Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Kayaking the Delaware River

From Delaware River Kayaking Album
     I woke up at 7am, an hour later than my watch alarm told me to.  An older man a few spots down in an RV with his wife came over and introduced himself.  He told me that he and his wife were both out of shape, but had spent four hours climbing a mountain nearby yesterday.  Now that all the families were gone, he planned to take his boat out.  I told him about my trip and he, like a lot of people, seemed more interested in how my trip fit in with the working part of my life.  You know: laden yourself down with long lasting financial responsibilities so that you’ll be sure to never get a real break until you’re old, tired and generally broken down – The American Dream.
       “So you’re doing this trip before you have to work?” he asked.  “Well, hopefully I’ll never have to work,” I joked.  He laughed.  I cried a little inside (kidding).  Some people get it, some people don’t.
       I packed up some of my gear for the trip, but when it was almost 9am, the time the canoe rental place opened, I left, figuring I’d pack the rest when I got there.  When I arrived, I talked with the pretty, young, tiny brunette at the counter who had so much eyelash makeup on it was falling off in clumps about the details of my trip.  I decided on a 20 mile trip and, after checking out the size of the canoes and kayaks, decided on a two person kayak with one seat removed.  Eyelashes asked about my trip as some people do when they see I’m from Louisiana.  After I told her about it, she told me she’s always wanted to do something like that.  “Gas, grass or ass and you’ve got a ride,” I said.  Kidding.
       I parked my car at the site where I’d end my trip and finished packing my gear.  There was a couple from Massachusetts there too and I felt kind of guilty making them wait, but wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anything.  One of the canoe rental workers asked if it was my first time.  “Yes,” I said, assuming he meant overnight kayak trip alone.  “Think I’ll make it?”  He smiled and turned his head.  “Fifty/fifty,” I offered.  He laughed.
       I studied the map on the ride to the start point and hit the water a little before noon.  There was a fairly strong wind blowing in the wrong direction and I worried that twenty miles may have been too long for a one night trip.  There was a $25 per half hour late fee if I didn’t have the kayak back by 5pm the next day.  After paddling my butt off and not moving much in the middle of the river, I found a channel on the New Jersey side of the river that was flowing faster downstream.
       Fifteen minutes into my trip, I saw a black bear on the other side of the river (my brain is learning to distinguish them from dogs now I think).  I took a few pictures and then paddled toward it (it was quite far away) to get a closer look.  It walked into the river and swam a little.  When I was about halfway across the river, I pulled my camera out again, and just as I was about to snap another few shots, it walked out of the water and into the woods.  Very cool experience and yes, there may have been a moment or two when I thought, “Am I really paddling toward a black bear in the wild?”
    I took a break every half hour or so and moved at about three miles an hour including breaks.  There were many nice views at the beaches of sand and rock where I stopped.  The mountains around weren’t that high, but the weather was nice and I saw a few deer getting a drink in the distance during one break.  I talked to a family of three a few breaks into my journey, trying to figure out where I was.  The milfesque woman asked about my kayak trip and seemed really excited about it even though I gave her no reason to be.  The dad gave me an estimate as to where I was and I moved on.
       At a little before 5pm, I selected a campsite about eleven miles into my trip.  I heated a dinner of canned tomato sauce and pasta and then had some hot cocoa for dessert to raise my spirits.  I was tired and a little more anxious about camping alone having seen a bear earlier in the day.  I shed my first blood of the trip when I cut myself while cleaning out the inside of a soup can with a sponge (this has happened to me once before while living in NOLA – damn soup cans).  The blood was coming out pretty fast, but I cleaned it and stopped it with a band aid out of my first aid kit.
       As I was cleaning the rest of my cooking gear, I heard a loud noise in the woods that couldn’t have come from something small.  I popped up, scanned the area, and saw a man in the distance.  I was quite excited to see another human being.  When I was eating beforehand, I had seen about six canoes go by and figured they must have stopped at a campsite a little downstream.  I walked down there and saw a group of people.  I was a little hesitant to approach at first, but my desire to interact with humans overcame and I walked up to them.
       They were twelve students from Princeton.  Right when I walked into their camping area, the alpha male of the group came over to ask what’s up.  I told him I was just making sure it wasn’t a bear I heard over here.  They were a nice, friendly group.  I mainly talked with alpha, a tom boy in a tank top, and an effeminate pale boy from Oregon who told me all about the Shakespeare plays I should see when I’m passing through there.  Alpha asked if this was my one year off deal.  I explained more and they understood.  Most younglings do.
       I guess there are some people that would be envious of a group of Ivy Leaguers that have their whole lives in front of them.  I mostly just wished them the best of luck, knowing how many directions they’ll be pulled that will seem right to them at the time, but will never make them truly happy.
       I headed back to my “camp” (no tent set up yet) and finished cleaning my gear.  I put all my “smell things” in my bear bag and looked around for a tree to hang it.  Hanging the bear bag is my least favorite part of backwoods camping.  It’s hard to find an appropriate tree, the damn rope always gets tangled and it seems like it’s always dark when I do it, no matter how hard I try to get it done when there’s still light.
       I found a tree not to far from where I had cooked (I planned to hike upwind a ways to pitch my tent) and threw a rock tied to the rope over a limb.  The rock made it over fine, but landed in a thicket of thorns.  I hadn’t thought to check out the landing zone.  I walked to the rock in my shorts, getting all scraped up in the process.  When I tried to pull the rope to hoist the bag, I found it was caught on branch cluster.  I tried pulling in different directions, whipping the rope, and all sorts of things to get it free, but it was just stuck.  I untied the rope from the bear bag side and pulled on the rope from the rock side, planning to start over, but found that the rope was wrapped one and a half times around the limb I had thrown over.  No way to pull it from either side because of the friction.
       I zipped on the bottom half of my pant legs, took a few deep breaths, and decided to throw the rock back over to unwind the loop around the branch.  The rock got caught in the same cluster of branches as before.  I kept my cool and decided to change tactics.  I picked up a branch about five feet long and decided to try to hit the rope on the side of the loop which was only hanging about a foot and a half below the main branch. On the first smack, the rope whipped around the branch, unwinding the loop.  I pulled the rope down and got the hell away from that tree.
       Its times like these where the qualifications required to be a bear bag tree can drop dramatically.  I hung the bag on a small tree, but the bottom of the bag was only five feet below the ground.  I sighed, untied the bag and found a sturdy, tall branch on a tree nearby.  I checked the landing zone, made a spectacular throw of the rock, and tied that sucker up.  It felt like the whole process took over an hour, but probably only lasted twenty minutes.  I set up my tent with only the light of my small flashlight and promised myself a beer and a nice meal when I got back.

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