ONE WEEK/THREE TRIPS
In the space of a week, I participated in three fine trips. Here is a report.
LAKE MICHIGAN: SPRING HAS ARRIVED
Pat Lutsch, Jim Des Jardins and I launched at Montrose Beach on a pleasantly warm Sunday afternoon (4/20/08).
You could tell that spring had finally arrived by the green grass and that almost forgotten smell of unfrozen earth.
Warmer weather also attracts more cars to the park. I actually had to park 50 yards or so from my usual spot, and felt lucky for that. "Where were these folks when it was 35 degrees and the blowing sand felt like sandpaper," asked my grumpy self. I was starting to remember with fondness when we had the beach to ourselves, without the fair weather poseurs and their vehicles, forgetting the near-frozen fingers and chilly waters.
We headed north into a slight swell and breeze. While far from warm, the water seemed somehow more welcoming and less lethal than it did a few weeks before. I found myself remembering ahead to paddles on warm nights when the water is 70 degrees or more and it looks and feels like black silk.
The three of us passed Leone Beach and the all star kayaker residential compound just north of the park.
Where were Tom Heineman, Tim Flentye and Humberto Garcia this fine day?
We landed on the Central Street beach in Evanston.
Pat and Jim swapped tales of how the good folks of Evanston zealously guard their beaches from incursions by the likes of non-residents like us.
Jim had a spot of trouble getting off the beach when a sudden high wave sideswiped him and filled his cockpit. He had to get out of his boat, drag it back to shore, empty his boat and start the launch process all over. Jim is a sailor and I learned no stranger to salty speech. He exercised his nautical vocabulary quite vigorously as he emptied out his boat and got it turned around. I could hear him from yards away despite the sonic interference from the surf.
Unbeknownst to Jim, just as his speech took a particularly vigorous turn a family walked behind him.
I swear that the father told his little ones to cover their ears as they walked by Jim! That was quite the sight.
We had an uneventful trip back. Jim paddled by himself most of the way, swinging his Greenland stick steadily, clearly enjoying the cadence, the solitude and the conditions. Pat and I planned a summer trip together, plotting out long crossings to unexplored islands in Georgian Bay.
The sun was setting as we landed. Montrose positively glows at sunset. It is my favorite time there. We loaded up our boats wearing only a layer or two of clothing, enjoying the last rays of the sun and the promise of a good summer of paddling ahead.
BUSSE LAKE: THE POWER OF SPRING
Henry Nepomuceno, Pat Lutsch and I met Friday night (4/25/08) at Busse Lake and pushed off at 5 p.m. The weather forecast was not promising. There was a thunderstorm watch and the sky above us was grey and not friendly. There weren't the kind of boiling clouds associated with tornadoes, but we could tell that we might be in for a blow.
We turned right from the boat launch and began our circumnavigation of the lake, hugging the shore to add a little distance. The lake was quite high and there was plenty of birds to observe. It was pretty warm and only the non-naturally insulated person in the group wore a wetsuit.
Since it was spring our thoughts soon turned to love.
Pat and Henry shared tales of spawning carp and how they churn up Busse Lake when they go into an erotic frenzy. Pat related how she had seen overly stimulated carp jump out of the Illinois River and smack a very surprised kayaker.
Suddenly, there was a distant flash. I thought that it might have been some light reflecting funny off of my glasses. The others, however, had seen it too.
We opted to head back to the boat launch. We paddled close to the shore of several islands and did all we could to minimize the length of our open water crossings.
When we returned to the boat launch it appeared that the bank of clouds that was generating the lightening had passed by. Pat and Henry opted to get off the water in view of NOAA upgrading the thunderstorm watch to a thunderstorm warning. I saw a patch of blue sky, however, and decided to make a beeline to the Higgins Road bridge and pack. I couldn't bear packing it in so soon after we had started. I hugged the shoreline whenever possible to allow a quick exit to land if needed and kepy a wary eye on the sky over my shoulder.
The return trip was uneventful, but the sky was darkening. I landed and loaded my boat on my car.
Conditions deteriorated rapidly. I could see extensive lightning and the accompanying thunder told me that it was not far away. A light rain started.
Just as a I got in the car to drive away the heart of the storm arrived with a wallop. My car shook, the rain was blinding and I watched the lightning display in three directions around me. The wind pummeled my boat and I could feel the temperature plummet as the cold front rushed through. I was very glad to have been off the water.
I followed the storm on the way home, my drive lit by lightning. I stopped at the DesPlaines Oasis on the Tollway to secure my lines. Once again, I just sat there for awhile enjoying the display of raw power in the sky around me. If winter storms are like knives, spring storms are like a roundhouse punch to the chops.
DAVE DOES THE LAKEFRONT
Dave Strauch has been bit and bit hard by the kayaking bug. He started awhile back with the Chicago Kayak group. While he valued what that group had to offer, he wanted to push himself and accelerate the development of his kayaking skills. As with many of us, Dave has had to sandwich kayaking between family and professional responsibilities. He has found time to attend several kayaking symposia, is a regular at the UIC Wednesday night pools sessions, working diligently on rolls and rescues, and has got himself a sweet Valley boat.
Yet, Dave hasn't had much experience in Lake Michigan.
Sunday's paddle from Montrose Beach (4/27/08) was a chance for him to paddle a stretch of water that was new to him.
We put in at 3 p.m. The forecast was for a 10 mph wind from the northwest that would gradually shift to the southwest and then to the southeast overnight.
The most prudent course was to paddle north against the wind/waves, because the winds were unlikely to shift significantly over the next several hours and would help push us home.
As anyone who knows us can attest, however, Dave and I vie for the title of Captain Spontaneous.
Consequently, we headed south to Navy Pier to take advantage of the following wind and waves, hoping that they would switch direction more quickly than forecast. With this sweet wind and modest waves in our favor we coasted to Navy Pier in about an hour and half.
We peeked around the edge of Navy Pier to downtown and the museum campus and then turned back. We gladly smiled for the cameras wielded by hardy tourists.
With almost no boat traffic, paddling around Navy Pier was actually enjoyable, in sharp contrast to the white-knuckled experience paddling that stretch becomes when the summer season kicks up. The much feared Sea Dog really is scary as it roars around the area and the various tour boats don't seem to give a hoot about kayakers.
Dave complained his legs were hurting. This is a common complaint of many paddlers. There was a thorough discussion on this issue on the CASKA Yahoo list awhile back that some kind soul will exhume. The thrust of the discussion was that many leg-related aches and pains result from insufficient support for the thighs. Many people report success by putting an inflated paddle float or some other form of support in front of their seat. You can then press your thighs into the support as part of the pumping motion you do with your legs when you paddle.
We landed at North Avenue for a snack and a break.
There was one kook who tried swimming in the 50 degree water, but the air temperature of about 45 degrees kept most people bundled up and well away from water.
Dave used a blown up dry bag as his thigh support and reported good results on the way back.
We paddled close to the shore from Montrose to about Irving Park Road, avoiding the contrary wind and waves. By the time we hit Irving Park the wind had shifted sufficiently so that we got a nice assist as we angled east-northeast to go around Montrose Point.
Our luck with the wind, the near absence of boat traffic and the pure visual pleasure of the Chicago lakefront made this an enjoyable paddle. I just hope that Dave doesn't get lulled into believing that Lake Michigan is always so generous with its kayakers.