Monday, April 30, 2012

Rust removal

Saturday dawned up in Washburn, WI 180 degrees opposite of what the weather alarmists forecast.  Partly sunny and a relatively pleasant 45F or so.  Neither snow shovel or sleet scraper were needed. I immediately decided that at 3pm my nose would be lifted from the grindstone and I would get out for my first Gitchee Gumee paddle of 2012.  The VOR was on a mission and offered to drop me off and pick me up wherever I chose.  As long as she could get me there in ten minutes.  I chose the north end of the Washburn coal dock with a pickup point at Thompson West End Park.  She dumped the Explorer and me at the coal dock along with my gear for a short day paddle.  As I stood there I began to belatedly run through the rusty check list in my head, a check list last utilized somewhere around Halloween of last year.

I confess that I just don't think about kayaking all that much from the start of the whitetail deer rut at about the beginning of November through the end of the ski season, late March most years.  When my sons played hockey and wanted to join the spring league, summer league, fall league, and attend a few hockey camps as well I explained to them that they needed to take a break and get into soccer, baseball, even fishing in order to be well rounded and avoid burning out on a single activity like so many kids I've watched over the years.  Kayaking is like that to me, an activity that sort of obsesses me from April through mid October, at which point I look forward to deer hunting with giddy anticipation, the kind of anticipation that I felt Saturday before I launched into the big lake.  The problem with the layoff, and especially a layoff where a fifty plus year old brain is involved, is that it takes a while for the synapses to fire and fire efficiently and accurately.  As I watched the VW head off to Ashland I stood next to my pile of gear and began to check off the gear and launch procedures into what had turned into 1-3 footers with about a 20mph north breeze.

I had remembered all my gear except for my VHF radio.  I did have the cell phone in a dry case so a quick risk assessment pointed to an onshore wind in an area with plenty of people around, although I was the only one on the water.  Dressed for immersion, spare paddle, float and pump, float plan, check, check, check.  Now it's time to launch.  Aim boat into surf and watch it get pushed sideways with the first wave.  Move back a bit and plan to utilize Neanderthal knuckle walk into the water.  Dammit, the back of my spray skirt is stuck under my ass, forgot about that little issue.  Get back in and knuckle walk into the water.  Oh man it's cold on the hands!  Affix spray skirt while a three footer washes over the deck, drenching my neoprene gloves.  Shit!  I'm finally situated with gloves on and paddling straight into the wind.  A bit of skeg adjustment (also forgot to check for pebbles at launch to avoid the stuck skeg),  a bit of getting used to the waves, and that familiar feeling came back, wind in my teeth, spray flying off the bow, and the view of open lake up the west channel and over the line of Long Island.  Yeehaa!!  I headed north into the wind almost to Houghton Point and then turned back south.  I dropped the skeg a bit as the waves rolling underneath me wanted to push me sideways, another little fact that popped back on to my mental desktop.  When I got to the end of the coal dock the waves were refracting around the dock and piling up for perfect surfing. Paddle like hell, lean back, steer a bit, OK that's back in the short term memory queue.  I took a half dozen runs and then cruised down to West End just as I saw the VOR pull up, perfect timing.

I had a few screwups but it was a good shakedown.  My shoulders and abs are a bit sore from the poor skiing and lack of exercise this winter but that will work itself out.  Like the first ski run of the year, the first climb up into the tree stand, or the first cast of the fishing season, the excitement and the familiarity of starting a brand spankin' new season is something I will never get tired of.  If I lived in Vancouver I could do all three things, ski, hunt, and paddle, in the same day but it just wouldn't have that same 'season opener' vibe.  I almost can't wait for deer season!

No comments: