together. Even back at the base it was windy and hard to keep gear from blowing away. We decided to find a better place to camp out of the wind. We drove to the south side of the range and it was only slightly better, but this is where we would camp for the night. This night I would share a tent with Jeff as it was a little windy for the hammock.

The following day was my departure for Philly. It was another awesome time with two awesome friends. It is hard to imagine we fit as much in as we did and not all of it could be captured in this post. There is one word that adequately describes it though, Epic.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Kilimanjaro Climb

If Al Gore ever gave me anything, it was the desire to see the glacier atop Kilimanjaro before 2010. It was a goal I had set for myself while watching An Inconvenient Truth. The movie mentioned Kilimanjaro's glacier was rapidly disappearing  and I decided it was something I needed to see before it was gone. As we entered 2009 I started to research a trip to get me there. For a couple of weeks I had been looking at Kili map routes and airfare. One night Heather was out with some friends and when she arrived home I got up and said "I am going to Tanzania!" as she was just putting down her things. Naturally, she was taken aback, but then she came over and looked at the laptop screen. After telling her about how I would get there and what I was going to climb she said "Okay." Yep, it was that easy. We had discussed it in the past, but hadn't talked about it for years. This is the relationship we have and if you are thinking "Wow, they are perfect for each other." it's because we are.

We had already planed on having dinner with a couple of Heather's co-workers, and friends the following night and she suggested I talk to one of them about Africa. One of the guests had spent time working in Kenya years before. Once we sat down to dinner I immediately jumped into describing my plan. It was perfect because the guest had befriended someone who now was in Tanzania and owned a company leading safaris and Kilimanjaro climbing expeditions. A few days later I started making contact with this friend, Exaud, through email. Since it was just me, Exaud suggested finding others to lower the costs of the climb. I went to work putting up flyers around town with my phone number to see if anyone was interested. There were no takers, not a one.

Exaud contacted another friend of his from Switzerland that mentioned interest in climbing Kilimanjaro previously. She was in for the trip, but something came up and she had to cancel. Exaud was gracious enough to keep the price the same for the climb and we made our plans.

We decided on the Mechame Route, a six-day hike to the summit.

Since I wanted to spend some time in the region as well I made it a ten day visit, filling in a complete two weeks including travel to and from. I had read somewhere early in my life about this area of Africa being the "cradle of life." I was enthralled about getting to be there and climbing one of the seven summits while I was at it.

Due to last-minute flight cancellations (there are not many options for getting from the US to Kilimanjaro International Airport daily) my travel plans had to change withing a few days of my departure. It happened too fast for me to get in touch with Exaud to let him know.

I arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport, Tanzania not knowing if Exaud had received my message about the change. Turns out our flight was the last one of the day for the airport and I waited until they shut the place down. One of the attendants found me a cab and sent me to a motel between the airport and Arusha. Arusha is where Exaud is based and after that much travel I was just looking to get closer. The motel was nice, but it was still outside of town and I was kept up all night by wildlife sounds outside. What does wildlife sound like? In this instance, it was wild dogs, and they sounded like they were killing each other. I slept in a bit and headed to breakfast. While eating there were two English-speaking ladies having breakfast and we started talking. One of them was from Wilmington, DE and we started asking each other how we ended up here. They were doctors and were visiting from Kenya and on their way to Dar Es Salaam for some shopping. It's a small world after all.

During my visit with my physician before the trip I was warned not to drink milk, eat pork or eggs. For breakfast I had eggs, sausage, bacon and milk for my coffee. It was explained by the two ladies that the milk was fresh and the cow was on the premises. I couldn't resist.

I called Exaud from the motel after breakfast and he made plans to have me picked up and brought to Arusha. I settled in to a place called the Meru House Inn, located on the south side of Arusha. We spent the next couple of days planning the climb and gathering porters. Since it was just me, it was very intimate and most plans were made at clubs (bars) while we drank local brews. Everyone was very interested in life in America, to which I responded "Life is good when you can hang out with friends at the local club." Life was pretty good. This is just what I was looking for, to be immersed into the local life. Speaking of local life, we stocked up on food supplies at a Shop Rite a couple of blocks away from the Meru House.

Once we had food and porters we headed to the Mechame trail head and Exaud had to negotiate getting started with the National Park authorities. We needed more porters per park rules, but we didn't need them since it was just me and Exaud and I were splitting duties carrying my large pack and day-pack. I had also brought a water filter so we did not have to carry gallons of water. We finally consented to take a few more porters with the agreement we would drop them as we continued. Park services everywhere have their politics. I was okay with it since the rule is made to ensure the locals get their due.

