Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wind Play

Spray lifts gracefully from the wavetops, catches the sun, and obliterates Danzante Island from view. In front of me I can see another gust coming with white spray bright in front of the shadowed hills of Puerto Escondido. When the gust hits I gasp to inhale; it is going by too fast to breathe it. I force myself to relax and get some air. I’ll need that air because I’m paddling fairly hard, and might want some reserve if I capsize again.

Me? I’m just out here playing. Forecasters had predicted 30kts, and I wanted to test my Flat Earth kayak sail, my experiments at rigging, and my own skill. I stay between Rattlesnake beach and the yachts in the harbor because it’s rougher than I expected. It’s good to have a challenge every once in a while.

If I paddle while sailing, I can tack to about 45 degrees into the wind and make exciting headway. A gust pushes the mast over beyond 45 degrees, tipping the kayak with it. I’m bracing on the downwind side, but momentum slows as the mast flattens, and with it goes the support of my brace. The gust lasts longer than I do, and I finally relent and lie down in the water. Upwind will be on my left, so I prepare to roll up there, pausing to release the sheet so I can roll up without the resistance of the sail. I’ve practiced this before.

The roll is no problem. The mast falls as I come up, probably because the rigging stretches a little with the pressure of the water during the roll. I gather the mast and sail onto the deck and pop one quick strap on it. I reorient into the wind and pull the mast back up. After a few more tacks I turn to ride the wind. Wheeeeee! This much fun should be illegal! I spy some friends on the beach, looking windblown but fascinated. Before I pass them, I try dropping the mast (and sail because they are connected). I’m on a speedy downwind run, and the mast refuses to come down. Is it the zip tie on the line caught in the jam cleat, or the pressure of the wind? I turn a little sideways, the gust passes, and I get the mast down. Note to self to review the system again on this issue.

Klaus is effervescent. “This is amazing! It’s a whole new sport!” He’s a kayaker and an ultralight experimental aircraft pilot and general adventurer. I am excited too, on the verge of jumping up and down, but I’m still in my kayak.

I decide to try to get into the port before the cruiser’s net on the radio. I have about 30 minutes. Gusts are still whiting out the channel that funnels the wind like a fire hose. No sail this time, I work my way upwind along the shore. Legs, core, rhythm.

Jumping fingers of water, white spray, and I brace into it. Instantly my kayak turns broadside. I’m sturdy in the brace, but headed 90 degrees the wrong way and blowing 180 degrees the wrong direction.

Momentum, trim forward, edge. Start the turn. I regain the direction. This happens several times. Bit by bit, I experiment with paddling through the gusts, edging into the wind and trimming forward when I start to get turned. Between the gusts I can relax my hands, but during the gusts, the paddle wants to do funny things. I keep a vertical stroke into the wind because it is still more efficient and easier for my body to power the stroke. And I try hard to breathe normally.

Eventually I get to the lee of Iron Maiden and pant for a moment. She has stabilizers out and isn’t swinging around much. Using her wind shadow, I gain momentum, then shoot my Explorer past her to cross the gusty channel. It’s not as bad as I expect. I even try putting the sail up halfway across. Maybe it’s worse than I thought, or the rigging has stretched too much, because eventually the mast blows over and splashes into the water. I brace the paddle under my PFD and hold it with one hand while gathering the sail and mast and stowing them. The sail itself is taking a beating at my inexperience and enthusiasm, but it's sturdy. I’ll do a minor rigging adjustment when I get to my friend Richard’s boat.

He’s anchored at the back of the harbor. All classes of boats are swinging wildly at their moorings and I give them a wide berth. Also because gusts come up and blow me sideways a good distance on short notice. I often run classes in here in calmer weather to practice maneuvering around the yachts. This is more like running drunk through a forest where the trees are dancing about unpredictably.

On the radio, one yachter reports wind of 25kts, and Richard and I both shake our heads. He was here for the 50kt blow last year and says that this wind isn’t that bad, but its damn well over 25 on the gusts! He doesn’t have an anemometer on board, but several others do. Someone else reports gusts of 40kts coming through. This is the one we want to believe.

I power up on half a Snickers bar, adjust the rigging, and head for the beach. Halfway across the channel I finally have the guts to try the sail again. Wow! This is living!

I hang on a stern rudder on the upwind side, and play with the angle of the blade to control the direction. I’m moving right along, and then a gust hits. The kayak jumps to catch up and now we’re flying! The wind doesn’t feel very strong at all when you’re flying with it! I don’t have the skeg down as I some times have done in lighter winds because I want to have the most response possible when I steer with my blade and the edges of the kayak. It’s really more like surfing where using a skeg would not be desirable.

To catch a wave is no work at all. I just look at it, think “yes!” and there I am. The boat has a good line along a wave and a solid feel in the sail, and I can’t help myself--I raise my paddle over my head and whoop with joy!

I’m not straight downwind since that would risk the sail jibing on me, or flipping sides violently, which is hard on the equipment and the balance of the paddler. But I want to try jibing on purpose to angle away from the beach before it gets too close. I pull in the sheet so the sail is in the shortest line possible, and carefully redirect my bow to the left. Bam! The wind shoves the sail to the other side and I let the sheet out a bit, perhaps not enough. I don’t think I even got one good run in that direction before a big gust catches me, and I see the mast starting to give. I take a hand off the paddle to pull up the mast better, still bracing with one hand and my elbow on the paddle. The gust pushes harder and I give in.

