Saturday, July 03, 2010

Notes from My Life: Canoeing on the Upper James

On Thursday, I closed out most of my short positions.  My rationalization is that I had entered them at a very good price, and I had not closed them up fearing a ramp into to either month end/quarter end/first day of the month. With an important number coming out, I did not want to rely on stops and have a gap up.

My husband and I spent a very pleasant day on the Upper James River, and I want to share a bit of that day with you.  Our goal was to put in at Howardsville and float down to Scottsville.  My husband was going to fish for small bass fish, and he had two rods to support his efforts.  I planned only to paddle to allow him to fish.  I'm not expert with the paddle, but good enough to keep us out of the bad stuff and to maneuver to the "fishy-looking" places.

We went to James River Rafters at Scottsville to shuttle us to their Howardsville private launch. We left our home at 6 a.m. for the 2 hour drive to Scottsville.  Checked in, handed over our $35.  We were shuttled to Howardsville, just a few minutes up the road. Our driver was a very polite, customer-oriented young man who was a native of the area.  When we arrived to the entrance, the farm gate was padlocked (as expected). The key was not in its place (UNEXPECTED).

As women know, men will not be thwarted when a sport as seductive as fishing is involved.  My husband suggests that we put in at the James River Wildlife Management Area (WMA).  Our guide agrees that it will only add 2 miles to our trip.  I'm ignorant of any of it (why didn't I have a map with me?), and I'm game for a couple of more miles.  I asked our guide when they closed, and he said 6 p.m.  I said, "If we are not off the river by 6 p.m. you will have to come looking for us!"

We put in at the WMA, pictured at left.  We are blessed in Virginia to have some very beautifully maintained WMA's that provide public access to many of our beautiful lakes, rivers, beach and mountain areas.  There is also one in Howardsville, but that is undergoing maintenance and is temporarily closed.

Our day was perfect:  high of 82, mostly sunny, no humidity.  We had sunscreen, camera, hats, water, Gatorade and lunch. This area of the river is very remote. The river is gentle here, and just a few places where it has any energy (and the river makes the noise of a heavy rain), and they are easily navigable by an amateur such as myself.    Large farms, dense, old woods border most of the river.  The train tracks run parallel to the north side of the river. (I just caught the engine through the little clearing that you can see on the full size picture.) There is little human activity heard. Crows announce to their river brethren that you've been spotted. Ducks are startled by your presence and fly across the river.  A majestic bald eagle is non-plussed by our presence and magnificent in its flight.

Cell phones are spotty, so I was able to see a few messages.  Call reception was non-existent. But I was getting periodic messages.  I did check the market a couple of times when reception allowed.  We had our GPS, which is very helpful on the water.  After what seemed like a long time without seeing the bridge at Howardsville, I asked Mark how far we had been.  Three miles.  Well that was 50% further than the two miles I was expecting. It would be just around the corner.  No, the next corner.  Nope.   We began to actively paddle.

Our line in the sand was 6 p.m..  At that time our vehicle would be inaccessible as no arrangement was made for our keys other than being housed in the office. Mark kept saying,  "The bridge should be just around the corner."  After five MORE miles, 3 fish and more bends, there was no bridge.  I now realize that I have become an unwitting victim of the utter inability of men to parse fact from fancy on the size/distance of anything. Since it was 11:45 (2.75 hours), and we still had not made siting of Howardsville, we had gone 8 miles (and my shoulders feel every mile this a.m.), it was clear that there was no way we could make Scottsville by 6 p.m. as it was a 6 hour float from Howardsville--still not in sight!

Just before noon, we tried to call the office. Mark called twice, and while the call went through there was no reception. The other end could not hear.  I tried on my phone.  I couldn't get through.  We continue to paddle determinedly.  I had the bright idea of sending a text message which did not require on voice clarity to my daughter.  I asked her to call and relay that we would be late and text back that she received message.  I did not fill in all the details...I'm texting; I'm steering the canoe (not well during texting); and I'm trying to beat the signal death that was surely coming.  Just the facts.  "Call ______ at ______.  Tell them we cannot be there by 6 p.m. and leave keys in ___"

I'll have to deal with the company how my daughter was treated, but the end result (which I learned upon returning and speaking with her) was that she was told that (1) they could not verify who she was; (2) they were not going to do anything with our keys; and (3) text your mother back that she had to paddle faster and get back at 6 p.m..  (Their actions completely vindicated them from this poor exchange).  She texted back that they could do nothing with keys because they could not verify who she was and the imperative that we had to arrive back by six.

Shortly after I had texted my daughter, and before I had read that she received my message, I had 3 bars on my phone--an oasis in the desert of reception. I called the office.  The woman said, "Our driver came back and said that he had made a terrible mistake (mistaking 10 miles for 2)."  I said, "That's okay.  We'll just do this, and just leave the keys ___.  My daughter will also be trying to call you."  Nothing else was relayed.

About 1 p.m. we see two guys on the south side of the river.  They were looking at us, and were in a odd place. I shouted, "Hey, there!"  One shouted, "Where do you want to get out at?"  I thought, "Oh shit! Who are these guys?"  While we were too far away to see, it was our driver with another young man.  They had driven our truck and another vehicle to the Howardsville landing.  They then paddled UP river to catch us before the landing (otherwise we would have passed the landing) to see if we wanted to take out there.

 He said that on the way back he realized that he had made a terrible mistake. He was very apologetic--but frankly both he and Mark  were complicit in underestimating the distance on that section of the river!  Apparently both were thinking of Wyngina to WMA which s about 2 miles. We ultimately decided that another 8 miles  would be a bit much. Our contrite driver helped steer us to that decision too, understanding how far we had been and where we needed to go. He was a very nice young man, and we appreciated the time and effort they undertook to right a  mistake.

Because we were so focused on managing the outcome, we hadn't realized how much energy we had expended (paddling actively v. floating/steering) to get to that point. While we may have made a leisurely passage down the balance of the river to Scottsville, it would be at the hottest part of the day, and we still would have had to drive 2 hours home.  There are a few energetic places in the water.  Being exhausted--both mentally and physically-- while navigating stuff like that is dangerous.

Discretion IS the better part of valor--and we had nothing to prove.  Here's our trip map.

We put in at A; took out at B.  With crossing the river a few times, the GPS recorded 10.7 miles of distance.  My arms/shoulder feel every mile of that!. On our drive back and during the evening, we exclaimed, "Thank goodness we did not paddle down to Scottsville". We had a beautiful trip (adventure) over a beautiful section of the river.  Mark had caught some fish, refined his casting with is new set up, and we both had a grand adventure.  Plus, any day that you see a bald eagle is a good day.