Monday, May 30, 2011

Ski to Sea Race

Ski to Sea Race is a local multi sport race that received a lot of national attention last year. For the history of the race you can Google Ski to Sea and get on the website.

My involvement this year, which was the 100th anniversary of the race, took many twists and and unfortunate turns.

The family team that I was on two years ago finished in third place that year - a plaque and a photo of all of us on the podium can attest to effort all of us put in to successful completion the race.

This year we couldn't get enough family members to commit so I posted my name on a bulletin board, offering my kayaking skills for any other team needing a racer.

I was contacted by team "Puppy Cradle Grave Syndrome" - a team name with  origins that remain shrouded in mystery still. The teams kayaker had recently been in a severe accident - car vs semi - and had not recooped sufficiently to paddle.  They turned out to be a group of university students with very limited racing experience and not much interconnection between one another. Quite the opposite of our family team who were fairly close-knit and quite knowledgeable of the course. And I should mention very competitive in our approach.

For many years I have opposed the direction that the Ski to Sea Race was  heading - that the Race directors were promoting the race more as an elitist race for nationally  ranked competitors and less of a local race for folks who enjoyed competing with each other all within a framework of having a good time. Well, here was my chance to support my feelings. "Puppy Cradle Grave Syndrome" certainly didn't take itself too seriously.

 The race meeting was an absolute last minute affair with many of the racers meeting each other for the first time. Introductions were brief and logistics were kept to an adequate but minimal level. I left feeling a little apprehensive that these young men and women could actually make all the necessary connections to race but also found myself laughing at the whole concept of racing on a team with such a casual attitude.

I took it to heart though. On race day I skipped the mandatory kayak race meeting. It was at noon and I calculated that my racers wouldn't make down the course until 4:00 or 5:00 PM.  That would be a lot of wait time for me. Fortunately the race had an iPone/iPod Touch program that allowed me to follow their progress and my estimates proved to be correct. I didn't leave the ranch until almost two o'clock.

With 500 teams in the race some of the elite teams were already finishing by the time I reached town. There were however still hundreds of kayaks lined up on the park grass at the put in point when I arrived. Of the seven legs in the race my team was still on the Nooksack River canoeing with a Mountain Bike leg needing to be completed before I could get to paddle.

Meanwhile the wind on Bellingham Bay was picking up, more and more whitecaps were appearing and some of the less experienced paddles were having difficulty turning around the breakwater into the wind.
I was looking forward to the challenge thinking that I could out maneuver and paddle faster than a lot of boats on the water.

In order to contain the overall time of the race the idea was to release all remaining boats at 5:00 PM regardless of whether or not the teams' mountain bikers arrived. I was beginning to realize that I would be part of that group and the group would be huge.

I received calls that our Mountain Biker was on the course so I lined myself up for a last minute pee. By chance I heard some nearby folks with Ski to Sea Official tags on saying something on the phone that they had a "Situation" here at kayak put in point. They expressed concern of the number of boats still remaining to launch and of the deterioration of the conditions on the bay.

Not long after returning to my kayak there was an announcement that due to unsafe conditions in the bay the kayak leg would be cancelled immediately.  After watching numerous kayakers dumping themselves in the 50 degree water just outside the breakwater I was thinking it was a good idea. I would have enjoyed the challenge but I realized that there would be considerable risk. (Maybe my new ID bracelet would get some use.)

The sad thing is that the race directors literally folded the tent when they called off the race. The 200 teams remaining were left on their own to welcome their Mt Bike teammates when they finished their leg. There were no more announcements as to who was coming in which is sad because those riders deserved the recognition as much as the ones before them. Maybe more so because the race was over them then and there.

My rider came in at 5:15 and I was glad I waited to cheer him in. So it was a no go for me, all I got was the shirt.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Florida - The Hoop & The Waveski

Rained in the Great Pacific Northwest for almost the whole time I was gone. No rain in Florida, 80 degree days and oh should I mention sunshine, my GPNW neighbors didn't even want to hear about it.

