Monday, August 12, 2013

Escaping the Masses and Madness when on Vacation: Paddling Cherry Grove N. Myrtle Beach

How to go from THIS: 
To THIS in Myrtle Beach, SC 
 Do you ever find yourself on "family vacation" fighting for beach space, waiting in lines of traffic, wondering where the hordes of people are all COMING from? Myrtle Beach SC is famous, people travel from all over the country and the world to enjoy its 64 miles of coastline. Growing up in the South, it was a big deal to go to Myrtle Beach but now as an adult, the glamour of it has faded. I'd rather be on an isolated beach somewhere, in my tent, perhaps on the Outer Banks. But every now and then you may find yourself on a crowded beach on a crowded highway with the masses and madness. What's a wanderlust nature lover to do?

There's good news! If you are willing to do a little investigating, you can escape the masses and madness and it's usually just a short drive away. Believe me, the locals know where the quiet, secret places are, the places they escape from the hordes that descend upon them every summer season. A few years ago I went to the local West Marine store to gather information about the area and stopped by the local market to buy a chart and ask about danger areas for kayakers. Information really IS power. The local woman I spoke with shared with me that there is a beach that the tide will flood and you will get stranded, years ago a Dr. and his son got caught on that beach at high tide and they drowned, the beach is called Tillman (not sure of spelling) Beach. She also warned me not to get into the Hog Inlet proper (the actual narrow channel leading out into the ocean) because when the tide goes out, it will suck you out and people die there. Good to know.  Now, several years later, this information that was filed away has proved invaluable as I fulfill a long time desire to paddle Cherry Grove. You see, my husband's parents are from the Myrtle Beach area so that's how we end up at MB every few years. But for us wilderness junkies, there IS hope for you to escape to nature no matter where find yourself.

So what are some things  you may need to know if you want to paddle Cherry Grove? The launch is at 53rd Ave., it's a public launch with no fee. You can paddle your own boat, rent one from a local outfitter/guide, or pay a little extra for a group guided tour (highly suggest a guide unless you are very experienced, carry a paddle float, pump, and know how to use them and have practiced rescues, there are no beaches in the marsh to get out on land and back in!). One of our GO WOW'ers used a local guide recently :Great Escapes and had good things to report about them. I suggest you use a reputable guide and ask them about TIDE, WIND, WEATHER. A good guide will share with you the best times to go out and what your paddle back in will be like. A bad guide won't know how to answer your questions or will blow them off.

Launching from the very busy public boat launch, I headed South (took a left) and went into the right creek looking for backwater and removal from the hustle and bustle of vacationers. Immediately the sounds of the throngs of people and cars drifted away behind me and I started hearing the marsh insects, sea birds and fish jumping out of the water. An osprey hovers above me looking for prey, he makes his unique call and my body starts to relax as I smile and realize I am already being immersed in the original personality of this area.The weather called for a 14 mph Southwesterly wind in the afternoon but this morning I am enjoying a gentle breeze from the south at high tide. It's so important in coastal environments to know the tidal schedule and the wind. Those two elements coupled together can make your trip heaven or hell. I knew from Marty (local guide I spoke with) that my trip back would be a pleasurable float with the wind at my back and the tide going out, taking me back to my launch. But before I paddle too far way, I take a good look at the shoreline and imprint points of reference into my brain; a round water tower, an osprey nest, a red metal roof, a blue metal roof. These will help me return with ease. Just as when you are utilizing a parking garage you have to really pay attention to where you are parked to find your way back, it's the same with paddling,  really pay attention to where you launched from, scan the horizon and  look for landmarks, big ones then smaller ones. Utilize a map, compass, gps, whatever your tools of choice are to make sure you know how to get back. Marty assured me I wouldn't get lost in the marshes, but from experience, I knew to scan the horizon and get my bearings before getting too far out.

These folks didn't get too far. I was already out of the water and they were trying to paddle upwind and against the tide. Didn't work too well for them, they gave up and got out. 
I start to focus on all that my senses are taking in and start separating the human sounds from the natural sounds, and once again have the thought that I really hate leaf blowers and will never own one. Resting  in the marsh grasses, focusing on the natural world around me, smelling the salty sea air, hearing the constant welcoming drone of the marsh bugs, the sea birds calling, fish splashing, leaping, and when they are really close, my heart leaping with them.  My mind starts to wander and I hear a far away hammer driving a nail into wood, it takes me back to fond memories of building my pony's stable with my dad at eleven years old, and the satisfaction one gets of driving a nail into wood and bringing two pieces together to build something. I miss that feeling and decide to build something with my son when we get home, maybe a bird house.  I smile with gratefulness as I recognize that this is one of the reasons that escaping to nature is so addicting, so uplifting, because it releases your mind, relaxes your spirit to dream, to THINK, to remember, to FEEL. It's hard or impossible at times to gain this release without removing ourselves from the rest of the ever increasingly frantic world.

I encourage you on your next vacation where you find yourself perhaps not in the wilderness setting you'd rather be in, to make a concerted effort and FIND the original, local personality of the area before all the high rises, before all the tourist traps were built, it's still there, somewhere, and the locals know about it, just reach out and you will discover your local adventure. If the #2 beach destination in America still has quiet places to escape to, then anywhere you find yourself does as well.
My next Myrtle Beach destination for a future trip, paddling the Waccamaw River......hey, a girl's gotta have goals. LOL.

Happy Paddling!

A little Cherry Grove history:
In 1735, the colonial government formally opened the North Myrtle Beach area for settlement. King George III granted Land in the Cherry Grove area to John Alston. Several tales surround the development of this area from President George Washington's tour to the South in 1791, which he used thisChicora Indians Tilghman Resort route to find lodging in the North Myrtle Beach area. Upon this trip, it is said that Washington tied his horse to a young oak tree. Supposedly today, that tree still tilts westward. In an entry in George Washington's diary, he talks about crossing the "Waggamau." The Waccamaw is a coastal river that adds much to the history of the community. In 1924, the Nixon family subdivided Cherry Grove, drawing its name from an early plantation in the area and for a native tree. Charles T. Tilghman and members of his family developed the community in 1948 and in 1959, Cherry Grove was incorporated with Tilghman Estates lying between both the newly-founded town and Ocean Drive. Since then, the area surrounding the estates have flourished, hosting some of the nations most regarded golf courses and beaches, ranking the Myrtle Beach area second as the country's favorite beach destination Info. from: .

Friday, June 28, 2013

Laying the Foundation for Paddling Stronger: Cardiovascular Training Part II

by Stephen Knight

In the previous entry we began laying the groundwork for improving paddling fitness by ranking the changes in breathing due increased effort.  These changes were listed on a 1 to 10 scale to produce the Rated Perceived Exertion (RPE) Table.  We then assigned Training Zones (TZ) to the RPE scale in the second table as an abbreviated way of describing our efforts in order to train consistently. A benefit of using the RPE-TZ Table is that there’s no instrumentation – you are the “on-board computer”.

