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Monday, 28 February 2011

Kayaking III

My third Kayak outing took me to the Fern Ridge Reservoir a few miles West of Eugene. This is a very quick and easy drive from our house, so despite some lousy weather I set out a few days ago to try it out.

By now I'd got my preparation routine sorted. With car in garage, put kayak on top and strap down (straps and roof-cushioning system stored in kayak when not required). Lifejacket and paddle in trunk. Get any snacks/refreshments ready in backpack. Squeeze into wetsuit, wetsocks, new speedo footwear, and put a loose button down shirt over the top (for disguise). Hop in car and drive to location carefully. The roof-securing system is excellent, but the straps do vibrate in the wind so there's an exciting buzzing noise at anything much above 20mph.

 I was headed to Orchard Point recreation area on the NE corner of the reservoir, but was foiled briefly by a closed gate. However the next gate along was open, so I drove in and parked in my preferred position near a wooden footbridge. The ticket machine was sealed in black plastic bags but with no sign, so it was unclear whether parking was currently free or forbidden. I chose to believe the former, and unstrapped the kayak and started heaving it towards the water. Here my inexperience kicked in. I was about 50 yards from the water's edge, and hadn't realised that most of those 50 yards were sucking mud.

I struggled along for about 10 yards, then realised I would never cover the whole fifty without losing a shoe or myself to the mud spirits, so I changed direction and headed for some wooden landing stages instead. These were resting a couple of feet above the water's surface, but afforded me a solid surface from which to launch. The water was only inches deep however, so as soon as I sat in the kayak I was stuck on the mud again. A minute or two of adjustment, mostly putting my feet in the icy water and shoving the kayak forward, got me moving. Still in only a foot or two of water, my paddles were pushing on the muddy bottom as much as paddling, but eventually I cleared the bottom and was able to paddle normally.

My launching site was sheltered behind an island, and I could see slightly choppy waves where the wind was whipping across the lake from the south. I headed into that regardless, put the nose into the wind, and paddled away. The waves occasionally sloshed over the nose and dumped a cupful of water into my lap, and the paddles dripped further lakewater across my legs. I've already ordered a splashdeck to relieve this problem, but for now I had to accept some dampness. The waves here were nothign compared to sea waves, but they were a good test for my paddling skills and the kayak's wave-worthiness. The trick here is to time your paddle strokes with the waves so you aren't paddling thin air, and to keep the kayak headed into the waves for minimum splash. 

I paddled out into the wind for a few minutes, then turned about (happily with no feeling of even a possibility of capsizing) and went back to the shelter of the island, then repeated the process. That was enough for today, as my hands were getting numb in the chilly wind and wet, so I headed back and looked for a place to land.

Viewed from the lake it was now obvious that the best place to launch and land was a slipway some 200 yards from where I had parked, so I paddled across to that, but found myself stuck on the bottom about 15 yards from the shore. Stepping gingerly into the water I dragged the kayak to dry land and a few feet up the slipway, then feeling a trifle foolish walked self-consciously back to the car. First off I wasn't sure if I should really be there at all, and a bright blue lifevest with blue and black wetsuit underneath does not make one blend in, but there was nobody around (or at least nobody came to shout at me), and I quickly got the car up to the top of the slipway and loaded up the kayak. Now with numb hands and frozen feet I sat in the car for a few minutes and guzzled some tomato soup which I had brought in a thermos flask, also letting the car engine warm up and blow some hot air onto me. A wetsuit is so snug that it's difficult to get out of in a dignified way, especially as one is naked underneath. You peel it off and it turns inside out while you do so, and part way through you are starkers with you feet still trapped in the suit. So far I have chosen to sit on a towel to drive home and change there, where a hot shower and dry fresh clothes complete the process.

Back home I discovered that my annual parking pass had arrived, so I am now displaying that on my windscreen, and can park at any of the Lane County Parking places without worrying about day fees. The lake is much more hospitable, and much fuller, in the Spring and Summer, so once we have the worst of the Winter behind us I will revisit the site for a longer exploration.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Kayaking II

Eager to try my kayak on the Willamette River, on my next free day I loaded up the car and drove to Whitely Landing, a small carpark with river access just a couple of miles away. It was fairly cold, but a wetsuit keeps you warm and a lifevest on top cuts out most wind. The carpark was deserted (good), so I was able to unload the kayak and get ready without feeling judged. This was my first live attempt at getting the kayak onto and off the car for real, and it's not the most dignified activity.


After a little huffing and puffing the kayak was ready to get on the river.



Once out on the water it became obvious that I wouldn't be able to make much headway against the current. At this time of year there is a huge volume of water coming downriver, and as soon as I left shelter of the bank I started drifing downstream too. Paddling hard and staying as close to the right-hand bank as possible, I was able to get about 100 yards upstream. Here a tree leant out over the water, forcing me to go back towards the fast-flowing center of the river, and paddle as fast as I could, I couldn't make headway. As soon as I put the side of the kayak to the current I would start drifting downriver again.


