Saturday, August 30, 2014

DC Car Free Day!

Hey folks, if you are in the DC area, Car Free Day is Monday, 22 September.  If you go to the website and pledge not to use your car that day, you could win a Kindle Fire or other prizes.  Even if you don't normally use your car to commute to work, you can still pledge to go car free that day.

Also, I know it's been a while since I posted about this before.  I've met a few people recently who were new to the DC area and were not aware of the Guaranteed Ride Home program.

In order to encourage people to use public transit in the DC area, you can register for the Guaranteed Ride Home.  If you have some sort of a family emergency an you need to go home during the middle of the day, they will pay your cab fare to go home up to 4 times per year.

I used it.  It works.  One day, one of my kids was sick at school and needed to be picked up and my wife was out of the area.  I called the Guaranteed Ride Home program and there was a taxi at my doorstep within 10 minutes.  It drove me from Crystal City all the way home to Ashburn and I signed a slip for the $70 cab fare and didn't pay a dime.

It's FREE!  If you live in the DC area and use public transit to get to work, SIGN UP!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Paddle Log #32 and 35 - Keep Loudoun Beautiful Potomac River Cleanup

It occurs to me that I never posted about last year's Keep Loudoun Beautiful cleanup event on the Potomac River, and here it is time for me to write about this year's cleanup.  So this post is a dual paddle log entry for both excursions.

Last year (2013) all geared-up and ready to go

Each summer, Keep Loudoun Beautiful hosts a couple of cleanup events on the local waterways.  The great guys at River and Trail Outfitters provide the canoes, paddles, and PFDs, and KLB provides trash bags, recycle bags, and long-arm grabbing tools.

2014 Washington Post photo by Lisa Bolton

They always have more people interested than they have boats, so you have to sign up in advance.  They won't even tell you where they're going to get in the water or get out of the water until you are a registered participant.  They don't want a lot of extra people showing up to participate and not have boats for them to use.

Safety brief before boarding the bus.

Our guide telling us some history of the river and reminding 
us of some safety rules before heading out. (2013)

Although KLB provided pizza at the take-out both years now, it's important to bring some snacks (or lunch) along.  Both times, we've met up at the take-out location at 8:30 a.m., turned in our liability waiver forms, had a safety brief from the River and Trail Outfitter guides, and boarded River and Trail Outfitter buses that take us up stream to the put-in location.  By the time we get up there and get in the water, it's about 10:30 a.m., and both times it has taken about 4 hours to get down to the take-out.  After arriving about 2:30 p.m., there's another 30 minutes or so of work unloading the trash from the canoes into the dumpsters, so it's 3 p.m. by the time you're getting in the car to go home. 

It's a beautiful stretch of the Potomac River here in Loudoun County.  Both times, we had beautiful days on the water and saw bald eagles, great blue herons, fish, and dragonflies.

My youngest son passing a can back for the recycle bag.

Last year, we were picking up every piece of trash we found as soon as we got on the water.  An hour later, we were only 1 mile into our 7 mile journey, and I said, "Alright boys, we're done picking up trash for today.  If we keep this pace, we won't make it home for dinner."  We just paddled onward to the takeout point.

This year, the guide said in previous years they get a lot of the trash at the upper stretch of the river, then everyone gets tired and just starts paddling for home.  So this year, he asked us not to pick up trash in the first mile so that we could focus some of our attention on the later miles of the trip.  We did.  It worked out well, but again, there came a point where we said "enough" because our canoes were pretty full and because we needed to paddle onward to the take-out point.

2014 Washington Post photo by Lisa Bolton

It amazes me how many tires we find in the river.  This year, we set a new KLB record for the number of tires pulled out of the river on a cleanup event - 90 tires!  The bin in the picture above was empty when we started.

We pulled 45 bags of recyclable material out of the river this year, plus filled up a 8 cubic yard dumpster with trash.

My silly boys describing this foreign concept 
of "land" after being on the water for so long.

Overall, the KLB cleanup events are a great way to get out on the water for the day, experience the beauty of the Potomac River, and provide a service to our community cleaning up the trash and preserving the beauty of the river.  Both years now, I have enjoyed the day with my boys on the river, and I hope we'll be able to do it again next summer, too.

