Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tubing on the Shenandoah River

Friends at my church asked me to organize another tubing trip on the Shenandoah River like I did back in 2009.  We went with River Riders again in Harpers Ferry.  They were VERY busy, but they have a large staff that has been doing this for a while and somehow manage to get everybody through in a pretty well-orchestrated and efficient manner.  For anyone else trying to organize this as a group activity, River Riders has put together a very useful group-leader packet with all their gouge and recommendations how to make things go smoothly.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day.  
75F air temp, 77F water temp.

I used my last blog post as a guide for what to expect.  This time we brought lunches with us to put in the cooler tubes.  River Riders advertises that they have tubes to rent that will carry a cooler to bring lunch and refreshments with you on the river.  I emailed them a couple of times asking for the size of the cooler, but they didn't respond.  At the River Riders compound, you have to pay for the cooler tube rental, but they didn't have one there to actually SEE how big it was or how many we would need for our small coolers.  So for anybody else heading out to River Riders, here's how big the cooler tubes are:

Note, they have a large and a small cooler tube, but both cost the same price to rent.  I recommend chipping in and getting the large tube and sharing.

River Riders upgraded their standard tubes.  The new tubes have a built-in cup-holder.  I liked that, although the cup holder wasn't big enough for a Camelbak bottle.

In addition to bringing a few footballs and tennis balls to toss back and forth on the water, we also brought along some water cannons.  I told the group if they brought water guns, they had to FLOAT because I didn't want someone dropping their toy plastic water gun in the river, then it sinks and becomes a piece of trash in the river. 

So we brought a few of the water cannons made out of those foam noodles.  They shoot pretty far, and they float if you drop them.

Our trip went a lot quicker this time than it did last time.  Last time, we had a 10:30 reservation, we got on the water at 12:10, got off the water at 1:30, waited for the bus back to River Riders, and got back to River Riders after 2 p.m.  This time, we had the same 10:30 reservation, but we got on the water at 11:30 and got off the water at 12:30.  So the operation at River Riders was a little more efficient and the river was moving a little faster - 1 hour instead of 1 hour 20 minutes. 

We could have gotten on the water even sooner if I had been on-the-ball about the liability forms.  When I handed them our liability forms, they audited the stack and found several where the second page hadn't been initialed, or a birthdate was missing, or the child hadn't signed (even though the adult had signed).  Next time, I will make more of an effort to get the liability waivers filled out in advance, and I will audit them to make sure EVERY blank is filled in before I try to turn them in. 

Also, I had two people who emailed me they were coming, but I didn't have a phone number for them, so we waited for them to show up.  Next time, I'm going to make sure I have a phone number for everybody who signed up, so if someone doesn't show, I can call and find out where they are or if they weren't going to make it.  

If I had done those two things above, then we would have gotten on the water another 30 minutes sooner (at 11 instead of 11:30).

Last time we didn't bring food with us, so we were forced to go back to River Riders because we were starving.  This time, we brought our lunches, so we could easily have gone back and gone down the river again.

Overall though, it was another fun and relaxing float trip down the Shenandoah River.  I hope we get to do this again next summer.

Paddle Log #31 - Cockermouth River with LRCT

I'm a big fan of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust (LRCT) in New Hampshire.  They preserve a lot of natural lands around Lake Winnipesaukee and make the property available to the public through walking trails and provide information on kiosks at the trailheads.  They also conduct organized hiking and paddling excursions.  Back in 2010, the boys and I went on the LRCT guided-paddle on Squam Lake (see Paddle Log #20) and had a great time.

This summer, our vacation week coincidentally lined up with a LRCT guided paddle on the Cockermouth River and Newfound Lake.  Now, my wife's aunt and uncle live right on Newfound Lake just around the bend from the Cockermouth River, so twice before I've paddled up the river on my own (see Paddle Log #19 and #27).  I enjoyed going this time with a guide who was able to teach me something about the local plants and animals along the river.

We met up at the site of an old marina that's been gone for some time.  We had a safety brief and an introduction to the history and ecology of the area here before we got out on the water.

Getting underway.  YB decided to stay home for this one, so just ES and I took the Emotion Tandemonium out for her second voyage.

There were almost 20 boats in our group.  That's our guide, Rick, on the left.

Rick explained the significance of a white oak being here in the wetlands.

Rick used his paddle to show how deep and what type of bottom there was, and what that told him about the river.
We saw several turtles and lots of small birds along the way.  There was quite a temperature difference between the lake and the river, too.  It was 62.5F on the river, but 74.8F in the lake.

ES relaxing.

Father & Son photo.