Holding onto a branch I took this picture to show I'd at least been on the water. Then it was time to drift back down to the landing ramp.


Back on dry land, ready to pack up. When the water level is lower the river should run slower, and allow me to get past that tree and explore further upstream. An alternative is to have Beth drop me off upstream and paddle down to this landing ramp, having previously parked my car here so I can load up and drive home without Beth having to come and fetch me.

Apart from the Wilammete and McKenzie rivers with all their park and lauch locations, there is also the Fern Ridge Reservoir (aka Fern Ridge Lake) not far to our west, and this was destined to be the site of my next kayaking adventure.

Terwilliger Hot Spring

There are several hot springs in Oregon, a reminder if one is needed that we have volcanic activity in the mountain ranges nearby. A couple are only an hour's drive from Eugene, so having a mid-week day free I set off to investigate Terwilliger (aka Cougar) Hot Spring.



The road for the last 200 yards is badly potholed. I hope my parking fee helps pay for some roadmending.


A Ranger Booth at the start of the trail leading to the pools is manned in the Summer, but empty in January. There is a $5 fee which goes towards maintaining the pools and parking lot (and the potholed road, please). When the Ranger isn't there you are supposed to put the money in an envelope and down a chute, but there were no envelopes either, so I wrote a description of my car and the date on a $5 bill and put that down the chute. 


I had forewarning of potential nudity at the springs, having checked out the website. I packed swim trunks with my towel anyway. There were a couple of other vehicles in  the car park, so I didn't expect to have the pool to myself.


The air is so clean at 2000 ft in the mountains that the trees are draped with moss and lichen. The path to the spring is much like any other trail through the woods, and maybe 1/4 mile long.  As I approached the spring I could see water vapor rising through the trees, and a small changing hut. I could also see a young couple in their mid-20s bathing naked in the pool.  Respecting their privacy I took one quick photo of the pools and then put my camera in my backpack.


There are a series of pools at Terwilliger, each lower one cooler than the one above, as water spills down the rocks. I stripped to my birthday suit and went  initially to a lower pool, but it was no more than tepid so I soon came back up and joined the couple in the top pool.

This was my first experience of shared public nudity, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I said good morning but left it at that, and that was all the conversation as it turned out. The pool was slightly cooler than a bath might initially be run, but with hot water pouring in continuously from the spring at the top end, which came out of a small cave mouth. It was very relaxing, lying looking up at the vapor rising through the trees, absolute silence apart from running water and occasional birdsong. I hadn't brought any refreshments or entertainment, but the young couple had bottles of water which they occasionally sipped.

One problem with a natural spring is that there are bits of leaf, moss, and wood floating around in the pool, so every movement stirs up a cloud of debris which then settles on your body. This is at first fun, but makes it desireable to swish off the detritus before exiting the pool. 

After maybe 3/4 of an hour I was wrinkling, and starting to feel light-headed as if I had spent too long in a sauna, so I called it a a day, got out and dried off quickly as it was chilly out of the water. While I was dressing a middle-aged man came along and joined the couple in the pool. I dressed rapidly before I cooled off, and still slightly damp, headed back to my car.

I stopped off at a couple of interesting places on the route back, including the nearby Cougar Dam.



This concrete tower, which reminded me of nothing more than a WW2 German bunker, is actually a  temperature control station built in 2005, ensuring that warm water from the top of the reservoir is vented downstream. The reason for this is explained below.


Looking over Cougar Dam towards a small hydroelectric power station, a relatively green way Oregon can generate electricity.


At a small viewpoint next to the temperature station I learnt about the measures taken to ensure that water released downstream is at the correct temperature to encourage salmon. As you can see from the logo, the dam was built and is maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers.


The reservoir level above the dam was much lower than I expected, and the highwater mark is shown by the twigs and branches that escaped the catch net.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Kayaking

One of the big benefits of living in Oregon is the opportunity to get into some outdoor sports. Beth is keen on skiing and rock climbing, while my wish was to get into kayaking. I had a taste of kayaking many years ago through school expeditions, and have been thinking about trying it again since we arrived.

Seeing a kayak on sale at Costco was the tipping point. I'd been eyeing kayaks at the various sports shops in town, Dick's Sporting Goods, Sports Authority and others, but the Costco one offered several advantages to the beginner. Yesterday I bought a wetsuit ($100 Bodyglove) and lifevest ($40 Stearns), and looked again at the kayaks on offer, but nothing offered better features than the Costco option, so in the evening Beth and I went and picked one up.

For those into kayaking, it is an Equinox 10.4. This offers good tracking (the ability to go in a straight line) and stability (the ability not to tip over), and the package included a decent paddle and a roof mounting system into the bargain (total $330). The kayak weights about 50 lbs, just enough for me to be able to get it on the car roof alone, but not something I'd want to hump around all day.

