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Blue Ridge Outings

When I moved from New Bern to Wilmington a few months ago, I brought with me a sleek, long, narrow ocean-going kayak named a Nigel Dennis Romney Excel, made in England.  It was used, extensively renovated and sold to me by my good friend Bill Webb.  It is 16 1/2 feet long and 23 inches wide. Janet likes to paddle as much as I do, and often initiates the trips.  She has a Perception fishing kayak which is short, wide, slow and not good tracking.

When we paddled together, I would take two strokes and glide 15 feet.  She would take five strokes and fall behind.  I made it my goal to get her a higher class, seagoing kayak like mine.  But it would have the trade-offs of being narrower and more tippy.  Janet did not warm up to that idea well, because she had never fallen out of her kayak, and she sternly wanted to keep it that way.

It took several months of me wheedling and debating to get her to agree to me buying her a sea kayak.  We bought from Bill Webb a new Wilderness Systems Tsunami 135 Pro, which Is 13 1/2 feet long and 23 inches wide, which is about a foot narrower than her Perception and my canoe. This boat is considered to be at the small end of sea-going kayaks. After several more months of Bill’s work outfitting and renovations, including giving Janet a very plush and comfy seat, we took delivery a few days ago.

Janet and I were both nervous about how she would fare with the sleek boat.  Over the last few months, Janet made several comments throwing cold water on using the boat. She wanted to know my plans to sell the boat if she did not like it.  My concern was that she would capsize several times quickly, get frustrated, get mad and not want to use the boat again.

But after we took delivery, she became more excited about paddling, so we planned a trip that day to Smith Creek park, which has a small lake and a convenient dock with a boat ramp.  We made detailed plans for me to be standing about thigh-deep in the water while she was paddling. I was supposed to stay close enough to keep a hand on her arm or deck safety line.

With considerable enthusiasm, Janet helped me get the boat afloat in a few inches of water. When she got into the boat, which is a somewhat technical, multi-step process, I changed our plans and did not hold her arm or the boat  She methodically eased into the boat with no trouble. I expected her to paddle around me in a little circle and not get more than about 10 feet away. After a few minutes of circling, and doing a few low and high braces, she surprised me by pointing the bow towards the other end of the lake about three-quarters of a mile away and started paddling. As she moved there was no boat wobbling, no errant paddle splashes and no hesitancy. Just smooth, strong progress across the lake.

After a while she returned and said she was doing fine and really liked the boat. I asked her if she was ready to get out and head home, and she said “no.”  Instead, she pointed the bow to the other end of the lake and took off again. This time she went out of sight several times behind some stretches of land surrounding some small coves. When she returned again, she expressed no problem with balance or any other insecurity. She was tired enough to head home, but wanted to go paddling again soon.

So, three days later on May 16 we went back to Smith Creek Park lake and this time she paddled the full circumference of the lake, going around the outside and into and out of all the coves. I estimate it was about 2 miles. This trip may not sound like a large escapade, but I remember my first half a dozen paddles in my Romney Excel being paranoid and feeling unbalanced the whole time. I needed about six trips under my belt before I felt confident that I could stay in the boat without capsizing.

I have learned from experience in my later paddles this past winter and spring that these low-slung, narrow boats actually do better in difficult conditions, like wind, waves, currents and tides. The next step in Janet's development will be to try some of these stronger conditions sometime soon.

On the cloudy but warm afternoon of April 17, the Twin Rivers Paddle Club convened at the New Bern YMCA. Several experienced members of the club lead a kayak rescue clinic. The club has conducted several clinics in the past and plans to conduct one or two more clinics this summer. Each class has a different focus, such as safety procedures, self-rescues, tandem rescues and others.  Today's class was about tandem rescues.  It was well attended with about 10 persons in the water and 15 persons observing. I was previously scheduled to work as an in-water assistant, but because of a recent hamstring injury I went as an observer.

On April 2 Janet and I had not paddled for a couple weeks so we were anxious to get on the water.  The weather was a beautifully blue sky and deceptively warm in the sun.  But in the shade or in the wind it was noticeably cool.  We mistakenly did not take a sweater or jacket. We decided to go to Archie Blue Park, just a couple of miles from our house in suburban Wilmington.

I was a little anxious about the logistics, since we did not leave home until about 5:15 p.m.  I had never started a trip in my life after 5 p.m.  But the sun did not set until about 7:30 p.m., so we felt it would be okay to paddle for a couple of hours. 