That’s not to say a Heart Rate Monitor  (HRM) isn’t useful, but it only generates numbers if you don’t know what’s driving them. Beats per minute (BPM) become useful when they’re coupled with the physiologic responses to increased effort like those described in the RPE Table.  This correlation lets us  devise fairly accurate TZs based on BPM at levels of exertion up to RPE 8.  Beyond that level of effort it’s not possible to determine an accurate lactate threshold and maximum heart rate outside of controlled testing conditions. Each person’s heart rate and response to exertion will be unique due to age, conditioning, state of rest, and innate physiology. That kind of precision is a lot more in-depth than we need.  For now, the RPE-TZ table and a sports watch are all that are needed.

Before getting started with any performance training,  meet with your physician for an objective evaluation of your overall health to ensure there aren’t any underlying conditions you need to know about, especially as we get older.  Read  Furthermore, you need to establish a baseline to measure improvements over time.  You can expect positive changes in your health with consistent training. 

Time to get started.  Let’s assume that you fall into one of two groups, the first being relatively untrained and paddle infrequently or at a low intensity.  If this is the case and your goal is to improve your aerobic endurance then you’ve got to spend more time paddling outside of your comfort zone.

According to the RPE –TZ table, that’s going to require paddling at RPE 3-4 / TZ 2, where your effort is hard enough to make conversation difficult or in mostly short, broken sentences.  These are the long, steady sessions lasting one to four hours with few if any rest stops.  Start with 30 minutes to one hour at this level of paddling at least two times a week; more often will bring faster improvements. Keep extending your paddling at the same intensity until you literally feel that you can paddle all day.  Be patient, it could take several weeks before it gets easier and the full benefits may not be apparent for a month or longer. Can’t get out on the water as often as you’d like? You can get much the same benefit from cycling, running or swimming at the same RPE.  Personally, I encourage running or jogging on trails because in addition to an aerobic workout (yes, it’s OK to walk the hills), the uneven terrain improves your sense of balance and awareness while in motion.

If you fall into the second group where the goal is to improve speed and long-distance endurance then the intensity has to increase. A lot. Training must continue to build aerobic conditioning as well as adapt paddle specific muscles to long periods of endurance. 

There are two thoughts on how to achieve this goal, the first being to paddle at RPE 5 or TZ 3 for long steady efforts lasting one or more hours. At this level of effort your breathing is heavy but limited conversation is still possible.  Rest periods, if any, are kept very short. For many paddlers this level of conditioning is good enough but it can come up short if you are challenged by weather, currents or a heavily loaded kayak.

The second approach is where the effort is harder but the rewards are greater. You can expect substantial changes in endurance and power. Extended intervals at RPE 6-7/TZ4 will push your muscles to a point where they are just below the point of having sufficient oxygen to perform efficiently. This is the sub-lactate threshold, and training at this level may take 6-12 weeks before you see the benefits, assuming you have good aerobic fitness to start with.

Here’s an interval workout that takes a little over an hour. Warm up thoroughly for 15-30 minutes emphasizing good forward stroke form, leaving the socializing and skills practice for later. The first interval is 12 minutes at RPE 6-7 /TZ4. Your breathing will quickly become very deep and hard - talking will not be something you want to do, but you still can. This is not a sprint or all out effort. Your goal is to be able to complete the entire 12 minutes in the training zone.  Recovery! Three minutes of easy paddling. Now go again at the same high intensity for 10 minutes and recover for 2.5 minutes. Repeat for 8 minutes and recover for 2 minutes.  See a pattern? Now go for 6 minutes and recover for 1.5 minutes.  Last one, go for 4 minutes and cool down. You’re done for this session.  Interval workouts like this can be done two to three times a week as long as you allow 1-2 days of recovery time between sessions.

If at anytime you feel faint, or your breathing doesn’t seem to slow down when you let up, then stop.  You’re not ready for this level of workout.  Drop back to the RPE 5/TZ 3 workouts for several weeks before trying the higher intensity workout again. 

 “I don’t know. All of this sounds too much like race training”.  Well, you’re right. It is race training. However, your body doesn’t know the difference between competing in a race and paddling in challenging conditions. Skip even the least amount of conditioning and eventually fatigue leads to being left behind or you risk developing an injury. Those are reasons enough to incorporate some “race training” into your paddling.

Thanks for reading my blog entry for the Carolina Kayak Club.  I’ve been engaged in a number of outdoor activities for most all of my life as a participant and instructor. When not competing in trail running, bicycle and kayak races, I’m a USA Canoe and Kayak Team Paracanoe Coach and work with the Bridge-II-Sports Foundation for Adaptive Sports as the Parakayak Racing Club coach.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Forward Momentum; Cutting the Brake Lines

One of the greatest assets of a kayak over other forms of human powered vessels is the kayaks' efficiency in the water. The human that is paddling the kayak however, needs to be proficient in forward momentum skills and corrective steering maneuvers in order for the kayak to work in the manner in which it was created 4,000 years ago. It was created to be a fast, stealthy, efficient hunting machine. Oh, don't be fooled, we still hunt from our kayaks, some of us are hunting certain bird species, the elusive river otter or beaver, or chasing other forms of wildlife. Perhaps we are hunting MONSTER fish, or we are hunting that amazing sunset, sunrise, or special get away place where we feel complete peace or maybe that isolated campsite that you can only reach by water. Yes, we still hunt from them for sure, the targets may be just a bit different now.

We all aspire to work on our efficiency and endurance, which allows us to go farther therefore experiencing more. When teaching new paddlers or even veteran paddlers from time to time, helping them learn to master efficient forward momentum is one of the most challenging tasks I encounter. Some paddlers tend to consistently revert back to "putting on the brakes" to turn their boats, which forces the paddler to "re-start their engine" to get going again in forward motion. This takes a lot of energy. This morning after taking my son to basketball camp for the day,  I was driving in "rush hour traffic" and noticed that as I accelerated and decelerated over and over, driving is much like paddling. When we press hard on the gas in our cars and then hit the brakes to slow down then hit the gas again, those are the actions that suck the gas right out of our gas tanks. It is the most inefficient driving time. We get the best gas mileage when out on the open road, cruise control on, at a steady pace. If you want to waste gas, we all know how to do that, stomp the gas pedal and accelerate quickly and then slam on the brakes so you can do it all over again. As we mature in our driving, we learn to drive at a more relaxed, even pace, saving energy with our cars as well as our state of mind. It's the same with sea kayaking or flat water kayaking. If we are fighting the water and trying  to accelerate too quickly, using bad form (i.e. allowing the paddle to exit past our hips), and then slam on the brakes to turn the bow of our boats (putting the paddle blade down into the water behind you to slow your boat), then we are greatly sucking the energy out of our gas tanks, our energy reserves, our muscles, and diminishing the joy of kayaking overall! Our goal should be to learn how to keep forward momentum at all times, NEVER using slowing maneuvers unless you need to stop or avoid hitting something. By utilizing skill and simple maneuvers, anyone can master maximum forward momentum. Personally, as we mature in our paddling, I believe it's something we will always be working on, always honing and perfecting. 

