Sunday, December 13, 2009

Early Morning Workout

All are lit by their chosen fire.

Tiny plankton swirl and glow around my paddle. A neighbor down the beach burns a big fire into the morning. His reddened form leans toward the flame as his spirit pulls forth some truth.

Crescent smile among the stars leaves a spotted trail of moondrops on the water that my kayak pierces on its important journey into the next moment. My heart warms to the distant burn that lights that smile and marks my way.


From Nov 29, 2009

Golden lomboy leaves garnish the high tide line this morning. Some are flat faded hearts, some folded butterflies awaiting their next erratic flight. A mischievous west wind blew them offshore yesterday and in the night they floated back home like paper salmon, spent on the shore. Their nutrients wait to nourish something else.

It was that same mischievous west wind I was cursing multi-lingually yesterday as it carried the dust of Loreto out to sea over the whitecaps I was fighting. The waves I didn’t care about. Nor the salt spray, nor the sunscreen in my eyes, nor the distance from shore, nor the snot streaking across my cheek. The raw spot on my hip rubbing on the kayak seat I cared a little about but not enough to give up the next paddle stroke. I didn’t care about the 7 miles behind me. I cared about the one in front, and particularly about closing the distance between my kayak and Pancho’s kayak before that mile ran out.

It was my first kayak race. It was organized by Pancho as part of Mexico’s National Conservation Week, to highlight the potential of sustainable tourism. Pancho is a tall, muscular, broad-shouldered Baja native with an appropriate dose of Mexican machismo and pride in his blood. We have a little bit of professional history between us, which tends to express itself as competitiveness. All of this I knew as I watched him working those shoulders in front of me. He would die before he would let me pass him. I also knew that if I ever tapped into the competitiveness in my genes, I might become dangerous too. It was ok if I couldn’t pass him this time; I could make him suffer from here just by trying.

The race started on calm seas, with a field of 5 single paddlers and 2 doubles. Pancho and 1 double took the lead. I drafted Pancho for fun, then pulled alongside and started a conversation. The double was a boat-length ahead and the rest of the crew several lengths back. The conversation and the pace were easy. I concentrated on impeccable technique. After a couple miles, a breeze picked up, making it easier to drift apart so the kayaks could respond to the waves without colliding. Then surfing became possible, and steering more challenging since the wind was on the stern quarter. Pancho took the downwind side and I took the upwind line.

To snack, I would catch a wave, grab a boiled egg out of my PFD pocket, and take a bite. I shoved the rest back in the pocket and resumed paddling before the surf ride ran out. This makes for a messy PFD, but that’s a small price. Energy snacks are hard to come by in Baja, so a pre-peeled egg seemed like a good, waterproof, no-garbage option. I tried the same technique for a sip of chocolate milk, but putting the lid back on garnered a brief fumble.

All of a sudden Pancho was turning around. I tried to call to him several times, but either he didn’t hear or didn’t answer. We were still a good mile from El Bajo, the turn around point. I didn’t see the turn-around boat, but figured the park panga that was running beside the group would pull ahead and position itself before we arrived. The backup plan was to turn at the last house. I didn’t realize it was this soon. So I hit the brakes and turned around too, but lost several boat lengths and didn’t get that last good swig of chocolate milk I was counting on before the turn into the wind. No matter. Good technique, and good spirits. Keep the pressure on. A quick glance at my GPS showed that we’d averaged 4.9kts before the turn-around.

Sometimes I thought I was gaining, and would really work the rotation and foot pressure, then look up and not be any closer. Pancho kept looking back and digging in. He never took a swig of water during the whole race. We do sell camelbacks for PFDs here in Loreto, but there’s that professional competition thing, and such a purchase would be supporting the enemy. I love my camelback and consulted it often during the race.

He crossed the finish line before I did, and I was happy for him. In the end I think it was appropriate that he win. When I pulled up to the beach, he was floating beside his kayak, moaning. He managed to raise an arm for a high-five as I glided up. Overall average: 4.4kts.

We waited a good 20 minutes for the next competitors to come in. Meanwhile, Everardo the park director showed some photos he’d taken at the finish. The moment I crossed the line, the small crowd cheered, and I raised my paddle overhead in acknowledgement. A smile came up from deep inside; the joy of being on the water and completing a good challenge. Everardo’s photo captures this sentiment. In his photo, Pancho has the face of agony.

It was a worthwhile experience, and I am satisfied. I’m also hooked. There’s a longer race at the end of January. I think I’ll carry a second camelback of chocolate milk and hope that Pancho hasn’t trained harder than I have.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Dismantling a Centipede

I returned from a 10-day Carmen Island Circumnavigation to find a 6-inch centipede sunbathing on the dirt of my campsite. Closer inspection revealed it to actually be quite dead. Each plump amber segment had its own pair of blonde legs. A set of ferocious mahogany mandibles folded under the head. A file of miniscule cider-colored ants hustled to and from its body. I let nature take her course and just watched over the next couple of days, stepping around the scene whenever I went to the water tank.

Slowly the ants began deflating the centipede. Segments at the tail end lost their plump roundness, then turned transparently hollow, then broke off one by one and drifted away in the breeze. After three days, the ants still marched on the front half, climbing through the exoskeleton like a jungle-gym. Even the legs became hollow tubes.

I know it’s cliché, but it still amazes me what a focused and united effort of itty bitty critters can accomplish: dismantling a centipede several hundred times their size. Are they consuming it as they go? Do they have a pantry in their basement under my camp especially for centipede jerky?

Their industry and effectiveness reminds me of the best moments of our recent kayak trip. Working together in teams of 4 to move a loaded kayak to the water, two pairs each sharing a strap. Or the synchronized way we packed, sometimes on a moment’s notice to take advantage of a weather window. Somehow we managed to be ready all 10 of us at the same time. Somebody was paying attention to the bigger picture, picking up the little pieces, offering a hand to somebody who was struggling, filling water bottles for all if they were ahead. Good attitudes, good chemistry, aware people. What magic!

I wonder if the ants ever have a discombobulated day, or a few mutinous individuals? Do they have a sense of humor and joke together as they work? Give antennae high-fives as they pass, moving too fast for the human eye to really follow?

After a week, the centipede segments have dispersed, probably lodging under bushes with the dry leaves. The ants still commute their meandering highways through camp, and I’m about to organize another group of kayakers. The wind carries on.