Thursday, June 30, 2016

Kayaking the Abel

I'm always looking for new places to dunk Big Red and I had found a reservoir in Stafford that looked appealing. It's described as being one of Stafford County's most scenic park and lake, so I loaded up the boat on Saturday evening and set off in the morning.
It was awesome to just walk out of the front door after breakfast and see the kayak already loaded!
It only took me an hour along mainly country roads to get there with a very bumpy track leading down to the ramp, but there was room to park close by so within a few minutes I was away from the bank and power paddling towards silent serenity.
There were only a couple of fisherman here and just a few more like me, here to enjoy the peace and scenery. The Abel Reservoir is 185 acres and long like a ribbon twisting down southwards. There looked to be lots of turns and inlets to explore so I was looking forward to the next few hours.
The trees were lush and green, no large patches of brown dead leaves which I'd noticed in previous years, and the vegetation by the edges of the water also looked equally healthy. The heavy rain we'd had in the spring had obviously worked its magic. I followed the banks in and out of inlets, for the most part managing to stay in the cool shade. There were very few people to be seen on the water which I relished, a joy to have this splendor to myself.
I almost steered into a blue heron who glared at me before taking over towards the sanctuary of the other side of the lake, yet there was none of the loud, angry croaking I've always heard in the past from these birds. He just flapped slowly across the water while I sat and watched his long wings almost brushing the lake's surface.
And then as I rounded a bend, another heron stood in the weeds. Again, no complaints, a resigned look and he also took off for the other side. They're very amiable herons on this lake, much more tolerant and polite to humans than I'm used to. I even felt guilty at having disturbed their peace.
My little G15 doesn't take the sharpest images but I was glad to get these shots.
I was amazed to see a juvenile Double-Crested Cormorant sitting low in the water, who after checking me out, slowly paddled to the center of the lake as I respecting his privacy, went the other way.
I was delighted to turn a corner and see this old abandoned boat lift, and moved closer to explore.
The once bright paint was peeling revealing rusty bolts, pipes were occupied with multiple spiders webs that reverberated and glistened in the breeze, all of their silken centers occupied by huge fat eight-legged tenants. I managed to perform a limbo under the pipes in Big Red, very carefully avoiding this colony of arachnids.
The sunlight shining through dappled leaves onto this murky area of water had a magical feel, and I sat still watching the tiny baby fishes darting underneath me, almost hoping something more wondrous would emerge from the bottom.
I was lucky enough to spot this huge dragonfly sitting still on the end of a twig, but with zooming in from a boat that kept moving it was impossible to capture a sharp image. Nonetheless, I was impressed and amused, when later at home, I looked at the photo and the dragonfly's head markings appeared to give him a masked face, reminding me of a Transformer. I later identified him as a Dragonhunter, Hagenius brevistylus. Rather appropriate.
This little dragonfly also looked like it was smiling, happy to have a warm stone to bask on.
Damselflies were fluttering everywhere over the water, many of them landing on my arms or hands as I paddled, or hitching a ride on the kayak. The silence of the lake was broken only by splashes from fishes catching flies, or large bubbles bursting from the silty bottom, silent large circles expanding across the surface. Bullfrogs grunted and mockingbirds trilled tunefully. There were even a few early cicadas clicking loudly from the trees.
There was also a beaver house, stacks of branches wedged against a bank. I waited for a while but wasn't fortunate to see the resident. But I did come across evidence of his presence a few yards down the inlet. I even saw a doe with her tiny fawn who could only have been a few days old, the large white spots on its flanks catching my eye when it moved.
There were plenty of bryozoa attached to fallen branches or weeds, a great indicator that the water here is highly organic and healthy. There were a few little sandy beaches along the banks, crystal clear water alive with tiny fishes.
I probably paddled about 6 miles around the lake, coming across only 5 other boat owners, most of whom had stayed at the top end nearer the road and the ramp. But I heard shouting and laughing from some rocks as I was finishing my afternoon, and stopped to watch a group of kids who were daring each other to plunge into the water below. I learned from their comments that a short sprint needed to be made before the leap, and seeing their hesitation, I smiled. And actually felt old! I wouldn't have thought twice about making that jump a few years ago, but nothing on earth would persuade me to do it now. I watched for a while but only two of the lads dared to take the challenge. Not wanting to make them feel more uncomfortable than they already were with me watching and chuckling, I left them to complete their antics in peace, and paddled the last few yards to the ramp.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Women Can Fly

