Monthly Archives: November 2017

Trip 16: Hudson River, Manhattan to Ossining

By Vladimir Brezina

Winter waves (same time of year, some years later)

Saturday, 8 April 2000

Launched at Dyckman St. just after 8 a.m. Sunny day, with some haze at first. Current still ebbing, so paddled across the river and north along the Palisades. Warm spring weather; later, air temperature in the 60s, even 70s away from the water.

First day not wearing drysuit, although water temperature (in the high 40s, perhaps around 50 in places) still marginal. First butterfly over the river. Some trees on the Palisades already putting out the first light green leaves, others still bare. Completely windless at first (although small craft advisory) but then wind progressively picking up from the south. By Irvington tail wind of about 15 knots, 1-ft following seas; smaller than otherwise with this wind as current now flooding strongly.

Lunch on the little promontory cut off by the railway just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Then continued through the Tappan Zee. Wind and waves building. By Ossining wind up to 20 knots with higher gusts (and forecast to get stronger still as the promised front came in) following seas 2-2 ½ feet, covered in whitecaps. Very impressive glittering against the sun.

Good practice; some difficulty keeping boat from broaching. Need much more practice with automatic braces. Around 2 p.m., rode up to the Ossining boat ramp on large, steep following waves. As conditions likely to get worse, train back to New York.

Note: To non-kayakers, this may seem like a matter-of-fact trip report. But hidden in those last few sentences—both by Vlad’s laconic delivery and his choice of nautical terms—is some real excitement. “Some difficulty keeping boat from broaching” translates to “I was about to capsize multiple times”. Vlad was using the sailing definition of broaching, which is, “”to slew around on a wave front…so as to present the ship’s side to oncoming large waves [and]… capsize and enter a “death roll”. Not exactly what you want to have happen when you’re alone on 40-degree water in a gathering storm!

And “need much more practice with automatic braces” says, in effect, “My skill level was not up to keeping the boat upright”. “Bracing” is a way that kayakers hold the paddle to prevent capsize in, among other things, high waves; as the kayaker becomes more skilled, he or she gets better at bracing automatically, to keep the boat upright.

The giveaway here is the word “much”—Vlad clearly felt the conditions were at or beyond his skill level. So, in effect, Vlad is saying here that he ran into what was for him at the time (and likely for most paddlers at any time) conditions beyond what he could paddle. He doesn’t say, but it appears from his last sentence that he’d intended to go farther than Ossining, but pulled out due to conditions (a show of good judgment I’m always happy to see).

Finally, spring is the most dangerous time for paddlers; the combination of cold water and temptingly warm air leads to underdressing, which can be fatal in the event of a capsize. And in the Hudson, there’s often snowmelt, which increases the current (though that didn’t apply here, as the current was flooding, or heading upriver).

I suspect Vlad subsequently realized he had been underdressed for the conditions; in any event, by the time we paddled together, he would not have gone out without a drysuit on a warm day in spring, as made clear in this story. Needless to say, his automatic bracing—and other paddling techniques–had also improved considerably by then!


Sea Hare

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Text and photo by Johna Till Johnson Photo edit concept by Dan Kalman Westport River, East Branch, Westport, Massachusetts It was a sunny weekend in early autumn. The trees were just beginning to come ablaze, lit by the late morning … Continue reading

Goodbye and Godspeed, Dear Friend

By Johna Till Johnson

Tom on father/daughter day, 2016

Earlier this week, a man who had become very dear to me and to Vlad slipped the surly bonds of earth.

Tom Marsilje, a cancer scientist, patient, and patient advocate, left this world on Tuesday November 14. I can’t write a better obituary than the one that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, for which he wrote a regular column.

As with Vlad, Tom’s loss is more than personal. He was a beacon of hope and optimism for all of us dealing with cancer, in no small part because he lived every possible role in that experience.

