Thursday, December 21, 2006

Warm Day on the Wacissa

I decided to get out for one more paddling trip on this beautiful balmy day before the predicted rain and cooler temps settle in for several days. The Wacissa is closest so I headed back there.

Lots of sandpipers along the edges, as pictured in an earlier post. I drifted downstream at a very slow pace, just enjoying the scenery. I decided to check on Bob, the Tame Limpkin, to see if he was still in his usual spot.

He wasn’t precisely where he has been on numerous previous paddling trips, but there was a limpkin fairly nearby. While it let me get somewhat close, I don’t think it was Bob (they all pretty much look alike to me). I watched it look around for snails underwater.

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No luck.

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In fact, it didn’t find any the whole time I was there. Bob probably got them all.

I turned around at about that point and started a slow paddle upstream. This time I followed the east edge of the river. I don’t usually hang out on that side—it’s mostly all tall reedy plants, and power boaters like to zoom through there, even though they can’t see anything in front of them through all the reeds. Not a good situation for a paddler. But there were very few boats on the river this day and so I would have heard any power boater approaching in enough time to get out of the way.

The egrets hang out in the greenery on this side.

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Belted kingfishers were busy divebombing into the water and swooping back to trees. I told them I was not going to take any more belted kingfisher photos since I had plenty of them already, so they could stop taunting me. Of course they kept getting closer and closer so I finally caved and took a picture of this one in a tree

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and this one perched on a limb sticking up out of the water.

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It was another 4-hour paddling trip at an extremely leisurely pace. As I got near the boat ramp, I spotted this red-shouldered hawk high up in a tree looking over the river.

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Happy holidays to everyone! I’m not sure when or where the next trip will be. My husband’s vacation starts Saturday and he is off work until January 2nd. We have a lot of stuff planned, none of which includes paddling, though I might duck out for a quick trip at some point. Stand by.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bambi on the Wakulla

I hadn’t been to the Wakulla for a long time. The tide was about right today for a trip and so I packed up the new kayak and headed out.

The wide part of the river by the boat ramp was a bit of a challenge, as it always is (except at high tide). But once past that, the current slowed considerably; the tide was coming in while I was there. I hadn’t gone very far before I heard the sound of something crashing through the woods to my right, followed by splashing. I looked over and saw—for the first time ever by this river—a deer. Even though I have never seen one here, it was up to that point fairly normal—a deer in the woods. However, then it jumped in the water and began swimming.

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I stopped paddling and let momentum move me forward and it swam alongside me for a while.

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Eventually I stopped, at which point it swam across the river in front of me. I let the current take me downstream a little just to not scare it. It crossed the river—

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--and scrambled up on the bank and ran away.

That was very strange—never seen that before!

I continued on. I really like this river. While there are several docks at the water, there is also a lot of natural wilderness there. The water is crystal clear. Once you leave the boat ramp area and the road by it, it gets very quiet.

I passed three other paddlers. They told me they had seen a lone manatee up by the island. I told them a deer had crossed the river right in front of me. I think the swimming deer trumped the manatee.

There were more ibis on the river today than I have ever seen in any one area—near the top there were at least two dozen together. There were fewer in the lower half. This one watched me paddle by.

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And of course there are always turtles on this river! Look, Ma, no hands or feet!

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When I got near the top I entered the backwater part of the river, which is narrow and close. An otter spotted me and jumped from a small island into the water and was gone. The ibis were noisy. These three watched from their high perch.

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I decided not to go all the way to the upper boat ramp, so I started my downriver float earlier than usual. Needless to say, the belted kingfishers were swooping around and making their chipping sound the whole time. I caught this one in mid-swoop.

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I passed several small groups of blooming flowers—these same flowers were blooming during the summer, so they must be somewhat hardy.

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This was a summery shorts-and-t-shirt day with very little wind. Perfect day to be on the water. And yet I only encountered the three paddlers who had seen the manatee and one couple in a canoe and one guy fishing.

This is the time of year that great blue herons tend to blend into the scenery since the trees are all brown and gray and the birds are difficult to spot. I had to actually turn around and paddle back upstream a little way to get myself positioned to photograph this little one, who was a few feet back from the water’s edge.

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When it turned to look the other way, I took one of just its head. These birds are so primitive looking. Not too soft and cute, but pretty impressive.