On a cloudy but hot Saturday I drove to Warrenton-Fauquier Airport for a 'Women Can Fly' day. This is set up by volunteers from the airport to encourage female interest in flying, since only about 6% of pilots in the U.S. are female. All we had to do was sign up, sign a waiver, and then show up on the day. This was their fourth year of running this event and there would be about 15 pilots flying us.
I got there earlier, finding other like minded ladies already listening to an experienced pilot explaining the basics of a plane and its controls.
We were told how various parts of a plane work and what that panel of instruments on the 'dashboard' mean. I had assumed it would all be extremely complicated but the images shown on screen along with our instructor's explanation made everything easier to take in and digest. We listened to her for about 30 minutes and then were ready to take our flight.
Some of the planes waiting to take us skywards.
I quite envied this gentleman nonchalantly pedaling in between the planes without a care in the world. I would have loved to be out there cycling too. Obviously he's spent a lot of time meandering among the aircraft to appear so casual.
Waiting in line to be assigned to planes. The guy in charge of this paid me a huge compliment by assigning me to a Cub, which I was very excited about until I realized I was too heavy. Well, at least he hadn't thought so! I would have been a solo passenger with the pilot but with my cumbersome carcass it was not to be. They were very sweet, putting the blame on to the pilot, but he didn't look that chunky to me...
So, no solo flight for me, but I had no room to be sad about that as after all, this was a free event, and it was my fault the solo opportunity was lost. Damn those craft beers!
I managed to snap this photo of an experimental plane called The XY, because of its tail shape. It's a 2 seater craft that's testing the different reactions from flying with different weights.
Here's that Cub which, alas, I wasn't able to fly in.
But this is the one I did fly in, a 2007 Cessna 182 with only 700 hours on the clock.
The plane belonged to Ralph Crafts, whose wife is friends of the lady on the left, so she sat in the front. I actually wasn't miffed by this as it meant I could wave my camera around from the back seat without unsettling Ralph. I was glad I'd brought the little G15 and not my bigger Sony.
Ralph checking flight controls, explaining as he went. It was quite comfy in the back, lots of room, and I even had a cup holder! I sat back, keeping silent while Ralph spoke to control and then we set off down the runway, lifting quickly and smoothly up towards the clouds.
Ha! How many folks have taken a photo out of the back of a plane?
The views on the horizon were hazy due to the low cloud cover so I kept my images for down below us. This quarry looked like a child's sandpit and it was fascinating to see the patterns of the machine marks in the ground.
We passed over the town of Remington, fields of various browns that had likely just been sown, and huge green tracts of grass that had been mowed, but looked like they'd been scratched.
Cows enjoying the coolness of farm ponds and the Goldvein drag strip, note how Ralph tipped the plane so we could see better. As we soared above Virginia enjoying the scenery, I marveled at how many trees there were. You really just don't realize until you see them from this perspective. long may they grow and be free from the property developer. Ralph explained how the instruments worked as we flew, showing us how the rudder and wing tips helped to keep the plane straight or turn. He even let the plane fly on autopilot, and I don't know if it was my imagination or not, but I felt the ride was smoother with Ralph in control.
We slowly descended towards the runway, lightly touched the ground and coasted back towards the other standing planes. Ralph made us laugh with a joke:
Q: What's the definition of a good landing?
A: When you can walk away from the plane.
Q: What's the definition of a great landing?
A: When you can walk away and use the plane again!
He was a hoot and as we walked to pick up our certificates of completion, we chatted about how much he and the airport help out with volunteer programs. He's involved in Angel Flights, which transports patients free of charge to obtain medical treatment that would otherwise be out of reach. They also help Pilots N Paws, a story is here. And also, Wings of Appreciation, who provide flights to veterans, have help from these ever giving pilots, including 2 plane flights on July 9th.
This had been a pretty impressive day, and I was very grateful for what I had received free of charge. The pilots had all donated their own time, as well as their own fuel, and many, their own planes. Those who didn't own planes had rented from the airport at a special rate. But it was all from their own pocket. All participants had received a folder filled with information about the basics of flying and organizations who we could contact if the day had sparked an interest. We were even given a pair of sunglasses. The superb lunch from Red, White and Blue was also complimentary. It's been a long time since I've been the recipient of such generosity and everybody here was so friendly, cheerful and chatty. Like a photographer said, who I stopped to have a few words with, we were out in the countryside with rural folk in a rural airport, that's the way country folk are. And I surely hoped with such friendliness and generosity that many of the 140 ladies who had signed up for the day would come back to take those flying lessons. I have to admit it's a wonderful idea for my retirement...