Tuesday, June 27, 2017

5 days of traveling'exploring the virgin islands by inflatable Pt 2

PT 2
A good way to wake up. Coffee on board

A good nights' sleep in one of Jost Van Dyke's finest cabins (a 12x12 cabin with electric and a ceiling fan) And the morning starts with a sunrise typically found in the islands. The day reveals the cabins. Each one is painted differently.
                                                             Cabin in Jost Van Dyke

  A swift departure from Jost Van Dyke and this is the paddle I have not been looking forward to. Crossing back to St John during prime time in the shipping channel. Loads of boats hauling butt across and I'm going right through it. My goal is to make it to  Whistling Cay ( the circled spot on the map) lying just before St. John.
                                                            A moment before departure

    Leaving the bay is the easy part. Once out in the ocean is where I Start falling off the board. 13-18mph winds sometimes gusting to 20+ have their way with me.  It's a constant battle to stay in the direction I want to go. This means I have to paddle only on my right side the entire time.  It ends up being less of a normal front to back stroke and more so a sweep or C stroke. The wind and the chop continuously pummel the side of the board.  This wouldn't be as big an issue  without a fin. The fin "anchors" the board to go straight but there is no straight from the wind and chop. The nose of the board wants to fight to go with the wind. I fight to keep a line across to Whistling Cay.
     The paddle across is mostly uneventful.  Mostly me clinging onto the board, falling off, remounting, and paddling like a maniac to stay straight. I do come across a massive sea turtle.  I followed him a ways but he didn't care for my company much and left within a few minutes. I did manage to get a fuzzy shot of him.

                                                     Imagine, That's just the head!

  5 hours later and I make it across the main open ocean crossing and am getting ready to enter the shipping lane. I float next to a large rock outcropping of a small uninhabited island watching the boat traffic.  It's about 1 mile from the small island across to Whistling cay, a small former outpost. 
      I see a clearing and paddle as fast as I can and get about 1/4 of the way across until I see a large ferry boat coming from the east. I keep a steady eye on it and paddle with a 90% effort cadence.  I get half way across the channel and hear to the west some deep growling engines. A huge Catamaran is motoring full throttle towards me. I'm a blip in the water and he doesn't see me. I am all out in panic mode and 100% paddling at this point. The boat steadily is closing in on me and It seems like death is now a possibility.   No time to die, I paddle like an idiot and see that I'm going to clear the boat just barely.  I get by and have 30 yards to spare. Seems like alot but it's not.

              This was the ferry coming from the East I saw first. It ended up very close to me as well

So Death averted I'm happy to get to Whistling Cay. It was an old Outpost way back in the day when the Virgin islands were colonized. Troops were stationed here to look for invaders coming and they would warn the Government of St. John. 

                    I entered whistling Cay and beached right where you see. The far island in the distance is where the shipping channel extends to. Doesn't look far but it is, trust me.

 To the left you can see Western St. John. The fort actually actually faces the north shore of St. John at Maho Bay.

From Whistling Cay it's a quick paddle to paradise, Maho Bay

I spend a couple hours here joined by strangers from Wisconsin that conveniently have a cooler of beer.  Later I Get a ride from My Friend Chirag back to his house to get cleaned up and relax before the night's activities.
                                       At the St. John Brewers Taproom with Chirag that evening

The following day was supposed to be me paddling to Puerto Rico a distance of about 60 miles of open water. The morning comes and the decision is to abort Puerto Rico. The "Christmas Winds" have arrived and are blowing 20+ mph consistently. On top of which the local paddlers tell me that the area between St. Thomas and Puerto Rico is heavily fished and that attracts lots of sharks. So the easy decision was to play it safe and stay on St. John.  I decide on a North Shore paddle on my last day in paradise.

                                                                Leaving Maho Bay
                                                            Quick stop on a rock beach

                                               Cool Pirate ship on western St. John

                                                                            Cruz Bay
                                                  Cruz Bay, Gear pulled off the board

                                                                Back at the Beach Bar

                                   The next morning I catch a ferry over to St. Thomas with my gear
                              A quick Baggage check in to a Cape Air Flight from St. Thomas airport

                                                    Seems it's a wee bit of a small plane

                                       I arrive in Puerto Rico and later board a flight back to Missouri

  All in all, traveling and living out of 2 bags was a fun adventure. If you have an inflatable sup, don't mind a little sweat, and have an open adventurous mind, you can have quite the adventure. No tour guides. No fancy hotels. No pampering. 
                                                 Just TRAVEL. PADDLE. STORE

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

5 days of traveling/exploring the Virgin islands by Inflatable Part 1

   The plan was simple: travel the U.S. and British Virgin islands by living out of 2 bags (one containing an  inflatable SUP) and then paddle to Puerto Rico.  Everything needed to have a successful adventure would have to be packed into 2 bags, one checked in the flight and one carry on.