It is SO FUN to watch students whom I've given the "secret tips" to and all of a sudden the woman who started the class saying "this boat will not go straight no matter what I do", to paddling not only in a straight line in her 10.5 hybrid kayak, but with efficiency and a smile on her face at her unexpected success. So, CUT THOSE BRAKE LINES and be sure to work on efficient forward momentum, resist the urge to use any slowing maneuvers to turn your boat. I won't give away all the secrets, you need to master the basics before moving on the the next maneuvers anyhow, but I will give you just a couple of starter tips here to have fun working on:

1. Make sure you are showing the judges on your left your name and your number with EVERY STROKE.This ensures you are using your CORE, not your upper body. It's like a 4 cylinder vs. an 8 cylinder engine. Your CORE is the 8 cylinder engine, your arms and shoulders are the 4 cylinder and prone to sputtering or breakdowns! 
2. Be sure you are exiting the paddle at your hip, going past your hip turns your boat which causes you to exert more energy to turn your boat back on track. We would never stop our cars every time we needed to turn the wheels to make a curve, if we stopped every time we needed to steer we'd never get anywhere!
3. Keep your eyes on your target (where you are going). Not on your bow or your paddle. You will go      where you are looking and you can make quick corrective strokes/maneuvers as soon as you get off track.Keep your bow lined up with your target while looking at the target. When you were in drivers ed, remember looking just over the hood trying to look at the pavement directly in front of the car? That didn't go too well did it? You had to look BEYOND the hood and out and up. Same with paddling.
3. Use your forward sweep on the move stroke to correct your direction. Resolve to ONLY use forward maneuvers to keep forward momentum. 
4. Constantly edge your boat while continuing your forward paddling motion, the more you practice this the easier it gets. It gets downright FUN to edge while you are accelerating! Be sure to keep your eyes up while edging and on your target. You can certainly pair your edging with a forward on the move sweep stroke if you need a big correction in steering. 
5. Foot pedal your feet. When your blade catches at your feet into the water, press hard on that same foot peg. Then the same on the other side. This gives you maximum bracing and helps with forward momentum. 
6. Push/pull with your hands. The blade that is in the air, push with your top hand, and then vice versa on the other side. Keep your eyes on your target. Resist the urge to look at your hands. We tend to look at whatever skill we are focusing on but train yourself to use these skills while keeping your eyes on your target. 
7. Make sure you have warmed up and stretched before hitting the water, especially spinal twists, hip looseners, and shoulder stretches! 

I hope these tips help you with forward momentum and cutting those brake lines! It's also always a good idea to pair up with an instructor or skilled paddler and ask them to observe your skill set to give you feedback. They may be able to see how you can perform the skills even better. 

Happy paddling! 
Kay-Yoga Jo

Friday, May 10, 2013

Know Your Kayak Under the Water (part 2): Stability Applications

There are many considerations between practicality, safety and desire when we shop for a kayak.  We may look for features that empower us for a realm of high adventure, or opt for a more modest craft to spend a few blissful hours in a tranquil paradise.  Whatever we choose should have features that reach a balance between our aspirations, skills and confidence on the water.  Unfortunately, there is no high tech miracle that will deliver all these things for every paddler.  But instead a game of give and take that forces us to sacrifice coveted qualities we desire for the performance we want.  Hull design is all about tradeoffs.  But kayak designers are using some innovative techniques to seemingly cheat the laws of physics.   In part 1 of this series, we examined the merits of primary and secondary stability and learned the importance of selecting the proper measurement of each to cultivate our skills and piece of mind while considering the consequences of the trade-offs for our choices.  In this article we will examine some real kayaks and identify performance characteristics from their hull features and uncover some tricks designers are using to deliver performance while minimizing sacrificial tradeoffs.

The first kayak we will analyze is a popular recreation kayak targeting novice and casual paddlers with a bit more prowess to take them a bit beyond novice conditions: The Tsunami from Wilderness Systems is the choice of a wide range of paddlers from the very novice to intermediate and delivers a surprising performance when pressed.

A kayak that fills this role must feel comfortable and secure to paddlers whom have never paddled a kayak, and those engaged in a secondary activity like birding or fishing.  So a high degree of primary stability is required.  In exchange for this up-front stability, a substantial wetted surface must be deployed underwater to provide an adequate angle of support for a comfortable stable feel (see Fig A).   The downside to providing this comfortable stability is the substantial drag from the broader wetted hull surface in addition to instability in rough conditions from the primary stability attempting to right itself on the slope of waves.  But it is a designer's job to cheat the laws of physics anyway they can to reclaim performance.  And the designers at Wilderness Systems had a few tricks up their sleeves.

   As we saw in part 1, the theatre of battle between the forces of stability and instability plays out in the form of rotation about the longitudinal axis spaning the length of the kayak.  To remain stable, the kayak must apply righting forces in the form of an opposing torque to this axis to counter the rotational destabilizing forces much like a wrench applies torque on a bolt.  As we know, a longer wrench shaft will apply more torque on the axis.  Moving the righting force away from that axis will allow the hull's beam to be used as leverage to magnify the forces of the primary and secondary stability as illustrated in figure B.  But designers pay a high premium in wetted surface drag if they extend primary stability to the entire width of the hull.  Figure A illustrates a cross-section at the center of the hull's length where the always deployed primary stability support is consuming wetted surface (WS) area.  However, secondary stability is much less costly to the drag of the kayak as it resides undeployed at and above the waterline.  So the kayak's streamline qualities will benefit most from this leverage if secondary stability resides at the furthest distance from the center axis.  As we can see from the figures above, the designers at Wilderness Systems took a bite out of the primary stability area and lowered the secondary stability to quickly deploy when the kayak leans, taking over at the point where the center of gravity pushes the primary stability to the point of capitulation (see figure B).  We can also see the wetspace drag is reduced from this design as the wetted area is reduced.   The handoff to secondary stability will also lend more stability in waves as the destabilizing effects from primary stability are reduced.  But one drawback to locating the secondary stability this low to the water is a jump in the amount of wetted surface drag when a heavy payload makes the kayak sit lower in the water as secondary stability  sitting passively above the waterline is deployed prematurely to bolster buoyancy.
Task of lip changes to rear flotation

As noted above, righting leverage is greatest at the widest point of the kayak, which in the Tsunami is located at the mid point in the hull's length.  So all of the stabilizing magic must take place at the mid point in the length where the hull is widest.  The rest of the hull's length will play little to no part in the stability at all since the leverage possible away from the widest beam is minuscule.  Therefore the totality of the hull fore and aft of the middle is better utilized for other tasks like tracking, decreasing water drag, and providing lift above steep waves.  So the protruding lip that provides secondary stability at the widest point serves a very different purpose of providing buoyancy at he bow and stern to lift them over steep waves and prevent the ends from perling.   This lip  fore and aft also keeps water from splashing on the paddler as waves hit the kayak.  Also notice how the the designers reduced the wetted area fore and aft of the middle.  The designers also added a dome area atop the ends to increase the buoyancy of the ends to reduce the tendency of periling into the waves.  The pointed tops allow the ends to cut to the surface of the wave quickly if they perl without shoveling the water.  These robust design measures at the ends is needed to overcome the lack of rocker the designers sacrificed to put more of the hull's waterline length to work in the water.  As we see later, a rocker design is for waves beyond the targeted market for this kayak, so the designers properly passed on a rocker design.   But they saw the need to bolster the ends to provide a capacity for waves, and this is one of the surprise competencies of the Tsunami.

