Friday, April 6, 2018

A Season’s First Paddle

A season’s first paddle elicits mixed emotions. I am excited about getting back out on the water as I look forward to breathing in fresh air, feeling spray against my face, seeing various water birds, and hearing waves lap against the hull. I am also apprehensive. I wonder if I will be able to find all my gear after it being stored for the winter. If I find it, will it be in good condition? How many cobwebs, spiders, and rodent nests will I need to clean out from inside my kayak when I take it down from storage? Will my forward stroke be as strong as it was last fall?

The first paddle of the season also means trying out new gear obtained over the winter. Last fall I purchased a NRS cVest PFD to replace my old original PFD but did not wear it before I put my boat and gear away for the season. I also recently acquired a new NRS H2Core Silkweight long-sleeve shirt that I was looking forward to reviewing after wearing it for a few paddles.

Fortunately, there were no live animals or nests inside my Dagger Zydeco 9.0  when I took it down, just some old dried leaves, a couple dead stink bugs, and a little water, sand and gravel indicating that I had not done a very good job cleaning out my boat when I last hung it up. I easily loaded it on top the car, strapped it down, and headed to one of my nearest go to paddling locations.

258 acre Cross Creek Lake offers three put in locations, the nearest less than eleven miles from home. Under a partly sunny sky and a temperature around fifty, I pulled into the unloading area near the docks and ramp, but the docks were not yet in the water. The low level docks that usually float near the ramp had not yet been installed after being taken out for the winter. They were still sitting along the edge of the parking area.

As I started to take my boat off its racks, I was also surprised how windy it was. I had not noticed any wind back home when I loaded my boat on top of the car.  Now it was blowing hard enough that I had to make sure it did not catch my kayak as I lowered it down. As I carried my boat toward the lake, I saw that the wind was whipping up some large ripples, large enough, I later learned, to splash across my deck even though they were not cresting.

I managed to remain dry when entering the cockpit by slipping down into it from a concrete dock abutment that reached out into the lake. With the wind at my back, I paddled the most direct course I could toward another dock area at the eastern end of the lake. Along the way I passed at least a dozen small boats, each with one or two anglers fishing.

Thirty minutes later, as I neared the eastern end of the lake, I saw what I expected. The low-level kayaking dock had not yet been put into the water. Rather than getting out of my boat to stretch, I stayed in the cockpit, resting for a few minutes and drinking a few swigs from my water bottle, before heading back across the lake.

As soon as I turned around, I felt the wind blowing almost directly onto my face. Rather than paddling a beeline through the middle of the lake and directly into the headwind, I paddled toward shore in search of a wind break, but found none. Not wanting to be pushed backward, I kept paddling at a steady pace, focusing more than usual on making sure each stroke was efficient and hopping my return to the car was not too taxing.

Forty-five minutes after turning around, I was back to where I started. My hands and feet were a little cold but my core was warm. I quickly took my kayak out of the water, carried it up to the car, placed it on its cradles, and strapped it down.  Then I stowed my gear and was headed back home.

As I drove country roads across rolling hills, I thought about how satisfied I was with my new PFD and new paddling shirt. Upon reflection, my forward stroke felt pretty good, especially when I was paddling into the wind. All in all, it was a good, if short, season’s first paddle. I felt both tired and refreshed, a bit challenged but also invigorated, and I was already looking forward to my next paddle.

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