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For soft and cute, there were a lot of these little birds flitting around. I’m pretty sure this is a phoebe.

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I never did see the manatee, on either pass by the island. I was also hoping to see at least one merganser—it was about this time last year that I paddled next to one on this river for quite a distance. I spotted a group of grebes in the middle of the river, but by the time I got to them, they had ducked underwater and no doubt were some distance away.

This egret was sitting a few feet into the woods along the shoreline. The breeze ruffled its feathers just a bit.

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I was out over four hours today. No symptoms of kayak butt despite taking no breaks from paddling—the Prijon is a comfy boat! It’s supposed to be warm again tomorrow. If nothing gets in the way, I’d like to get back to the Wacissa again and this time cover more ground than just back and forth within the first mile. Stand by.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Taking the New Kayak to the Wacissa River

Christmas came a bit early for me and I went out yesterday to get my new kayak, a Prijon Motion. As described in an earlier post, I happened to paddle this boat at a demo day and fell in love with it.

I took it to the Wacissa since it’s close by and a good place to try out a new boat—minimal current near the headspring, a little stronger a mile downstream. Needless to say, I had to get some pictures of the boat before it went on its debut trip. Interestingly, it looks downright orange in these pictures, when in real life it is red.

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The bird population in the first section changes by season. This is the time that there are a lot of those little sandpipers there; in the spring there are more wood ducks, and in the summer both juvenile and mature little blue herons populate the edges. The sandpipers are cute.

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This one turned to look at me as I passed.

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A strong wind came up behind me and blew me downstream. Downstream wind is less than ideal on this river since it is downstream-first by necessity (since the boat ramp is at the headspring) and that means fighting that wind during the second half of any trip.

As I drifted downstream I noticed that the top of the seat back was hitting me around my lower waist, above my hip bones instead of comfortably on the bones. Also, as I had noticed during the demo, my thighs were a little low to make good contact with the thigh braces. The seat on this boat is padded and so I had left my Skwoosh cushion in the car. I use this cushion in both the Mystic and the Montauk—in the Mystic just as cushioning for comfort, in the Montauk because I need the extra inch of height to make all the contact points fit right. So I decided to turn around after about an hour to go get the cushion. It was only about 1:15, I had plenty of time. Also, I wanted to see how the boat paddled against both wind and current at the same time.

This boat is (about, depends on your reference) 14’11” long and 23.5” wide. The Mystic is 14’ long and 21.5” wide. The Mystic is fiberglass, this one is plastic. I’m not sure how those factors compare when it comes to the dynamics of the boat, but they must balance it out in some way since this boat handled the current and wind every bit as well as the Mystic. I did not get the optional rudder for it and so it is without skeg or rudder. It tracked fantastically, even when the wind was not coming directly at the bow. It moves very fast and easily through current and wind. I was a little surprised.

This little blue heron was sitting on a branch in the middle of the river and yelled at me a bit as I went by.

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Incidentally, a friend of mine told me that while birds may appear to only have one leg (which I always attributed to being around all those gators), in fact they often hold one leg up against their body for warmth, which makes it disappear into their feathers and makes them look one-legged. So there you go.

Ibis were out in number, as usual, as were the limpkins.

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So I got back up to the boat ramp and got the cushion and headed back downstream again. Ah! Perfect! It fit like it is supposed to; seat back was more comfortable and thigh braces were just right.

On my way back downstream I passed this great blue heron hanging out by the island near the boat ramp. These birds seem to be sporting some breeding plumage these days, with the extra feathers on the chest and head.

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I saw this little blue heron hunting for food and pulled into the surface horticulture to watch it.

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It moved behind some high plants at about the same time that it caught some morsel, but I did get some of it in a picture:

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I went into the Blue Spring inlet and sat parked along the edge and had a snack and watched for the raccoons I have seen in there before. They didn’t come down to the water while I was there, but it was peaceful and a nice place to spend a few minutes.

This ibis was on a branch sticking out of the water near the entrance to the spring.

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Since I had a few errands to run after getting off the water, I decided to head back to the boat ramp. I passed a group of grebes over to the side. I think these birds are just adorable.

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So I got back and loaded up the boat. When I was leaving the boat ramp parking lot, my paddling buddy Abby was just pulling in with her kayak. Bad timing—if I had lingered on the water a bit longer and had not already loaded the boat when she arrived, I would have gone back out again. We talked for awhile and then she went off downriver and I went to run my errands.

