Kayaking again

This morning I got up bright an early (for a Sunday morning) and arrived at Bay Creek Paddling Center bright and early. This was going to be my first paddle without Vicki or the kids, and I was a little worried that without the moderating influence that I’d go out too hard and burn out quick.

Irondequoit creek is an ideal place to go paddling because it’s very marshy and there are several intertwined open channels through the marsh. This means there is a variety and you can explore new routes every time you go.

So I’m there early, and trying to get them to let me take the same boat as I take every time I go – a bright yellow Dagger Magellan. I don’t know much about which boats are good and which ones are bad, but I’m starting to really love this boat. We get along well together. First they try and get me into another kayak, but it’s missing one whole foot-peg track. I’m pleasantly surprised that they let me take “my” Magellan – I know they like to keep it around in case somebody large like me comes for a lesson. While I’m getting ready to go, one of the senior guys there asks me what my plans are – I explain that I’m just hoping to explore new territory. So he asks if I’ve ever been up the left branch after the weir. Vicki and I only have been past the weir once and we went up the right hand (facing up river) branch, and not too far past the weir at that. He says that sometimes that branch is impassible when the water is as high as it is now, and if I decide to go that way he’d appreciate knowing how far I got. Ok, now I had a plan – I was going to explore the left branch.

this map shows the crucial part. The weir is about where the “I” in “Irondequot” is. Hit the arrow on top to see the paddling center – it’s near where it says “Float Bridge”.

I headed up from the bay. Being so early, I guess the wildlife was relatively undisturbed. I saw a lot more turtles sunning themselves that Vicki and I have seen in the morning. I went down one dead-end to see an adult swan hiding in some reeds with her two babies (both grey), and nearby another adult standing on a bit of raised mud preening himself. I’ve never realized how huge these guys are until I’ve been in a kayak looking UP at one. I also saw lots of red winged blackbirds. Peeking out from the reeds, quite high up, there was an occasional white flower – it looked almost like a water lilly bloom but without the yellow center. I suppose it’s no coincidence that most of them seemed to be higher than a paddler could reach – I wonder how many paddlers pick them.

On the way to the weir, I passed a few small groups of people, mostly couples, heading up or downstream. But that all changed at the weir – once I turned down the left (western) branch, I was totally alone. Except for the turtles and kingfishers, of course. The sloshing sound I took to be another paddler somewhere nearby resolved itself into my waterbottle sloshing around in the bungy cord hold-down.

While I was enjoying the solitude, I was also having nagging thoughts about how if something happened, nobody would find me for who knows how long. Oh well, I soon put those thoughts out of my mind. Then I starting thinking that instead of pure silence, what I could really use was my iPod playing one of those Dan Gibson “Solitudes” series CDs where he blends nature sounds with classical music. Maybe not, maybe I just want to drink in the silence for a change. I never did make up my mind which would be better.

I felt like quite the explorer, as I travelled up this branch to bring back information for the people back at base camp. I had a map that looked like it was traced from the topo map, but it wasn’t very good and it got soaked and started tearing. I was a little disconcerted when the channel seemed to double back on itself (which is sort-of marked on the map I linked above, but not on the map I had with me), but I got oriented because I could see the two pieces of land that the map showed me were either side of the first bridge. I soon found myself at the first bridge. There is a building there, and I don’t know what goes on in that building, but it was loud. First I thought I was coming up to a waterfall or something, and I wasn’t too worried because I was going upstream, but then as I got closer I decided it had to be an air conditioning unit or something like that. Between there and the second bridge (which I now see is Browncroft Boulevard), the channel got much narrower and while the map shows white there it was actually quite wooded and wild. There were trails alongside the channel, which by now I was thinking of as a creek. I was really enjoying this – it felt so cool to be slipping up this narrow creek in my narrow little kayak.

After the second bridge it got even narrower. By now the creek was about as wide as the kayak was long in its widest places, and there were obstructions and overhangs. There were places where I had to point the kayak paddle alongside the hull and just rudder with the back blade to squeeze under a tree. I came out to a parking lot with a building. The only label on the building I could see just said “PAVILLION”. On the map above, it is the black dot just above the bottom of the map. I was hoping I could squeeze along through this increasingly narrow creek to where it joined the main river channel, which according to the map I had with me shouldn’t have been too much further. The creek got narrower, more covered in overhanging trees and vines hanging down, and I was still right alongside the parking lot. It was kind of strange to see concrete a metre or two to your right while you were struggling through vines. After going through a couple of obstacles that made me wish I had a shorter and more maneuverable boat, I finally had to admit defeat. I briefly thought about portaging over to the main channel, but I didn’t have shoes with me and it didn’t seem like much point. Instead I backed up to a small wide spot where I could put the stern on the shore on one side and left the swift current turn me around.

Now I was riding this very fast flowing creek down stream. It was almost harder than going up stream, because at times I had to really dig to get some steering way to get through a tricky spot. I still had to do the “point the paddle and steer” thing to get under trees in spots.

It had taken me an hour to get up there, and my shoulders and arms were extremely tired. After I got through the tricky parts and the stream widened out, I took it a bit easier. Not as many turtles on the way back. In the big wide area of the channel there were a couple of other paddlers, but they went through the little side channel that takes you over to the main channel and I didn’t see them any more.

I was enjoying the trip home, especially the easy paddling with the current helpng me, but then the wind whipped up. Suddenly I was flashing back to canoe trips of days long gone, and paddling extra hard to try and make way against this wind. This was way too much like hard work, but I got back without incident. There was an utter *gaggle* of people around the paddling center – as well as encountering maybe 5 groups of people between the weir and the center, there were at least 8 kayaks and canoes in the water right around the center, trying to get organized. I think there were at least three different groups setting out. I had taken about 40 minutes on the way down, and partly because I wanted to make it a full two hours (and partly because I’m a big show-off), I went blasting past them and out into Irondequoit bay. But the wind was coming in quite strongly now, and the were waves coming straight into the end of the bay. I said “to hell with this”, and turned around and blasted back to the dock.

I think it ended up being just under two hours total. I feel exhausted, but in a good way. Too bad I’ve got some work to do today – I’m not sure my shoulders can take much more typing.