    A quick drive  to St. Louis's Lambert airport began the day at 4am. Flight check-in and 2 flights later I arrive in St. Thomas' Cyril E. King airport, a small airport where you land on the airfield and walk outside to the terminal. Upon entry I get some free Rum samples to help with the immediate face sweating from the climate.


    I grab my bags,  easy to spot coming off the conveyor belt,  and make way to find a way out of the airport. This trip is non-luxury and I plan on not spending $40 on a taxi for a 20 minute ride.  So from local intel I find there are safari rides. Not your typical safari rig in the bush, more-so these are pickup trucks modified to fit people into row seating 3-4 in a row.  If you have a mammoth SUP bag with you then you commandere most of the seat row yourself.  For $2 the safari will take me across half the island with multiple stops. At the end I can hop a second safari for another $2.  $4 for a ride to the waterfront= saving $38 and adding a little adventure.


    The kicker? Safaris are not allowed to roll up to the airport and pick people up. They are more geared for people getting around the island.  Safaris are individually owned and not part of the taxi system. So I have to walk about a mile to get one. No sweat. Or more like loads of sweat! Pulling a 50lb bag on wheels and carrying a 40lb duffel makes me sweat as I trudge down a hot asphalt walkway. I find a convenience store and stop for info and some bottled water.  A 20 minute wait and I hop my first safari.  Interesting group of people on it. People getting off work, Going to the market. Going who knows where. The fella I'm next to has come off a labor job and is stoned as can be. Island life! He's hilarious and I tell him what I'm up to. He starts to tell me about the dangerous crossing from St. Thomas to St. John. It's entertaining but taken seriously.

  I get to the the second safari and then finally get to the eastern end of St Thomas at Red hook. I walk about 5 minutes and I'm at the water inflating my SUP. Onlookers are wondering what's going on as they wait for their Ferry boat to come, the last of the night. I even convince a by-stander to pump a while.  Board inflated and loaded up I leave for St. John at the day's end.

  The fella from the safari wasn't exaggerating, the water gets rough quickly once in the main channel. It has a washing machine effect. The boats flying by combined with the ferry boats and the channel + wind makes for a hairy paddle.  The Worst part is it's now dark and some of these boats are without lights. I have to listen to where they're coming from and  make sure my strobe light is positioned so they can see it.  A knuckle biter of a 4.5 hr paddle and I make St. John. greeted by "The Beach Bar" I settle in on a beach table and nestle my board and gear on the tree nearby. A Mahi sandwich and local St. John brewers beer make the crossing worthwhile.  The best part is I put in a call to a friend who lives on the island, Chirag, co-owner of St. John Brewers, who is putting me up for the night at his place.


Day 2 on the island starts slow. Some morning yoga at the Westin Hotel with Chirag's wife and then back to the house to load the board and gear for a paddle.  Loaded up I catch a ride to the Eastern part of the island from Chirag and unload. A quick Pump up and I'm  prepped for the first big crossing. St John USVI to Jost Van Dyke BVI. A Caribbean sea crossing of about 10 miles or so.

  No easy crossing by any means.  It's a cross wind and swell. winds are blowing at 17mph. On top of that there's a shipping channel I have to navigate with heavy boat traffic. I Leave Leinster Bay  and make my way to Tortola BVI. This is the easy leg as it's only 1.5hrs of paddling. In the bay it's calm due to being somewhat protected.

. The pic shows Leinster Bay where I launched. It looks peaceful but once I paddled between the 2 small islands the raging Caribbean erupted. 

                             A quick stop Near Soper's Hole BVI. I don't think I could even call it a beach. It was the best spot I could find though on the western Tortola end to take a break. Everything else was private property.

 Unfortunately I didn't take any pics of the actual crossing from Tortola to Jost Van Dyke. It was a hard 5 hour paddle across the ocean. The winds were closer to 20mph with 2-3' chop.  I lost count how many times I fell off the board. I took all my wits and to keep looking in every direction for boats. The shipping channel was busy. Huge ferries, cargo transports, personal catamarans and every other tourist out there renting a boat.  
                                    You can see the distance was no short amount. I left on the far left of St John and paddled to where the blue dot is.
   By the time I made it to Jost Van Dyke the sun was just starting to get ready to set. The tourist boats were leaving and I had a beach almost to myself.
  I decided on renting a small cabin for $80 for the night. No frills.

