Risk Assessments

Over on my Facebook page, several people have said that they like “listening in” on my risk assessments. So I thought I’d collect them all in one place.

May 13: Disabled Launch

Disabled launch 1My mom and I were going to go paddling with a friend of mine today. My mom uses a wheelchair. It’s difficult for her to step in and out of a canoe. She’s the person who got me started as a paddler – so I take it seriously to get on the water with her when she visits. It’s some of the only times any more that she gets to paddle.

Last year we used a stool in my house that’s a similar height as a canoe seat to test different strategies for getting in and out, and for sitting down and standing up from the seat. We figured out a strategy. It worked well for getting into a canoe. When we landed, Mom was in some pain and wanted to get out of the canoe as quickly as possible.  I suggested a strategy that is often the easiest strategy for people to get out of a boat onto a dock. I didn’t take into account the fact that she has very different strengths and limitations than most paddlers. It resulted in a very public embarrassing and frustrating situation for her.

This year I wanted to launch from the disabled launch. And I wanted a friend to come along to help hold the boat; and to help with whateverDisabled Launch 2 else might need extra attention.

But there was construction fencing blocking every route to the disabled launch, and the paths people have worn around the end of the fence and down to the river were too steep and uneven for Mom.

We went to lunch instead.

May 12: Dehydrating jerky

So this risk assessment is a bit different.  It’s not about paddling conditions – it’s about food prep. I  put my first batch of jerky in the dehydrator today. A debate in our house this morning – the dehydrator goes to 155° and lists 145° – 155° for jerky-making. The jerky -making website I was in said to make sure the meat hits 160°, and to do that in the oven before dehydrating if the dehydrator won’t do it. I thought about not worrying about the extra step – I’m preserving the meat by curing it and drying it, not by cooking it. I opted for putting the meat in the oven first…

May 2, 2019: Combined Sewer Overflow

CSO 050219So… – I won’t be paddling on the River today. Combined Sewage Overflows are gross. So if I want to squeeze in a paddle I’ll need to go for an evening paddle on the Lake. With Chicago Adventure Therapy’s Spring Retreat starting tomorrow and some administrative logistical stuff to finish up with the official start of my sabbatical yesterday, well – I might end up with three rest days in a row…

Attached post from Friends of the Chicago River:

More than 85 combined sewage overflows (CSOs) have occurred this week along the Chicago River system, releasing into the river a combination of raw sewage and rainwater carrying bacteria, chemicals, and trash. These CSOs can be harmful to people, plants, and animals.

Much of the sewage system, which includes 109 miles of underground tunnels and reservoirs, has been challenged by this recent weather. You can help by being mindful of your water use and trying not to add to the system through your personal use.

Taking shorter showers, avoiding laundry and delaying running your dishwasher before and during periods of heavy rain are a few ways to help the river system.

Friends of the Chicago River has called on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to quickly complete Stage 2 of the McCook Reservoir, now scheduled to open in 2029 to provide 6.5 billion gallons of storage. We have called for more water-absorbing green infrastructure rather than continuing the use of impermeable parking lots, plazas, patios and other construction techniques hostile to nature. A strong and enforceable Watershed Management Ordinance that embraces green infrastructure, protects open space, and rewards environmentally friendly practices is key.

In the meantime, Overflow Action Day tactics can help reduce CSOs. Overflow Action Days such as this one alert people that before, during, and after rain storms we need to reduce the amount of water that goes down our drains.

You can make a difference in helping to protect the Chicago River system, not just today but throughout the rainy spring season.

For more tips on our #OverflowAction Day effort go to http://bit.ly/OverflowActionDay.

April 28, 2019: Winter Storm Warning; Gale Warning

So I started my long paddle of the week yesterday with a short intervals workout. And so began a comedy of errors. Which could have turned tragic without some basic preparation and a little bit of luck.

I don’t know if it’s smart to add intervals into a mileage day. But I was on the River because of those predicted gales, and I headed north so I wouldn’t have to fight them for 9 miles coming home. (That 35 knot gale never did hit on the river yesterday.)

Not far north of my house, the River gets dead straight for a very long time. I don’t get bored paddling. I never have. But intervals yesterday, on that long flat straight section, were one of the precious few things keeping boredom at bay.

Until the snow falling on the screen of my phone made the touch screen stop working and I couldn’t pull up the timer any more.

So I did half an intervals workout.

I switched from my baseball cap to my knit cap for the slower pace. Until I realized I needed the warmth of the knit cap -and I needed the brim of the baseball cap because the snow was falling on my glasses. So for the rest of the paddle I rocked the double-hat look… (It’s a good look. I’m trying to make it trend.)