Same drill, but when I come up, the mast has fallen frontwards, in the hazard zone where I can’t reach it from the cockpit. It’s not supposed to be able to do that. I turn upwind, which is easy with a little momentum because I had a giant anchor hanging off my bow. The sail drifts back to me as I move forward and I can see where one metal shroud has broken where I tied a knot in it to tighten it. That break would allow the mast to fall forward. That break would also make sailing kind of impossible. So I surf back to my beach, still quite glowing.

What I do know is that I have a lot to learn and practice about kayak sailing, and also that it is so unbelievably much fun!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bus ride back to Loreto

The movie is in English, the radio in Spanish, and the bus driver, whose gas pedal is connected to his mouth, is chatting away at 50mph through the Baja California night. I’ve given up listening to my Swedish language CD, and look out the window.

Peace and a crescent moon in the sunset. We are the moments of our lives, and this journey is sweet. I am headed back to Loreto from San Diego after coming north to run a brief kayaking class.

First the driver talks with the relief driver, who rides in a jumpseat that folds down in the stairway. At a stop, the relief driver crawls underneath by the luggage to sleep before his shift. The chatty driver begins talking with the woman in the other front seat, and invites her to the jumpseat. This is a great bonus for me for 3 reasons. One, I do not feel like talking, and she is happy to. Two, she is keeping the driver awake and connected to the gas pedal, and three, I have even more space to stretch out.

We stop for dinner at a bus stop café. Eighteen overworked pots share one stovetop and two women lift lids, stir, shuffle pots around, and wait for the wall of hungry faces to voice their desires.

“?Que hay?” someone asks.
A rosary of options is mumbled back. Bistek, machaca, deshebrada…

Somebody calls out an order, and one woman pokes at a pot with more purpose.

“Bistek” I say, figuring I’d end up with some form of cow on a plate.
The other cook looks at me, and stirs another pot. “?Plato o burrito?”

“Burrito,” I reply.
I look around to spy a tortilla so I’d have a clue what size she is selling, but don’t see any. “Dos,” I guess. If they are little, at least with two I won’t starve, and if they are big, maybe one will make a good breakfast.

I take my plate of two humble burritos and sit down at a little plastic table. After a moment another woman asks if she can join me, and I agree.

Good food, I say in Spanish.
Hunger makes anything good, she replies with a smile.
An older woman joins us. We exchange our stories in tiny verbal snapshots.

Sometimes when strangers get together, the truest of things get said. I’m not sure how, but here we sit, sharing a bus stop table, the elderly 2-time cancer survivor, the accident survivor, and me. Expressing our thanks for the tragedy-blessings that made us more aware of what a gift life is.

We climb back on the bus for the long haul, me 20 hours from Tijuana to Loreto, the viajita 22 hours home to Insurgentes, and the younger woman 26 hours to La Paz for work. I sit in the front seat of the bus, just behind the driver, and am the beneficiary of many smiles as people step or hobble their ways on board.

The fourth movie ends and still the chatty driver keeps the pace. I am wearing every stitch of clothing I brought and am still freezing. The driver’s chatting assistant has a blanket that I think he loaned her. After finally accepting that covering myself with my computer bag isn’t going to make me any warmer, I lean down to ask the assistant if she could inquire if there were any more blankets. Shortly the driver pulls off the road, opens the luggage compartment, and brings me a blanket. We resume the road. Extremely thankful, I drift off to sleep.

At a military checkpoint somewhere in the dark, two calico soldiers board and look about this capsule of traveling strangers. Seeing nothing noteworthy, they let us go on. Drivers switch, and the background of conversation ceases. The assistant curls to sleep on her seat. Mellow ranchero ballads follow the new driver down the road.

Sunrise brings a procession of cacti in gentle lighting that makes the austere look romantic. Distant mountains rotate in a waltz of perspective. The long slow drive through the desert drip-feeds my soul.

Sunrise is a Sandwich

Sunrise is a sandwich.
Blue. Orange. Blue.
Hot orange on a hard blue line

Horizon is an illusion.
Corners of islands float in the fiery sky, not touching the sea.
Horizon is a place you can never touch.
Its flatness undulates with waves.

Black constants on a changing palette--
islands on the horizon.
Sure of themselves.

Sunrise is how I love you this morning.
The passion of opposite colors pressing together
and running for a long time
past solid black milestones.

Beyond the illusion
that holds sea and sky together,
they reflect each other.
Sky cools upwards to blue.
Sea softens near shore to a peachy glow.

Fragments of the beach take flight and wing their ways across
sea and sky
orange and blue
illusion and conviction.
And sunrise is just a transition.

Driving south

From October, 2010
In El Rosario, white confetti blows everywhere. Onion skins from the harvest. In the borders of the great arroyo, through which the road also runs, white onions lie drying. Rows and rows of handsome white globes in the sun. Men walk down the rows, pulling them and setting them out. In a corner of one field, pink mesh bags slouch full of their pearly load.

