|By Gina Ciccotello|
Snow Paddle = No Paddle: Aborted solo trip, Snow Paddle in AA County
Place: Severn River
Launch site: Jonas Green Park
With a lot of restless energy to burn anticipating a 3-day weekend, I'd planned this trip expecting that I might wind up going alone. Sure enough, my last-minute invitation to the kayak family got no takers. No matter, I was headed for the Severn River, where I'd paddle upstream and never be that far from the civilized shoreline of Arnold and Severna Park. It's also a relatively short drive back home.
The forecast was for c-c-c-cold temperatures (air and water both in the low 40s) and possible snow, but little to no winds. Perfect for a winter paddle. I could put in some mileage and start getting back into shape, and also stop to admire the scenery without interrupting anyone else's pace. Not voicing my wishes so as not to jinx them, I secretly hoped to see snowflakes and/or flocks of migrating waterfowl. I waited until midday for maximum warmth, then loaded my Baidarka onto the car. My skinboat, being 20-25 lbs lighter than my plastic one, is my default choice for a solo paddle.
The launch at Jonas Green Park, just off Rt 450 under the Naval Academy Bridge in Annapolis, was deserted when I showed up. As I lifted the kayak off my car, a van pulled up and parked. The driver offered a friendly "Hello" as he pulled out some impressive looking camera equipment. Photographers, that's who's guaranteed to show up in odd places under what normal folks would consider adverse conditions.
All dressed up and no where to go
The air was mighty chilly as I walked the Baidarka down and placed her on a sandy stretch of beach. The sand was littered with dead leaves, carved and rippled from recent storms changing the water level. A slight breeze came from the northwest, enough fetch to create a little suds on the shore, but not enough to make launching a concern. I walked back to my car for the rest of my gear.
I piled up everything that would need to go into the boat: a capsize kit with a full set of warm clothes, paddle float, pump, map in a chart case, first aid kit, snacks and drinks. I had a spare break-apart Greenland paddle that would go under the deck lines, and debated whether I should take the Thermos of hot tea or leave it in the car for later.
Then I focused on the stuff I was going to wear. Because my full dry suit has a zipper across the back of the shoulders, it's almost impossible to open or close myself. But I felt safe with several warm layers under my dry top and dry pants, which can be overlapped and interlocked with the neoprene tunnels. (I've tested this combination, and water leaks mostly come in at the ankles.) I had warm synthetic socks, tall Chota boots, thick neoprene gloves, and a hat to cover my head and ears.
Just getting ready to put everything on in the appropriate order, I noticed something missing in the back of my station wagon. I had the correct sprayskirt to fit my skinboat, but my PFD was ominously absent. How on Earth had I gone paddling without my PFD? It had its own hook on the wall in the garage, and I'd simply forgotten to grab it.
I want to go
Beating myself up about this oversight, I snatched my camera and walked back to the beach. My Baidarka suddenly looked forlorn, her bow pointed towards the river but hovered a few inches above the frothy, lapping tongues of water. It had been months since I'd taken her anywhere, and I wasn't even going to let her get her nose wet. Because she's always a sucker for attention and having her picture taken, I shot a few frames of her position on the sand hoping it would make us both feel better.
As I looked out over Annapolis, I hated to give up on such a nice day. My mind went through the potential workarounds for not having a PFD -- inflating my dry top with air, staying extra close to the shoreline, and eluding the authorities. My kayak family would surely tease me for uncharacteristic flakiness. I didn't quite swallow the pill until I thought of the scolding I might get from one particular risk-averse friend who had wanted to join me that day and couldn't, and finally that's when I carried my boat back to the car.
Instead of paddling, my afternoon was spent checking in on a kayak-building project (and delivering a box of whitetail deer antlers to the boatbuilder, to be used for spacers on the deck lines) and otherwise goofing around Annapolis. A three-day weekend promised more opportunities to get out, and by aborting my solo trip for lack of proper safety gear, I'd live to paddle another day.
Editors Note: Gina is an experienced and strong paddler. Her decision here is absolutely the right one as the situation was potentially dangerous. She was by herself, the water was cold and there was a possibility of stronger winds in the afternoon. Although the waters were fairly protected, this could have become a dangerous situation if something unusual occured. Although she probably would have been alright had she paddled that afternoon, her discipline and good judgement led her to enjoy the day in other ways. Everyone forgets critical safety equipment now and then. The good paddlers go home. The bad ones wind up as newspaper stories.