Sunday, November 28, 2010

Updates: Excuses, Buoy, Castle Rock, Blog

As the sun goes down, ice crystals begin to grow on the surface of the river
Excuses: “It’s too hot”… “It’s uncomfortable”… “I’m not paddling anywhere dangerous”…. “I’ll stay close to shore.” It’s not a pretty thing when excuses that I've heard from those who don’t want to wear lifejackets play back from inside my head. It’s all about the drysuit. I’ve thought about buying a drysuit since I saw the “I Shouldn’t be Alive” episode about two kayakers crossing Rosario Strait, (which I was a little embarrassed to see was first shown in 2005. ) It was obvious that a drysuit well outperforms a wetsuit in cold water. I’ve actually had a drysuit for a couple of years. But I’ve never worn it. The story in the August Sea Kayaker about Randy Morgart falling into a river on a warm, calm, winter day reminded me how weak my excuses really were, particularly by late November. Plus this year I’ve had all the good examples of folks wearing drysuits showing up in blogs. So, those of you wondering if being a good example has any pay off, I’ll confirm yes, you’ve done your good deed for the year.

It's a misty day, so it must be above freezing
I’ve cut some rings off the neck of my drysuit, but nothing at the wrists, even though the gasket it a little tight, especially on my left wrist. I figure the neck can just be snug as opposed to tight, since I plan to keep my head well above water, but that excuse doesn’t apply to the wrists. I’ve gotten larger boots to accommodate the feet. And it’s been pretty comfortable. I hope to stick to my good intentions come spring, with its warm air and cold water.

Buoys: This is a picture of a buoy on the Penobscot taken Saturday.

It’s depressingly not a different buoy than it was this summer. I now suspect that the buoys are not changed out annually. Eventually I will get the final answer.  And look - by Dec 4 they were in place.

Castle Rock: I’ve discovered that Castle Rock can be viewed from the Orrington Picnic Area, which is about one mile south of Center Road along route 15. I suspect that the picnic area is closed for the winter, and Castle Rock does lose something when viewed from over a quarter mile away, but it is there.

Castle Rock as viewed from Orrington
Also, Friday as we paddled by I spotted a raccoon slinking away on the ledge. As I sat in my boat regretting that missed photo opportunity, a second raccoon followed behind it, then a third! Just like clowns from a clown car they kept appearing from this nothing little indent, until at last there was only this final raccoon, head down hanging out on the ledge.
Not much of the snoozing raccoon shows
Blog: Paddling less means more time working on other projects, including the blog. I’ve redone some of the pages, and added some links to the right. One, which appears as just a tiny link is to Paddling Planet. That’s a fun site which accumulates sea kayaking blogs from around the world. Gnarlydog, and A Whole Bunch of Ings posts appear there; and it’s a handy way to track them. The other links to the Outdoor Blogger Network , a site working to accumulate links to outdoor themed blogs. Many of the blogs there are currently fishing and hunting blogs, but there are categories for ecological, paddling, nature photography, hiking and more. That’s another fun place to spend some time. I often look through the photography blogs, and I enjoy Belfast Bushcraft, whose efforts at bushcraft remind me that you don’t have to be an expert to have fun and create something useful. And I can’t help but hope that lots more paddlers show up there.

Daily Paddles:

Mark takes a moment to free his release strap of ice
Daily paddles are fewer. We’re approaching our temperature limits, it gets harder to keep the hands and feet warm, and without nimble fingers, I’m not interested in paddling. In addition, ice is showing up on the Penobscot, and though it looks attractive in small clusters, it is decidedly less so in major sheets.