Another field has 6” seedlings, which look beanish. A man hunches under the sun in a brown sweatshirt and a red hood, tending the seedlings with a short hoe. Perfect rows surround him with green stripes, a dozen between him and the far fence. Five dozen between him and the road. From him to the horizon, the green stripes extend endlessly as I drive, reducing this red-hooded gnome to futility in my mirror, which he defies by simply continuing.

Again tonight I listen to sounds of the sea. In Santa Rosalillita the ruin of an abandoned, unfinished Singlar marina slowly covers its shame in sand dunes. A perfect 12” wave peels across the entrance of the breakwater. This was to be the crux of the Escalara Nautica project, a scheme that would entice yachts to haul out here and drive across the peninsula and thereby shorten their time from the southern US to the Sea of Cortez. Rumor has it that the project was purchased by an Asian firm which will continue the development. Meanwhile, the osprey family enjoys their new blue and yellow nesting platform atop the unused yacht hauler. It’s the only thing left here with color. I think the scene would make a great end-of-the-world movie set. Be sure to capture the dead palms bending in the salt wind in front of the grey coastal fog.

Perspective increases with miles traveled from home. Scenes and memories pass easily through my mind as the landscape scrolls along. Books, friends. King of the Moon, a tender and profound account of rural life where there is a poverty of economy but a richness of human spirit. A friend’s ongoing health challenges. A couple of other friends passing on in recent months. How temporary is this situation called life! Somehow as the miles grow, priorities shift. Migration is a meditation on what is real and what is important.

To live consciously enough to follow inner callings. To live slowly enough to hear them. Open enough to share them. Why do I keep thinking this is just around the corner? What is now, is. Upon arriving somewhere, I get busy, and the dust of the immediate starts clouding the perspective. Not this time, I tell myself.

When I arrive to the beach I’ve called my winter home for 14 years, there is nothing about it that would indicate that I live here. It’s just a patch of sand and shrubbery.

I find a broken blue crate left by the fishermen, and sit on it beneath a quarter moon. And breathe. How simple and beautiful a moment can be. Life, I celebrate you! A cool mountain wind hugs me from behind. Ripples tickle the shore and make the only sound in a vast, calm silence.

I drop the truck’s tailgate and cook there. Then throw my sleeping bag on the beach and sleep. There will be other days for working. I resolve to keep the perspective I’ve found, do what I can each day, and leave the rest in peace.

A lizard rousts me from dreamland by running up my face. Its lightening fast, but I can still feel each gripping foot across my cheek. I rub the feeling of lizard feet away. The water is so calm that Orion throws three stripes on the surface. One for Rigel, the foot of the celestial hunter as he hooks it over Danzante Island and shimmies up into the sky. One for the belt, since the three stars are vertically aligned, and one for Betelgeuse, the shoulder.

I’m home.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Redefining the goal

(from Aug 30 2010)

Ten slivers of rainbow push their pointy noses around the metal sea wall of Astoria’s East Mooring Basin. Their vista opens to include a broad waterscape hemmed by distant blue hills and dotted with black-hulled freighters. The Astoria Megler bridge, like a yoga pose, arches its green-spined back high over the shipping channel and stretches its arms long and low across the water to Washington, four miles distant.

A 14-mile journey lies ahead, some anxiety within. Destination, the Pacific, like Lewis & Clark. The empty kayak trailer waits at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.

Of our ten, four are BCU 4-star sea leader candidates being tested on their leadership, navigation and personal skills on an exposed journey. Four more are moderate to well skilled sea paddlers being led on the journey, and two are assessors charged with exposing the group to that turbulent and exciting current of challenge where learning happens and where the candidates can demonstrate their skills or reveal their weaknesses.

Winds are force 2 from the NW as the colorful arrows begin to glide across the channel in close formation. The water’s surface is lightly textured. A 2.4 knot ebb whisks them past green buoy 39 towards the bridge.

From the low vista of the kayakers’ eyes, the mid-river sand bars are not apparent at first except as a perforation of gulls along the horizon. Gulls a fraction taller than they would be if they were floating. Desdemona sands make a fine lunch break beside the bridge and the cross current of traffic, something I’ve long wanted to do. Drivers honk and wave.

Distance paddled: 3nm. Time: 1 hour. Speed made good: 3 knots. Three more hours till slack. Headwinds begin to touch force 3, cresting occasional wavelets.

It is apparent to two candidates that our remaining 11-mile journey is not likely to happen. Another says that we should push to make 4 knots.

Sometimes the drama comes from our own stubbornness. Sometimes one must experience to understand. It is the job of the assessor to let this experience happen without losing the larger safety net.

Bridge drivers look down now to see the smears of color getting washed by 2-3’ waves. They bounce in the spray but make little headway along the bridge or towards the destination. Does the candidate in the lead recognize this yet? Is he thinking of other options? The wind builds, the ebb slowly dies. The treadmill goes on, steepening wind waves to 4’.

Who is the paddler making many sweep strokes on the downwind side, working hard to maintain direction, and losing speed? How long can she keep this up? Who are the resources; the strong one trying to pull ahead? Who is strong and aware, able to pull ahead but staying back for group support? Do the candidates read this? How do they use their resources to meet the challenges?