The Gemini from Valley is an entirely different kayak designed for paddlers with a more advanced skill set.  As such, the designers opted to create a hull at the other end of the tradeoff spectrum to provide more performance and less initial stability, delegating the task of stability to the paddler's skill set.   However, the laws of physics stood directly in the path of their objectives.  They wanted to design a kayak nimble enough to play in the surf and be competent for long distance expeditions.  However, these two objectives put the designers at opposite ends of some significant tradeoffs of the hull design.  A single solution was not possible as these two objectives are irreconcilable without severely diluting their desired specialized performance.  So the designers decided to start from a common base design and spin off two distinct kayaks: the Gemini SP for surf play and the Gemini ST for for sport touring.  For the benefit of our discussion, we will examine the design of both of these kayaks in broader detail to understand the choices the designers faced and the implications on the stability of both kayaks.

Gemini SP underside with peeked keel and sidecut
The Gemini SP by Valley is a surf zone play boat, designed to be nimble in the surf and turn effectively when put on edge.  It is not designed for a comfortable ride over long straight distances for hours on end.  It will smash through opposing waves and surf high atop their crest.  In a surf environment,  primary stability is not needed or desired as we know primary stability will erroneously attempt to right the kayak sideways on sloped surfaces, which is never a good thing.   However, secondary stability is much more desired since it carries a delayed reaction and deploys much deeper into the lean, so a wave will pass before secondary stability can attempt to right the kayak on a slope.  Secondary stability will also protect the paddler form a capsize while edging the kayak and leaning into a wave while side-surfing. Tracking is not as important as turning for a surf zone play boat since it must react quickly and need not hold a straight course for very long.  So the designers created a short 14' 10" (452 cm) kayak with a lot of rocker to turn when on edge and stay above the waves with an upward orientated bow and stern.  However, the tradeoff to this rocker design does not allow the load to be dispersed over the length of the hull, resulting in a hull that concentrates the load at the cockpit.  A necessary sacrifice for the the high degree of coveted rocker.   Normally, the laws of physics would be unkind to such a design as the sagging cockpit would plow the water causing significant drag.   But the designers at Valley were not ready to give up on the kayak's prowess on smoother water.  After all, the goal was to create two similar kayaks for different purposes with similar characteristics.  To make the Gemini SP snappy as well as nimble, they needed to streamline the wetted surface beneath the cockpit to reduce drag.  And the only way to do this was to add buoyancy at the keel with a steep peaked bottom to reduce wetted surface by boosting the kayak a little higher from the keel.   To further reduce the wetted surface area the designers gave it hard chines with a cut-out similar to what we saw in the Tsunami (visible in the picture below).  The picture below also shows a benefit in the substantial amount of secondary stability in reserve above the waterline.  The tradeoff for all this is a reduced primary stability which is not desired in a surf playboat, resulting in an initially unstable feeling kayak that novices would find unsettling, but a high performer for its playground in the surf.

Gemini SP rides high with its rocker and ample sec stability
With less wetted surface the Gemini SP shows surprising speed for this type of kayak.  I was surprised one day on the lake when a friend in his Gemini SP was able to keep up with my Epic 18x on a casual cruise on a calm lake.  Claims that Valley highly touts in their promotional material.  

As a touring kayak, the Gemini ST sports tourer is designed for covering distances over calmer waters and provide the paddler with a more comfortable experience on the water over a longer span of time.  It is the same length of its twin the SP.   A touring kayak must be more efficient and minimize drag.   Given its very different mission, the ST has much less rocker, letting it disperse its load over the length of the kayak so it rides higher with less wetted surface drag.  The tradeoff is a less nimble kayak that does not edge as well and tends to perl into steep oncoming waves.   Unlike its twin, the ST does not need hard chines or a high peeked keel.  For its mission, the designers have given it softer chines with a flatter, low peaked bottom for more primary stability, but not too much, but allows the paddler to take a break, fish, shoot pictures, or relax without the unstable feeling of its twin the SP.   But the designers at Valley similarly did not want to give up on the nimbleness of the ST.  Without the high peeked bottom and the large cut out of the side, the designers had the luxury to bring down the sides of the hull closer to the water for a faster, more responsive secondary stability with a small cut for efficiency.  These curved sides will also lend some nimbleness to this rocker-less design when edging by putting a curve on the water (see part 3 of this series).  But the lack of rocker leaves the ST more susceptible to perl into sharp waves.  Often, manufacturers will compensate by adding more buoyancy to the bow and stern as we see in the SP.  But unlike its twin, the designers  remained true to their objective and sacrificed the surf readiness flotation volume at the ends for reduced drag and the efficiency of a more streamlined design.

So despite the very diverse performance objectives of the Valley Gemini designers, they created two kayaks rather than one to tackle an impossible spectrum of kayak performance goals in a truly unique way.  The complexity of these solutions underscores the value of hull design knowledge so we are able to understand and make intelligent choices from the abundance of sophisticated technology available.  Practically, we can only test a few kayaks on the water in far from ideal conditions.  We have seen how designers make significant tradeoffs to obtain their performance objectives.  But the motive that drives many kayak designers is to create a kayak that will fetch broad appeal so the company can monetize a successful product.  For other designers, its a labor of love they hope to monetize.  But the desires of a paddler lends purpose to a kayak as a tool leveraged to seek a path to their bliss and dreams.  Ideally, the paddler will seek the the empowering technology they need, grow into its characteristics, and find confidence to carry on to the next level.  A tall task for products of broad appeal.  But as paddlers we have choices and the ability to obtain knowledge of the science that goes into these more specialized and capable craft.  As for any endeavor no matter the discipline, the right tool is needed for the task.

In part 3 we will examine elements of hull design related to tracking and edging then dive into the hydrodynamics of skegs and directional hull features.

Copyright 2013 Lyman Copps

Friday, April 26, 2013

Laying the Foundation for Paddling Stronger: Cardiovascular Training Part I

By Stephen Knight

We’ve all seen a paddler quickly glide by seemingly with little effort and know it’s because of the hours of hard training.  Your second thought is “my interests are touring and enjoying the water, not going fast”.  However, that thought quickly fades when you lag further behind your group of friends or can’t cover the distance they can. “I paddle a lot but I’m still slow. How come?” The answer is not the amount you paddle, but the how.

     Let’s start with the “how”. Without using a heart rate monitor, we can get a good estimate on your level of exertion by how you’re breathing or the Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE).  Using a 1 to 10 scale with 1 being the easiest, we can see that most recreational paddlers stay within an RPE of 1, 2 or 3. Beyond that, the ability to continue at a higher RPE is very limited.  What’s more, it’s going to take a few minutes or longer to recover from a higher effort.