Mark has lifted some newly formed ice
And finally, my work hours are increasing. January through February I expect to work six days a week, and though I love my job, that does eat into the available daylight. So, every paddle may be our last, and those paddles we do take will be close to shore (and with a drysuit).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Calkin's Castle/Castle Rock

About the same time I came across the postcard with the steamboat on it, I found this postcard on Ebay.
It was a postcard of the river that I'd never seen before, and the rock was very familiar to me, though I knew it by a different name, Calkin’s Castle. It’s a soaring bold rock.
On the postcard they've colored over much of the rock with pale green
It’s always received a lot of attention from me, since that fall day I paddled by and found a porcupine hanging out on the rock.
Note the tide line.
I wasn’t sure if the porcupine was caught by the tide, or trying to bask in the limited sunlight.
Same shot, trimmed
I learned the name of the rock from Burpee Calkin, a nonagenarian who is one of Hampden’s treasures. He had a smelting license and was often out tending his nets when we paddled by. Though he is hard of hearing, he was very outgoing and shared with us tales of smelting. He also showed us a path, worn away to a narrow strip, which was once a road he’d used to cart ice up from the Penobscot. He’s lived through when the Penobscot was clean enough to be world renowned for its ice, through the heavily polluted years and is again seeing the river’s renaissance.

There are indents under the rock, though not properly a cave.
Looking upstream at Calkin's Castle

Looking downstream at the cliff
The tale printed on the card is plainly nonsense. When Hampden became a town, the Penobscot Indians already had an established settlement, Old Town. They traveled down the river to summer on Penobscot Bay, often in the Castine area. They traveled back up in the fall, sending the hunters to the North woods in winter. When the rivers reopened in the spring the hunters built canoes of moose skin and paddled back. The Penobscot were known as canoeing experts. They would have known the river better than anyone.

I wondered if the Braggons may have been early settlers. I did not find their name in Hampden Historical Sketches, but I thought I’d drop by Calkin’s Farm Stand, and see if they had heard the name.

Calkin’s Farm Stand is a familiar name in the area, open May through December, providing flowering plants and vegetables in spring, fresh vegetables through the summer, mums, apples, cider and more in the fall and Christmas greens in December. I spoke with Janice, Burpee’s daughter.
She’d never heard of the Braggons either, and she felt I may have been led a bit astray, that the proper name for the rock was Castle Rock.
That’s the term referred to in the interview stored at the UMaine Folklife Center.
"Castle Rock" - you may have heard that before. It is the name of the Maine town which was first used by Stephen King in the Dead Zone and was also the setting for his short story, the Body. After the Body became the hit movie, Stand By Me, Rob Reiner took the name Castle Rock for his production company.
Castle Rock, as written about by Stephen King, is not Hampden. On his own map Stephen King places Castle Rock in Oxford County. There’s no record of where Stephen King got the name, though some note there is a Castle Hill in Aroostook County.
But there is another option. Stephen King was a teacher at Hampden Academy in the early 70’s, and Janice says Burpee talked to him about local names and legends.

In either case, its a magnificant cliff, and you may see a porcupine there, so if you’re headed up the Penobscot River, keep an eye out for Castle Rock. The GPS Coordinates are 44° 43.277'N 68° 50.081'W.

If you’re headed down river, the old instructions remain true, Castle Rock is the second point below the (no longer existent) Hampden Wharf.
Left arrow, second point, Castle Rock, Right arrow by the yellowish grass is the old wharf location
And if you’re driving down Route 1A, be sure to stop in at Calkin’s Farm Stand for wonderful plants and local produce.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The more things change....

I sometimes look at postcards of the Penobscot River on Ebay trying to guess the site, and see how things have changed. That's what I was doing two weeks ago when I came across this postcard.
This shows a steamer traveling up the Penobscot River, presumably to Bangor. The postmark on the rear of the card is 1912. In the foreground is a ramp and a dock. I suspect that's on a point of land which hosted a small town park in the early 1900's. Old photos I've seen in Historical Sketches, Hampen Maine, by the Hampden Historical Society show a covered pavilion back in the woods on the point. Currently there is nothing there except a level spot, and honestly, I'm not sure it's still town land. Now at the top of the page I've positioned myself roughly in the same spot the photographer had. But that's not what caused me to buy the postcard. Many postcards of the Penobscot River feature the Hampden Narrows, the high bluff to the left. What caused me to buy the postcard was this picture, taken just a month earlier on a Sunday morning paddle and posted on the 1000 mile blog.