We had to secure it to the roof of Beth's car in the dark, but the straps and padding worked and we got home safely. Another big benefit of living in Oregon is having a two-car garage where the canoe can be stored and still fit a car alongside. Beth usually parks outside unless it's likely to frost and I have a late start, in which case I park outside and she gets the garage. Thus we unstrapped the canoe and left it in the garage alongside Beth's Mercury.

In the morning after Beth had gone to work the kayak was calling to me, so I sprang into action. Another big benefit of living in our house is that we have a creek running right past our garden. We actually own the creek for about thirty yards, until it passes our property line and becomes our neighbor's creek.

I rapidly donned my wetsuit. I only put it on backwards once (in a test yesterday) before realising that the zip goes in the back. I haven't worn a wetsuit since cave diving in the Mendip Hills, so I think my mistake was forgiveable. Cave diving, by the way, is not something I intend to repeat, as being soaking wet, freezing cold, claustrophobic (it's hard not to think of the thousands of tons of rock waiting to fall on you from above) and in imminent danger of being plunged into utter darkness if your lamp fails is not my cup of tea.

I also have special wetsuit socks, and sacrificed a $5 pair of deckshops to the water gods as my footwear for kayaking. Wetsuits should really be called sweatsuits, at least when worn indoors. They are snug as a second skin, so any thought of wearing underclothes more bulky than y-fronts can be abandoned. With a lifevest on top it gets even warmer, so I was happy to get outside into the cool February air.

Passing out of the garage, across the driveway and lawn and out onto the creek bank, it was a bit of a scramble getting the kayak down into the creek but eventually I was sitting in it, wondering how to adjust the footrests. I probably should have done this on dry land. I got one about right and couldn't even feel the other, so off I paddled anyway. Sort of. The creek is certainly deep enough at present for kayaking, but tufts of grass, fallen branches and overhanging trees and bushes all reduce the navigable width, so while I was afloat and paddling I could rarely get in more than a couple of strokes before changing direction.

Nevertheless this proved a good initial test. I hadn't forgotten how to paddle, steer and even go backwards when necessary, and I paddled up and down happily for about half an hour. My progress downstream was arrested two houses down by overgrown weeds, and two houses upstream there was a fallen tree blocking the creek, but I had about 150 yards to play with, and I justified my technical trespass by collecting lost balls, plastic bottles, and other floating debris.

Eventually I got tired and backed my kayak as close as I could to my initial embarcation point. I couldn't get ashore without putting at least one foot in the water so my deck shoes got a soaking, but that was expected. Scrambling up the bank dragging the kayak was even more fun than scrambling down, especially with a cargo of jetsam and flotsam and a couple of pints of creekwater that had dribbled off the paddles and into the bilge via my legs.

Half an hour later I had showered and dressed, emailed Beth to let her know I hadn't drowned myself, and was able to admire my haul as I fetched bottle after ball out of the kayak. One bit struck me as odd, and then it was that I discovered a problem. The footrest I couldn't feel had broken off and turned itself into debris. the footrest slid in a track, and once beyond the end of the track (and there was no stop) it had snapped off completely.

I rang Costco, and after some discussion (and three different calls) I decided to take the kayak back and exchange it. To wait for a replacement part would stop me using the kayak in the meantime. I emailed Beth to let her know, as I firmly believe that a problem shared is a problem two people have got, strapped the kayak to my car roof and set off.

At Costco a couple of staff helped me bring in the old kayak and I got a shop card refund. Then immediately I got another kayak off the stack and wheeled that one out. This time nobody helped me, but having humped various kayaks around all day I was man enough for the task and got it to the car and out of the box. Then it started to rain. Then it started to hail. I secured all the padding and straps (getting quite good at this) and got in, just as the sun came out.

Back home the sun was still shining, and I was quite tempted to go straight off to the river and have another paddle, but decided I was probably more tired than I realised and it would be better to save that for another day.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Superbowl XLV

Not every American watches the Superbowl and that's OK, but most do, and it's the biggest sporting event in the US Calendar, watched around the world, and the focus for many get-togethers.

This year thanks to WalMart refusing me the day off, I was unable to watch the game live as I have done most of the last 25 years, nor have a get-together. I have often stayed up late into the night, and on one memorable occasion ignored the pain of a broken toe for several hours before cycling to hospital and spending another several hours waiting to be given a couple of pain killer tablets and some toe strapping.

This was only my third Superbowl watched while in the USA, at least I able to get home and watch the recording before game was finished, and thus avoid all the Facebook updates telling me who won and spoiling my fun.

This year it was a close game, coming down to the last two minutes which many of Superbowls have failed to do. There is more supposed parity in the NFL (the governing body for Football in the US) than in the British Premier League, but the big game is still dominated by a handful of teams. You can share out the money equally, and try to share out the talented players equally, but you'll still get teams that draft better, coach better, and motivate better.

This year the game was won by the Green Bay Packers, the only team in the NFL owned by the fans rather than some billionaire businessman or the heir(s) of an original owner, so in a way it's a victory for the common man.

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