     Now that we’ve established a way to gauge our effort while paddling, what does that tell us about what is going on within our bodies?

     Taking a cue from our breathing, we can divide our response to exertion into five distinct levels and call them Heart Rate Zones. Each Zone is the body’s response to a diminishing availability of oxygen to the working muscles.  At this point a heart rate monitor would be useful as a means to precisely measure our response to working harder.  However, we’d need to know several other pieces of information and that’s beyond the scope of this article.  For our purposes, the RPE scale is perfect.

Looking at the Zone and RPE table, we see two distinct divisions.  Aerobic (with oxygen) in green, and Anaerobic (without oxygen) in red.  These divisions represent the predominant type of energy generating metabolism going on in the working muscles.  The tipping point or Lactate Threshold (RPE 8) is where the body is losing the ability to deliver sufficient oxygen to sustain the effort.  Although glucose can still be utilized anaerobically to produce energy through an alternative pathway, it is short term and produces lactic acid as a by-product.  The body does not let very much go to waste and lactic acid is no exception.  It’s transported from inside the muscle cells through the blood to the liver as lactate for processing into glucose.  Wait, isn’t that why I get sore after working hard?  No.  Lactic acid has an undeserved reputation for producing residual “muscle burn” or soreness when in fact it’s trauma to muscle cells that is the real culprit.  Another name for this discomfort is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or “DOMS”.  Fortunately, it goes away on its own and becomes less frequent with regular exercise. 

Now that we’ve learned how our bodies respond to exertion let’s go back to the original question, “how” are you paddling?  If you spend all of your time at an RPE of 1 or 2 there are definite benefits but your fitness level will still be quite low.  Increasing the intensity to an RPE of 3-4 will provide substantial improvements in your ability to paddle longer with less effort, but it still falls short.  It isn’t until you spend time at an RPE of 5 to 7 that you see significant improvements in your fitness. Training at higher levels of intensity will increase
your lung capacity, stimulate the heart to pump blood more efficiently, deliver more oxygen to the muscles through an expanded capillary bed, develop more efficient energy metabolism, and increase the number of mitochondria in muscle cells.  That’s a pretty enticing return for an investment of effort.  But, is it that easy, just paddle harder? Well, sort of.  There’s a smart way and then there’s a hard way to improve your fitness. We’ll go with a smart way to get good results in my next entry.

Thanks for reading my blog entry for the Carolina Kayak Club.  I’ve been engaged in a number of outdoor activities for most all of my life as a participant and instructor. When not competing in running, bicycle and kayak races, I’m a US Canoe and Kayak Team Paracanoe Coach and work with the Bridge-II-Sports Foundation for Adaptive Sports as the Parakayak Racing Club coach.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Know Your Kayak Under the Water (part 1)

As kayakers, we rely on our boats to impose our will on the water, exhorting pure human power against the wind, tides, and currents.  Beyond our own endurance, we have our kayaks and their carefully designed characteristics to safely and efficiently ferry us to our destination.  However, most paddlers when considering a kayak acquisition look above the waterline when over 90% of its vital characteristics lie below the waterline.  Recently, I looked through manufacturer promotional material for several kayaks.  I found happy paddlers in emotionally provocative colorful pictures as one could imagine with a detailed list of above waterline features.  But found little to nothing substantive about the all important hull design.  Sadly, most paddlers do not understand the design features of their hull and its intricacies.  Above all, the hull is the very essence of a kayak's designed performance.  As individuals that kayak, we have different demands as diverse as the seasons.  And selecting a kayak compatible with our skills and needs is very important.  If one design was perfect for everyone, all kayaks would look alike, and we would not have hundreds of models to choose from.  But hull design is all about trade-offs.  Features that deliver the performance a paddler desires or needs will often require a sacrifice in another area.  Despite how instrumental your kayak's hull is to its performance, precious little is has written about it, leaving kayakers in the dark on exactly how and why their hulls perform as they do, and what to look for in a hull shape when considering a kayak purchase.  In this series of articles I will bring to light the deep dark secrets of hull design in simple terms.  We will examine facets of stability.  Explore hull shapes and features below and above the water line that affect stability and in later articles examine hull characteristics of speed and efficiency for moving through the water.  But first we will establish a premise for our examination of hull designs with some basic physical principles to help us dissect hull shape features.

Of primary importance to our endeavors on the water is stability.   In nearly all watercraft, we look to the design of the hull for stability and must sacrifice streamline efficiency to have it.   However, a kayak will permit the task of stability to be delegated to the skills of the paddler, allowing craft stability to be exchanged for a more streamline performance with lower resistance.  But unless your primary task is powering the craft while providing stability every moment you are on the water, this delegated task may not be willingly accepted by many.   Bird watchers, fishermen, and paddlers out for a relaxing day on the water may desire a kayak that provides a high degree of hull stability.  But at what cost?  And why the tradeoff?

First we will look at what stability actually is.  Our kayaks move and twist on the 2D plane of the water rotating around 2 axes.  Since sea kayaks are long and stand little chance of flipping end over end, lateral rotation is of little consequence. So our only concern is its rotation about its longitudinal axis running the length of the kayak.  When we lean left or right we are applying torque on our kayak to spin about this axis.  As we float upon the water, the weight of our kayak and all its contents is pressed upon the water with a downward force and held in check with an upward opposing buoyancy or (weight displacement force).  If the kayaker is properly centered in the kayak, the center of gravity will go straight down through the axis.  In reaction, the opposing center of buoyancy will move straight through the axis in the upward direction to keep the kayak and its contents in check.  Since these forces pass straight through the axis there is no torque being applied, thus no rotation about it.

If the paddler leans to one side, the center of gravity will move away from the axis and impose a torque upon it.  At this point, the designed features of the hull come in to play to react with an opposing righting force by adding more dry hull volume (floatation) in the water on the side of the lean thus imposing an opposing torque by moving its center of buoyancy off-center in the direction of the lean.   Since the weight of the kayak cannot change, to add dry volume on one side of center requires the kayak to reduce wetted volume on the opposite side.   Buoyancy on the side opposite to the lean is also reduced which helps the center of buoyancy migrate in the direction of the lean.  However, when the kayak runs out of dry volume to put in the water, it can no longer move the center of buoyancy to match the center of gravity.  At that point, an unopposed torque will be applied to the kayak hull and it will capsize.   This is the point of capitulation.

So what can we deduce from these physical facts?  First: a kayak hull has only has a fixed amount of stabilization reserves.  If they are spent early providing primary stability, we can expect the kayak hull to capitulate earlier.  Also, as a long wrench with more leverage can apply more torque  than a shorter wrench, a wider kayak will have more leverage to apply more counteracting torque against a leaning torque.  But widening the beam will dramatically sacrifice speed and increase water drag when the kayak moves.  A tradeoff that must be considered wisely.

 So what are these features that work for us?  What does a featureless hull look like?  Lets examine a featureless hull which is simply a floating cylinder.  Since it is round and featureless, its center of buoyancy will always be in the center and cannot move to either side.  Its perfectly round shape does not allow any more volume to be added to one side or taken from another.   It is the same on both sides all the time.  Consequently, any offset in the center of gravity will generate torque on the cylinder, opposed only by the small forces of the cylinder's inertia, and friction of the water.  Picture yourself standing on a perfectly round floating tree trunk.