Anyway – it was straight and flat and felt really long. I’m always a little bit worried of the River when it rains – the levels go up and down quick, and don’t necessarily follow standard River expectations. If they (the proverbial “They”) expect lots of precipitation, they open the locks downriver of Chicago, and you end up with a suddenly much faster flow and falling water levels. Flow speed and water levels are weirdly separated and mostly not determined by nature… And there are things submerged in the River that you can’t see. So I was watching the water fairly carefully and with a little bit of concern on this straight, flat, boring river…

Anyway – long, flat, straight. But I reached the top of the River, where it comes to a sluice gate with Lake Michigan (well, a small harbor) on the other side.

There’s no real landing spot – people expect you to look at the River from the Ba’Hai Temple – not get ON the water.

I landed and pulled my boat up the bank. It was pretty steep, but the boat seemed pretty stable. Still, I figured I’d tie it to a tree so I didn’t come back from a quick walk to the Lake to find it drifting in the middle of the River!

I took my tow belt off to tie the boat – and bumped the boat.

The boat went sliding, picked up speed along the way, and ended up drifting in the middle of the River.

If you don’t know Chicago – you don’t want to get in the River. There are regular signs along the banks warning about human contact with the water. So you really don’t want to go for a swim.

This spot is right by Lake Michigan. I think the water mixes with Lake water. Which means it’s colder. This time of year, you really don’t want to go for a swim.

And that wall that stops the River. It’s a sluice gate. I don’t actually know exactly what that is. But there are heavy machinery type sounds coming from it. What I think is that near it, you really don’t want to go for a swim.

So I went for a swim.

This time I tied my boat up at the water’s edge, not on the bank.

I laughed about the absurdity on the way home. But here’s the thing. My comedy of errors could have turned tragic. I was wearing a drysuit with warm clothes underneath. I had a hot beverage and plenty of food and the understanding that both are tools to build heat. I didn’t sit down for lunch after being submerged in cold water – I kept moving. I paddled hard when I got back on the water. I paused fairly frequently for more hot tea and more food.

I never stopped for long, because even after 9 miles back to my put in, I was cold as soon as I stopped paddling. I was glad I’d done what I do when I paddle in really cold weather (-15, compared to yesterday’s mid 30’s). I stuffed an old down parka in a dry bag in my back hatch. I put it on over my drysuit as soon as I got off the water. Because I get cold immediately, even when I’ve been more than comfortable on the water.

Here’s the kicker. The River isn’t Coast Guard monitored waters. Not up here. Your rescue call is 911. But I let the touch screen on the waterproof case for my phone get wet. That rendered it useless in the case of emergency. People die on the River.

So my comedy of errors on flat, boring – safe – water could have turned tragic at a lot of points. Not just the tragedy of sporting a baseball cap over the top of a warm knit hat. Real, unexpected tragedy.

One of the things about paddling solo is that when that little thing goes wrong – that unexpected little thing that can snowball into the next and the next – you better be able to take care of it before it snowballs. You better be able to take care of it yourself. And you better be able to handle the results. Because there will be results even once you’ve fixed it. And you’re still going to be solo.

April 27, 2019: Gale Warning

April 27 marine forecastWell – the forecast changed, not surprisingly. It starts with northeast winds at 10-15 knots, instead of east at 10-15. And it’s forecast to build to 35 knot gales instead of 30.

If you don’t know Chicago, or don’t understand marine forecasts, here’s my thinking today:
Northeast winds build the biggest waves in Chicago because they can travel across the full distance of the Lake. This distance that wind travels across water is called the fetch. A longer fetch allows bigger waves.

It’s also forecast to build to stronger gales. At 30 knots, it doesn’t matter too much if it’s stronger – 30 knots is hard to paddle in. But the fact that the new forecast is stronger makes me believe that it will build faster or earlier or both – either way making that potential safe paddling window smaller and decreasing the safety margins if things go badly.

Add the cold water, the winter storm warning and the fact that I’m solo – the fact that I want to be on the Lake today becomes irrelevant to the decision.

I’m still going to paddle today. I’ll be on the River. There are still gales to 35 knot gales predicted for today. The winds tend to be stronger near and on the Lake than they are just a little bit inland. The “regular” forecast is calling for winds up to 20 mph by 9:00 tonight – much later than I’ll be on the water. I’ll get gusts much stronger – the River sometimes acts as a wind tunnel. But they will be gusts. The wind isn’t sustained on the River, and there are sections where I’ll be protected and completely out of the wind.

The water is also warmer, and I’m always very close to shore. The bailout plan is super easy – turn around and float with the current AND the wind.

And if things were to REALLY go downhill – I’m in the middle of Chicago. My debit card comes with me. I pull off the River and order an Uber.

