Friday, September 3, 2010

Feeding the Fish Badness and Eating Sand

I had planned to paddle from the George Washington Bridge to Sandy Hook, camp at Sandy Hook overnight, and paddle back the next day.  The distance, about 32 miles, was no small endeavor for my 12 foot boat (as apposed to the 18ft epic I'll be meeting on Tuesday in Spain).

My trip began a couple hours before the current would change and I headed south along the now familiar sights of upper and mid Manhattan.  The Current changed against me around when I expected it to, but oddly, only for about an hour.  After that it was mildly with me for the rest of my trip, which could be attributed to the recent rain.

I stopped on a dock in lower Manhattan to make myself lunch on my stove.  I packed three bags: oatmeal, rice, and lentils.  My bags were preseasoned and the oatmeal bag already had instant milk.  This is how I intend to eat on my expedition.

I searched through my gear to get my lighter for the stove.  I continued to search.  Finally all my dry bags were out on the dock and the contents were spread at my side, my search was over and I still didn't have a lighter.  Apparently, I hadn't packed it.

The dock next to mine had a bunch of identical sailing boats parked at it.  A young woman sat next to one of the boats and was doing some rope work.  I hopped over the fence guarding the dock I was on and approached her. Sure enough, she had a lighter.  I lit my stove, then hopped back over the fence with the burning stove and returned to my gear and food.  About 10 minuted into cooking, my stove went out.  I had assumed that it in an effort to get a simmer I had lowered the gas to off.

Repeating the fence hop stove light drill I was less successful, my stove was out of gas.

Lunch and dinner where only half cooked.  For tomorrow I could soak my instant oatmeal making it edible but not tasty.  I had enough for one and a half meals.  I was not excited about making the trip back on low grade fuel, but I wasn't going to turn around.  As for the half cooked meal in front of me, the pot was still hot so I figured I would let it sit until it cooled off, and then see how it tasted.

I put all my gear back in the boat, mounted the hot pot on top with bungee cords, and continued on my way.

Some time later, just before Battery Park I ate about half the contents of the pot, leaving the rest for dinner.  It wasn't bad. (I found out a couple days later that it was bad, infested by moths.)

Crossing from Manhattan to Brooklyn I had a wonderful view of the Statue of Liberty.  I recalled something about an inscription having to do with taking in tired and weary.

As the day drew on and fatigue set into my being I got to the large inner bay just north of the Verrazano Bridge narrows.  I steered clear of the shipping lanes and the many moored freighters.

Farther south I was closer to the side where cyclists and runners used a path between a highway and the river.  One woman called out to me asking where I came from.  When I told her she was so excited she stopped other people on the path to tell them.  Not wanting to be the source of disruption for the exercisers above I paddled on with a slightly more aggressive forward stroke.

Soon I was under the bridge and began the 10 mile crossing to Sandy Hook.  I couldn't see the hook so this was my first test of taking and sticking to a bearing on the water.  Once upon a time, real men did this without the aid of a GPS.  I came up with an initial bearing by using my compass, a string, and my chart (as I had been taught in the army), just to make sure the GPS-provided bearing made sense.  I then used my chart to figure out the coordinates of the closest end of Sandy Hook.  Plugging that into my GPS I got satisfactory results and headed south.  I rechecked my bearing every half hour or so and found that I was being nudged by the current a little bit east.

I was by now completely exhausted.  The waves, at times several feet taller than I, were exhilarating.

At one point a motor boat was headed straight towards me. I changed direction to get off of the collision course, but so did the boat.  I blew my whistle as loud as I could and changed direction again.  The boat followed, finally he slowed down about 20 feet off my bow and asked me if I was OK. I said that I was and he sped off.

There where a lot of big boats in shipping lane waiting in line.  Fortunately the lane was clearly marked.

Towards the end of the crossing, a combination of exhaustion, choppy waves, and uncooked rice in my belly had me puke up the contents of my lunch.  I rolled a couple of times cleaning off what little of it was on skirt and was back on my way feeling much better.

Making a landing in big waves is not easy.  My experience so far is to ride a wave in, then get out and pull the boat ashore before the next wave comes.  Otherwise the risk is getting thrown over by a powerful wave and having the boat filled up with sand and water. Having practiced the maneuver on that same beach in similar conditions before, I pulled it off without a hitch.  I was on the beach and my long tiring journey of the day was over.  I had been on the water between nine and ten hours.

On the beach, I took stock of the situation. Their was no food in my belly.  The dinner I had left over from earlier that day may have been bad, since the fish were probably already choking on the lunch remains.  I had about a cup and a half of oatmeal that I could make edible if not tasty.  And on top of all that, my radio had stopped working sometime earlier in the day.

If I was in Europe in these conditions I would have paddled to a parking lot, and called a cab to stay the night in a hostel. Fortunately for me, this was training, so I had another option.  I called my daddy.  I figured their was a fifty fifty chance that he would come and pick me up.  If he didn't, it would be rationed uncooked oatmeal.

The phone rang.  “Hi Dad.”

“Where are you?”

“Sandy Hook.”  I answered.

“What beach?”  His voice sounded insistent.

“I'm at the northern end, I don't know what beach.”

“So are we.” he told me.

I didn't believe him because that's the sort of ridiculous thing that me and my dad find funny.  But it turned out that he and my mom were on North Beach, not far away and would be happy to give me a ride home and some dinner.

Back in my boat, I met my mom about half a mile south of where I had first landed. I was paddling very close to the beach talking to my mom as we headed south to where the car was parked.  A wave, I don't know how big because I wasn't watching, slammed into me.  There was almost no water to my right so I tried to to use my paddle to brace myself against the sand and turn out to sea, but the wave was pushing me higher while it pulled my paddle under the boat.  Rather then fight it, I mad the quick decision to roll with it and come up the other side.  As my shoulder slammed against the sandy beach under me, the boat was twisted and ripped away from above me, hurled against the beach.

I sat up unhurt as the wave went back out to sea.  I was still taking sand out of my nose the next day.

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