When do we redefine the goal?

Kayaking is not just a scenic escape. It is a teacher of life lessons. I suppose this is why, for some, immersing in the natural world is a fundamental element of spirit.

A change of candidates in the lead, an inline tow, a small change of course. Finally, the exercising of some fine hitchhiking skills. The journey is behind us, and within, on our written or unwritten log books of life.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Where beauty resides

I think the Dog Beach ebb current on Friday afternoon helped to pull of the stunt I’m trying to repeat now without success. I’m in the surf off Mission Beach, in a small gap between surfers. Mission Beach waves are much stronger than Dog Beach waves. I’m getting body blasted and side-surfed back to the beach instead of the graceful, dynamic, and perhaps lucky maneuver of two days ago. Mike stands behind a long camera lens on the beach hoping for some photogenic carnage.

Image: a green wall of water rises behind the kayak, about to break, completely obscuring the sky. At full velocity I try to punch through it and get surfed backwards and broached. Again. I wash up on the seaweed at Mike’s feet and suggest we try back at Dog Beach, which had looked too small earlier. I’m willing to take a little less manhandling by the surf.

On the drive over we pass clusters of red-clad walkers. Walking for MS.

“People are walking for everything these days,” says Mike. “The Walk for the Cure for breast cancer came through my neighborhood all dressed in pink. Some costumes. Guys with stuffed shirts that read Save the Boobs. It’s a 3-day event, huge! Survivors, people with family and friends affected, people who just care. There were literally thousands of walkers.”

We get on the topic of hope and post-surgery decisions. “A friend of mine had reconstruction and tattoos of Hawaiian flowers on hers,” I say. “Some reporter interviewed her for a recent article.” Tattoos are an appropriate topic when driving through Ocean Beach, where at the grocery co-op the other day I believe I was the only one of any age without body art.

Mike has worked in newspapers and photography. He mentioned a photo essay a colleague did on survivors with tastefully done shots of scars and reconstruction. A celebration of life and deeper beauty. I related a comment my dad made when I announced 4 years ago that I did not want reconstruction after my mastectomy. My dad is one of the people I respect most on this planet for his faith and his constant search for deeper meaning. With uncharacteristic anxiety, he asked how I would still be beautiful for some guy. I was too surprised to really answer. No doubt he was just expressing his concern for my well-being. I stuck with my choice and am glad for it. Mobility and overall health were my priorities. I just wanted to be able to paddle, coach, and live as fully as possible. Besides, if some guy with whom I’m building a relationship is concerned about a big scar and the lack of one boob, I don’t want to be with that guy. As it turns out, my man isn’t phased at all. Deeper things hold us together, despite being on opposite sides of the planet most of the time.

My photographer for the morning, meanwhile, helps me carry my pale green kayak through swirls of happy dogs. I find another gap between the surfers off Dog Beach, and play in the gentler waves. The morning tide is flooding still, and the waves don’t have the right shape for my stunt, so I ride a couple frontwards just for fun. Finally I park myself in front of a bigger set and give it all I have left.

The green wall rises up before me. I paddle backwards, turning to check one more time for anyone behind me. Up comes the bow. I lean forward then forcefully come back to center and yes! The stern sticks, the bow swings around in the foam. I brace on the left and swing my hips, turning the brace into a forward stroke as I come out on top of the foam pile, far enough forward that a little push and a forward lean sends my boat down over it. Whoo-hooo the drop! I watch the bow puncture the green water just in front of the wave and go deep. Not part of the plan, but it’ll make some photogenic carnage, I think, as I tuck my head for the flip. I roll up grinning, and go back energized to try again.

On the next set wave, it feels right. All clear behind, green swell rising before. Timing, momentum in reverse, weight shift to stick the stern. Which way will she turn? I listen with my body… then brace on the left as my playful Romany spins on her tail. A little propulsion, and I ride down the foam pile to surf perfectly towards the beach. Big grin! Joy from deep inside. Satisfaction beyond reason for simply having pulled off a surf stunt, and I can’t wipe the smile off my face. We carry the kayak back to the car and Mike is grinning too.

The shots he got, my flip, his excitement. “Yeah, action, carnage, go!” As an afterthought, “I hope she’s ok.”
He continues, referring to our earlier conversation, “I have a response for your dad.”
“One Ginni Callahan smile is worth 2 boobs any day!”
I like it.

That’s a universal truth, really. Joy from deep inside is where real beauty resides. No matter what the turbulence around us, if we look deep enough, there is always something to be joyful for, even if it is mere breath, or a memory.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Loreto Kayak Symposium--making Baja history!

Loreto, Mexico. More than halfway down the Baja peninsula, Loreto is the access point for the National Marine Park of the Bay of Loreto, a popular kayaking destination. The Park itself is part of a World Heritage Site encompassing all of the islands in the Sea of Cortez. Sea kayak tours have been an increasing part of the local economy since the early 1980s yet kayaking for enjoyment or considering sustainability in their use of the environment has not traditionally been part of the local culture. That is changing.