Since have a stability budget, how do we spend it?   If you fish or birdwatch, and paddling is your secondary purpose, or you just want a stable, secure experience in calm conditions, you may want to spend a good part of your stability budget on primary stability.  Primary stability is the instantaneous ability of the craft to apply a righting force to a leaning motion.  Kayaks with high primary stability feel stable initially as any leaning is met with an instantaneous counterforce.   In order to accomplish this, primary stability must be located in the wetted volume of the hull.  High primary stability hulls will have a flattened bottom with possibly a slight "V" or gentle rounded shape.  As such, the hull size below the waterline is larger and drag from water friction is rather high, affecting performance.  Since much of the stability budget is spent on this primary stability, there is less of a secondary stability reaction.  But high primary stability will require more leverage, thus a larger stability budget which must be bought by widening the beam (width) so the hull can achieve enough righting torque on the axis with a longer lever (remember the wrench).  Typically, high primary stability kayaks are wide and short as they do not need an excessive waterline for a kayak that is not designed for blazing speed or cover a lot of distance.  But they are a lot of fun, very practical in rivers and small lakes, swamps, and estuaries and highly maneuverable.  But, a high primary stability exposes the kayak to a serious side effect.  In our theoretical illustration above, we observed the mechanism of stability as a function of the kayak's flotation and the water surface.  We know the kayak will attempt to bring itself level to the surface of the water.  But the surface of the water is often not level (the slope of a wave).  So a kayak with high initial stability can right itself sideways to a small degree; enough to introduce considerable instability in rough water, requiring mitigation with bracing skills from the paddler.  But, for paddlers who rarely venture into rough waters and have no desire to travel far or fast, a primary stability kayak will be a fine investment for a leisurely enjoyable ride.  Performance paddlers will find themselves fighting a sharply increasing  drag as they ramp up speed.  The increase in speed will hit a wall as the kayak reaches its maximum hull speed (explained in a later article).

A kayak facing rough seas will need to minimize the instability side effect from its primary stability, and reserve its stability budget for secondary stability.  Unlike primary stability, secondary stability will not respond instantaneously but apply stability further into the lean.  Secondary stability also exhibits less of the destabilizing behavior in waves since the hull will not react until much further into the lean.  Unlike primary stability, secondary stability assets are in the dry volume of the hull above the waterline.  In the first illustration above, notice how the "V" concentrates most of the flotation in the center, while the flotation at the extremities is pushed out of the water into the dry area of the hull.  This is the secondary stability area in reserve.  Since the dominate flotation force is in the center, the kayak will pivot about it and feel initially unstable until the secondary stability is deployed.  In the second illustration, when the kayak rotates about its axis, dry volume is deployed into the water bolstering flotation at the edge of the kayak, which in turn moves the center of buoyancy to counteract the leaning force.  Since secondary stability assets are stored above the waterline, these kayaks  enjoy an added advantage of a more streamlined hull with much less wetted hull surface resulting in far less drag from water friction when the secondary stability is not deployed.  Secondary stability kayaks cater to more advanced paddlers seeking performance.  In many models, manufacturers will further narrow the beam (width) considerably stripping much of its righting force leverage.  And by this action, delegate much of task of stability to the bracing skills of the paddler in exchange for a considerable increase in performance.  Manufactures may also choose a more rounded hull without a "V".  But the stability principles are the same with more rounded surfaces offering less primary and more secondary stability, with flatter rounded bottoms offering a higher degree of primary stability.  Novice paddlers will find secondary stability kayaks deceptively unstable and unsettling.  With a much more narrow beam, these kayaks will have a much smaller stability budget, but will store most of this tighter stability in reserve for a time when it is really needed.

To illustrate primary stability and secondary stability I presented two mutually exclusive theoretical kayaks.  But in reality, no kayak will have all of one and none of the other.  All hundred or so kayak models will fall somewhere in between catering to many skill levels and a wide range of venues and conditions.  When a paddler chooses where they want to spend their stability budget, they should deliberate long and hard to find the kayak that best suits their needs in the near term and longer term.  Also consider where you are going to paddle and where you want to paddle.  They must also assess their skills and allow room for improvement.  A kayak designed for calm conditions can also perform well in challenging conditions if used with proper skills.  When I purchase a kayak, I am initially a little unstable and grow into its characteristics as my skills improve.   Paddlers for whom the kayak is a vehicle for another purpose or activity may want a lot of primary stability so they can focus on their secondary activity.   Kayakers wanting performance with the intention of piling up a lot of distance will want a performance kayak with a low drag.  Paddling a considerable distance with a higher drag hull can feel like towing a second boat.  A day on the water with a prospective kayak is better than a short test paddle.  When shopping for a kayak, try a lot boats.  You may just fall in love or learn a little more about who your are on the water.

In the next article of this series, we will apply some of our new found knowledge to examine the stability characteristics of a number of actual hull shapes.


Copyright 2012 Lyman A Copps

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Paddling/Hiking/Adventure Books

(Photo from Google Images)

Love to read? Love to paddle or hike? You may love these books..... you could be like the woman in the photo and do both.

A couple of the ladies in our local group have asked me to list my favorite adventure books for women/by women....
If you read like I do, that's a heckuva list and continuously growing....

 Reading about outdoor adventures takes you away, lowers your stress level, slows your heartbeat, excites your senses and fills the gap for when we cannot find our way outdoors. The last few years I have found myself gravitating  towards reading only true, inspiring outdoor adventure books and thankfully, there are plenty out there to choose from. Most of the books on my list are by women, some are not. I will be adding to the list from time to time, this is just a starter list....

I hope you like them and please, let me know if you decide to read them or have read them, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Also, a great resource for avid readers  is the Women's Adventure Magazine's Facebook book club. All true stories, all written and experienced by women. Excellent group with great book recommendations. Wow, we've evolved to online book clubs instead of in person ones...funny isn't it?

Some of  my picks are paddling specific, some are hiking, I am especially enamored with anything about women's paddling and  the Appalachian Trail....rated good, great or fantastic.  Most will get a "great" rating.

My simple rating system:

Good=worth reading
Great=worth reading and very memorable
Fantastic= it has to be quite stellar, the kind of book you never forget, the kind that reaches deep into your soul and makes you sob, and the next page can make you shout with joy and your heartbeat run fast and hard....sometimes inspiring new ideas and life-changing decisions....those will get the fantastic rating, but they are far and few between.