If you're interested, please visit the Keep Loudoun Beautiful website.  Of note, they recently lost their funding from Loudoun County due to budget-crunch and belt-tightening, so they're relying on donations to keep them in operation.

GPS Stats:
Paddle Log #32:  7.1 miles, 3 hours 59 min, average speed 1.8 mph
Paddle Log #35:  6.9 miles, 3 hours 48 min, average speed 1.8 mph

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Shenandoah Nat'l Park Hike - Hawksbill Peak

I'm slowly working my way through the hikes in this book, Best Easy Day Hikes Shenandoah National Park, 4th (Best Easy Day Hikes Series).

Hawksbill Peak is the highest point in Shenandoah National Park at 4,049 feet, and it's been on my to-do list for a few years now.  It's a fairly short loop hike (a little over 3 miles), totally doable for kids, and has spectacular views at the top.  I organized this as a group event for my church and it turned out really well.

Lesson learned the hard way:  There are TWO trail heads from the parking area.  

This was supposed to be a counter-clockwise loop that would go up slowly over about two miles, then come down a shorter, steeper route to the parking lot. 

Well, I got us on the wrong trail head and ended up going UP the short, steep route to the top, but then we had a nice leisurely hike back to the parking lot following the path clockwise instead.  As a result, here's what our altitude profile looked like:

One of my sons went charging up the hill and wasn't phased at all by the steepness.  The other moaned and groaned and I wasn't sure I was going to get him to the top without dragging him, but after a lot of cajoling him and distracting him with conversation we made it to the top.  When we got to the top and he looked out at the view of the Shenandoah Valley, he said, "THAT was worth it!"

My boys on top of Hawksbill Peak

Blunoz & Sons on top of Hawksbill

It was a gorgeous day!  Mid 70s and a light breeze was blowing.  We packed our lunches to bring with us, so we sat and enjoyed lunch there at the top with the splendor of the Shenandoah Valley before us.

Most of the trail is under the shade of trees.  (Picture by Jason R.)

The trails are well-marked with blazes on the trees.

Of course, I had to stop and admire the flowers along the way.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Paddle Log #34 - Potomac River from Point of Rocks to Monocacy

After waiting so long to get out on the water for the first time this season, I managed to get out on the water TWO weekends in a row!  Cha-ching!  Cha-ching!

Saturday morning, my friend Bill called up and asked what I was doing that day and if I wanted to go kayaking.  Heck ya!  We got a bit of a late start since we didn't leave until after lunch, but it was really nice out.

Point of Rocks boat ramp with the bridge in the background

We dropped our boats off at Point of Rocks (on the Maryland side of the Potomac River where Route 15 crosses the river), went and dropped one car off at Monocacy, and went back to get in the water.  It was a spectacular, gorgeous, sunny but not too hot day outside.  The boat ramp at Point of Rocks was fairly busy and the parking lot pretty full, but there were some open spots. 

Let the watergun battles begin!

Bill and his two kids and me and my boys brought our water guns along this time.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my waterproof camera, so there aren't many action shots to share.  I just have the pictures I took when I felt brave enough to take my cell phone out of its waterproof case.

His first time paddling solo!  I love how this picture turned out.

This was my 10-year old son's first time out solo in a kayak instead of riding tandem with me, and he did a great job.  Most of the day, he was way out in front of us and I was having to paddle pretty hard to keep up with him. 

Family Selfie

My 13-year old son has outgrown his Perception Acadia Scout, which is a kayak designed for small children, so his younger brother used the Scout while he tried a loaner Old Town Loon to see how he liked it.  He seemed to handle it pretty well, although he's not sure he likes how open the cockpit was.

Air temp was low 80s and water temp was a glorious 79.9F.  Without paddling, the water moved us downstream at about 2 mph (for reference, this was a a gage height of 2.0 feet and a flow rate of 4,600 cfs at the Point of Rocks USGS station).  It's about 6 miles from Point of Rocks to Monocacy, so it would take about 3 hours if you just drifted and didn't do any paddling.

The water was never much deeper than about 5 feet using my paddle as a probe.  At one spot, we stopped to stretch our legs and play in the water a little bit where the water was about 2 feet deep and clear enough we could see the bottom.

