Sunday, April 26, 2009

Signs of Spring: Part 1

Everything's coming up kayaks.

After a winter of paddling mostly indoors, it's exciting to get out on the lake and rivers again. We've paddled on Lake Michigan several times already this year. The water is still cold (about 44 degrees), but if you dress appropriately, it's not unsafe. In fact, it's warm enough now that even Sharon is willing to roll and practice rescues. (She draws the line at about 42 degrees.) That's a sure sign of spring. And there are plenty of benefits to paddling on cold water: there's almost no boat traffic on the lake, the water in the harbors is still pretty clean, and the rivers tend to have nice currents and features.

Jeremy surfing a small wave on the "Mighty" DuPage.

This variety of padding is great for skill development. Here in the midwest, where we have no tides, river paddling allows us to experience currents and even small versions of tidal races. We can't eddy out from behind headlands on Lake Michigan, but we can practice that maneuver on rivers. The only ferrying we can do on Lake Michigan is in response to the wind, but we can practice ferrying to compensate for current on the rivers.
We thought about this last benefit on Friday, when we paddled into gusts of 25 to 30 miles per hour on the lake. The wind was out of the south and we were attempting to paddle southwest. If we headed slightly east, we ferried east; if we headed slightly west, we ferried west. The feeling was familiar because we had spent time ferrying on river currents.
There are many reasons to train in multiple paddlesports. That's why the British Canoe Union (BCU) requires coaches to be proficient in more than one discipline. Individual skills may not translate exactly from one paddlesport to another, but the combined knowledge base definitely augments your overall skill, comfort and enjoyment of paddling.

It's good to be back on open water.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tristate paddle

Most of the time, we hear about exciting paddling opportunities after they're publicized. We aren't involved in the nitty gritty of organizing them; we're content to participate.
Not so the upcoming Burnham to Marquette Sea Kayak Expedition. We've been privileged to help plan this event, sponsored by the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association and spearheaded by its president, Dan Plath.
There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, and Dan has managed to bring together a huge consortium of organizations in support of it. He's also reached out to paddlers in Indiana and Illinois to map out the route and strategize about how to enable a group to safely paddle it.
One of the challenges is finding appropriate put-ins and take-outs along a 50-mile stretch of Lake Michigan's shoreline. Yesterday, Dan and his fellow Hoosier, Steve Barker, met us, Lyn Stone (of CASKA) , Gary Mechanic (also of CASKA and the Illinois Paddling Council) and Keith Wikle of the West Michigan Coastal Kayakers Association, to explore possible put-ins.

Gary Mechanic, Dan Plath, Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin and Steve Barker, pondering the long carry at 31st Street.

We began at 31st Street, a beautiful beach with two major drawbacks: a long carry and limestone blocks offshore to break incoming waves. It isn't the ideal spot for a large group of paddlers to launch, particularly if some of them aren't experienced.
Next we moved to Burnham Harbor. The marina on the west side of the harbor has launch ramps that would be perfect for our purposes, provided we can obtain access to them and the nearby parking. Of the two sites, this was our preference.

Alec Bloyd-Peshkin points out the easy access at the Burnham Harbor Marina.

All this scouting worked up our appetite for paddling, so we unloaded our boats and got on the water.

Dan Plath and Steve Barker carry a boat down to the water.

It was a beautiful day. Keith dove right in.

Never mind the 40-degree water. Keith Wikle jumped in and scrambled into his boat. Lyn documented the event.

We paddled out the harbor and into what had been predicted to be 2- to 4-foot waves but turned out to be 1- to 2-footers at most. Still, we were aware of the added risk of the cold water and kept a watchful eye on each other.
Stay tuned for updates on this event. The weather and the water will be warmer. Not only will this be an opportunity to enjoy a long paddle in good company; it should also be a chance to learn about and advocate for a blueway and greenway from the tip of Chicago to the east side of Indiana. And who knows--perhaps it will be the start of a water trail clear around Lake Michigan.