Getting a late start due to the negotiating, we arrived at the first camp after dark. It was a beautiful clear night and we were far away from civilization now. The first tent-meal was spaghetti and it was delicious. I think the was the only meal I ate alone as I made it a point the next and following nights to dine with the porters.

Pole pole (pronounce po-leh po-leh) became the phrase of the next few days. Pole pole means slowly in Swahili. The climb was slow and purposeful. The key to high mountains is acclimatization. The next few days we saw all of the climates of the continent. We even walked through a snowfall and we were only a little over 200 miles from the equator. It was surreal and very much real at the same time.

Mechame Rain Forrest

Mechame Camp Morning

Exaud Climbing on Day 2

Fellow Climbers Arrive to Barranco Camp

Dendrosenecio Trees After Snowfall

Leaving Barafu Camp After the Summit

The summit attempt from Barafu Camp started just after midnight and we slowly made our way up. Mt. Kilimanjaro was formed from a volcano and the area surrounding the summit is made of volcanic ash. During the night temperatures drop enough for the ash to freeze, making it similar to walking up a snow field. Perhaps due to the Konyagi we consumed the night at camp, Exaud turned back and so it was just me and the lead porter, whose name escapes me, but now I call him Victor. I remember he told me he was from the Lake Victoria area. With the ash crunching under our boots, we caught up to a team of Swiss climbers and stayed just behind them until we reached the final ridge. We stopped on the ridge and we each had a Clif Bar for breakfast. We caught back up to the Swiss team at the summit and they were kind enough to snap some photos with my camera.

Uhuru Peak (Before the new sign)

The Roof of Africa

The Glacier

We headed back down to Barafu Camp to get in some sleep before making our way back down the Marangu Route. Since I had felt pretty comfortable on the way up we decided to make the descent a single-day affair. 
The day before, when we arrived at Barafu Camp, another team was coming in just after we arrived and they had a climber who was suffering from high-altitude cerebral edema. The team she was with seemed confused about what to do so Victor jumped in and ordered a cart from the closest Marangu Route camp to get her down. I have had summit attempts myself that did not go as planned and I believe to this day that it is not up to you to get to summit, it is up to the mountain. The cart arrived and she was taken down safely.

Starting the Descent From Barafu Camp

Marangu Route Down
The Marangu Route is a much more packed straight-forward trail. We stopped at a camp on the way down to pick up the certificate for the successful summit. Just before getting the end of the Marangu Route trail we came across a Blue Monkey that was visibly upset with our being there. We continued on without incident.

I slept like a baby on the ride back to Arusha. Our six day trek was over in five. Although Exaud had planned a night out at a club with a Rasta band playing, I ended up oversleeping and stayed in that night at Meru House.

I had not brought a belt for the trip and I had lost a little bit of weight on the climb. I also was in need of nail clippers for my toenails as they were not trimmed enough for that long descent. I ran into a local street artist, Abraham (Mikey) selling art on the sidewalk. He helped me obtain my necessities and then invited me to visit his village.
With the time I had left in Tanzania I visited Mikey's village, rented a motorcycle and got lost at another village and got to attend a funeral. I am as connected to the people I met on this trip as I am to my closest friends and family. I will always cherish my time in the "cradle of life." There is wisdom in this part of the world that only comes with time.
Now I am going to tell you a story...
The day I rented a motorcycle I rode to a village in the foothills of Mt. Meru. It actually ended up being the wrong village as Exaud had given me directions to another village and I ended up not going far enough down the road. I rode into the village and up a dirt road hill to the end. At the end was a farm with a barn. I parked the motorcycle outside the farm and started walking back down the road. One of the tings I had learned about village life in the area was that everyone had a job that helped the community. As walked down the road I got to witness these jobs. It was refreshing to see communal work as being a way of life. It is just the way things get done. I stopped at a club, covered in dust from the motorcycle ride, to quench my thirst. The club had what I think is the only television in the village. On the television was an early Mike Tyson fight. I watched the fight with a few others (it didn't last long, it was Mike Tyson) and we cheered him on. After the beer, I continued down the road and I passed a schoolhouse. Children came running out of the school house and surrounded me yelling "Hello! Hello! How are you?" A few grabbed my hands and started petting the backs of my hands. The teacher came out after them and explained that the students were learning english and they were very excited to see me. It took me until later that night when I was back in Arusha to figure out why some wanted to touch my skin, it is white. It was such a beautiful, sincere gesture and I think about those kids at some point almost every week. Hard to explain... Later in my walk down the road I had to move off to the side as some Maasai children led a herd of cattle down to some high grass on the side of the road for a feeding. The Maasai children were no more than twelve years old and they had complete control over about thirty head of cattle. After seeing this, I headed back to the motorcycle.

