Fitness

Paddling–following the signs

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Yesterday my friends Janet and Kathy and I took advantage of the lovely September weather and did some kayaking north of Boston, at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, north of Boston. It is largely salt marsh, which means two things: 1) you need a canoe or kayak to see it; and 2) because of tidal ebb and flow, you need to time your trip for between two hours before and two hours after high tide. Otherwise, you’ll be dragging your boat through mud.

The very kind folks at the refuge created special routes for us (and other people) to follow, marked with signs.

Two marked paddling routes through the salt marshes at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Two marked paddling routes through the salt marshes at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

We dropped off our boats and gear at the landing– the green teardrop at the upper right. The area had potholes with water in them and was generally kind of wet, even though it hadn’t rained overnight. Unbeknownst to Kathy and me, Janet had spotted fish in the puddles. What could this mean? We’d find out a few hours later.

After moving the cars to the parking lot (there was no parking allowed at the landing), we launched our boats and set off. We crossed an area with boat traffic, then (as Siri advises us), proceeded to the route.

It was a beautiful day, in a beautiful place.

Janet, a very experienced sea kayaker and navigator, had maps and navigation app and gps and everything to keep us on track. However, the signs in the marsh were very visible and easy to follow, which is great for more recreational paddlers. In fact, this route is meant for them– to make it possible to explore the marsh safely.

View of Kathy and me paddling from the bow of Janet's boat, equipped with extra paddle and compass.
View of Kathy and me paddling from the bow of Janet’s boat, equipped with extra paddle and compass.

In addition to navigating, Janet was our trip photographer. Here’s our obligatory on-water selfie:

Janet, me and Kathy, in our trio of kayaks.
Janet, me and Kathy, in our trio of kayaks.

We took the slightly longer yellow route and then, because Janet had maps and a navigation app, went a bit further before making a left turn to go back to the marked route. The marsh was very full because 1) it was high tide, and 2) it was a spring tide, which happens after a full or new moon. At those times, the difference between high and low tide are largest. This is one reason why it’s important to read tidal charts before settling off in one’s boat in coastal waters.

Eventually, we got hungry for our lunches, which were waiting for us in coolers at our two cars. So we reluctantly left the beauty of the marsh, and headed for the boat landing. Entering the landing, we noted what a difference a few hours makes.

The three of us in our boats at the landing. The whole area had flooded with the tide!

When we launched our boats, we did so at the two poles in the background. A couple of hours later, we could float in right past the poles, pretty far into the landing area!

When they say No parking at any time, they’re serious. And there’s a reason– you can see it in these pictures.

Honestly, the extra water made it much easier to move our kayaks from the landing area to the parking lot. We could float part of the way, pull the boats in water a bit longer, and carry them across the road to our cars in the designated parking lot.

After loading the boats on the cars and changing clothes, we grabbed our lunches and headed to the beach, which was on the other side of the parking lot. Loads of people were there, enjoying the warm sunny September Saturday. Not many were swimming, though. Hurricane Earl, far off the Atlantic coast, was bringing pounding surf and rip currents up and down the East Coast.

Janet had originally planned a coastal sea paddle for us to a lighthouse on Cape Ann. But reading the warning signs posted on weather and navigation apps, she changed course and picked a safe route for us instead.

The waves on the beach confirmed the predictions. They were bigger than usual and very powerful. Swimming was strongly discouraged. We enjoyed watching them, though.

Kathy, standing near (but not too near) the pounding surf.
Kathy, standing near (but not too near) the pounding surf.

I learned more about kayaking this trip. The most important thing is to read the signs and follow them; that will make life easier (and also probably longer). The other thing is to bring a bin or plastic bag for soggy, salty, sandy stuff, so as not to mess up the inside of your car. Live and learn…

East coast readers, did any of you see the pounding waves this weekend? They were really something.

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