1. The Cruelest Journey by Kira Salak  Good 

2. Fearless, One Woman, One Kayak, One Continent by Joe Glickman  Great

3. be brave, be strong A Journey Across the Great Divide by Jill Homer  Great

4. Becoming Odyssa Jennifer Pharr Davis (from Asheville, NC)  Pseudo-Fantastic

5. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed Great-Fantastic

6. In Beauty May She Walk, Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail at age 60 by Leslie Mass  Great

7. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv Fantastic 

8. Trailside Guide: Hiking and Backpacking by Karen Berger Great

9. Spirited Waters: Soloing South Through the Inside Passage by Jennifer Peterson Hahn Great

10. The Barefoot Sisters Southbound (Adventures on the Appalachian Trail) Lucy letcher, Susan Letcher Great

11. On Island Time: Kayaking the Caribbean by Scott B. Williams  Good 

12. Solar Storms by Linda Hogan Fantastic (this is the only one listed that is fiction but it is historically based fiction and totally worth reading, and relevant to our fight today for clean and accessible water) 

13. Sea Kayaker's Deep Trouble: True Stories and Their Lessons from Sea Kayaker magazine by Matt Broze, George Gronseth Great

14.  Paddle: A Long Way Around Ireland Jasper Winn GREAT (Added 11/12/13)

Some of these titles may be available as an e-book and/or on your Kindle from the library for free at:

Happy Reading! 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Adventure MAGIC: It's in the Little Things....

Sunrise filling my windshield on the way to the river

  Are you “adventurous”? Do you crave adventure on any level? What is your idea of adventure? Is it gathering with a group of cherished friends for a night on the town? Is it jumping into a whitewater raft and hurtling down a raging river? There are all levels and types of “adventure” and I believe we can choose to make every day life an adventure. The definition for adventure for me is anything that makes your lips turn up in that mischievous, excited, “I’m really going to do this” smile, that feeling of butterflies in your stomach from the anticipation…sometimes it’s the anticipation itself of the adventure that is the most relished part.  You just have to see the magic of adventure and sometimes, it’s in the “little things,” not the big things.

The club had a Tar River trip listed for last Sunday. I get a LOT of emails/notices of upcoming events/paddles (I keep up with all the paddling/outdoor clubs to see what cool destinations they are frequenting) and usually breeze through them; when  you are a wife, mom, work and have a busy, full life, in order for me to say “yes” to an adventure, it has to be good. Perhaps you know what I mean, you reach a point in your life where time is so precious that you are forced to cut out anything that doesn’t enhance your life, there’s no time for messing around on things that aren’t positive or make you a better person (wife, mother, employee etc.).  I also believe with all my being that saying that “Adventure May Hurt You but Monotony Will Kill You”. A break from routine is healthy and crucial. So, this time….this email…stopped me in my tracks. I grew up hunting around the Tar River and a tributary off the Tar is a tributary of Tabbs creek, and was the creek that I could see from my kitchen window growing up. It’s the creek that knows all my secrets as a child, where I would go to cry, to play, to catch crayfish, listen to the exotic sounding birds and pretend I was in a rainforest, to sneak and smoke cigarettes, to wade through….I spent a LOT of time in that creek. I had always heard the men that I hunted with and my dad talking about the Tar River, how dangerous it is in our hometown of Oxford because it gets very narrow and has lots of strainers. It was dangerous and mysterious to me, so of course since I started paddling six years ago, I wanted to explore it and paddle it. I couldn’t find anyone who was interested…afterall there are much prettier rivers with less strainers to paddle in our area….Hurricane Floyd in 1999 blew down so many trees some parts are nearly if not totally impassable.

Last summer I took my son and my mom (she and my dad gave me a great sense of adventure!) to scout out a new launch in Wilton, NC (my ancestors have roots there) and from what we could see from the launch, it looked narrow, snakey, with trees down and low water. Not an alluring river, but I still wanted to paddle it. So when I see this email, I JUMP ON IT, and register for the trip.

From the moment I hit “register” ….the excited, butterflies in the stomach feeling started,do you know or remember that feeling? The sides of my mouth curl up to a grin on my face….my mind starts working….”okay, water is cold (it’s February), must wear drysuit, start researching as much as possible on that stretch of river, what kind of hazards/rapids/launches are there, try to eliminate surprises…...” I start putting gear for the trip into a pile. I make a copy of the map of our put in and take out and mark it in yellow highlighter to leave for my husband then put a copy into my chart case to carry on the boat. I plug the put in into gps and see that it’s a 2 hour 40 min. drive. Don’t care about that, I am finally getting to paddle on the Tar! I look up the history of the Tar River and find out it derives its name from the profuse stands of pine trees lining its banks which were used for pine pitch to manufacture tar to caulk boats. It was also used as a major route for barges carrying the tar as they headed out to sea. The river is 215 miles long and the name changes to the Pamlico in Washington, N.C.
So if the magic of adventure is “in the little things”, this means my adventure had already begun. Indeed it had begun the moment I hit “register”. I hadn’t even gotten in the truck yet or in the boat for that matter and that feeling of pure anticipation was feeding the basic human desire for connectedness with the earth, the elements and something bigger than ourselves, and this was days before the actual event! Don’t you love planning something then looking forward to it? Isn’t it sometimes the case that the anticipation is better than the actual event? The great thing about paddling is that is not the case. I believe the anticipation compliments and is equal to the actual event but in paddling, the event of actually being in your boat on a new body of water IS THE BEST FEELING OF ALL.

The night before: I have all my gear in the truck, the boat is ready to load first thing, I set out all of my layered synthetic clothes, and set the alarm for 5:30am. I’m either insomnia ridden (this happens from time to time) or so excited that I awake at 3:30am with no hope of going back to sleep. Arising at 5am after reading in bed and tossing and turning, I make coffee, shower, dress, make my lunch for on the river all with a huge grin on my face and truly almost a skip in my step. As I go outside in the pre-dawn to load the boat, my sweet dog Jack and fluffy cat Georgie greet me, warm bodies who are always glad to see me. No one else in my neighborhood is awake, there are no noises of cars, barking dogs, children, no lights, just me, my animals, the darkness, and the cold air. There is a light dusting of snow on the ground. My stomach flutters….my heart speeds up. It’s so beautiful out I stop to stare. I look to the sky and it’s that unique color the sky gets when it is thinking about turning into dawn but not ready to give away the night. Beautiful sky….and then I hear it. My morning dove starting to sing to me. She sounds so beautiful in the clear/cold air. And that’s when it really hits me, that these special little treasures are the REAL magic of adventure. The things we experience that others will miss because they never get up early enough to see our world transition from night to dawn and then to full blown sunrise. If you are an outdoors person, you know what I am talking about. That magical time of dawn and dusk. Those are my favorite times to be outdoors. One world is waking while the other goes back to sleep. I am overcome with a profound sense of gratefulness that I am experiencing these magical gifts this day. All alone, in total peace and solitude, with no distractions from other humans or machines. I imagine early morning runners experience this as well and is why they run while it is still night. As I loaded the boat to the music of my morning dove, I knew that this day was going to be a great day! Entering the house for the last time to retrieve my coffee to go, I breathed in deeply the warm heated air, feeling hot in my layers of clothes, including longjohns, and relished the pungent smell of my brewed coffee. Another gift….another piece of adventure magic before ever leaving my home.