There are many stories to tell here, and the Loreto Kayak Symposium, organized by Ginni Callahan and Ivette Granados of Sea Kayak Baja Mexico, is just a small chapter. The vision for the event is to be "a force for sustainable tourism based on sound ecology and appreciation for the natural landscape."

To that end, the event aims to make kayaking accessible and fun for everyone including kids, families, young adults, professionals, adults, and university students. Part of this is an extension of the kids' kayaking programs Granados began last summer, and it ties in with the "Alternative Tourism" track offered by the local university and the universities of La Paz and Los Cabos.

The Loreto Kayak Symposium will also make professional kayak training available for guides and instructors. This is an extension of what Callahan has been doing locally for 10 years.

Finally, the event hopes to raise national and international interest in the National Marine Park of Loreto (and other protected areas of Mexico) and to draw visitors.

Event sponsors include the National Marine Park of the Bay of Loreto, the Loreto Campus of the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, the Municipality of Loreto, Hotel Tripui, Kokatat, and Werner Paddles.

Activites include the Kayak Festival Weekend October 23-24. A big kayaking party on the beach, the festival provides a fun environment to find out what kayaking is about, and an invitation to learn more.

Provided free to all on the Loreto waterfront are: beach classes, demonstrations, info tables, and evening presentations, in Spanish and English. Available for a modest cost: classes, competitions, retail items, and short family tours.

Topics include:
• Kayaking equipment-how to wear a wear a life jachet, how to choose a paddle.
• VHF radio & how to use it, given in a presentation by the Port Captain.
• Reading a nautical chart.
• Floating in a Life Jacket
• Capsize and Safety
• Rolling and Preventing Capsize
• Balance Tricks & Games
• Steering
• Expedition planning

Sunday Races are Sponsored by Kokatat, Werner Paddles, and Sea Kayak Baja Mexico. Great prizes include: PFD (life jacket) from Kokatat, Fiberglass paddle from Werner Paddles, Kids paddle from Werner Paddles, "This is the Sea" action kayaking DVD, Gift Certificate for 1 free day of classes the following week, and more. Race entry fees for 16yrs & up are $100 pesos, for 15 yrs & under $50 pesos.

Competitions are important for providing local impetus for paddling. Paddling for recreation is not traditionally part of the culture, but competitions of any sort are well understood. Last year, a kayak race was held as part of the National Park Days in Loreto. Such competitions serve to raise awareness of the park, and the recreational opportunities that the waterfront provides. In other Baja cities, competitive paddlesports have raised an interest in paddling among young people, and Loreto hopes to do the same. Good prizes really drive the competitive participation!

Kayak Courses happen the week after the Festival Weekend, October 25-31. Full day and multi-day courses are offered, from beginner classes to Leader and Coach certifications. British coach Phil Hadley, Dutch coach Axel Schoevers, and American coaches Jen Kleck and Matt Nelson, in addition to Ginni Callahan, will run the courses. There are still spaces available in almost all the courses. Discounted lodging is provided by Hotel Tripui, and local transportation by the university. Special permission from the Park has been granted to use private, non-registered kayaks for classes during the event.

A special National Marine Park Tour in the National Marine Park is offered during the symposium by the original Loreto outfitter,Paddling South. October 22-31. This trip includes a special presentation by the National Marine Park about the incredible biodiversity of the area.

Loreto, Mexico. The original Mission to the Californias, and the first capital of the state of Baja California Sur. Now, site of the first Sea Kayaking Symposium in Baja. Still making history!

Loreto Kayak Symposium symposium link

For more info about sustainability in the Loreto area, visit:
Grupo Ecologista Antares
National Marine Park of Loreto Facebook Page

Friday, September 10, 2010

from my garden to your computer screen

Writing while eating dinner. It’s one way of sharing a meal.

So here goes. Mashed red potatoes from my garden. Nice and peppery. Served on an orange plate with white polka-dots from my friend Diana. Slaw with all kinds of vegetable matter—cabbage, 4 different colors of carrot (red, orange, yellow, and white), green onions, celery and parlsey. All from that good ol’ garden, except for the light balsamic vinaigrette dressing. And to top it off, 2 lamb chops the tenderest you can imagine, raised just down the road at Greyfields Farm, and cooked up with garlic and rosemary from guess where? I love my garden! I pulled it all out this week so I could cover it with tarps and leave for Mexico. Otherwise there won’t be a garden when I come back in June, just Very Tall Weeds.

Meanwhile the Raspberries are in overdrive (almost a gallon this evening!). They are determined to see that I get my garden time each day despite having ripped out everything rippable and trying to focus on packing to leave. Just try to rip out determined raspberries! They are related to blackberries, after all. They have the same last name. I bet if I didn’t dig back their imperialist roots and cover the shredded ground with metal roofing or heavy tarps with cinder blocks on them, within 2 years they would have my whole 50’x100’ garden in their prickly grasp. But their plump heavy berries are a joy, and delicious. I think they are trying to tell me that they will miss me.