It was a good paddling day and I am very impressed with the Prijon Motion, more than I expected to be. I think this boat will get a lot of use.

I have plans to get out and about next week, either camping or day trips (or both). Stand by.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

St. Marks NWR and St. Marks River

My husband recently pointed out an article in a local paper that told about how an unusually high number of roseate spoonbills (about 21) had been spotted at the St. Marks NWR. I really wanted to see those birds. As mentioned previously, I have had a variety of obstacles to paddling lately, so I decided to seize the day and load the Mystic in the car and head out to look for the spoonbills at the wildlife refuge and later paddle either the St. Marks River or the Wakulla.

It was overcast when I left home but by the time I arrived at the refuge, the sun was out. I drove slowly along the road that leads to the lighthouse at the Gulf, scanning the ponds and channels on either side for spoonbills. I saw a lot of egrets and great blue herons but did not stop for them on my way in.

As I approached the lighthouse I noticed that it suddenly got very foggy. Pea-soup type. When I got to the parking lot, one couple was there, the man with an impressive camera who was laden with lenses and other camera paraphernalia. He informed me that I was a few minutes too late—that not five minutes earlier the fog had only been out in the Gulf and the pond across the road was clear. The pelicans had been lined up on the pilings (which were now shrouded in fog). Great. The lighthouse area is where most of the spoonbills have been spotted. So I parked the car, talked to the man and his wife for awhile, and then decided to walk down the road a bit to look for spoonbills. Seemed a little silly to be looking for pink birds in heavy gray fog—even if I found one, the photo would not be very good.

As long as I was out walking in it, though, I decided when I saw these birds to get a foggy picture of them.

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I went back to the car. The man and his wife drove past me before I got to the parking lot, on their way out. I decided to drive to “Headquarters Pond,” where other spoonbills had, according to the article, been recently spotted. There is a quarter-mile trail that leads to that pond from a parking lot. When I got to the parking lot, the man and his wife were already there.

No spoonbills at Headquarters Pond, though I did get this group shot of a gator (left) and egret together.

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I spent some time talking to the guy with all the camera equipment. Seems he is a retired photojournalist who has recently taken up wildlife photography, and we chatted for a while about shots obtained and shots missed. He said he had been considering for quite awhile getting a kayak and so we discussed photography from a kayak for a while. Nice guy—they are from the Indian River area of Florida.

I stopped on my way out when I saw this great blue heron in the grass.

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It was late, I had spent about two hours at the refuge, so I decided to paddle the St. Marks River instead of continuing on to the Wakulla. The first paddling hour or so of the Wakulla is through a fairly populated area—the best birds are in the top half of the river, and I didn’t have that much time. I recalled that last time I paddled the St. Marks I was pleasantly surprised by the number of shorebirds I encountered.

No such luck this time, though I did see a lot of small birds. And, oddly, the shoreline was filled with robins. I’m not sure what they find to eat down here at this time of year, but clearly it’s popular—there were a lot of robins.

Here’s a little tiny picture of a little tiny bird I saw.

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And of course the belted kingfishers were out and about. Are you getting tired of these yet?

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Had I known I would see no egrets or herons at all, I would have taken more pictures of them at the NWR.

This was the first paddling trip for a long time and it was nice to be back on the water. I hope this much time doesn’t elapse again between trips. Stand by for the next report.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why No New Paddle Tales?

I know—this blog has been stagnant for a much longer than usual time! Well, that’s only because it’s been a longer than usual time since my last paddling trip. First, we have had some cold (for us) weather here, with the daytime temps barely creeping into the 50’s. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a Florida wimp when it comes to paddling in less than 60 degrees. Other reasons for my inability to get out paddling now that the weather is warming back up include a flood of pesky work and illness in our oldest dog (who is hanging in pretty well so far, but I didn’t want to leave for the day till she was a bit farther out of the woods). Today I had plans to go out to a river first thing this morning and got a double whammy—work came in that required immediate attention and the dog had a relapse. The universe may be trying to tell me something.

Maybe tomorrow I can make the trip I had planned for today. Or maybe Thursday. But just in case I continue to be unable to get out paddling for the rest of the week, I decided to post a few pictures that didn’t make it into their respective blog posts only because of my desire to keep the loading time reasonable by limiting the number of photos for each post.