Once I arrived back in Arusha the motorcycle stalled and I could not get it started again. I ended up calling Heather from a payphone, mind the time difference. She ended up getting in touch with Exaud and through an actual game of "telephone" he found me and we got the bike started again. This all happened within the time frame of about an hour and a half. It was kind of amazing for being having three people be halfway around the world from each other.

It was a great opportunity for me to meet the people people there. No matter who we are are or where we are in the world, nine times out of ten we just want the chance to hang out with our friends at the club at the end of the day.
If you ever get the itch to visit this part of the world yourself, let me know. I have some friends.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Philly to Baltimore Kayak Paddle - Day 7

When I woke on Hart-Miller Island and got out of the hammock the sun was already up and the sky was clear. I am usually up with the sun, but this morning I slept later than I usually do when camping. It was a good sleep. I must have been beat.

When I got out of my hammock I noticed my gear and clothes were everywhere. Not that anything got into my stuff, I had just spread everything out at the campsite and the boardwalk. I took some time to explore the boardwalk and campground while eating a Clif Bar and protein bar for breakfast. Since the rangers were due at 8AM I decided to take my time getting ready to set off. It was to be the last day of the trip, my Champs-Élysées, my ride into Paris.

The Sign

View from the Lookout
I waited on the beach until about 8:30, but I wanted to get started so I left. As I paddled south along the shore of the island. As I paddled, I came across the other two campgrounds located on the island; Hawk Cove and Pleasure Island. I then came to the pier where I assume the park rangers get onto the island. There were also park ranger pickup trucks located near the pier, but there were no signs of the rangers. I turned the kayak for one last long look at the island.

It was still a little windy on the last day, but not as bad as the day before and the western shore of Baltimore County was close by. I made my way to the other shoreline and followed it south. There were many waterfront homes along the way. Some people came out into their yards to check me out as I paddled by. I was pretty close to shore and the peering eyes seemed to be filled with suspicion. I made sure to offer a friendly wave, but with no response.


I came across a sunken barge in the water near the shore. I felt fortunate I had not suffered a similar fate on this trip. While on the water the weather had been fair enough other than one windy and choppy day. I was getting closer to Baltimore and feeling grateful.
Sunken Barge
Just past the collapsed barge I found a public park along the shore. I paddled past a jetty located at the park, landed the kayak and walked back to the park. This would be a good place for lunch.
 Bayshore Park Sign
I continued south and came to a cove. I knew the tide was going out at this poin1t, so I paddled into the cove along the near shore until the cove narrowed. I paddled across to the far shore, stopping a few times to let boaters go by. As I was nearing the city, large piers and docked cargo ships made passing them appear to take forever.

It was taking me longer than expected to get to my destination. As I came into the Fort McHenry Channel, Heather offered to come pick me up at a closer location, but it was all private industrial land at that point. I pressed on, running out of water and becoming exhausted. I was now almost two hours late to my destination, but Heather continued to track me, sending me text with our respective locations. I could see I was close, but it still felt too far away.

Position Screen Shot

As I came to the harbor I went too far to the shore of Fort McHenry. I had to cross back to the other side while things like this passed by.

I got a toot and some waves from this cruise ship as it passed by.
Heather called to alert me to her position and I made my way to her. The trip was over and now it was time for crab cakes.

Assos Man!

Heather was ready with a banana and Gatorade for me. We slowly packed up the gear and kayak and headed for the hotel.