Some nigh time exploration by foot

                                                              Foxy's bar
                                              On the beach of Jost

an empty soggy dollar bar

Old Jeep on the island

Next up is day 3 of the adventure. Paddling back to St John. Near death from a boat. Stopping an old outpost. And seeing a sea turtle.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

2016 MR340: Finding a new family on the river - Pt.3

Shoving off of Katfish Katy's banks at 5am gave us a jump on the day. Starting your paddle in darkness and allowing the sun to glow across the river before it rises is magical. Then, when you've been waiting for the glow to turn to light, it happens. The sun peeks over the land and illuminates the water, your face, and the land surrounding you. Life starts again. Day 3.
    The plan for the day is to get to Wilson serenity point (known as Noren access to commoners). The team decides we need to stop at Cooper's Landing  before we get to See Joe Wilson at his native land. Paddling down river we have some interesting moments. Two in particular are when we " Had out shit together". AKA we all had our tree crouching moments of relief. More interesting was the vehicle we saw submerged in the water. Wierdest thing of the race, other than the motley crew configured on the Greystoke had to be the newer VW car that was 90% submerged off the river bank.


Approaching Cooper's landing, which if you haven't been, it's a must see landmark on the river. Good people, good food, and good times. We pull in to the boat ramp to some hootin' and hollerin' by resident Churchill Clark, a descendant of you guessed it, the Clark of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition.  "Church", as he's called by some friends, is the great-great-great-great grandson of William Clark.  In life he's found himself as a dug out canoe carver, river lover, entrepreneur, and public speaker.  We spend some time with Church and check out the latest canoe he's chopping on.  We also get a glimpse of his most famous dugout, affectionately named Knotty.  Works of art hand carved with primitive tools. Church literally set up camp at Coopers with a tent and works from home.
                                     Church meeting us on the ramp of coopers with Dale
                    Jerico, Churchill, Dale, and me on Church's canoe in process
Dale next to the world famous Knotty

    After we wolf down some made to order food we say our goodbyes to Church and the locals. Pack up Greystoke and make our way to our most anticipated stop.  A few short hours and we pull into the most well maintained sought after stop of this whole race, Joe Wilson's Serenity point. Brenda is there with Ron prepared to help us in any capacity, TJ as well.  Rod Wellington, (a traveling paddler from Canada known for Paddling long rivers, writing books and poetry, and  living life has been following along the trip and popping in and out to say hi.
      However, Jerico and I are mostly interested in talking to one person, Joe Wilson. Joe was the most kind and genuine man you will ever have met. Always smiling, always there to give you a hug or a handshake. Just, not one to always having his teeth in. He'd make you laugh by his laughing and saying, Dang it Shane, I don't have my teeth in. No-one cared teeth or not. We loved his smile. Joe tirelessly created and maintained this boat ramp and every year paddlers looked forward to being there.
  We found Joe and spent all the time we could with him. Even people that had never met him Like TJ and Brenda found he left a lasting impression.  TJ later told me he felt he knew Joe all his life. He was that type of man.

                                                Jerico and Dale have a chat with Joe

Me, Jerico, Joe, Rod Wellington, Dale

   We lost A treasure a few months after the this race was over. Joe lost his battle to cancer. Jerico and I did get to see him one last time in the hospital a week before he passed. Even then he was smiling and laughing, no teeth and all.  One thing  he said in the hospital to us that stood out was he always thought he'd be a hell of a paddler. He wondered why he never took it up. Yet, Jerico and I knew why, because he was a river angel. He watched over all the paddlers coming through his boat ramp.

     Departing Joe's home turf we made way down river with our hearts full. 223 miles into a 340 race and we now know we have a distinct possibility of finishing as long as nothing happens unexpected. The next distance to the Hermann checkpoint is a long one, 46 miles. We have quite a bit of light left in the day and figure we can make Hermann late evening/early morning.
Although it's a long stretch it flies by. It's as if our meeting with Joe has reset our bodies and minds and we have the spirit of the pre-race.