I found a few gator pictures that got left out. Both of these were taken on the Wakulla River:

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and

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I also found this limpkin photo that I think is part of a series I took of the same bird (but not Bob, the Tame Limpkin); one of the others got used in the post. This is of course from the Wacissa.

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The plan is to go in search of that Prijon Motion kayak at the end of the week, and if it’s still available, purchase it and hopefully take it out for a debut paddle. Stand by.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Reed Bingham Park Lake and New River, Adel, Georgia

This was a camping trip to Reed Bingham State Park near Adel, Georgia. I found out that they will be draining their (imaginatively named) lake on December 9th (to get rid of the “invasive vegetation,” which is indeed taking over the shoreline) and it will stay low until the end of January. So I decided to move this trip up to the top of the list.

It was very overcast almost all the time during the three days I was there; however, it only actually rained at night. Nonetheless, having to watch the sky and be aware of the distance back to the boat ramp can put a crimp on paddling. I will be returning to this park when their lake is refilled and there is a more favorable weather forecast.

I wanted to get a picture of the lake from the boat ramp and thought it would be very scenic in sunlight, perhaps with some blue sky reflecting in it. That was clearly not going to happen this trip, so I took one in the existing conditions. This is facing the place where the lake narrows down to be New River.

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I paddled on Tuesday after setting up camp, and again on Wednesday. Shortly after leaving the boat ramp on Tuesday, I came to a belted kingfisher in a tree. The thing I like about this picture is that it is the first reasonably clear picture I have gotten of a male—every other picture has been of a female. Another thing I like is that it is recognizable despite my having only the 200mm lens with me instead of the 300mm (I try not to think of how it would have appeared had I had the stronger lens along…).

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I paddled around the edge of the lake; I was the only boat on the water. When I reached the beginning of the river, I decided to take a chance that the rain would hold off and explore it a bit. This decision was helped by seeing this sign—are these words not a joy to every paddler?

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As with those on the corresponding camping blog entry, all of the pictures from this trip are a bit darker than usual due to the lack of sunshine.

The lake was fun to paddle and had an interesting shoreline but the river was beautiful. There are many islands in it, and the shoreline is woodsy, with some cypress trees and live oaks in some parts and small trees and lots of shrubbery in others. It was very quiet in there.

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This great blue heron was hanging out at the edge and was not at all disturbed by my presence.

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The river winds for a fairly long way. I passed a man fishing and asked how far it went and he said it went “all the way” to a bridge I have never heard of, but I got the gist of what he was saying—it goes a long way. However, shortly after passing him I encountered a lot of that invasive vegetation they want to get rid of and decided, given the weather and the lateness in the day, I would turn around and head back.

I passed these turtles sitting on a log. The one in the back doesn’t seem to have a fair share of log.

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I went out again the next day, under the same threatening gray clouds. Some coots escorted me for a short distance along the edge of the lake.

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I came to another great blue heron, this one hunkered down in the shoreline vegetation, looking a bit different from their usual posture.

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I went into the river again. If it’s this pretty on a dark day, I can only imagine what it must be like in sunshine under blue sky (I’ll plan the next trip for such a time).

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I passed this egret, who had been preening and scratching and had just fluffed:

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I went the same distance on this day as well before turning around. This time I thought I would try to circle the other side of the lake to get back to the boat ramp. I had only just started when I heard a kingfisher. It was another male (or the same one)—despite having the longer lens on this day, the pictures didn’t come out any better. I did get one as he flew away, though (this is my usual view of these birds…)

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The gray clouds were getting darker gray and I didn’t think I would make it all the way around the lake this time so, since I was the only boat in the lake area and didn’t have to worry about being invisible to power boaters, I cut straight across. This egret watched me approach the edge.

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I will get back here again in February or March. This lake is a popular water-skiing lake in summer, and seeing as it is only 375 acres, paddling it would be impossible then. It’s only an hour from where I live, though, so this could be done as a day trip. However, the camping was excellent, and the park has some very interesting hiking trails. More information on those aspects of the park can be found on the Camping Blog site.

Rain is in our forecast for the next several days so there will be no paddling trips in the immediate future. Stand by.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Kayak Demo Day on Lake Hall in Tallahassee, Florida

I’m qualifying this as a paddling tale since I did get out paddling and the results will most likely appear later in this blog.

