Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ça Cogne! It's spring in Canada.

What "cognes?" The ice melting, breaking up, and flowing downstream to be churned up in the rapids as they hit the whitewater kayaks playing in the big, fast, spring flows of the Ottawa River off Bate Island.

Over the weekend, I watched the melting ice flows moving downriver towards the rapids. They are almost impossible to see churning in the whitewater of the rapids. I asked a whitewater paddler at Bate Island, "What about the ice?"

He responded in French, "Ça Cogne."

In English, you can choose the verb of your choice: it bangs, knocks, hits, thumps, whacks, wallops, or clobbers.

I guess the size and speed of the ice chucks hitting your kayak would help you choose the best word.

Then I asked him, "What if you go into the water."

He responded calmly with a smile, "Cover your face."

Spring thaw usually equals big spring flows on the Ottawa River. And this year is no different.

Each year I look for the peak spring flows off Bate Island. I can usually tell by a convergence of whitewater paddlers lined up along the shore, waiting for a turn at the high flowing rapids and big standing waves.

They were there this long Easter weekend, and so much fun to watch.
It's quite a show. Especially when you're standing close to shore, the incredible speed and powerful rush of the water during spring flows is impressive and frightening, and challenging fun for the whitewater paddlers.

Spectators gather to witness the yearly spring paddle pilgrimage to this spot at Bate Island on the Ottawa River between the cities of Gatineau, Quebec, and Ottawa, Ontario in Canada.  Bate Island has a small park with picnic tables, a large picnic shelter (gazebo), free parking, and can be accessed in either direction from the Champlain Bridge.

The variety of skilled paddlers and surfers who show up to ride the big standing waves and play in the icy-cold rapids may surprise you. We expect whitewater kayaks and whitewater canoes. They are made for this.
Each year, it's the surfers and stand up paddleboarders who surprise me the most. Yes, they ride and play in waves and tides, but what about rapids with strong currents and some ice chunks thrown into the mix? My images simply can't convey how fast and furious the water is. You have to be there to fully appreciate it.
Whitewater art comes in many forms. Some forms will swim more than others.
When going into the rapids, choose your best weapon.
The whitewater kayak is king.
It's still missing from my small fleet of sea kayaks and paddleboards. But I'll get one or two for play in less intense waters and rolling practice.

I had a rolling lesson in a Jackson Zen 65 river runner, and I liked it. It's the only whitewater kayak I've ever sat in that made me think I might want one. I usually don't like the feel of them.

Stay warm and safe. If you are new to the river, beware. The very dangerous Deschenes Rapids are downriver from Bate Island.
Deschenes Rapids, Ottawa River, Aylmer, Quebec, Canada
You do not want to paddle downriver from Bate Island or run the Deschenes Rapids from upriver. The rapid along the Quebec shore races with fury through an old hydro facility that has crumbled. But you can view these impressive rapids from shore if you cycle the path along the river

Happy trails!
The BaffinPaddler

Monday, April 21, 2014

Spring training for the paddler

Learning about navigation aids is especially important for the paddler. Part of my spring training for the upcoming paddling season, while waiting for the water to thaw and warm up, is hitting the books, or the websites with information I need to review and . . . try to remember.

I've found myself confused about buoy markers and marine signs more than once on a variety of waterways in Canada and the U.S.

In my early paddling years, on a large lake with several islands, I found myself kayaking towards a black and red buoy. Not knowing its meaning and thinking it was a channel marker indicating a safe passage between islands, I paddled towards it. When I got closer to it, I said, "Oh shit!", it's a buoy indicating DANGER. I could suddenly see the big shoal it was sitting on, and I was paddling right for it with an unfavourable wind when I should have been taking extra care to paddle well away from it.

Now, every spring, I make an effort to review some of the navigation aids. They can be confusing and I tend to forget things over the 6-month long winter in Canada.

The image above is a red and white FAIRWAY BUOY 

It is parked on land as it waits for the water to thaw. I took a picture of it so you can see what's in the water with you. It is heavy, solid as a rock, and comes to a nasty point at the front. You don't want to get too close to it or get pushed into, or under it by wind, waves, current, or big boat wakes.

A fairway buoy is used to mark safe water and is usually used to mark a channel entrance, the centre of a shipping channel, or a landfall. This buoy indicates that there is safe water to pass on either side but it should be kept to the port (left) side of your vessel when proceeding upstream or downstream. It is painted half in red and half in white. If it is equipped with a light, it is white in color and operates on a flash cycle (flashing Morse Code "A", which is a short, then long flash, repeated 10 times per minute).

There are good, free, online resources and navigation courses you can take. If you're going to paddle in waters with navigation aids and motorized craft, you need to know the rules of the water, or at least some of them, before heading out.

In Canada, sea kayaks are subject to small vessel regulations. 

Under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, Transport Canada is the government department responsible for pleasure boating. Sea kayaks are subject to Small Vessel Regulations under the Act.

For more information, see page 16, Regulations: Sea Kayaking Safety Guide, Transport Canada

For more information about navigation aids, and their meaning, here are a few links for pleasure craft operators in Canada. This more detailed information is also very useful for the paddler sharing the same waters with motorized craft. 