We hadn't headed out that morning expecting to see the Patience, but there it was, a scene nearly identical to one taken 98 years earlier.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Castine – Late Season

When we heard that temperatures would be in the 60’s on Saturday, we knew we’d want to be paddling. Some place calm, which wouldn’t test my limits. Our choice: Castine.
Launch 10AM, finish 12:30, low 10AM
In the fall, Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) dominates Castine. A home football game was scheduled, and half the streets seemed to be in the process of being repaved. The town was a maze of orange cones, a process which continued at the dock, where multiple spots were blocked off.
I looked for familiar signs which stated the dock allowed four hour parking after October, and wasn’t able to find any. Maybe that policy has been revoked and the three hour limit applies all year.
MMA weren’t the only boats on the water, but they were the majority, and on this weekend they all seemed to be still.
The State of Maine, tug Pentagoet, and polar schooner Bowdoin, and other MMA boats neatly berthed
I was surprised to see sea stars in the water, not just small sea stars but large ones, close to a foot across. If you’d asked me I would have thought that they headed to deeper water for the winter. But these were hanging out under the docks; I took a few shots, which came out as blurry pink blobs.
Seaweed on Holbrook Island displaying fall coloration
Our route took us down the town side, around the corner by the lighthouse on Dyce’s Head, then back to cross by can 1.
There were only a few boats out, however one was racing along testing its upper speed, so we wanted to minimize our crossing time.
A simple loop around Holbrook Island, admiring the blue green outcroppings which dominate the south west shores.
Castle Rock at the southern tip of Holbrook,  Isleboro is the low land, Camden hills in the distance
The blue green of the rocks seems muted here.
A longer stop on an outside beach to enjoy the day. A seal swam by, popping up just once.
An underwater shot, with no barnacles open
Then back into the harbor. A pod of harbor porpoises surfaced by the north edge of Holbrook. We waited to see them again, and even paddled along the north side of Nautilus in the hopes that they might have gone there, without any luck.
It was a gorgeous peaceful day. Off in the distance cannons and rowdy cheers indicated the MMA Mariners were having a successful game as well. (though they wound up losing in a last minute upset)
Coming back into a tidy harbor, the boat is the reasearch vessel, the Argo

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reflections on the Week

 Monday - No Paddle, rain and Mark had a sore back.
Tuesday - Warm but misty, ordinary paddle, gathered a lot of trash. Saw the Pentagoet, the Maine Maritime Academy tug, working the Penobscot for the first time this fall.
Wednesday - Gray, windy 15-20 mph, temperature low 40's. Exciting wet paddle in the wind and waves. Wet suits and multiple shirts, wind block gloves, fleece hats, boots.
Thursday - Bright, wind 10-15 mph, temperature mid 40's. Broke out the drysuits. Drysuits were too warm, had to turn back because the neck was still too tight. (Drysuit is closeout purchased in a prior year, and spent at least a month being stretched about a maple syrup jug.) Trimmed the neck. Clearly, getting a comfortable drysuit will take more testing.
Friday - Back to wetsuits. Cool, but still. A long paddle from Hamlin Marina in Hampden. Launched at low, which was still quite high, heading south. Fought the current all the way back, but the reflections were striking. (All photos from Friday, except the Pentagoet from Thursday) 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dilemma in a Bottle

Rivers move and carry things out of sight. Childhood stories like “Paddle to the Sea” by Holling C Holling and the tale of Poohsticks from the House at Pooh Corner captivate us. So it really should be no surprise that rivers, by accident or intent, are trash magnets.

On our daily paddles Mark and I often gather trash, hoping to spare the garbage gyres in the Atlantic a few more members. And we’re entertained by some things that we find. Recently we found a message in a bottle, with a return address indicating it had traveled several hundred miles. It also asked that we refer to 25,802 when we responded.
“You don’t suppose that means there have been that many bottle released?” Mark asked.

“No way, ” I responded with misplaced assurance.

Surprise, surprise, Mark was right. BR (Bottle Researcher) has released close to 26,000 messages in bottles (both plastic and glass) since 1972. BR has made these releases when BR travels, so the bottle we found came not from hundreds of miles away, but a few miles upstream.

So, now as we paddle we can’t help but think that we need to gather two bottles just to make up for BR’s actions. And that leads to my dilemma: should we attempt to stop the flow?

On the one hand, BR is a very organized person with 53 books recording bottles released. It seems like a rewarding hobby for BR, who mentions several found across the Atlantic and one by a Princess.