We decided to go to Tallahassee to the kayak demo that was put on today at Maclay Gardens State Park by Wilderness Way outfitters. I’m not really in the market for a new kayak, but I figured they might have some models there that my email buddies who live elsewhere paddle and it would give me a chance to see what their boats are like. And it was a beautiful day—warm and windless.

Given that I so rarely see anyone else on any of the waterways around here (though that may be largely because I don’t go out on weekends…), I didn’t expect to see much of a turnout here. I was wrong about that! We got there at about 12:30 and they were going strong. Lots of boats, too.

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I walked the line of them and saw a couple of boats that indeed are owned and paddled by people I email with, so I went back to the car to change into proper paddling shoes and get my pfd. Of course they had pfd’s available for use there, but I have found from experience that a high-back pfd lets you take advantage of a high-back kayak seat since it doesn’t interfere with the seat back.

The boat I wanted to try was taken out about 5 seconds before I got to it, so I settled for another. It was ok, but not one I would choose to own and paddle (I’m purposely being vague on the models—my friends like their boats very much. I know I wouldn’t appreciate someone casting aspersions on my favorite kayak). I got back to the beach area and the one I had wanted to try was back. This is an extremely popular model and a consistent best-seller.

It felt like a barge to me. The cockpit was so long and wide that it bordered on simulating an SOT (sit-on-top). I’m of average size. Having paddled that boat, I’d like to take this opportunity to urge everyone to consider the fit of any kayak they plan to buy (that isn’t an SOT). There was a world of difference between paddling that one and the Mystic or Montauk (or even the Riot Stealth). It comes down in large part to control, which is much more easily attained if your body is in contact with your boat in places other than the seat. Even people (like me) who paddle only calm, flat water can occasionally get caught in a strong current that wants to sweep the kayak sideways, and that’s just plain easier to overcome (without capsizing) if you are in a boat that fits you. When I was contemplating purchasing the Mystic, a small boat, I came across several articles about boat selection that suggested that people tend to choose kayaks that are more boat than they need. Today I finally understood exactly what that means.

I was wandering the beach area and looking only at cockpits, to see if I could find anything less bathtub-like. A little red-orange boat caught my eye. Very nicely outfitted with a little day hatch in front of the seat that could replace the need for a deck bag, netted rigging on both bow and stern, and bow and stern hatches. It had a small cockpit and a low deck, which I greatly prefer to the high rounded decks that a lot of kayaks have. It was a Motion by Prijon.

I climbed into it and one of the people working at the event gave me a push off into the lake. I stopped the backward momentum and turned the kayak around to head out.

It took all of about 15 seconds to realize that this boat was nice. Very nice. Nice-to-own nice. I turned back around and signaled to the guy to come over. I told him I needed to know more about the boat before I took it out (since this boat had suddenly come under some serious consideration). I found out it’s a shade under 15’ long, which is a good length—right between my 14’ Mystic and 16’ Montauk. It’s 23.5” wide, which would give me the extra stability I want on lakes with submerged timber, which was the reason I bought the Stealth. It’s plastic instead of fiberglass, making it an ideal alternative boat for use at new boat ramps on rivers (since I keep forgetting the kayak cart and find myself having to drag a fiberglass boat across pavement and gravel…). The seat is comfortable.

So I took it for a fairly lengthy paddle around the lake. It turns well. It moved swiftly when I sped up my paddling. It’s a really fine kayak.

When I got back I wanted to get a picture of it on the beach to put in this blog post. However, a guy got into it before I could get the camera back down there. So I took a picture of him paddling it.

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(Yes, it’s true, I blurred his face… Hey—maybe he was supposed to be somewhere else other than paddling around at a demo day, and his face was pretty recognizable in the photo. In fact, while he was out, he spent some time on his cell phone…probably complaining about having to be inside his stuffy office on such a nice day… while he paddles around the lake in a Prijon.)

Christmas is coming. I suspect that before 2007 arrives, this blog will include a post about the new addition to my fleet. I haven’t decided whether to keep the Stealth if I add this boat, since the Motion will pretty much be replacing that one for all trips on which I don’t want to risk the fiberglass.

Camping trip coming up at a new place on a lake. Stand by for that.