As usual on the Potomac, we saw bald eagles, great blue herons, butterflies, dragonflies, and fish, but without my waterproof camera, there's no way I'd be quick enough to pull my cell phone camera out to take a picture of any of them.

For the last couple of miles, the boys were tired, so I hooked up a double-tow line and I did all the paddling pulling the two of them behind me.  I gave them each a waterproof pad of paper and a pen.  In the past, they've used them for drawing pictures, but this time they each wrote a story.  My older son's story was a very long epic about his younger brother that made his brother mad.  My younger son's story was along the lines of, "Fred the fish was a a fish who hated kittens.  One day he woke up and discovered he was a kitten, so he killed himself.  The End."  Isn't that sweet?  :-$  Where does he get this stuff???


It's hard to see where the Monocacy River joins the Potomac River from upstream.  In the picture above, the Monocacy River entrance is right smack in the middle of the picture.  As you approach it, the tall stacks of the power plant downstream on the Maryland side of the Potomac become visible.  If you see those smoke stacks, you need to be working your way over toward river left to get out.

We made it!

As you can see above, you won't be able to miss the Monocacy Aqueduct.  It's very easy to see and identify from the Potomac.

There's a parking lot with a nice boat ramp and a port-a-potty just upstream from the aqueduct on the right side.  Oh, and then there's the Rocky Point Creamery for some ice cream on your way driving back toward Point of Rocks!  :-9

Trip stats from the GPS

Stats for the paddle log:
  • Date: Saturday, 5 July 2014
  • Time In: 3:07 p.m.Got a late start, didn't head up there until after lunch
  • Time Out: 6:23 p.m.
  • Elapsed:  3 hrs 16 min (based on GPS)
  • Moving Time (GPS): 2 hours 20 min
  • Stopped Time (GPS):  56 min
  • Mileage (GPS): 6.65 miles
  • Sea State: 0
  • Winds: 0 kts
  • Air Temp:  81F
  • Water Temp: 79.9F
  • Current:  2 mph
  • Tides: N/A
  • Avg Moving Speed (GPS):  2.8 mph
  • Max Speed by (GPS):  5.9 mph
  • Rapids?  None. 
  • Hazards?  Not much.
  • Kit: My youngest son on his first solo time in his brother's Perception Acadia Scout.  My oldest son trying out a friend's Old Town Loon.  I was in our Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL.  Flop hat, NRS paddling gloves, short sleeve shirt, swim trunks, scuba booties (for the rubber sole and to keep sand / rocks out).
  • Configuration:
  • Route:  Put-in at the Point of Rocks boat ramp and paddled 6.5 miles downstream to Monocacy River.  Took a left and paddled briefly upstream on the Monocacy River underneath the Monocacy Aqueduct to the boat ramp take-out.  
  • Other comments (such as wildlife spotted): Bald eagles, Great Blue Herons, butterflies, dragonflies, fish.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Paddle Log #33: Potomac River from White's Ford to Goose Creek

Catching up...

After a long, cold, snowy winter, the weather finally turned around, but I wasn't able to get out on the water until the end of June. It wasn't for a lack of trying, mind you. There have been three aborted attempts before this.

First, for Spring Break, we went down to Hilton Head, South Carolina. It was a wonderful vacation, but I wasn't able to get out on the water. I had reservations for a guided paddling excursion in the Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge, but that day there were very high winds and some significant chop on the water. The tour guide company cancelled the trip due to hazardous weather conditions.

Next, I was scheduled to do the Keep Loudoun Beautiful cleanup event on Goose Creek in May, but the crazy heavy rains we had the week before resulted in some local flooding and hazardous conditions on the creek, so the cleanup event got cancelled.

Then, I was scheduled to go with the Monocacy Canoe Club on a trip down Antietam Creek, but there were severe thunderstorms and rain forecast for that day, so we cancelled.

Plus, it seems like just about every Saturday we have SOMETHING going on, and Sunday we're normally pretty busy with church stuff.

Finally, this weekend we had the rare confluence of both an open schedule on Saturday combined with favorable weather reports, so we finally made it out onto the water.

 * * * * * * * * * * *

I was excited to see in the local news that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) opened a new park with water access for canoes and kayaks at White's Ford.  Because it's a new park and new access point to the river, I wanted to provide some details of the logistics here for others who may be looking to try it.