And finding a message in a bottle is entertaining.

On the other hand 90% of the bottles released were not found, or no information came back on them, they are just trash. We pull maybe 5 bags of trash out of the river each year; this is the equivalent wiping out several years of our efforts. The missing plastic bottles are slowly leaching contaminants into the ocean.

BR uses glass bottles as well, but glass bottles aren’t perfect either. The missing glass bottle could be making sea glass, which every visitor to Maine seeks, or they could be slicing unprotected bare feet.
Some trash waiting to get up the hill.  Almost no one releases balloons with messages anymore; should the same be true for bottles?

Durhamblogger carries a special container to help him remove and dispose of lost fishing gear. Baffinpaddler has links to the Ottawa Riverkeepers and David Suzuki’s page. Many kayakers and outdoor enthusiasts adhere to Leave no Trace. Trashpaddler – a recent discovery- devotes his paddling to cleaning rivers in Massachusetts and keeps records of his recoveries.

What do you think about messages in bottles? Are they magical conveyances from far off, or a misguided intrusion on the landscape?

Does your answer change if the bottle was placed by an 8 year old? By a class of 8 year olds? If BR finds bottles by the water and rereleases them? If the number was in base 34? (I can’t help but think bottle MAU wouldn’t raise as many concerns.)
Today was a big haul

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Foggy Paddle

These photos are from the paddle which finished our 1000 miles on Oct 28. It’s a trip we’ve made before, do you recognize it?
It was on water salt enough to support seaweed. We’d see enough if we made no crossings, so the fog didn’t deter us.
Our first several miles were south against tide and slight wind, neither creating any real problems. The coast line was muted, but some color peeked through.
We paddled to the tip of land, in part because it made determining our location on the chart that much easier.
Gazebo in the mist, at the southern tip
Then we paddled back to a bump on the shore line, and debated crossing.

Mark piloting intently, I love how the trees fade out even across the width of the beach
 On our entire southbound paddle, we’d heard only one boat go by. The crossing was a little over half a mile to a ledge. We couldn’t see the ledge, but it seemed like a great opportunity to practice navigation, so we set out at 240 degrees (first listening intently for any motors.)
A few minutes later the ledge became visible; right on target!
To the left a harbor seal peeks around a rock. To the right a gray seal plans to linger on the rock until the incoming tide tickles its nose.
At that point we headed south to Buoy 6.
We finished the crossing west to the far shore, about a quarter of a mile more. Visibility was such that from the buoy only the tips of the tree tops were visible.
Then we rode with the wind and current, guessing, correctly, that as we headed north visibility would improve (as the trees and land caught the fog.)
Here the major landmark for the paddle comes into view.
And much more clearly:
As we hoped the fog was less there. In addition the crossing is narrower and boats would be slowing to avoid the bridge piers.
All in all a great paddle. The fog was heavily localized that day, by the time we drove by Marsh Stream the sky had brightened to blue, and though it was well past peak, I was utterly amazed at the variety of colors displayed before me, tans, taupe, browns, greens and yellows.
So where we were? Bucksport (or Verona Island) to Oran Ledge, though since it’s the base of the Penobscot River, that’s a fair guess as well.
This is a nice shot of the two bridges in the fog.

Basics: Low 8:50AM, launch 9:30, finish 12:30 11.5 miles. Launch from boat ramp off route 1, Verona Island. Lots of parking, no facilities.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What's That in the River?

This morning gave several opportunities to play "What's that in the river?"
This first object was inert, white and gray covered in fur or feathers. 
I approached it with some trepidation.
But it turns out it was just a stuffed animal, which seemed to merit the title Barfy the Bear.
Mark regrets having slowed enough for me to catch up to him
Second was a mover, which generally means a bird, beaver or seal.
We tried to get close enough to see and it moved even faster, in a straight line across the river, never ducking under water or flying away.
Perhaps you recognize it in the top shot; a deer. 
Soon it arrived safely on the far side, and though it slipped back down, on the second attempt made it up the steep slope.
I knew deer could swim, but I never realized how fast they were.  I would give that deer an easy 3 knot speed.