To do a few things and do them well. To take good care of the things I do have, whether it’s a tool or a garden or a motor vehicle (they may not look like much, but both the car and the truck have over 200,000 miles on them and still run well most of the time). This is one of the tenets of my deepest beliefs. To take care of and appreciate what one does have. What happens when the projects pile up, all worthy, but just not enough time or energy in one human to give them all the quality time they deserve? Well, I suppose one downsizes or one goes insane. Talking to raspberries, does that qualify as insane yet?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Family Time

Skiing in powder is insanely fun! The locals said today was the best day of the season. Lucky me to catch it on my second day skiing in 15 years! It snowed about a foot overnight and continued to snow without much wind through the day. Sometimes we could see blue sky between the clouds. I skied with Mom & Dad on intermediate slopes while my sis went for the gnarly stuff. We met up after a couple hours and I went with sis on some blue-black runs through the trees. Yeah! It was absolutely beautiful, with the snow on the tree branches. We rode the long lift to the top of the ridge, above the trees, but couldn’t see much because it was snowing kind of hard at the time. The world was white. Still, what a feeling up on the top of the country, near the continental divide, with a couple of planks on my feet to ride down the mountain.

My sis is a marvel to watch on her tele skis. Ballet on powder! When she gets going, her legs disappear into the snow. After one steep run where I did a lot of conservative back and forth and she just danced down the hill, I told her that she may be more graceful, but I got in more mileage. : ) I like hangin’ out with my sis.

Sis also has a 6 month old baby. Zoe is 6 months old and can do the magic reappearing cheerio trick. Here are some of her top tips. Grasp “O” and raise it to mouth. Pretend to miss the mouth so you can slobber sticky saliva all over your hand. Try again, but this time, open your hand and slide the O onto your sticky palm. Look at the O on your open palm in surprise, flip your hand over and back again and it’s still there! Wave one hand across the other a few times just to distract your audience. Mash the O and your open palm against your face a few more times because it brings such good laughs. Be sure to slobber on both sides of both hands in the process. Cross and wave your hands some more so that the O switches from the front of one hand to the back of another. Switch a few more times, then knock the O off completely and raise up your empty hands! The disappearing O! Your audience thinks this is the end, but in secret collaboration with your granddad, you have prearranged the real finale. HIS hand opens up to reveal the magic O! Grab it and shove it masterfully into your mouth.

It was great to hang out with family for a week and play in the snow together. Thanks Mom, Dad, Donna, Sandi and Zoe!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Aussie shark stories

At Sally’s party, some of my new paddling mates were talking about shark attacks on kayakers. That is casual conversation among Aussie paddlers.

Rob told stories of a kayaker meeting a rower on the sea and the rower asking if the kayaker had been seeing all the sharks along the coast. The kayaker had not, but then kayakers look forward and the sharks normally follow the slowest member of a group, waiting for their chance to pick off the weak ones. The rower was of course looking back all the time, so he saw them. I think I’d rather be looking forward!

Aussies kayakers are mostly unbothered by sharks. Its crocks they fear. When sharks taste a kayak, or for that matter, a human, they usually bite and let go. Crocks actually have humans on the menu. Crocks hunt intelligently and will stalk kayakers and campers.

One kayaker unknowingly camped in the company of a large crock who emerged from the mangroves shortly before dark. She’d heard that a fire will stave off a hungry crock, and quickly gathered all the driftwood she could find on the tiny island. She lit a fire, and the crock backed away. As the fire died, it advanced again.

She set her watch for an hour, and stoked the fire every hour through the night. Each time it died down, the crock was a little closer. She launched early the next morning.

Approaching a cove the next afternoon, another crock bigger than her kayak trailed her. It began nipping at the stern. She made a beeline for the shore, jumped out, and ran up a hill. The crock chomped onto the stern of the kayak and thrashed it about for 15 minutes or so before deciding it was inedible while on land. It retreated to the water where it set to pacing from one side of the cove to the other. All afternoon.

The kayaker got her sat phone from the kayak and called in a motor boat pickup to end her trip. When the motorboat came the next morning, the crock was still pacing.

Crocks have historically eaten aboriginals, and vice versa. The most respected were crock hunters. Now, without the aboriginals controlling the population to the same extent, there are more and bigger saltwater crocks than in remembered history.

The only people allowed to kill crocks are aboriginals. One man was camped with friends on an island, and a crock pulled the friend from his tent in the night and began chomping on him. The man’s 60-year old mother leapt to his aid, jumped astride the crock and started clubbing it. The crock turned on the mom, so the aboriginal man shot it. They called in emergency services. On the sandy beach a crew set up a makeshift aid station, using the dead crock as a table to keep the medical tools out of the sand.

Thankfully for me, crocks reside on the northern, more tropical part of Australia, and not around Sydney where I was paddling. Neither did I see a shark. But then, I tried not to look back too much.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More road adventures

Feb 9, 2010 7:00am, sunrise in La Paz, Mexico. Ginni leaves Paradise, the hotel. She heads north to Punta Coyote to pick up kayakers. She drives an old pickup truck and trailer with a cooler full of lunch and beer. She leaves the highway on a marginally paved road towards San Juan de la Costa, then turns off on a dirt road towards San Evaristo. Trip odometer reads 245.5 miles at 7:39am.

At mile 245.8, she crosses the first running water hazard. It’s an arroyo that filled with recent rains and wiped out the road. It was bulldozed back into place, and several culverts were added, all fervently gushing towards the ocean. Refusing defeat, the water still reaches one arm over the road and scratches away.