DIRECTIONS!  Now, I didn't realize when I was on the White's Ford Park page, if you click on "hours and directions" it gives you directions how to find it.  I just plugged the address (43646 Hibler Rd, Leesburg, VA 20176) into my GPS and followed the navigation system, but it turns out that isn't the best way to get there.  My GPS had me go north of Leesburg on Rt. 15 and turn off on Rt. 661, which resulted in about 3 miles of bumpy dirt and gravel roads.  Fast forward to the END of the day when I was leaving White's Ford, there is a big sign at the park exit that tells you a better way to get back to Rt. 15.

For those of you looking to go to White's Ford, stay on Rt. 15 north until just before Lucketts, then turn right on Spinks Ferry Road.  That will keep you on pavement and get you much closer to the park.  You'll turn right on Limestone School Road and left on Hibler.  

There is enough parking for about a dozen or so cars.  There is no boat ramp.  There is no restroom or water or other facilities.  There are nice new wood steps and a wood ADA ramp from the parking lot down to the river.

White's Ford Parking

Steps from the parking area down toward the water.
The rail is there to slide your kayak down.

The steps don't go all the way to the water though.

For reference, here's how close the water is 
to the path at a Point of Rocks USGS gage height of 2.35 feet.

Trip Planning:
I foolishly thought I was going to park here, get on the river and paddle upstream aways, then come back and get out at the same spot.

Not so much.

Note this is a ford.  In other words, the water is shallow enough for General Lee and his army to walk across the river here.  So it's shallow, but must still accommodate the much larger volume of water in the deeper parts of the river, so here in the shallow part of the river, the water has to go faster to keep up with the overall flow of the river.  

As I arrived there on the river, a guy was taking his kayak out of the water.  I asked where he went.  He said he tried paddling upstream, but he just couldn't do it.  The water was smooth, but noticeably moving.  So we changed plans to go downstream and have my wonderful wife pick us up someplace.

Right after we got in our kayaks and pushed away from the shore, my GPS said we were moving downstream at 2 mph without any paddling.  (For reference, this was at 5,500 cfs flow rate and 2.35 feet guage height at Point of Rocks USGS station.)  I typically paddle solo around 3 mph, so I suppose I could have paddled upstream at a 1 mph over ground pace, but not with my two sons with me.

Heading out from White's Ford, 
looking downstream on the Potomac

IN HINDSIGHT, I see two options for using this White's Ford Park:

1.  Put-in upstream at either Point of Rocks 9.5 miles upstream or at the Monocacy River Aqueduct 3.5 miles upstream and get OUT at White's Ford.  The challenge would be the finding White's Ford.  You'll be moving through the area pretty quick on the current and there's not a lot on the shore to alert you to the location of the take-out.

2.  Put-in at White's Ford and get OUT downstream... but where? 
- White's Ferry 3 miles downstream will charge you a fee to use their facilities, and only river LEFT on the Maryland side.  They won't let you use their ramp on the Virginia side.
- Kephart Bridge Landing on Goose Creek 9 miles downstream.  This is what we did, and it worked out well until about the last hundred yards.  Goose Creek was at 200 cfs flow rate and 1.95 feet gage height at the Leesburg Goose Creek USGS station, and the water was very calm and easy to paddle upstream.  However, about a hundred yards from the take-out, the water got too shallow and there were too many small rocks and ripples for us to paddle any farther.  We had to get out and walk on slippery rocks pulling our kayaks behind us to get to the take-out where my wife was waiting.  I slipped pretty bad and landed pretty hard with a big rock in the middle of my lower back.  I'm lucky I didn't break anything.  In hindsight... not so smart.
- Note:  There is a very nice dock for taking canoes and kayaks out right at the mouth of Goose Creek, but that is part of a private gated community.  You won't be able to use that unless you have access to the gated community.
- Algonkian Regional Park 14 miles downstream, which makes for a pretty long day on the water.
- I'm not very familiar with the Maryland side of the river, so I'm not sure if there are any other opportunities to take-out on that side.

All that being said, we had a very nice trip (except for the part where I slipped and banged my lower back on a rock on Goose Creek).  It was a gorgeous sunny day in the low 80s, and the water was fantastically warm at 81F.