Someone asked me how the trip was and I replied "It was awesome." They asked if I would do it again and I immediately said "No." Before the trip a coworker had asked what I was doing for vacation and when I explained, his reply was "Well that's just crazy." Yeah, I got there, but next time I will probably just take the train.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Philly to Baltimore Kayak Paddle - Day 6

In the summer of 2011 I kayaked from Philadelphia, PA to Carneys Point, NJ. The plan was to kayak from Philadelphia, PA to Helms Cove in Penns Grove, NJ. It was ambitious to say the least. I was a much more inexperienced paddler at the time and looking back on it, probably in way over my head. It was to be a 30 mile paddle down the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers. It was a pretty decent day and I was making great time until I passed the Commodore Barry Bridge. The water became choppy, a fierce whipping wind kicked up and it became a struggle to make forward progress. At this point I was only two-thirds of the way there. My food and water supply quickly dwindled and the water in the river became brackish. I had made the decision to push on instead of stopping short and pulling out at Raccoon Creek. It was a foolish decision. I paddled about another 5 to 7 miles when I became very weak. I had exhausted my body until I could go no further. For being in a waterway surrounded by civilization, I felt I was in the middle of nowhere. My wife doesn't like me to talk about what happened next, but I let go. What do I mean? I stopped paddling. I leaned back in my kayak and looked up at the sky. It's funny to me now, but I thought I was probably hallucinating at the time, because I saw a golden eagle circling overhead. I couldn't imagine there were golden eagles out there... I thought about how fortunate I had been to live my life and all of the fantastic things I got to see and do, I got to know all of my friends, I got to meet and marry the one person I was meant to be with for life. Something else happened to me at that moment. I felt completely connected to everything around me; the kayak, the water, the air, the trees, the grass, the fish in the water, everything. Everything is one thing and I was a part of that one thing. As I laid still I could feel I was being pushed to shore by the wind. I sat back up in the kayak, slouched over and went to sleep. To be honest, I don't like to talk about it too much either.

I awoke later, washed up on the shore. Small waves were crashing into the side of the kayak, nudging me further inland. I don't know why I even bothered looking as I was sure I ran out of food about and hour or so earlier, but I found a Clif Bar in the bottom of my food bag. As I ate it I could feel my mouth pulling the water from it. I had one swig of water left and decided to save it. I was going to move onward. I got out of the kayak and towed it along the water's edge until I came to a point. There, I climbed back in and started paddling again. Soon I became tired again. The last time Heather and I spoke she could tell I was not doing well. I mentioned that I was running out of water and food. She made plans to meet me ahead of my original destination. I pushed my way past a jetty and headed back to the shore. I followed the shoreline a few hundred feet more when I saw a large stick fly out into the river. It was my brother-in-law, hanging on a tree out over the water. Heather and her mother were with him. I was exhausted to the point that I would count five paddle strokes and take a break for five seconds, then paddle five more times. I had figured out that these intervals were enough to keep me moving forward by watching the trees along the shoreline. Eventually, I made it to them.

People often ask me what was the hardest thing I have ever done. The answer to this day is that paddle on that day.

As I left my parents and started paddling to the far shore across Elk River, the water changed and became choppy once I came up to the channel. It stayed choppy until I got to shore on the other side. I still made decent time getting across the river and I my parents watched me turn into a little dot on the horizon, all seemed well. Today was to be the longest paddle of the trip so far, twenty to thirty miles. This depended one whether or not I could stay on an island that was once used for bomb testing outside of the Aberdeen Proving Ground. If I could not stay there I would have to paddle about another ten miles to Hart-Miller Island State Park.

Turkey Point Lighthouse

Due to the choppy water I followed the shoreline tightly and was getting along okay. Before I passed by the first cove I stopped for my typical brunch. As I was pulling up to the beach, the kayak was hit by a wave that swung the stern onto the beach. A couple of more waves landed against the side and the kayak was swamped. I had to empty the contents and dump the water out. I guess it was going to be this kind of day.

Wetted Gear

The upcoming cove presented a new challenge to me, when the tide is going out the water rushing out of the coves pushes you out with it. The video below is a good example of what the Chesapeake was like. I never would have said this to her face, but the Chesapeake can be a bitch!

Rough Waters

From then on, I made the decision to hug the shoreline into the coves to a point and try and judge when cutting across would take me to the edge of the cove on the other side. This worked better for me.

Chesapeake Eastern Shoreline
The above image is a good example of what the eastern shoreline looked like along much of the route. It was great to see more bald eagles and ospreys again this day. 

Chesapeake Bald Eagle

The day was now half over and it was time to make my way to Pooles Island. This was the first of two islands and possible where I could call it a day. This is the story of Pooles Island Lighthouse.

Lunch Break Before Pooles Island Push

Getting to Pooles Island meant crossing a large channel where the waves felt heavy. I slowly made my way to the island and it was pretty slow going. By the time I got to the island I found the sign below at the north point.

If he is allowed to trespass...

At this point I had to go to the bathroom. I had consulted with a coworker who used to work for the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and he had told me if I found what appeared to be a clearing on the beach that it was probably safe, but that I didn't want to stray too far. I pulled up to a spot on the beach and as I did the kayak's bottom rubbed against a large rock. At least I think it was a rock since I did not explode. I had heard of the full-body clench, but until that moment I considered it a myth

After that experience I made my way toward Hart-Miller State Park Island. I was still thinking I could get there just before nightfall. The bad thing about being in more open water is that I could see for miles and miles. I had seen both islands on the horizon for a while and as long as it took me to get to Pooles Island, it took me longer to get to Hart-Miller Island. I passed through two more channels and at the first one I had to wait for a large cargo ship to pass before I entered into the shipping lane. For the second one I had to stop and wait multiple times while pleasure and fishing boats headed into the cove as the sun was setting.

The good news? I got to witness a beautiful sunset from the water. The bad news? It was now dark and I was equipped only with a head lamp. Hart-Miller Island has a working lighthouse that is located on its north end and I was thankful for that. It was now dark and people were beginning to get concerned that I was still in the water. My parents called and Heather called as I still had reception. I put the phone on my lap and took calls while was paddling as I didn't want to drift more than I already was drifting. As I reached the edge of the island I paddled for about 15 minutes and thought I would have reached the first campsite by that time. Heather had been racking my progress through an app and she could tell where I was in relationship to the main campsite. She took a screen shot and texted it to me. Even though it was dark and I could only see the edge of the island, I knew exactly where I was. Technology is grand.

Image from the app

I could see none of the jetties until they were right in front of me, but I knew they were there and I had made it. It was extremely comforting to get these messages indicating my progress. I left Elk Neck State Park around 8:30am, I arrived at Hart-Miller Island at 9:30pm. I had been out for 13 hours this day.

There were no other boats and the beach was empty. I immediately emptied the kayak of my gear, removed the skirt and dumped the water out of it. I was surprised to see so much water rolling down the beach. I myself, was soaked so once the gear was up on the boardwalk (Yeah, this place had a pretty cool boardwalk) I stripped and changed into my "dry" clothes. Everything I had was wet, but at least the clothes I donned are quick-drying. It was also very windy, which helped the drying process. I spread out my clothes on the boardwalk and then checked all of the buildings for rangers. The website for the park states that the rangers leave the island at dusk, but one can settle up with the rangers for sites in the morning, when they arrive at 8:00am. This is what I planned to do. Another boat appeared just outside of the jetties when I was setting up my hammock. I could see figures milling around the deck, but I could not tell what they were doing. I had set up the hammock at the first campsite on the beach, and left everything out and open, pointed toward the wind for drying. 
I had brought one freeze-dried meal for consumption on this night, but the water at the park had been shut off and I needed to keep the water I had for the last day. I was exhausted and didn't feel like cooking anyway. I took a Clif Bar into the hammock with me, called Heather and my parents and fell fast asleep as the wind whipped the hammock.

I found out later that a pretty severe storm had passed to my south that evening and it spun off a tornado.

Cherrystone Campground is over 100 miles away from where I slept that night, but I could see the dark clouds that were moving west-to-east as the sun set. 100 miles away and still connected.

As rough and long as this day was, I felt prepared this time. I was always weirdly grateful for the paddle in 2011, but now I know it had prepared me for days like this. What doesn't kill you...

Day 6: 29 miles

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Philly to Baltimore Kayak Paddle - Day 5

A break every now and then isn't so bad. This day I had planned on paddling from Summit North Marina to Elk Neck State Park where I would meet my parents. This was to be another short day between nine and eleven miles. The night before, my brother had told me there were cameras on the bridges for the authorities to monitor water traffic in the C & D Canal. This is likely how I was spotted the day before. It made sense since the police boat approached me from behind and I was nearing the first bridge of the day. Since I had a few more bridges to pass under on this day I decided it was best to stay out of the canal as the police were not likely to be so friendly if they caught me out there again.

When I woke at camp in the morning I found the little treat below.


It was next to the fire ring and as much as I walked around it in the dark I was surprised I had not disturbed it. I took it as a good sign for the day.

I had picked up a park map at the office the day before as well as some information. On the other side of the pond there was a zip-lining course and then there was the pond itself for paddling. I had my options for the day's activities. I located a pier on the map pretty close to my campsite so I decided to check it out. While walking down to the pier I spotted the orienteering map below.

