Kayaking rituals and experiments

Posted June 10, 2011, at 6:56 p.m.
An impromptu shore lunch while kayaking.
BDN photo by Jeff Strout
An impromptu shore lunch while kayaking.

As I unloaded my kayak from the roof of the van, pulled safety gear from its bags and life jacket and spray skirt from their hangers, I couldn’t help but think how ritualistic going for a paddle is.

Over the years I’ve developed a routine to get ready to go onto the water, as well as one for getting off the water and packing up to go home. Now, it’s a mental checklist ingrained from so many outings. Still, each time I head out, I take a moment or two and go over the “list” to be sure I don’t wind up at the put-in without a vital piece of equipment — say, a paddle? Or life jacket? Or spray skirt? I know I have left each of those items at home once in my explorations.

Usually I have a backup, but once, I think it was the personal floatation device that somehow didn’t make it. I drove the 8 miles home and retrieved it, then back to the lake. I was so upset with myself I nearly abandoned the outing, but the stubborn side of me said I was going to go for a paddle. I did. It took about 15 minutes on the water to stop berating myself for stupidly not checking before I left home.

There are a host of distractions inevitable when there’s a throng at the launch site. My goal is to not bop someone on the head getting my boat off the car and over to the launch site with everything I intend to take along. Last Sunday afternoon the lake was especially busy.

The boat launch was wall-to-wall, and the beach area at Gould Landing on Pushaw Lake was thronged. Grills spewed hamburger smoke and squeals and Frisbees filled the air. On the water, personal watercraft buzzed about like gnats and motorboats (emphasis on motors) roared to and fro. So much for a peaceful paddle.

Earlier in the day I had decided that on this outing I would make something to eat on one of the few sandy shores I frequent — pesky mosquitoes be darned. So I brought along a small alcohol stove, a cook pot, some water, a small fold-up table, one of those Lipton side dishes in an envelope and my Crazy Creek chair. (My mental checklist had grown.)

These items got stowed in the kayak, I slipped on my spray skirt and PFD and waddled across the grassy area, boat in hand, to an open piece of shore that no one was using at the moment. Finally, on the water.

In the meantime my paddling partner, Robert Causey, had his canoe launched and was waiting out on the water for me to catch up. Canoeists have it so easy — put on a PFD, step in, paddle off.

We headed away from the beach and east to Moose Island, leaving behind the noise and confusion of Gould Landing. At the northern end of the island we parted company, Causey heading south back to his vehicle and an appointment; me north to a small sand and gravel beach about a mile away where I knew I could stop and fix a meal undisturbed.

Part of that stop would be to satisfy the dinnertime urge to eat, the other to experiment with the alcohol burner and stove I recently purchased. It’s a Trangia Westwind that weighs about a half-pound fueled. A windscreen would make it more efficient and add a couple or more ounces.

Trangia burners are not barn burners, but they get the job done fuel efficiently, and their selling points, for me, are fuel storage and the ability to simmer a meal. It takes 7 or 8 minutes to boil 2 cups of water, and with the simmer ring I was able to cook the Lipton Asian noodles for another 8 or 9 minutes without sticking them too badly to the pot or burning them (stirring every minute or so helped). For me, that was success.

I leaned back in the Crazy Creek gingerly tasting the hot noodles and watching loons catch their supper. No one in the city was enjoying dinner al fresco as much as I at that moment.

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