Cowardice, A Change of Mind, Redemption with a Hitch, Snow in June
I wanted to go paddling on the river today but it was raining, cold and blustery, with winds gusting to 50 kmph above the valley. I knew that the winds tend to funnel through the river valley here in Edmonton and generally accelerate to convert blustery to down right nasty. The first order of the day was to get a haircut…my mop was almost 12-inches long and annoying the hell out of me. I do semi-annual haircuts. Shannon thinks my long hair is sexy…good for her but not so good for my vision, especially when wind snaps my graying locks into an eyeball…that just hurts. I wanted to go kayaking before the haircut but I couldn’t get an appointment that would allow for 2-hours of comfy crappy weather paddling and give me enough time to get to the appointment in time so instead I headed to a local park to read about a nasty Antarctica expedition which occurred some time around 1910 or so, the title escapes my mind at the time of writing. At the expected time, I showed up for the haircut…I regaled my trimmer specialist about my kayaking adventures while thinking to myself that I should have instructed her not to chop off too much…too late! I ended up with a short doo, to which I am grateful: my hair won’t blind me just when I need to see something important, like a falling tree branch, but that bit of this story comes later.
After I paid the bill for altering the esthetic configuration of my loftiest epidermal outgrowth to a more pleasing (to me, not to Shannon) configuration, I walked back to my car through the rain. I was wearing a heavy long-sleeved fleecy paddling shirt with hiking pants covering my medium weight running tights and a pair of brown leather Birkenstocks. If only the general public had known that a more than middle aged dude with a silver beard and a bit of a paunch was treading along the sidewalk wearing black tights…oh well, if Costner could do it on film, then I could do it in black in secret. I got to my car, sat on the cold leather of my Accord, shivered a little, and pondered whether I really wanted to get cold. Cold has the word “old” in it and I felt old and whiney. I whispered to myself, Fuck it, I’m going home.” I headed down the road but for some reason instead of turning in the direction of home, I turned in the direction of the river. I thought to myself, I said home, but I’m going the other way. Ok, I thought, I’ll just go check out the river and see how awful it is. I got to Emily Murphy Park where I typically launch and parked the car. Unthinkingly, I immediately started dressing for the paddle. Slipped on my dry top, kicked off my sandals and forced my feet into my Titanium brand ankle high booties (which reeked like the sewers of hell) and started untying the Night Heron from the racks. I really should give this kayak an official name, maybe something like, Nick Shade Made Me Do It, or Sutherlands Urging. Anyway, I figured if I was going to walk the 100 meters to the river, I might as well bring the kayak just in case…just in case it was good to be on the water and just in case I would be too lazy to walk back to unload it if it was and I didn’t.
The river looked kind of ok. The rain was falling lightly but quite coldly, the water level was ok, not too fast, not too slow, like Goldilocks deciding on her porridge…the wind SEEMED ok, ok, okay…OKAYYYYY! I’m good to go here. I one-armed the Heron down to the river. As usual, a dude stared at her beauty as I trudged along the path down to the river. The path is lined with brilliant green leafed Cotton Wood, Aspen, and Spruce trees surrounded by assorted brush types over various sweet scented plants and grasses. Down by the river, I set the Heron on the edge of the water: I slipped on my cheapo paddling gloves; dressed in my finest tubular spray skirt bearing the colors of safety yellow with blue highlights; connected my graphite Turbo white water paddle at the middle connection, locked and loaded it (by locked I mean swivelled the tightening lever to hold its set blade position and by loaded I mean leaned it on the bow just in front of the cockpit ( I always use the straight blade position, not 45 degrees or 90 degrees…just straight up parallel blade faces}; and set my seat back into the hinges, noticing that one hinge is hanging by a single loose screw, where the other one went, I have no idea. The hinges are not the permanent kind, the seat back slides on and off via pins so that I can remove it if I so desire. Once done, I slide the kayak further into the water, carefully balanced my weight as I slipped into the keyhole cockpit, cinched up the skirt, then pushed off the gravel bottom of the river to get into deeper more paddleable water.
The strong current immediately swept me downstream so, as usual, I had to paddle firmly to swing the Heron around to head upstream. Once the Heron was aiming upstream, the wind buffeted against the rim of my Filson (hat), massaged my silvery chin, and shot pellets of rain against the lenses of my glasses. No worries, this is what it is all about. My fingers were cold but I knew that after 10-minutes they would be warm. Interestingly, the cockpit was warm, warmer than it would have been if I had been paddling my more volumous VJ, my expedition kayak. The current was about the same as the last time I kayaked on the river since the water level was the same but the surface was a bit troubled by the wind. No worries about troubled waters, been there, done that. I paddled with easy strokes to warm up my achy muscles and get the blood flowing. I avoided paddling close to the shore as the high muddy backs are not stable, especially if they are water-logged. Speaking of logs, I was very worried that one of the huge trees teetering on the edge of the high banks, roots exposed to the elements, would suddenly come falling down on top of me. Now I suppose you think I am being paranoid about trees suddenly falling on me BUT one almost did many years ago, missed my stern by about 0,5 seconds.