Our route took us from the put-in at Archie Blue Park on Burnt Creek to the junction with Smith Creek. Then the river trail continued down stream on Smith Creek to the SE Fork of the Cape Fear River at about 6.1 miles.  We went a mile from the juncture further down Smith Creek.  The sun was getting low in the sky, the wind had picked up and the sky was getting cloudy.  We decided to turn around about 2 miles short of the SE Cape Fear River.  Because I was pushing the pace, our paddle back to the take-out at the Park was a bit quicker than the trip from the put-in downriver.  And this fast pace was despite paddling against the current and a stiff wind.  We got a good muscular and cardiovascular workout.

Despite being within the city limits, the paddle trail was surprisingly remote. We passed under a couple bridges for cars and trains; otherwise there were no signs of civilization. We were watching for wildlife, but only saw some large fish swirling just under the water surface.

The adventure was at the takeout. I got there first and remembered that about 80% of my boat exits resulted in me losing my balance and falling in the water.  Sometimes when I fell, I seemed to be too anxious, and I was moving too fast. This time I moved slowly and carefully. After I was standing fully erect with one foot balanced on the creek bank and the other foot balanced in the canoe, the situation seemed good.   As I briefly stood there the canoe slowly drifted away from the shore. My legs stretched further apart. As I tried to pull my legs together, I severely strained my left thigh hamstring muscle. I immediately cried out in pain and fell in the water.  When I squirmed around to get up, I found that I could not stand or walk.  I yelled to Janet that I was in serious trouble. I had to sit there in cold water up to my waist in a shortie wet suit until Janet could come ashore and get us oriented. 

Janet quickly took charge and fashioned a paddle for my use as a crutch. She strained her muscles enough to be sore the next day hauling both our boats up the bank and onto the grass.  Then she drove the Jeep, with a manual transmission from the parking lot to the grass, which was itself a small tribulation for her. Luckily, a young couple with a baby walked past and Janet recruited the man to help me load the boats on the Jeep roof racks. Finally I carefully drove home and we got further organized and recuperated from there.

Despite the trouble, we did have a decently good time and we'll go back there again.

On the sunny but cool and windy afternoon of Sunday, March 24, Janet and Bob went bike riding at Long Leaf New Hanover County Park.  The park is a beautiful large open area covered with moderately disbursed tall pine trees. Visitors are allowed to park anywhere in the park between trees. Facilities include many long and winding hiking and biking trails, tennis courts, a small children’s playground, a dog park, picnic areas, a pond, and a few other things. 

The outer loop is about a mile or a little more with a few hills. Our first bike circuit was steady work.  Then we paused by the pond to eat a large snack.  We illegally fed some food to the Canadian geese in the pond. Janet was able to get one of the geese to eat a bite of muffin off her knee.

Gracie came along but stayed in the car while we biked.  Next, we took Gracie to the dog park where she mostly played kickball with Janet. 

Our second bike circuit was a little faster and had me huffing and puffing to keep up with Janet. She is a majorly strong biker; Plus, I am terribly out of condition after a year and a half of pain from three separate physiological causes and a commensurate lack of exercise.   A good time was had by all.

On the cool and cloudy afternoon of February 22, Janet and I followed her directions to Greenfield Lake Park in Wilmington.  We were biking on the 4-mile paved trail around the lake in the park center.  But the main attraction was the beautiful swampy lake full of and surrounded by miles of cypress trees and Spanish moss. We went without Janet’s dog Gracie.

Normally, when I go on a trip, I take one or two devices with me to navigate.  My main instrument is a Garmin Montana 750i with a plethora of sophisticated features and programs. Today the Montana misbehaved and I left it in the Jeep at the parking lot. For several years I have had the popular and well-known app on my iPhone called All Trails.  I have read many reviews that were mixed good and bad, so up to now I had not used it. Without the Montana, I turned on All Trails and instantly saw the several nearby trails, including Greenfield Lake Park. Another couple of button pushes and we had a GPS icon on the device map following our location and progress on the clearly rendered trail. A  miracle! I have never had an electronic device work so fast, accurately, intuitively, and easily.  I recommend you get a copy on your phone.

The trip was just about right for Janet’s and my stamina.  We never felt worn out or exhausted, but by the time we got to the end at the parking lot, we were as tired as we wanted to be.  The next morning, we were both a little sore, in a good way! A good time was had by all.