With the targets so close to the pond I figured it would be cool to mix the two sports, orienteering and kayaking. As I was packing the kayak down to the pier I came across a family on the trail and the mother commented on my large pack. I explained it was a kayak and she said "What?!! That's pretty cool." Yeah, Paddle John was in the hizzouse.

I started from the pier and worked my way clockwise around the perimeter of the pond. It was not in order and I did not get to some of the targets, but I was having a great time. It was nice not to have motorized boat traffic to deal with for the day. It was also nice to have Gatoraide vending machines and bathroom facilities close at hand. Where does one go to the bathroom while paddling from Philadelphia to Baltimore? Anywhere they want.

On Lums Pond

As I made my way past the kayak and canoe rental area on the pond I could hear the excited screams of people zipping through the trees. I paddled over to investigate and there were lines passing over a little cove. I saw one person zipping in one direction and then another zipping in another direction. I positioned myself in the water under the lines. People were zipping back and forth over my head and having a blast. It was good fun just watching them.

I arranged for my parents to pick me up at the public access boat ramp on the pond. I got out of the water about an hour before their scheduled arrival took advantage of the opportunity to dry everything out. I scattered the kayak and gear on the lawn near the boat ramp. I laid in the grass myself and dozed for about a half-hour. I calculated the days paddle on the pond to be about nine miles, so even though I had the day off, I did not lose my overall distance. Once back up, I packed up the kayak and waited a short time before I saw the truck and camper coming down the access road. We loaded up the gear and started driving to Elk Neck State Park. 

We made it to the park in about a half hour, where it would have taken me the better part of the day. I guess motorized vehicles do have some value.

We checked into the campground, set up the camper and then headed out for dinner. Most of the people dining with me on this trip probably wondered if I was starving, and I was. Most of the meals I ordered during this trip were in three healthy courses. We found a nice little spot in North East, Maryland (that is the name of the town). I held off from getting the crab cakes and I was telling everyone that is why I am paddling to Baltimore, for the crab cakes. I shared the story with my parents of the previous days over dinner. I guess most people would be curious about their child's run-ins with the law. I had a beer with dinner by Heavy Seas Brewing called Loose Cannon. I thought it was fitting at the time, but I didn't think it was going to be foretelling.

After dinner we drove down to the park's boat ramp to coordinate my launch the next morning. The water was rough and choppy and I was hoping the next day would bring calmer waters as it was to be my longest day, distance-wise.

Once back at the campsite we settled into the camper for some relaxing and a severe thunderstorm warning had appeared on the television. The storm was pretty fierce and I was feeling fortunate to be in a decent shelter. Luckily I had not set up my camping hammock yet as it would have been blowing around pretty good and probably gotten soaked from the rain, even with its rain fly. 

 Luxurious Living

By the time the storm had moved through the sun had gone down so I had to set up camp in the dark. My father seemed impressed with the ease of the setup and how little is needed. We both turned in amongst the echoes of the tree frogs. When the frogs synchronized their tiny chirps, they would become as loud as a freight train. Sometime during the night, I think the silence had woken me up. I guess the party in the trees was over.

I awoke again in the morning and we filled up on delicious blueberry pancakes and coffee before heading out.

Miki and folks!

When we got to the boat ramp I had realized I left the Otterbox with my wallet in the camper so my dad had to run back to get it while I got the kayak ready. I knew he would want to see it being set up so I took photos of the process with his camera. It was set up by the time he got back.

The water seemed a little calmer this day and I was looking forward to the long paddle and finally getting into the Chesapeake Bay.

Day 5: 11 anticipated, approximately 9 paddled on Lums Pond

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Philly to Baltimore Kayak Paddle - Day 4

My father and I watched Smokey and the Bandit a couple of times when I was a kid. Today I would have some encounters with Ol' Smokey of my own.