Near the end of the trip when the group stopped for lunch on the beach and then planned to go back up the river to the marina, ES and I just paddled around the Paradise Point Nature Preserve back to my wife's aunt and uncle's house.  We went back to get the car a little while later.  
Overall, we paddled 3.1 miles in about 2 hours and 45 minutes.  It was a little slow and boring for ES, but I thought it was very informative.  I was glad we went, and I look forward to joining LRCT on future guided excursions when we can make it back up to NH again.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Paddle Log #29 and 30 - Lake Winnipesaukee

We took a break from unpacking boxes to go enjoy a week in New Hampshire on Lake Winnipesaukee and celebrate my wife's grandparents' 75th wedding anniversary. 

Last summer when we went to the lake, we flew to NH, so we didn't have our kayaks with us.  I ended up borrowing a kayak one day and renting kayaks on two other days.  That got us to thinking maybe we should just buy a kayak to leave at the lake and not have to worry about transporting it. 

Let me just say, it amazes me the things you can buy on and have delivered just about anywhere...

Paddle Log #29 was the maiden voyage of our new Emotion Tandemonium kayak

Last summer, my eldest son and I rented a Tandemonium from Trexler's Marina (see Paddle Log #26) and liked it a lot.  It's very similar to our Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL in that it is a sit-on-top, but it also has cup-holders molded into it.  Just like our Malibu Two XL, it is very stable and nearly impossible to capsize. 

Time Stamp leaving the beach, YB with me, ES in his own kayak.

This is why I like coming to the lake later in the summer.  The water was VERY nice.

The boys brought their water cannons and had a blast (or two, or three) duking it out.

It started raining, and we headed back to the beach.

We were only out for about 30 minutes and paddled a smidge under a mile down the shore and back.

Paddle Log #30 was my solo trip around Long Island.  This is the third summer I've done this trek around the island.

I love this place.

This time, I had the treat of stopping to watch a loon feed her baby chick.  I didn't paddle any closer, and she didn't seem to mind me floating there while she dove down to get something to eat, then came up and fed some to her chick.  I also got to see a flock of about 16 mergansers swimming along the eastern side of the island.

I'm normally pretty annoyed by graffiti, but in this case I pretty much agree with the message.  Indeed, although I was disappointed by a couple of rainy days at the lake, I just reminded myself that a rainy day at the lake is MUCH better than a sunny day in the Pentagon.  :-)

It was a very calm and easy paddle until I got past the bridge there at Trexler's Marina.  In fact, I paused there at the bridge, got my phone out of my dry bag and emailed my wife to tell her I'd be back in 20 minutes if the boys wanted to get ready to go out in the boat.  Then, all of a sudden, the wind picked up out of the west-northwest.  As I rounded the north end of the island, I was paddling directly into whitecaps and choppy seas.  What should have taken me 20 minutes ended up taking me 40 minutes of very strenuous paddling to get back home.
 Time stamp returning to base, note the flag blowing violently in the wind.

Even so, it was an awesome paddle - mostly a relaxing, quiet time admiring the beauty of the lake, watching the loon and her chick and the mergansers, and then getting some strenuous exercise at the end.

Trip Stats from the GPS

Friday, August 2, 2013

Pentagon Gouge: What's Changed?

So, as one might expect, things change when you go away from a place for any significant length of time.  I left the five-sided palace of bureaucracy we call the Pentagon back in August 2010, and now I've returned almost exactly 3 years later.

As a result, I'm going back through my old Pentagon Gouge posts and updating them where they need to be updated.

For the benefit of my readers who may have followed in my footsteps out of the Pentagon to the fleet and may someday return to the Pentagon (CW?), here's a quick snapshot of my first impressions on returning to the building:

3rd 2nd Corridor Entrance:  When I left, access from South Parking was via the 3rd Corridor entrance and the 2nd Corridor entrance was closed for renovations.  On one recent particularly hot, muggy afternoon, I walked from Crystal City to the Pentagon and made the mistake of trying to walk to the 3rd Corridor.  Doh.  Closed.  They've swapped.  Now the 3rd Corridor entrance is under renovation and all access on that side of the building is via the schnazzy new glass turnstyles at the 2nd Cooridor entrance.

PAC (Pentagon Athelic Center):  The entrance to the PAC has moved and is now part of this rat-maze of temporary walls through construction.  It took me a couple of times bumping into dead-ends by trial and error - trying to get there by a means I considered "logical" when there is no logic to it.  It's actually pretty easy once you figure it out.  On the first floor, just walk all the way to the end of Corridor 7 and you'll see a sign that says "PAC" with an arrow pointing toward the door to Stairway 74.  Take the stairs down one floor to the mezzanine, and continue following the signs to the PAC.  Coming out of the stairs on the mezzanine, it's a right, then a left, then a left, then a right, then a left, then a left, and then you'll see the glass turnstyles to the PAC.  Luckily, there are lots of signs along the way.  You have to swipe your PAC membership card to go through the turnstyles toward the PAC, and you have to swipe your Pentagon badge to come back through from the PAC into the Pentagon.