As a graduate student, he became caregiver and patient advocate for his mother, helping to get her into one of the earliest immunotherapy clinical trials (in 1999) and quadrupling her life- and health-span in the process. He went on to co-develop a breakthrough drug for lung cancer. And from the time of his diagnosis in 2012 to his death this week, he experienced the disease “from the inside”–all the while serving as a guiding light for those of us in the same situation.

The loss of that light, as much as of Tom the person, was a real blow to all of us in that world.

And because cancer will strike nearly 1 in 2 of us, and touch the lives of nearly all of us, I’m including here a Facebook post I wrote for my friends in the cancer community (and yes, I hate that there is such a thing, as much as I love the fact that through it I’ve met some of the smartest, bravest, nicest people on the planet).

Tom’s approach is not a bad way to live for any of us, cancer or no.  Life, after all, is a terminal condition.

Some thoughts on Tom, and the impact of his death on me and on us. Some background: Tom and I were friends in real life, as well as on Facebook. We visited in NY and CA. He knew and respected Vlad, and vice versa.

He coordinated closely with Vlad (neuroscientist) and Dan (Vlad’s best friend from grad school, and an immunotherapy researcher at Emory). We would literally strategize together (the four of us) about the most promising treatments. Vlad was the most skeptical (he knew the odds, and also the science).

So to me, Tom wasn’t a superhero, he was a really smart scientist with early insight into how science was turning into cures.

As we all know, he also had that incredibly contagious combination of optimism and humility. Anyone who interacted with him walked away feeling, “Heck, if it can work for Tom, it can work for me!” (or my loved one).


The fact that it did NOT work for Tom is a gut-punch to many folks. I mean, if super-hero-cape-wearing-scientist died ANYWAY, what are the chances for us ordinary folks?

I didn’t have quite that reaction, because I knew him better, and knew the science pretty well.

Here’s the thing.

Tom’s approach was spot on, and it continues to be spot on:

Step 1. Stay alive, and as healthy as you can possibly be, for as long as you can. That means: Build an exercise, nutrition, and treatment routine that works FOR YOU. That could be 5 minutes a day of yoga and a steady diet of Bic Macs to keep the weight on. You don’t have to run triathlons. Do whatever works for you.

Step 2. Take joy in every day, and every moment. Your “joy intake” is as important as what you eat, drink, and do. That new puppy might possibly have the same ability to inhibit tumor growth as the latest radiation therapy.

Step 3. Stay on top of the research. Keep leveraging your network. We are here, and we’re NOT going to stop researching for you. There is going to be an exponential explosion of new treatments over the next 5 years.

I know this. Tom knew this. Vlad knew this.

Some treatments will work amazingly.

Some will keep you alive until the next treatment.

And some will fail.

The stronger you are, the more runway you have, and the more treatments you can try.

And the more knowledge you have, the better able you are to point that runway in the right direction. That’s what Tom did.

And it DID NOT fail him!!

The science failed him, as it failed Vlad, and will continue to fail people we love (maybe even us). Until it doesn’t any more.

That’s how science works. It fails, until it doesn’t any more.

And we are so, close to the science not failing any more.

As awful as it is to say this, if you’re reading this now, you’re already ahead of Tom, because you’re 24 hours closer to that day (very soon now) when the science won’t fail us.

Why am I writing this? Because I know how devastating it is when your magic talisman for the future is lost.

I’ve been dreading Tom’s death less for the loss of the unique and beautiful soul that he is, and more for the fact that I’m afraid it will emotionally devastate so many people that I love, because they will lose hope.

And it does devastate people. I can’t fix that.

The only thing I can say is… following the three steps above is what Tom did, and what he’d want all of us to do.

And what, in my considered opinion as a scientist and engineer, is what is most likely to result in the CURE of everyone dealing with this awful disease.

And a permanent cure is NOT an unrealistic hope for people dealing with this disease. A long shot, yes. But It’s out there, and very, very close.

I know Tom is fighting for all of us, still.