I went there to work and when I say work it really was because it was Indoors. I won't write about that, but I will mention that I took time of to run a sandy trail, walk the beach, play tennis and shoot hoops. I also hit the waves body surfing and using the waveski.

When I was a kid, not knowing how poor I was but pretty poor, most of my time was spent playing sports. Grades came easy so I was usually found with a basketball in my hands. My dad welded a support for a plywood backboard that we attached to a tree in the backyard. My playing surface was hard packed dirt. It sounds so pathetic when I write about it but it wasn't to me at the time and still isn't.

Anyway last week in Florida I went to the local park and played on the cement courts and worked up a sweat. Low sun, humidity, and just me the ball and the hoop.  I don't "swish" the ball through the net as much as I used to but the feeling is still there. Peace and tranquility through movement.

Some New Age (for lack of a better term) engage in various free form creative dancing. I'd like to try that some time but I think I get pretty close to where they want to go out there on the court. I've played organized basketball from the fourth grade up through my early fifties so I also know the feeling about being in sync with others but I still know a sense of completeness when I am out there by myself.

The same feeling is there on the waveski - sometimes at least. My first morning on the ski left me frustrated. The waves were breaking close to each other and getting out beyond the surf was a chore. Dumping and trying to get back on was difficult because it had to be done quickly before another wave broke on top on me. The waves themselves were steeply pitched and I found myself getting tipped up on the nose of the board before I could pull it up to plane on the wave.  I left the beach feeling a little beat up.

On the last day I was there I went out just after dawn and saw neat rows of waves spread pretty far apart with a glassy surface and an offshore breeze. I sprinted back to the house for the ski and paddle. What difference. I caught wave after wave. The newest sensation for me was the sound of the waves. Sitting on the ski outside of the zone where the waves were breaking the sound that the waves made when they did break was completely different than the sound one hears when you are in front of them. I think you had to be there to appreciate it, it's that hard to describe.

I have a long way to go before I'll be comfortable on the waveski, I learn, or I should say, my body/mind acquires a greater sense of what needs to be done to ride a wave every time I am successful out there. What fun.

Garden Time

Funny I should write about gardening. I don't really have one. And maybe I should take a step back to say this isn't really a gardening blog. It's just that Outdoor Life is more than just trail running and exercise. It encompasses everything outdoors, including periods of stillness and contemplation AND days of what some people might classify as "work".  With that in mind this blog has a wide range of topics.

Nature's engines are in full swing right now, so why not hop on board? Unless a gardener deals solely with native plants that rely on local weather cycles, a little creativity is required here in the Great Pacific Northwest.  Cool temperatures and wetness doom many a gardener's attempt to an early start. But to really boost one's chances of growing garden variety vegetables protecting them from slug and mice attacks are a must. Mice dig up seeds and a small slug or two can sweep over a seedling bed and wipe out the whole thing in a night!

How do I know this? It happens to me more than I would like to admit. This year I started seeds on an eight foot ledge in the cabin only to discover that a mouse was up there eating all my eggplant and most of my pepper seeds. He/she's dead now but not before my early start was ruined this year.

The spinach and lettuce starts all made it and so did my tomatoes so the situation isn't totally hopeless. The greenhouse, small cheap, protected them - lettuce and spinach going outside today and tomatoes will remain where they are all summer.  Gardening is a challenge, an opportunity, as they say. I'll post some pictures later.

The property is pretty much on an alluvial fan - that is debris from an old creek bed - so it's pretty much gravel with a strata of clay here and there. My only outdoor planting bed is composed mostly of composted wood chips and chicken shit.

Oh and the ducks. The ducks are my slug catchers. The also like to eat young starts but they are my natural defense against the dreaded slugs. Already they have saved my lilly of the valley that were shredded by this time last year.