Mile 246.8, a roadrunner crosses the road, looking cartoonish.

Mile 247.8 7:50am, 2.3 miles into the dirt road, Ginni notices in the mirror that something is askew. The rear upright on the trailer, isn’t. It’s about 25 degrees to the right. Ginni starts laughing, and comes up with yet another use for NRS webbing straps: tying together the trailer.

Mile 249.1 8:00am. The rear upright, again, fails to be. It is nowhere in sight until Ginni gets out of the truck to discover she has turned the trailer into a road grader by dragging the upright horizontally down the washboard dirt road. Ginni stops laughing. She is 3.6 miles into a 53 mile round trip on the corrugated thoroughfare. This new trailer configuration poses some technical difficulties for carrying kayaks back to Loreto, but there is time to figure that out. She straps the stantion flat to the frame of the trailer with more NRS straps, and drives on. She considers naming the trailer Humpty Dumpty, since it has just left a welder’s shop for the 3rd time in a year.

Mile 265 9:00am. First visual connection with Punta Coyote. Gigantic splashing out towards Isla Espiritu Santo of a breaching humpback whale. It repeats several times.

Mile 272 9:45am. Ginni arrives at Punta Coyote where there is a group of happy Dutch kayakers, but no welders. No matter. A little rearranging, more straps, and the trailer serves for 2 kayaks. The other 5 fit on the truck.

The kayakers pack up, help load the kayaks, have lunch, and the taxi arrives at noon. Ginni and the kayakers part ways knowing that the taxi can get the kayakers to the hotel much faster than the trailer is going to be moving back down this road. The kayakers thoughtfully leave some beer in the cooler as consolation in case the mechanical situation should worsen.

Mile 272 12:15pm. Ginni leaves Punta Coyote right behind the van. After the first curve, she never sees it again, nor even its dust.

Mile 283 1:10pm. Break for strap adjustments and a cold beer for the road. Why not? 10mph with nothing out here to hit except bumps, which are unavoidable, and still 2 hours before the highway. Ginni begins writing scenic descriptions and describing colors in the mileage log. “stripes of peach, jade, mahogany, brick. Sphinxes, melting pyramids, tan running into green.”

Cacti pass slowly. Distant colorful mountains hardly pass at all.

Eventually she writes,” I like being here driving mellow through the desert. No hurries. I can write whole sentences before looking to see if anyone is coming or if I’m still on the road or should bother to steer.” If one could read the handwriting through all the bumps, that’s what it might say. But it might also say “in that last herd of burros was a gray one with a cute face and long furry ears.”

Mile 296 2:14pm. There is easy road access to a sandy beach with shade huts just north of the mining pier of San Juan de la Costa. A future takeout for the kayakers? “If it’s an alternative to driving this road,” writes our heroine, “I can begin to see the scenic beauty in a mining operation.”

Mile 298.5 2:25pm Pavement! 3:00pm Highway 1! Now, just 5 more hours to Loreto.

Life: it’s not always the adventure you planned on, but it’s always an adventure!

The grace of learning

Like kayaking, martial art has a lot of great life lessons hidden in it.

The forward stroke and some basic martial art moves look simple. You can make one happen on your first try. To do them well, in a way that won’t hurt you in the long run, in a way that aligns bones and forces and realizes your full potential of power, takes time to master, and in the end there is no end; you can refine and improve as long as you’re willing.

I took a brief introduction to a movement-meditation art and found the exercises quite relaxing. But I also got a lot more out of the experience than just the exercises: some professional perspective as a coach, and some personal insight.

Learning takes humility.

Learning takes patience.

Learning can be uncomfortable.

To teach well you must learn from your student. It’s an interaction—observe, listen, process. Demonstration and talking are a small part of teaching.

To a learner, it is difficult to assimilate many corrections at once. Some can, but it’s generally better to give 1 or 2, and then encouragement and practice.

Stop your student immediately if something they’re doing is going in the wrong direction. Better to change the exercise than allow damaging practice.

Tradition in teaching, and even bureaucracy has its reasons, but there is also a place for exceptions, and experimenting.

Power comes from alignment. It’s more about awareness than muscle.

Life is an experience of the spirit. The body is just a vehicle for the trip and a tool for learning awareness.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mag Bay exploration

From a hilltop on southern Magdalena Island I could see a tide rip going out the mouth of the bay. A “V” of white breaking waves in a 4-mile expanse of textured blue. That was all the inspiration I needed to scramble down the hill and hop in my kayak.

The break was inconsistent and kind of small, but the water was so clear I could watch fish passing through the waves below me, and see the markings on the deep rock that made the first wave. I had some fun surfing, then went to explore the colorful coast and flirt with offshore rocks.

The swell forecast was 6-8’ from the NW. When the waves pressed themselves up against a vertical, barnacle-covered wall, the water level rose and fell about 15’, making impressive cascades. I found a sliver of beach at the base of a cliff, deep in a channel of rocks, waited out the sets, and landed, just because I could. Then launched again and explored until I got to a small sea lion colony.

