LGN 81: I’m in love

The last time I professed a passionate, deep abiding love like this, a friend said (paraphrasing): “Damn it, Gary. I was so excited for you and then I kept reading and you’re talking about some stupid bbq joint.”

First of all, Famous Dave’s is not some stupid bbq joint. It’s like the Mid-Atlantic Armadillo Willy’s. I was stoked. I mean … couldn’t she just be happy for me?


I’m sitting here in my Big Buoy PFD typing this. I’ve been searching online for kayaks. I’ve been thinking about all of the coast line that the DelMarVa region has to offer.

Ever since I was a kid — before the internet — I would look at maps and trace the regions and waterways. Despite living pretty much at sea level within four or five stone throws from a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay my family and neighbors weren’t really water people. That is an opportunity squandered. I wondered why we didn’t have a boat or go fishing or spend any time out there by and on the water. I wanted to go beneath the Francis Scott Key Bridge and look up. Or see Ft. McHenry from the water.

It may have something to do with all of the industrial pollution. Fleming used to be a recreational beach. It’s still a park but Bethlehem Steel across the way and other companies were pumping so much crap into the water and air and soil. People started staying out of the water for the most part.

In my teens a friend and I would walk the water line from Sollers Pt. Vocational School down to Fleming. You’d just spend the day by the water and look out across the way to other lands that were out of a kid’s reach.

Nowadays I spend an inordinate amount of time on Google Earth exploring in 3D.

I’m still scared of the water. I have no desire to be in a position to do a wet exit. Especially if I’m alone. That could very well be the end of me.

The good news is that there are a LOT of kayaking and paddle sport classes, groups and rentals in the area. And I mean a LOT. Many with mind blowing natural features and life changing serenity and interaction with water and nature.

The bad news is that I’ve discovered this in mid October, which means they’ll all be shutting down and closing up shop until the Spring. Thompson’s Boat Center in Georgetown is shut down due to the fed. government shutdown.

It’s like meeting someone absolutely amazing who brings something special and much needed to your life (and vice versa) and then they say, “Okay. This is great but I’m going away for five or six months. See you around.”

So I intend to make the most of it in the next two or three weeks that I have. Hm. That could get expensive. More expensive.


I keep looking at kayaks online. I really want an Ocean Kayak Frenzy. It’s a sit-on-top, 9 footer. It’s more recreational and over time I would start yearning for a “legit” machine, I assume. The ones at the REI class this weekend were 15′. I could easily get one and the accessories but I live in an apartment so where would I keep it? How would I transport it?


Uh … wait. Awkwardly worded.

It’s hard to find people that are willing and able to do these types of things. Outdoor activities. Something like hiking is hard enough, but try and rope acquaintances into an activity that requires special equipment, rentals, lessons and costly tours. Y’know? Probably not smart to go out on the water alone, especially when I have no experience. Hm, that gives me an idea.

A ha! There are a few groups on meetup.com. Again I run to the arms of strangers for comfort and companionship.


I was excited about and dreading the class. I was hoping it would get rained out but nope. I was thinking, is this really still going down? Seriously? In this weather and with flood warnings? As if that matters when you’re going to be on and maybe in the water. The water was extremely high, by the way, but the only ramification was that we came back to the boat house for lunch instead of parking somewhere on a shoreline upriver.



We introduced ourselves, our experience and what we had for breakfast. Paul and Mike told us the schedule for the day. They showed us different ways to get in the kayak and get out. They told us what would happen if any of us fell out. They instructed us on a wet exit so we would at least have the theory. So, say you’re upside down in a kayak and hopefully you’re holding your breath.

1. Bend forward so that you have some clearance between your head and obstacles or the bottom of the river/lake/what have you.
2. Bang on the sides of the kayak with your hands three times. This is to alert your neighbors because a tip over can happen so suddenly and quietly that no one may notice and they’ll keep paddling on.
3. Brace your hands on the sides of the opening and push yourself out.