So there it is. I’ll be looking for mileage during a Winter Storm Warning today.

Happy Spring!

April 26: Gale Warning

Keep tuned to this station for more risk assessment decisions tomorrow – east winds forecast in the morning at 10 – 15 knots, backing to NE and building to 30 kn gales. If the forecast holds, then if I get out early enough I can head to the Lake in the morning. But if the winds build earlier than expected I’ll be on the River. Or if everything is a lot later, because winds the rest of today are forecast to be 30 knot gales from the NW, diminishing to 10 – 15 and veering NE. So I could get a window – but it’ll be chilly, and I’ll have to really trust that window…

April 21: Gale Warning

Downtown Bridge

I had info that the City was doing the first Bridge Raise of the season yesterday, starting with Van Buren at 9:30. It seemed like a good reason to paddle into the current (such as it is) and the wind (significant) for 7 miles back home, instead of paddling in a Gale on the Lake or not paddling. There wasn’t a bridge raise, and the forecast decreased enough that there wasn’t a Gale. It was still a quick 7 miles down, and a slower 7 miles back. And well worth it.



April 17: Thunderstorms; Changing plans

What a funny day in terms of expedition prep. Last night’s forecast called for possible thundershowers in the morning and again in the evening. So I figured today would be a day for an #AfternoonPaddle instead of a #MorningPaddle. When my husband got up early to do some work before work (I know…), I checked the weather. No T-storms in the morning. But instead of going for a #MorningPaddle, which works better for me, I stuck to my plan. Which meant I got in a #MorningWalk. It was a good one – I heard a plop that sounded more like a mammal than a fish or a bird. I went to go check it out, and found a spot with a bunch of shells that’s definitely a spot that a mammal comes out of the water and eats. I’m thinking mink? So that was super cool! But instead of starting work when I got home, the logical thing to do since I was going to knock off early to get in a paddle before the afternoon T-storms, I made some fruit leather. I’ve been wanting to make some with a combination of fruits, and some chopped nuts and coconut.

We got some good work done for work (not the expedition) Chicago Adventure Therapy’s taxes are done a month early, the biggest grant proposal we’ve ever submitted is pretty much done 3 weeks early, and we’re making some good updates to our staff manual. So that was good.

But I didn’t work as long as usual, because I took an afternoon paddle. There were some dark clouds, but no storm.

It’s interesting to me that if my plan becomes unsafe, I’m good at changing plans. But if an unsafe option becomes safe, it can throw off my whole day. It was thrown off in a good way – but not in a particularly logical way…

Anyway – my expedition prep for the day.

Oh – and the fruit leather’s pretty good!


April 13: Cold Water; Solo Paddling

April 13 downtownToday’s paddle was quite different than yesterday’s…

I feel like I need to say a little something about safety and risk assessment. I paddled solo today in ~ 45° water, with an offshore wind forecast for up to 25 knots. If you don’t know what this means, or don’t know why it could be concerning, please don’t paddle solo. Especially in the Great Lakes. Or the ocean!

If you don’t know what it means:
* when you paddle solo, you don’t have anyone else around to help if things go bad. You need to be able to handle paddling and self-rescues in the environment you’re paddling.

* 45° water is cold. It’s cold enough that if you go in and you’re not dressed for it, you could be in a world of hurt real quick. Hypothermia will set in fast. If you ARE dressed for it, you have longer to sort the problem – but you still need to get out of the water quick, and may well need to paddle hard afterwards, have some calorie-dense snacks and a hot beverage, or throw a storm cag or other wind-resistant layer over what you’re already wearing. You may need to do all three…

* Offshore winds push you away from shore. They get stronger the farther from shore you get. Near shore, there won’t be wind waves – they’ll grow as you go farther from shore. People can find themselves unable to turn around or unable to get back to shore.

* 25 knots is strong enough you might not be able to paddle against it.

Would-be paddlers get picked off the Lakes regularly this time of year. They’re lucky if they get picked up alive.

So – what was my risk assessment? Why did I decide I was good?

* I waited till later in the day to paddle, when the wind was forecast to diminish.

* I know from experience I can paddle without trouble in 15 knots, and that I have to work to paddle against 25, but can do it. I know that I can paddle briefly in 30 knot gusts from any direction. I don’t like it, but know I this because I’ve done it.

* I have multiple self rescues (I can get myself back in my boat and paddling) in today’s conditions.

* I changed my plan. I had thought I’d paddle out to a couple Cribs – the water intake stations 3 miles offshore. Instead, I stayed close to shore where I had wind protection for most of the paddle.

* I know this shoreline well. I know what it will be like in wind this direction and speed.

* I wore my drysuit, and warmer clothes under it than I would have wanted for the air temperature.

It was a great paddle today!