Happy and safe trails!
The BaffinPaddler

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Should you put Toko eXpress Universal Liquid Wax on the fish scales of your waxless classic skis? Even if the manufacturer says so?

Well, I can answer that . . . NO!

I already learned my lesson the hard way by listening to the advice of a ski shop in the Tremblant, Quebec region to apply Toko eXpress Universal Liquid Wax to the kick zone (fish scales) of my new waxless, classic, cross-country skis "to protect the fish scales from wear and tear".

Say what! Put a slick, liquid wax on the kick zone (fish scales)? The advice to do so is also written on the product by the manufacturer, ". . . "for kick and glide zones".

Usually the advice is to the contrary. Do not put glide wax on the kick zone (fish scales). This is where the ski needs to engage so you can kick off and advance or climb hills. Only put glide wax on the smooth surface of the classic waxless ski for better glide. The Toko eXpress is called a universal liquid wax for both grip and glide zones.

You can see in the image below, the smooth glide surfaces on the bottom of the ski, and the etched surface in the middle in the kick zone.

Waxless classic cross-country ski with fish scales on the kick zone
Waxless classic skis don't need wax. But we can use a glide wax for a smoother glide and sometimes a faster ride.

Waxable classic skis are another story. They use a grip wax on the kick zone and don't have an etched surface (fish scales). The entire bottom surface of the waxable classic ski is smooth. Classic skiers with waxable skis use a wide range of different waxes for the glide zones depending on conditions and snow temperatures.

I listened to the advice to put the Toko eXpress Universal Liquid Wax for Grip and Glide on the fish scales of my new skis and gave it a try.

Why not? The ski store in Tremblant and the manufacturer must know better than I do, right?

Instant disaster!

Nothing but kick back on my new Rossignol Zymax Classic waxless skis. If you don't know what kick back is on classic x-country skis, think about spinning your wheels on ice. You don't get anywhere. Then think of the next worse scenario - flying down a snowy hill with a long, skinny, classic ski on what feels like slick ice. That's not kick back. It's an overly slick ski picking up more speed than you might be comfortable with.

Once the product was on the fish scales, it didn't seem to wear off. The problem with kick back remained. My new skis were useless, and not returnable. Once you purchase skis and have bindings applied, they are yours.

I needed help and advice on what to do. And the fix was simple.

I want to say thank you to the Sports Experts store and the staff at 25 Blvd. du Plateau, Gatineau (Hull sector), Quebec, Canada. 

I went to them for a second opinion on my new skis, to verify if they were properly balanced with the binding placement. All was fine. The length of the ski was correct for my size and weight. They helped me solve the kick back problem by removing the Toko eXpress Universal Liquid Wax from the fish scales of my skis with a base cleaner. It was fast and easy. I was impressed with the friendly, efficient, knowledgeable staff and good service at the store. The store is at a convenient location near Gatineau Park.

Once the Toko eXpress Universal Liquid Wax was removed from the fish scales of my skis, they behaved as they should. I had grip and glide and I started to really enjoy my new skis. 

If you need to remove glide wax from the fish scales of your classic waxless cross-country skis, the KUU Bio Citron Base Cleaner worked well for me. It's about $13 CAD. People with waxable skis use this product or use other methods for removing wax. 
It might be a good idea to keep a bottle handy during ski season. You never know when a well-meaning ski buddy might apply the glide wax to then entire bottom surface of your classic waxless skis, including the fish scales.

I'm sharing this with you, so that, if this situation ever happens to you, you won't waste as much time as I did figuring out what to do. 

I will say though, that I do prefer the Toko eXpress Universal Liquid Wax as a glide wax for the glide sections of my skis. I find it is easier to apply, goes on smoother, and seems to last longer than the Swix Glide Wax

I don't agree, however, with the advice from the manufacturer that it is for kick and glide zones alike! It made my kick zone too slick.   

And now, I know how to easily remove any glide wax from my fish scales if it ever finds its way back where it doesn't belong. 

Thanks Sports Experts, for helping me turn this year's ski season into one of my best.

I see they are still sharpening skates, and now, tuning up and repairing bikes. The store is stocked with quality outdoor and sports gear. The repair and service shop is at the back of the store.

I think we've enjoyed the best of spring skiing this year in Canada's National Capital Region and beautiful Gatineau Park, (Quebec, Canada). 
Rossignol Zymax Classic Waxless Cross-country Skis
There is much to learn about waxing skis. I like to keep it simple and inexpensive. This is why I prefer recreational, waxless, grab n' go, cross-country skis.

This winter, I upgraded my skis from a wider, shorter, lower profile Fisher waxless classic ski, to a longer, slimmer, lighter, Rossignol Zymax Classic waxless recreational performance ski designed for fitness oriented skiers. And . . . I like them. They are faster and have good directional stability. 

To wax or not to wax . . . that is the question when making your choice with classic skis.  

Lessons learned from the previous ski season make the next one even better! And the end of season sales can still be found online. 

Happy trails. 
The BaffinPaddler