It was satisfying to be on the sea, exploring a new place, in my own world of saltwater and rock and spray and primal noise, and rhythm and light, but there was a piece of the puzzle missing inside. Not that the space needed to be filled. However, if it were to be filled, there was just one match. At that moment, he was probably welding on a sailboat in Guaymas. So I paddled on and let the space of the puzzle piece be filled with light, like the gap below the underwater arch where the sunlight pierced green water and waves pushed through to fill the grotto and lift me up.

By the time I returned to camp, I had a plan. Steve, owner of Mag Bay Tours, was directing the setting up of a new seasonal whale watching camp on the southern tip of Magdalena Island. I was there to scout the area for a potential training camp for adventurous kayakers and see if we couldn’t put our efforts together to make some magical trips and mutual economic benefit. The plan I had in mind at the moment was more immediate, however.

I wanted to cross the mouth between the 2 islands, an expanse of 4 miles according to Steve. Then sleep on the other side and return in the morning. All in the name of research and exploration of course.

I set out at 4pm with a couple bologna sandwiches, some fruit, 3 liters of water, a sleeping mat, a sleeping bag, and some safety items. I didn’t have a chart of the area, but didn’t really care.

Fifteen minutes into the crossing, a vertical plume of spray caught my eye, and I watched the first whale of the season cross into the bay. I’m sure she was the first. There were others reported to the north, but Steve said there weren’t any down here yet. Besides, it felt like the first. I gave her a welcoming cheer. She put up her tail and disappeared. There was not a single whale watching boat in sight.

The crossing must have been less than 4 miles. Even knowing the wind, tide, and current were in my favor, I made it across too fast. Paddling was fun, so I kept going past my intended landing. And going, and going. Sunset came, painted the water pink, and left. I still wasn’t ready to be a land creature. Some crazy whim said, why don’t you circumnavigate the island?

It is only because I did not have a chart or map that I even entertained this folly. The island is some 50 miles around or better; I just couldn’t see the extent of it. Also there was no moon and some cloud cover, so night paddling in an unfamiliar place with unknown landings and swell was probably not the smartest move. This I knew in my logical brain, but my whimsical brain took control.

I reached the most distant visible point of the island just as dark really took over, having made mental notes of the last workable beaches as I passed them, now starting to navigate by Braille in the featureless blackness. Around the point, a scattering of distant lights surprised me by coming into view. I had no idea there was a village on the island. Another benefit of navigating without a chart—the joy of discovering a new population! Somehow that was enough of a discovery to make me finally content to take the last beach and evolve into a land creature.

The beach wasn’t anything from a postcard. Rough gravel, sharp cobbles, and “hatchet scallop” shells. It had a berm that I believed would be above the especially high spring tide of the night, so I pivoted the kayak up there. Bow, stern, bow, stern, leaving funny marks like commas in the gravel, spaced 16’ apart and marking the uphill progress of a rigid sea monster. Beyond the berm, the beach dropped to a soggy lowland. Luckily, on the berm directly above where I landed was the softest gravel of the entire beach, exactly the size of a body. It wanted only to be leveled. When I did this, the dampness of the gravel underneath gave me some concern about high tide. No matter. I would meet that challenge if it came. I sat and wrote by the light of my headlamp while the gravel dried in the breeze, then put down my bed and crawled in.

The instant I put my head down, the water sounded closer. It always does this, just to tease you. High tide should be sometime between 11 and midnight, so I set my watch alarm for an hour. At least a little sleep before I would have to move. At 9:30 I set it again for an hour. I have been woken up by high tide and a big swell floating my sleeping mat. It’s a weird feeling. I secured everything into or onto the kayak except what I was sleeping in, and had an escape plan. I had dreams of a crazy woman, a guy with a cat face, and big waves all meeting me on this beach in the night. Every hour I checked until half past midnight. Then finally quit resetting the alarm and rested easy.

Five-thirty I was awake. Eventually the horizon started to lighten and stars began drifting off to sleep. I packed up, very reluctantly put on wet paddling clothes, and launched when it was light enough to tell land from sea. My euphoric fantasies of paddling around the island were replaced by better morning judgment, so I paddled back the way I’d come. But it looked new because it was the other direction. Also because there was some light now.

Waterfront cliffs, interesting erosion, and some spectacular wind-sculpted torote trees. The Fanta bottles tied to lobster pots as buoys indicated that I was against the incoming tide, as expected, so I hugged the coast for every micro-eddy I could find. Frigate birds, brown pelicans, and cormorants populated my morning. An osprey shrieked from a clifftop, and a bald eagle watched me approach and fumble for my camera before taking flight too soon. I have never seen a bald eagle in Baja before, but am baffled by what else it could have been. Bigger than an osprey, with the distinct white head and tail. It certainly wasn’t a crested cara cara, which has a different build and beak.

Just beyond the eagle’s perch, I came ashore in the sun to dry out and write some thoughts about trips and life. The eagle never returned, but the sun felt delicious on my back.

On the crossing back to whale camp, I stopped to let a migrating gray whale pass in front of my kayak. What gigantic elegance in simply breathing and moving forward. What meditation there must be in the repetition of this for a few thousand miles. The whale passed with the inertia of a long journey. One panga of tourists was already behind it, and three others nearby. I threaded between the motor boats and headed for shore.