The day started early at Fort Mott State Park. The goal was to paddle from Fort Mott State Park in New Jersey to Lums Pond State Park in Delaware via the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. The Chesapeake & Delaware Canal was opened in 1829. It has since gone through many "improvements" to allow larger ships to pass through its water. Today the canal is owned by the United States government, operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Storming of Fort Dupont

I made landfall in Delaware in good time. While  passing Pea Patch Island a few of the workers I had seen the day before appeared on the roof of Fort Delaware to waive as I was going by. As I came ashore I saw some young Chinese men fishing from the same point where I landed. I had my typical brunch of a Clif Bar and water at a bench while I watched them fish. As I looked on, they reeled in a channel catfish. A small one, but large enough to keep. They yelled for one to run back to the car to get the net. After procuring the net, they scooped the little fella from the water and filled a nearby bucket with water. Then these guys started to try and empty the net of the fish, to no avail. I walked over and asked if I could help get the fish out of the net. I then explained the procedure for "lipping" a catfish while transferring the fish from the net to the bucket.

Catfish Miki

For my efforts I was paid one can of Pepsi. They asked if I was fishing from the kayak and I explained where I came from and where I was going. They thought the trip was pretty cool.

I then proceeded to tour Fort Dupont shoeless as I was had a pretty nasty blister on one of my toes. These are the things you have to worry about on multiple day kayak trips, blisters on your toes. Fort Dupont also appeared to be closed as all of the doors to the buildings were locked.

Fort Dupont Sign

It was now time to paddle on toward the C & D Canal. As I passed the young fishermen we exchanged thumbs up and waives. I made my way through what I believe is the Delaware City Canal, passing many crabbers along the way with full bushels. I then made my way into the C & D Canal and paddled westward. I noticed an old steel ship with a crane boom on the bow doing repair or maintenance on light poles that line the canal. The old boat had a United States flag with another flag flying below. I realized this was an Army Corps of Engineers boat and wondered if they would make their way over to me to inquire. The thing about the C & D Canal is no un-motorized are allowed in the canal. To say I was unaware of this fact before entering the water here would be untrue. I had exchanged emails with the authorities who patrol the waterway and they let me know. After a few weeks of exchanging emails I was told that I should be safe. I may have also been a little misleading when I asked the question if there was a minimum size motor that was required. The reply was "no" and I left it as that, figuring I could always argue that "I am the motor."

St. George's Bridge and Rt. 1 Bridge

It was not long after taking the photo above that I heard a boat's motor slow behind me. I turned and saw the large black letters on the side of the boat and had an idea of who it might be. I continued paddling as they approached and did not turn around until they yelled out for me. One of the three officers asked if I had a permit to be on the water without a motor and explained the laws to me. I pleaded my ignorance of said laws. They then asked how far I planned to go today and I told them to the Summit Point Marina. Fortunately they were headed to the same marina to end their shift. They were super cool about it as we loaded the kayak onto the rear deck and I got to ride up front and we talked about the trip. They told me there were others that have been on multi-day kayak trips that they had to pick from the water, but it is usually a couple. They said this with eyebrows raised as if to say "What the hell are you doing out here by yourself." I then explained that I was meeting friends and family along the way and that I was to meet my brother tonight. They made sure to let me know to tell my brother to drop me off the next morning at Elk River.

D & C Po Po

One was even nice enough to help me carry the kayak up to the parking lot. I told him I was having dinner tonight at the restaurant Aqua Sol which is located at the marina and if he showed up, drinks were one me. He said that he might just show up.

This was another early day for me, but not for similar reasons as the days before. I decided to buy a Gatoraide from the marina store and word traveled fast amongst the workers as I was packing up the kayak as they would come by to ask about the trip and my experience with the police.

This pretty much sums my most common modes of transportation.

Packed Kayak

Before packing up the kayak I walked my backpack to Lums Pond State Park. I saw a sign for the Lums Pond boat ramp and continued past it at first, but I had been walking for a while and thought perhaps there was a park map at the boat ramp. I turned around and headed back to the boat ramp to see. There was no map posted, but there was a state trooper parked near the ramp. I figured "what the hell" and approached the vehicle. I asked if the officer knew how to get to the park entrance. He stated it was right down the road, but he could give me a lift if I wanted. It was all I could do not to lift my arms overhead in victory. He then said I would have to ride in the back and I was going nuts with mental fist pumps. I replied with a simple "Sure. Thanks!" I was let out of the vehicle in front of the park office. As I entered the office under suspicious eyes I said "Oh, I have been causing all sorts of trouble today." I then explained to ease their minds.

I then walked back to the marina where I met my brother and we spent a fantastic evening together dining, shopping (I forgot my hammock straps and had to buy some rope at Cabela's) and hanging out by the campfire. I only get to see my brother a few times a year and I had some great stories to share this time and all of them were from the same day.

Day 4: 11.5 anticipated, approximately 6 paddled