      My teammates and I assume the usual banter between Jerico and myself.  Dale seated in the rear of the board has a hard time hearing us. Yet, as always, when he speaks we listen.  It's along this section of the river we find an interesting discovery.  Back in the late 50's Dale worked in a naval hospital in Hayward,CA. At the time Jerico's Mother worked at the same hospital.  As we chatted, the math worked where Dale technically could be Jerico's Daddy. We all had some good laughs and henceforth Dale became Daddy Dale to Jerico. Then as the Math Worked out I technically could have been been Jerico's son. I just called him uncle Jerico for some reason.
We Spent the time swimming off the side of the board, munching on snacks, and entertaining ourselves the best we could. The time flew. We made Hermann at a decent hour and decided to spend some time and rest.
                  Our fearless crew, Brenda says it all. Tired and beat up and Why The F are you taking my picture?
In the safety vest is James, a checkpoint volunteer

It's here we really met James Crawford.  A 340 volunteer, prior 340 participant, and Insurance fella by normal day life.  He had the personality that fit in with our crew.   The team, crew, chip and Phil-O-cookie;  James was one of the fun wierdos. An intelligent guy that liked to joke and have fun. After we all ate I ventured back down to the boat ramp to chat with him a bit.  The rest of the crew slept and I asked james' story.  He nearly finished the 340 a year prior but had made a pact with his brother that if one of them pulled out so would the other. Unfortunately his brother had decided to pull out.  As we talked I told him that if he really wanted to finish the 340 that in 2017 I'd be happy to have him on my craft.

                                Yep, James catching a nap on the Hermann boat ramp

At the Hermann ramp Chip and Phil catch up to us and rest. It's dark and late and we have 42 miles to get to the Klondike checkpoint.  There's no way we want to paddle through the night without sleep and get into Klondike so we decide to break it up. About half way there's a boat ramp at new haven. It's not the best option as there are trains that run through the area but it's the only feasible option at this time. So the Greystoke trio followed by Chip and Phil-O-Cookie set out for New Haven in the dark.
   It's good to have Chip and Phil in tow. Chip adds a humor that can't be replaced. Always happy and smiling. Always positive. He's a great person to be with o and off the water. Phil is quiet and reserved. I've known him a few years now and he selectively speaks. This race he's opened up a little with Phil-O-Cookie humor. When he speaks, he slips in some funny goodness.

 We make New haven.  Essentially a parking lot with some patches of grass that butt up to railroad tracks. Ron (crew) and Brenda are waiting and it's here we decide to get some good sleep for a few hours.  Dale disappears and we all decide he just knows how to find the quietest spot (away from us). We all fall into tents or vehicles and crash.

   An early morning start and we're closing in on Washington. It's not a checkpoint but just a cool place on the river.  It's about an hour upriver from Washington where we find ourselves in a violent storm.  Winds, rain, and all kinds of water chop.  We maintain paddling through it all and are suddenly confused as the Washington fire department makes a beeline towards us on a rib boat.  They ask for me by name and I say good morning or something of the sort. They apparently were alerted by my spot tracker that we were in distress.  The funny part is Phil-O-Cookie is using my spot. So I ask him if it's been activated for SOS. He checks and nothing of the sort has happened. Dale also has a spot and checks his. Nothing.  An odd occurrence that at the end leaves all parties involved puzzled. (post race we find that Dale's spot tracker malfunctioned).

    Odd occurrence behind us we paddle on and make the Klondike checkpoint. Brenda and Ron are waiting for us and it starts to mist/rain. So we all pile into the sup van and chow down on some Hardee's breakfast.

                                                        Our Crew Brenda and Ron
The Final Push!!!
  Leaving Klondike is an amazing feeling. Knowing that in less than 5 hours you will be on land where your pain and suffering is done. You'll no longer need to paddle. You can be with family and friends. Drink a beer or 20. The feeling of accomplishment overwhelms and your body thanks you. Yet, for us paddling, we were a bit saddened. The past few days brought us together in a way unlike what you can find in life. The river has bonded us together in a way we have become this wierd little family. We don't want it to end but are eager to finish.

                                    Phil-O-Cookieand Chip on the final stretch

   Approaching the finish is a rush of emotion. Each individual has a different one. Jerico has attempted this race 4 times and had yet to cross the finish line. This is is his first. Dale, at 81, was uncertain if he'd be able to make it through. Chip dealt with a disgruntled paddler but remained happy and positive through it all.  Phil-O-Cookie was smiling the whole time and said it was fun. 340 miles over 4 days and it was fun? got to love Phil. For myself this was a monumental race. Paddling a craft my friend Daren and I built in 9 days. Doubted by many. Winning over all. Learning who all these people in my group were as the days passed. Seeing the river differently than my previous four 340 races.  Touching lives by our actions and not words.  It all became my most cherished race I have done to date.
                                                 Dale celebrating at the end
Finish line welcome. Scott reeves congratulating Jerico.
Bryan Hopkins welcoming Dale and I
My River Family

My future River rats