i don't feel it now but i know i'll be hurting tomorrow. i went up to the north shore area today and paddled 18 miles on a canoe down the ipswich river. definitely some beautiful riparian and marshy landscapes, places i would never see were i not floating off a boat. i'm completely hooked on canoeing: you get a good upper body workout while doing some naturing as well.
i arrived at the MIT sloane parking lot at 10am this morning. i'd never met the chinese couple (jerry and olivia) who were supposed to come pick me up. how i got involved on the trip is this: they knew my father, and asked if i'd be willing to take some wedding photos for them in september. i agreed, and they thought it might be a good idea if i could meet them this weekend on some sort of social outing, to break the ice. so up to that point i'd only communicated with them via e-mail. so in that empty parking area i waited. when i saw two chinese people driving approaching in a large SUV, i knew it was them. they also picked up another friend, cecilia, who was also waiting in the parking lot.
we headed north, to the bradley palmer state park in topsfield. besides us, we met up with two other cars, to have a picnic before going out canoeing. i've very bad with names so i don't remember everyones, but i do remember this guy named dingo who came with his girlfriend. with a name like that, you know he's going to the class clown, and provided endless entertainment throughout the day. the e-mail instructions said to bring "food to share" but i only brought enough for myself: basically two hot dogs wrapped in tin foil, half a bag of chex mix, and a bottle of water. little did i realize they would be having a full-blown picnic, so i felt embarassed that i didn't really bring anything to contribute. if you know anything about how chinese people operate, you'll know that they take eating very seriously. if fact, given the choice of several activities, i think the stereotypical chinese would choose eating above all else. so we camped by the kiddy pool ($5 to park) and had a big feast. it was quite amazing the amount of food everyone brought. since i didn't bring anything, i felt bad eating, and only had a little bit (which left me hungry the rest of the day). the picnic lasted for about 30 minutes before we had to leave for the canoe rental place. just as quickly we arrived, we left just as quick. even they joked that people must've thought we were crazy to just come there to eat then leave.
the foote brothers canoe rental place was just a short 5 minute drive away. there was another car waiting for us, a fourth group comprising of a couple and the woman's parents, who were there just for the canoeing. we ended up renting 4 canoes ($40/boat). while waiting for them to get our canoes, we saw water snakes sunning themselves on the rocks besides the dam. the rental company drove us to a point up the ipswich river with stacks of canoe in tow and let us off at a launching site. we all got into our boats and pushed off down the river. it was my first time canoeing. right away with had trouble, as our canoe spun around and crashed into the opposite shore. it took a few minutes for jerry and olivia to coordinate and regain control of our vessel.
so i'd say for the first few hours, it was all about figuring out how to steer and propel. we actually had three paddles, and cecilia and i - sitting in the center - would trade paddling duties, while jerry and olivia paddled throughout. in hindsight, it probably wasn't a good idea paddling from the middle because you're at a lower center of gravity and harder to paddle as effectively. on top of that, both cecilia and i didn't know how to swim. she said she wasn't afraid of water, but everytime the canoe jerked suddenly, i could feel her tensing up. it didn't take me too long to get the hang of canoeing. i think i had the basic j-stroke, sort of like stirring the river with a big paddle spoon. i also quickly figured out how to deflect the water to turn the canoe in the opposite direction. despite all that, the canoe still moved in an inefficient zigzag manner, and for the first few hours we kept on crashing into the shore, occasionally spinning the canoe 180 degrees. on top of that, the river has a lot of debris in the form of submerged rocks, large tree branches, and occasionally entire toppled trees. i didn't mind though, it was like a puzzle, and each obstacle was like a game to solve. sometimes we had to go underneath. other times, somebody might have to actually get out of the canoe and pull. but most often it was figuring out which side to paddle in order to clear the obstacle.
just when i thought i had everything figured out, disaster struck: we crashed into a shoreline a little bit too quick, and the tree branches acted like jousting poles, pushing us sideways and tipping the canoe. immediately we took on water and scrambled to upright ourselves before we completely submerged. my camera got a little wet, and some water got into the battery compartment, but it still worked. we crawled on shore, our feet sinking into the wet mud. everyone else had shorts and flip flops, but i was the only person in jeans and hiking shoes (actually just my regular shoes) so the entire lower half of my body was soaked. jerry and i flipped over the canoe to drain out the water before we all got back inside.
the weather couldn't have been more perfect and despite being in some pretty marshy areas, i never once saw a single mosquito. maybe it had something to do with the swarms of damselflies choking the surface of the water. as far as other wildlifes, i saw red-winged blackbirds, canada geese, snowy egrets, great blue herons, swallows, possible pileated woodpecker, painted turtles, and muskrats. we stopped once for a bathroom break on perkins island (actually, there were a lot of mosquitoes on the island, i change my previous statement), and gave some the guys a chance to use the rope swing. i was afraid we weren't allowed to be on this audubon property (there were some families camping there, i didn't want to disturb their peaceful oasis), but later i found out it was actually okay.
we launched at around 1pm and didn't get back to the boat rental place until after 6pm, just when they were closing. 5 long hours of paddling for approximately 18 miles. before we left, we had an impromptu second picnic with the leftover food from the picnic earlier. super hungry after such a long workout, we finished everything until there wasn't even a single drop of food left. items that weren't so popular before now became surprisingly delicious, and we regretted throwing away some food from before. satiated with food, we decided to go find a beach next.
cecilia recommended a place and we all followed her based on her directions. we got a little bit lost but thankfully one of the cars had gps so that vehicle took the lead. eventually we made our way to nahant, to long beach, a place i have some familiarity with (that time with joel, that time with jesse). the sunset was just setting and lit up everything in gold.
dingo's moment of shame came when the group ganged up on him with a kicksplash attack (earlier he was splashing everyone else); he grabbed his girlfriend and used her as a human shield.
afterwards we all decided to grab dinner in chinatown, but two of the cars bailed out along the way (after some serious cellphone tag) and likewise both cecilia and i decided to call it a day. back in cambridge, near MIT, jerry and olivia dropped us off and cecilia gave me a ride to harvard square in her car. i walked home after buying an issue of newsweek, tired, hungry, and smelling of sunblock and sea salt. after a shower (and changing out of my wet jeans), i ate my two tin-foiled wrapped hot dogs for dinner.