We dragged our feet in the water for a while, and got out a few times to stretch our legs.  Most places the water was only a few feet deep and you could see the bottom.  When we stood up in the water, the fish were nibbling at our ankles and toes.  It tickled and it was fun to watch.

We saw bald eagles, great blue herons, white egrets, deer, butterflies, and dragonflies, and then...

...I suddenly had an urge to eat more chikin.

Thankfully, my awesome wife came and met us at White's Ferry and brought us lunch from Chick-fil-a.  We sat on the side of the river and ate lunch together before continuing our trek toward Goose Creek.
This is where the water got too shallow on Goose Creek for us to paddle any farther and we had to get out and walk to the take-out ahead on the left of this picture.

Stats for the paddle log:
  • Date: Saturday, 28 June 2014
  • Time In: 11:17 a.m.
  • Time Out: 4:10 p.m. (based on time-stamp on my camera)
  • Elapsed:  4 hrs 40 min (based on GPS)
  • Moving Time (GPS): 3 hours 33 min
  • Stopped Time (GPS):  1 hour 7 min
  • Mileage (GPS): 10.12 miles
  • Sea State: 0
  • Winds: 0 kts
  • Air Temp:  78F on the car when we parked climbing to the low 80s
  • Water Temp: 81F
  • Current:  2 mph at White's Ford, nearly still in deeper / wider parts of the river.
  • Tides: N/A
  • Avg Speed (GPS):  2.9 mph
  • Max Speed by (GPS):  5.3 mph
  • Rapids?  None. 
  • Hazards?  Not much.
  • Kit: My youngest son and I in our Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL, and my eldest son in his Perception Acadia Scout.  He's almost too big for it.  Flop hat, NRS paddling gloves, short sleeve shirt, swim trunks, Keen Newport sandals.
  • Configuration:
  • Route:  Put-in at the White's Ford Regional Park and paddled 9 miles downstream to Goose Creek.  Took a right and paddled a mile upstream on Goose Creek to the Kephart Bridge take-out.  
  • Other comments (such as wildlife spotted): Bald eagles, Great Blue Herons, white egrets, deer, cows, butterflies, dragonflies, fish.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

DC Gouge: Antietam Luminaries

Hey folks, Once a year in December, the National Park Service puts luminaries out across the Antietam National Battlefield - one luminary for each of the 23,000 soldiers killed at the battle. You stay in your car and just drive the tour route through the battlefield. It's happening this Saturday, 7 December. You can find out more information at the National Park Service website:

Friday, November 29, 2013

Cold Weather Gear

Happy Black Friday everyone!

Since it's shopping season and since it's 28 degrees outside and there's ice forming on the pond behind our house, I'll tell you about the cold weather gear I used for the past two years driving in and out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Granted, being on the bridge of a submarine presents a unique set of circumstances - namely being stationary and exposed to the elements for several hours.  Someone on the bridge of some other type of surface ship would presumably be able to step inside the pilot house to get shelter from the wind, rain, and snow.  Other people who brave the cold for recreational activities like skiing tend to be physically active and generate extra body heat in the process, and they can always take a break and step inside the ski lodge for some coffee or hot cocoa.  When you sit or stand in one place on top of the submarine, you aren't doing any exertion to generate body heat, and there's no place to go for shelter.

Before going into the gear I've been using, I should offer a disclaimer on uniform regulations.  There are some differing opinions from one boat to the next, or rather from one CO and COB to the next, on what is allowed to be worn by personnel topside when getting the boat underway and returning to port.  During my JO tour on USS PROVIDENCE operating out of Groton, Connecticut, we absolutely needed good cold weather gear topside and on the bridge, and the Navy didn't sell uniform components that would adequately protect us.  The philosophy on the boat was go buy yourself some good cold weather gear (more specifically - to protect your hands and face) and as long as it's solid black or navy blue, nobody would have a problem with it not being an official part of "the uniform."  That philosophy made sense to me and has stuck with me ever since, much to the chagrin of some of my later COBs who were more insistent on not allowing guys topside to wear anything that wasn't 100% in compliance with the uniform regs.  (Sorry, COBs, no offense intended!)