If you’re wearing a skirt you have to have the presence of mind to pull the front end off the lip of the opening, drawing your fingers back along the lip to make sure the skirt is detached, then kick out. All of that while not breathing murky water.

If other people are around when you fall out they’ll do the thing to get the water out of your kayak and brace it so that you shimmy your way back in. It seems like it would take practice to do it well and it’s not necessarily intuitive. The most surprising thing about it was that if you’re alone and go overboard?

Apparently, there’s a special thing you use to get back in OR you swim your boat to the shore. The special thing is a pump and a paddle floatie. You inflate the paddle floatie, put it on the end of your paddle (and that end is on the water), the other end of the paddle is up on the kayak, and then you use it to brace yourself up and swing your feet in.

There’s a follow up class that’s about rescue, self-rescue, wet exits, re-entry and all that biz where you actually practice the methods.


Most important, your core is your true source of power and propulsion. It’s all about the core. Side note: my hip flexors are fatigued. Glad they’ve been getting some attention with the yoga and training.

Then you get out on the water. The instructors told us to raft up. That’s when everyone comes in side by side to form one big kayak raft. It took a long time, as you can imagine. Eleven people who don’t know what they’re doing trying to align themselves. Craziness.

Hint: Don’t lean over to reach for someone else’s boat. Reach out with your paddle.

Then they taught us the sweep stroke. A powerful, deliberate stroke for turning and reorienting. We practiced that for a while. Blissful, chaotic group practice and exploration with only a few collisions.

They had us raft up again. Much quicker the second time.

Then the draft stroke. That’s where you reach out to the side and pull yourself to the side. Moving sideways. Harder than you’d think. I kept moving a little forward or backward instead of straight sideways. The tricky part is getting the blade of the paddle out of the water cleanly and without hitting the sides and accidentally almost levering yourself over into the water. Some more play-practice. Thoroughly entranced, by the way.

We rafted up again. Even quicker.


Then the backwards strokes. Apparently, beginners tend to paddle backwards a lot quicker than forwards because when you go backwards you’re forced to really turn your torso and use your core. We paddled backwards back to the boat house for lunch, talk of what to wear, cold water dangers and general advice and questions.


I broke out the camera (inside a waterproof camera bag) and started taking photos. Old camera and cheap lens so the quality isn’t great but still. Very satisfying.

56 Photos from the REI Intro to Kayaking Class at Fountainhead Regional Park

Then we went exploring a bit to a cove. One more raft-up where we learned the sculling(?) stroke. Imagine that you’re spreading peanut butter with the blade of your paddle that’s perpendicular and in the water. If you do it right you end up smoothly gliding sideways. I need to practice that one.


I saw lots of herons and two life birds: a kingfisher and a pair of a kind of woodpecker that I need to look up.

Oh! And we saw an eagle gently glide down, pluck a fish out of the water and fly up to a tree. It was amazing.

And due to the flooding, I guess, there was a lot of crap floating in the water. Branches, logs, plastic water bottles and such. Apparently, it’s good practice to pick up some of the flotsam, secure it under the bungees and paddle it out.



I’m doing a kayak tour of Mallow’s Bay this Saturday. There’s a Potomac monument tour on Sunday but the waitlist. Oy. Not gonna happen.

Then the weekend after that I’ll do the Jug’s Bay one maybe?

Then I think the weekend after that there’s one more with another company. It’s a Fall Colors tour along the Potomac.

I can’t do them all. It’s a lot of $$. But hell.


This is actually a post apocalyptic clone novel set in the mountains of Virginia, believe it or not. A good take on sci fi in a non-(macho blow everything up) way. When I read it years ago, these passages rung a bell in my psyche. The main character at this point is a teenager who doesn’t fit in with the superior and slightly telepathic clone society. He prefers to spend his time alone, using his brains and hands, and being out in the wilderness and ruins (if they’re not irradiated).




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