As I approached the first turn of the river, the wind shifted. It was coming from the northwest and the curve of the river shifted me from paddling west to a more southerly direction. Soon the wind was literally shoving me upstream. Sahweet! It’s difficult enough to paddle upstream during a windless day…this south blowing wind made life way easier, especially since it was blowing with great force at times. I gave a wide berth to a few ducks with little ones, moving the Heron into the main current, which I had been avoiding to this point by hugging the south shore. The rain was no long spitting at the lenses of my glasses, it was wetting my back, but I was dry due to my dry top.
In no time flat I saw the pedestrian bridge where I usually turn around. Seemed like I was only on the water for 30-minutes, which I likely was. I reached the bridge and saw an official looking river boat, the side of the boat said, Peace Officer. Uh ohhhhh! I do not bring a life jacket when paddling the river, it’s too shallow and if I do, it’s always tied to the deck, The Heron doesn’t have deck lines to tie things too so I don’t bother to bring anything big. As I passed the bridge, the water was fairly rough due to the wind, standing waves rose up in various places but of a size that did not attract my attention. The Peace Officer guys, however, appeared to be getting tossed around a lot. Twice they turned toward me and twice, they changed their minds and turned away. I think they wanted to check on me for safety stuff but the river deterred their intentions. I offered them a wave and a smile and they finally went away. I figure that they either decided that my non-inflatable dry top was actually an inflatable pfd jacket or they simply just chickened out on trying to maneuver toward me and risk either getting their asses kicked by the river or upsetting my kayak and creating a “situation”. Better that they just left me the hell alone.
At the bridge, I pulled a tipsy 180 and headed back downstream. The wind was ferocious. The radio station I listened to in the car as I drove to the put in point, CBC, indicated that it was gusting to 50 kmph above the river. Down in the valley, it tends to accelerate quite a bit so when its 50 above, it can be 70-80 down below. I am guessing the wind was gusting at close to 80 kmph at some sections of the river. The rain was pelting me in the face with pinching force, the wind was slowing me down considerably, and my fingers were getting cold, which was weird since they should have had pints of warming blood flowing through them by now. I suspected that the ambient temperature was dropping: turns out that it was…more on that soon. As I approached the final turn toward the put in point, the wind direction went from slowing me to ignoring me. I paddled toward my gravelly parking spot at the rivers edge and once there, expertly swung the Heron around to point upstream as she slipped sideways to sidle parallel to the shallows of the shoreline. Once the kayak hit bottom, I gorilla walked the Heron up the bank a little, popped off the skirt and was on my sea legs and carrying the kayak up the trail to my car in a couple of minutes. I was pretty cold but happy the paddle went well and that a tree did not fall and take me out permanently.
Once I got to the car, I set the Heron along side the car on the pavement, I leaned into the car to grab my cell phone so that I could snap a selfie, the one you see now. Just as I was pulling my torso out of the car, I heard a loud thump on the roof of the car and felt something hit me on the lower back. I looked up at the roof of the car. What the hell was all that tree bark doing there? I turned around and looked at the pavement beside the car…hmmmm, big old dead tree limb. I looked up above the car. Hmm, looks like the tree is missing the limb that is now laying on the pavement. I figgered, at this point, some things get me figgering real fast, I figgered I’d best get the hell out of there before one of the other dead limbs fell onto my car. That said, one dude, driving by, craned his neck as he slowly drove by, giving me the thumbs up as he admired my pretty kayak. I get that all the time, not sure if I have said this before, but I do.
The drive home was uneventful, except for one significant fact, one that helped me realize why I was so cold during the paddling trip. I was about 30-minutes away from Emily Murphy Park, heading out of town, and it started to sleet, then snow wet gooshy flakes that plastered my windshield with icy splotches of cold discomfort. The temperature dropped by 5 degrees C, from 5 C to 0 C, during those 30-minutes. Oh boy! If it’s doing this by the time I get home, might not have any tomato plants left by tomorrow. As I drove closer to home, about 90-minutes from the put in at Emily Murphy Park, the snow fell heavier and dryer. Needless to say, once I got home I enjoyed a very hot, warming shower. All in all, it was a good paddling day. Can’t wait to do it again.
Robert N(ever really deterred by weather) Pruden
June 07, 2019