Soon after I reported aboard USS PROVIDENCE, one of the other JOs told me to go to the mall and find the kiosk where they sell headsokz.  It was absolutely essential being on an SSN operating out of Groton.  We drove in and out frequently enough that I had many opportunities either as a topside supervisor or as an OOD on the bridge to put it to use.  It was money very well spent.  Even during my department head tour out of SAN DIEGO, I was very glad I had my headsok and gloves from my JO tour in my locker for port calls in Bangor and Esquimalt and an unexpected surfacing near the Aleutian Islands.  As an XO, I used it supervising linehandlers topside getting the ship underway.  As a CO, I've used it every underway and return to port in Bangor.  Even returning to port in June last year, it was 50 degrees, howling wind and hailing as we drove down the Hood Canal.


Initially I used ski goggles, but most ski goggles have some sort of shading like sunglasses to protect from the glare off the snow.  It's almost always overcast in the Pacific Northwest and there's no blanket of snow on the water to reflect the ambient light under the overcast.  I found that I needed something to shield my eyes from the wind, rain, hail, and snow, but I didn't like the light loss with the ski goggles.  I wanted clear lenses.  I tried a few models of ski goggles with clear lenses, but I just didn't like any of them.

Then it occurred to me... I said to myself, "Self, you probably need to check a store that sells motorcycle stuff."  Sure enough!  I stopped at the Harley Davidson shop on my way home one day and found exactly what I was looking for.  However, I also suspected they had a pretty high mark-up given the name brand of the store.  The goggles I wanted were $26 at the store, so I came home and searched for them on Amazon.

$6!  Cha-ching!  Cha-ching!  SCORE!  Now that I go back and look at them again, I see they raised the price, but it's still better than what they wanted at the HD store.  These goggles worked GREAT.  I wish I had thought of motorcycle riding goggles instead of ski goggles sooner so I could have used them from the outset.


There are a ton of different styles of cold weather gloves out there.  I ended up making a spreadsheet to compare the thickness of insulation, the type of insulation, the cost, etc.  In the end, I bought the Outdoor Research Remote gloves.  They were pretty expensive, but I found them to be worth the money.  (Aside - the price has come down considerably since I purchased them.)  They have the most insulation and are rated for the coldest temperatures, but they use the Primaloft insulation (more insulating for less thickness, but also more expensive).  Now, they might be too warm for doing any sort of winter sports or outdoor activities where you're moving around and generating more body heat.  However, sitting-still on top of a submarine I found my hands quickly got numb from the cold, and I needed the extra insulation. These gloves did a great job.

If you were shopping around for some good gloves, here are some other features I liked about these gloves that I would recommend looking for:

Idiot Straps.  You fasten the "idiot straps" to your wrists so when you take your gloves off your hands, you don't drop or lose the gloves.  They will dangle from these strap fastened to your wrists.

Loops.  The big nylon-strap loops at the back of the glove make it a lot easier to pull the gloves on in the cold.

Easy-to-operate cinching cords.  The Outdoor Research gloves have a pretty clever system that makes it so you can very easily cinch or uncinch the wrists of your gloves.  Pull the plastic tab on one side, and it cinches them tight.  Pull the plastic tab on the other side, and it uncinches them.

Nose-wipe.  It might sound gross, but I was VERY glad to have this.  Yes, ideally, you would pull a tissue out of your pocket and blow your nose into a tissue.  There are those times when your face is uncovered and your nose starts to run, and you don't have time to dig a tissue out of your pocket before the snot goes rolling down your lip.  This soft material on the back of the thumb is perfectly positioned to do a quick swipe under your nose.

Heat Packs

These sure made the long hours on the bridge more bearable.  There are a dozen brands and sizes to choose from if you search for them online.  The ones I've linked to below aren't particularly noteworthy as being any better than the rest, so shop around and find the best deal.  I just included the link below as an example of what I am trying to describe.

These are very handy little pocket warmers though.  I found they make some for feet that have a peel-away sticky pad to keep them stuck in one place inside your boots.  My toes tended to get really numb after hours in the cold, but I found putting some of these warmers in my boots helped tremendously.  I also put one in each palm of my hand inside my gloves, and it made the surface transit much more comfortable. 

Now if I could just find what the movers did with my cold weather gear...