Uniform Shop:  There used to be a rat-maze to get to the uniform shop on the 5th deck above the Metro entrance, and I had advised people to just go to the Metro entrance and then take the stairs up to the 5th deck to find it rather than negotiate the rat maze.  The maze is gone.  The renovations in that section are all done, and you can approach the uniform shop from any direction and not run into dead-ends.

MTBP:  This is probably the biggest improvement since I left.  It used to take a LONG time to submit and get approved for your initial National Capital Region (NCR) Mass Transit Benefits, then then once a quarter, you had to go stand in line at designated hallways at certain times to receive your Mass Transit Benefit Program Metro Checks.  Now it's all mostly automated on the web.  My initial sign-up and approval happened really fast - like within a day or two (it used to take WEEKS).  Now, when you sign up on the website, you tell it the serial number of your Metro SmarTrip card and how much your commuting expenses are each month, and they automatically put the money on your SmarTrip card.  I thought it was pretty sweet to see the balance on my SmarTrip card magically go up on August 1st without having to stand in line to get my Metro checks and then take them down to the Metro station to load them onto my SmarTrip card.   

Uniform Policy:  This one perplexes me.  When I left, just the USAF and USA guys were wearing their digital camouflage uniforms.  We had an all-hands call with the CNO one day.  When we got to the Q&A, the first question was some brave O-5 who stood up and asked if the CNO would reconsider the policy on allowing us to wear our working uniforms around the Pentagon or out in town.  If I were to summarize the CNO's response in two words, it would be: "Pack Sand."  What he actually said was something along the lines of "I want us to maintain a more professional appearance."  (Aside:  Doesn't that imply that the other services looked UNprofessional in their working uniforms?)  Well, there's been a change of CNO since I left.  I have heard that guys are wearing NWUs over on the Washington Navy Yard (WNY), but not in the Pentagon.  The part that perplexes me though is that the Marines are now wearing their digital camouflage uniforms around the Pentagon.  So now the Navy is the ONLY service not wearing their working uniform in the Pentagon.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not whining.  I'm not upset about it.  I'm not pounding my fist on the table and saying, "I WANT MY NWUs!"  I'm just making an observation of something that I noticed has changed since I left, and since I wasn't here when it changed, I don't know how or why it changed the way it did.

RedBox!  There's this whole new section inside the Metro entrance with a nice food-court on the first floor and shops (even a Best Buy!) on the second floor.  One of the very first things you'll see when you come in the Metro entrance at the top of the escalators is one of the "shops" is just a big empty red room with two RedBox kiosks.  It's actually pretty cool.  Last weekend, I rented a RedBox movie at the grocery store two blocks from my house.  We watched it, then I tucked it in my backpack and I dropped it off at the Pentagon on my way in through the Metro entrance the next morning.  Today (Friday), I went on the RedBox website, reserved a movie, and picked it up on the way out of the building.  I watched it with my family tonight, and I'll return it to the RedBox at the nearby grocery store tomorrow morning. It's pretty convenient and you can't beat the price ($1.50 per day).

Well, those are the first several things that have come to my attention so far.  I'm sure there will be more as time goes on.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Farewell Gifts

So toward the end of my LAST sea duty tour, the new Star Trek movie was coming out in the theaters, and I was pretty excited to go see it.  I convinced the XO to let us make it a wardroom event, but he said only on one condition.

I had to do whatever he said to do when we were at the movie theater.

Uh oh.

He said it was part of my farewell gift.

Uh oh.  (Farewell gifts for submarine wardrooms are typically embarassing gag gifts.)

He said he checked it out with the Chop, and the Chop said it would be "fine."

Uh oh.  Based on Chop's taste in music and his propensity to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, I'm not sure about his judgement when it comes to off-duty activities.

I agreed though, and off to the movie theater we went for a wardroom viewing of Star Trek. 

I was expecting the worst.  I thought for sure it would be something terribly embarrassing.  The XO walked into the movie theater carrying a small box under his arm.  I thought for sure they were going to make me wear a Star Wars storm trooper helmet or wave a light saber around during the movie or something like that. 

Much to my surprise, it wasn't anywhere NEAR as bad as I thought it would be.  The XO pulled out a yellow Star Trek jersey just like James T. Kirk wears in the movie.  Cue the Monty Python sound bite:


You want me to wear a Star Trek jersey in the middle of a Star Trek movie with a bunch of other Trekkies?  That's not embarrassing at all.  I fit right in with the rest of the crowd!