The drive to Rocky Mount was gorgeous with the early morning sun RADIATING in all its glory all over my windshield, I tried to take a photo while driving 70mph down HWY 40 (I don’t suggest that)… Then I decided to ignore the speed limit and go my own pace so I could enjoy the journey to the river. And again, more magic from slowing down:
Cool footbridge I saw on the way to the river looks very much like........

This wooden foot bridge we saw on the river.....
I noticed several things on the way to the river, I’ll only mention a couple….of course every bridge meant craning my neck like any self respecting paddler would do (don’t we always ask ourselves, “is there enough water to paddle that”), I noticed Poplar Creek….I grew up hearing all about Poplar Creek, there’s a Poplar Creek Baptist Church in the neighboring town of Henderson from where I grew up….I wondered, is this the same and if it is, is it a tributary off of the Tar. I love the learning that paddling fosters. It creates a desire to RESEARCH and KNOW your home waters and subsequently waters afar. It creates a keen AWARENESS of the areas you paddle and how are they are all connected because one way or another, the waters are connected. It becomes FASCINATING. The Tar-Pamlico River Basin headwaters spans from north central NC, 180 miles to the Atlantic Ocean. (NC Division of Environmental Management, 1994). The basin encompasses 5440 sq. miles and is the 4th largest river basin in NC and one of only four that is completely within NC. Info. from: The Upper Tar River Basin: Swift Creek and Fishing Creek Sub basins by Ann Prince. All are creeks I grew up traversing afoot. After researching Poplar Creek, I found that the Raleigh area’s creek seems to be a tributary off of the Neuse River, not the Tar River and I cannot find out where the Poplar Creek in my hometown originates. Perhaps you know and can inform us in the comments? I did however find Ann’s research fascinating. Her paper states that there are several endangered and rare species found in the Tar and its tributaries, including a type of fresh water mussel, rare fish, and rare amphibian….FASCINATING. To read her complete report, go to:

The remainder of my adventure ride to Rocky Mount was filled with visual symbolism, from the upside down silver (old) canoe I saw abandoned on a lonely pond by the road, to the creeks (like Crabtree Creek) I passed on the way spurring wonderment of where they originate and where they end up and of course, can you paddle them? More research awaits me! One of the advantages of heading out to your adventure alone is you can turn up the radio as loudly as you like, so I did, and jammed all the way to the river to tunes like: Billy Idol’s “White Wedding”, Wild Cherry’s “Play that Funky Music”, Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright”….. and then Sting/The Police with none other than, and I am not kidding: “Magic”… know, he sings: “Magic Magic Magic”…….yes I am dating myself, hey, crazy rocker singing to the crazy kayaker and keeps crazy kayaker who’s been up since 3:30am AWAKE while driving. It was a fast 2 hrs. and 40 min. Adventure magic is in the little things. It’s all perspective. What’s your perspective? I hope you choose to see the magic in all the little things. They add up to make big magic.

Arriving at the launch is always exciting because a. you found it and hopefully with time to spare and b. it’s somewhere new that you haven’t been before…..the little things. So, I grab my camera and head for the water. I’ve never seen this section of the Tar.  I am looking for hazards, strainers, fast moving water, any indication whatsoever that it wouldn’t be prudent to launch here. It is lovely, there is a current but it’s gentle. I look right and see two fishermen in hip waders. Of course I hike down to where they are (quite a ways away) to glean any information they have, fisherman are great sources for paddlers. We like to know the same things, are there strainers up ahead, what’s the water temp, are there rapids up ahead? So I ask them all of this and if there’s anything I need to know about this stretch of river. They confirm all prior research, it’s pretty calm here, we are launching below the Class III rapids, there is a “small” rapid a ways down….nothing of note except they warn me that the water is cold…44.7 degrees. I assure them we are prepared and will be in dry suits. We chat longer, they are glad for the company and we have some things and places in common. I ask what they are fishing for and they tell me the most interesting information. Shad. They are fishing for shad in February on the little Tar River in little Rocky Mount, NC. Really? Please elaborate. They tell me that shad leave their birth place, The Tar River, travel to NOVA SCOTIA, and return to the Tar to spawn. Wow. And these guys are hoping they are running. FASCINATING. It’s the little things that make the adventure magic. As I turn to leave my new friends, I see the rusty chain with a ring on the end. Here’s a pic:

We wonder what these strange heavy steel/iron chains hanging from the trees beside the river at regular intervals could represent. When I told my paddling buddy Camille about them later, we wondered if they were used to tie off the barges….probably so. FASCINATING. It’s the little things that make the adventure magic. Camille and I are well suited to paddle together, we have a blast paddling upstream to check out a launch she is scouting for a future family club outing. With relief we turn around and go WITH the current and start our 6.5 mile paddle from Battle Park to the NC 97 access. We know this is an urban river and with that, comes more refuse than we are accustomed to seeing, as well as traffic noise from the 5 bridges we will float under. Despite that, I notice freshwater mussels on the bank which indicates healthy water, and we almost immediately see a muskrat, defined by his rat like tail evident when he curves and dives into the water….later we hear a big SPLASH on river right, see a very large beaver dive down and then re-surface to hang out with us for a moment swimming alongside, nearby. He is the largest beaver I’ve ever seen in the wild. We also spot several Osprey (I thought they were red tailed hawks but Camille was right, they were Osprey, the clincher was their tell tale call, and a bright blue Belted Kingfisher. Most of the float was calm, but we did come across a little whitewater, Camille said it was a I+. It was FUN. We stopped for lunch at a lovely sandbar/island and scouted how to re-launch….there were trees blocking river left and river right. After careful consideration, we chose a narrow channel to launch from and if you ferried just right, you would be fine. What a fabulous way to enjoy a February Sunday afternoon. I knew Camille from the paddling club but we had never paddled together. What a lovely new friend and paddling buddy I have found! I especially enjoyed her in depth knowledge of the river, the river basins and paddling destinations in the state. She was so knowledgeable, I could have listened all day! She had a much more technical view of the river, scouting launch possibilities and possible different trips. I liked that. That’s why she wrote the official trip report and not me~ LOL.
Camille paddling by old train caboose Tar River Sect. 12

After taking out at the HWY 97 access across from the water treatment plant, we headed over to a local restaurant Camille had gotten the scoop on (hey, that's VERY important research!) and enjoyed an awesome buffet of all kinds of southern delicacies, including but not limited to: the tiny field peas with snaps that are nearly impossible to find anymore, pork ribs, banana pudding and my favorite find of the day, homemade pork tenderloin with gravy, the real thing...mmm mmmm good and we washed it down with sweet iced tea of course. Yes, the adventure magic is in the little things. I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed Adventure Magic and can head out to find some magic of your own in the little things very soon.

Happy paddling and adventuring!

Hunter, a friendly boy we met at take out spending the day at the river with his dad fishing. What a great way to spend the day for a young boy. He asked us about our "kayaks" and I commented that normally people his age call them canoes, and he informed us that his mother worked at Tar River Outfitter and he knows a kayak from a canoe thank you very much! I'd like to visit that outfitter, they were closed on Sunday. 

Camille's Ultra Organized trunk, love it! 
Copyright 2013  Jo Andra P. Proia