This weekend was Summer Solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere–the longest days of the year. After long indoor days of working from home, videoconferencing all day long, and working into the evenings, Sarah and I were ready for a break and the great outdoors. The timing was good too. Ontario has been opening up as the pandemic eases (for now).
We set out for her family farm in Prince Edward County and then made it to Gananoque to visit Jeff on the boat and ride our bikes.
Success! I finally felt comfortable recreationally riding away from home.
This was my first time riding my bike beyond the boundaries of Guelph. It felt like a holiday. It helped that we were riding on the bike path that runs alongside the Thousand Island Parkway. It’s separate from traffic which is less scary. The odds of needing to call for help were pretty low. I recommend this path for nervous cyclists who can ride some distance but who hate riding near cars. It’s one of my favourite sections of road on the Friends for Life Bike Rally. We didn’t even see many other bikes, just one pair of Brompton riders early on. We only passed one lone jogger.
While friends were posting on Facebook about the days being shorter from here on in, I resisted the urge to give in to anticipatory sadness. We’re out and about now, riding our bikes, and eating lunch on patios with long days of sunshine. I don’t expect this degree of openness to persist through the fall. I know the sun won’t last. But I intend on enjoying the sun, the outdoors, and meals on patios while they’re here.
We’ve been doing the “bikes and boats” thing for awhile. We have a routine. Drop stuff off on the boat with Jeff. Ride our bikes and then meet at spot down river (canal, or whatever). This time we met up at Gananoque and then again at Rockport. We got back on the boat with our bike at Rockport and toured around the islands. They’re so cool.
They also give you an idea of how porous the border is between the two countries. On our left, American islands. On our right, Canadian islands.
I’ve had friends in Ontario wondering what to do about holidays. Let me recommend houseboat rentals. It’s not cheap but for those who usually fly for vacation, it’s affordable by comparison. It’s beautiful out there and easy to keep distance from other households.
Enjoy the photos!
You can read about earlier versions of bikes and boats here and here.
You can also check out Jeff’s boating blog here and follow his adventures.
CW: discussion of fat-shaming during kayaking outings and gear fittings.
I’m doing it– I’m finally buying a sea kayak! For years now, I’ve rented boats for paddling in lakes and rivers, estuaries and protected ocean bays. I love love love being on the water.
So why haven’t I bought a kayak before? You can get a used one for less than the cost of a good used road, mountain, cross or gravel bikes. Yes, they’re long– my future kayak will run 14 feet (4.25 meters) or longer. But I can store it in my backyard on sawhorses, with an inexpensive cover. And my car has a roof rack for transporting it. As for lifting a 50+ lb. boat, there are technology aids (e.g. little kayak trolley), that help make the loading feasible for one person.
So what’s been stopping me? Part of it is the maintenance of yet more gear. Also, why buy when you can rent? Here’s why.
Almost every time I’ve rented a kayak for a day trip, or signed up for a kayaking instructional workshop, I’ve been greeted with looks and comments of impatience, frustration, puzzlement and all-around negative vibes about the prospect of finding gear and a boat to fit my size. I’m not kidding. Almost every time. They tut-tut, shake their heads and cast about for everything from the actual boat (let’s look for a really wide cockpit for you), to a spray skirt (no, we don’t have any neoprene spray skirts to fit YOU), to a PFD (aka lifejacket; although to be honest most women complain about how they’re not designed to fit them).
When I did a weekend intensive ocean kayaking course, I found myself chatting with the main instructor– a world-class sea kayaker and long-time teacher and guide. When I said I was looking for a boat and was finding it difficult to find one I was comfortable in, he shook his head and said soberly, “yeah– they just don’t make many boats for people your size.”
Here’s the thing: that is totally false. There are loads and loads of kayaks for people my size. There are not loads and loads of super-high-end fiberglass or kevlar performance sea kayaks for people my size, but there are some. I actually paddled in one that he had in his gear shed– the Romany Excel. And I don’t want one of those anyway, partly because they’re very expensive, and partly because of this ad for them:
Naturally, it’s crucial to know the carrying capacity of a kayak, and they are designed for different maximum weights. It’s in the specs for every boat, so this information is easy to access. I suppose someone thought that aggressive marketing to the “extra-large-paddler” market would help sell this boat. Hmphf.
What really upsets me, though, is that ads like this make me feel like kayak manufacturers think the “regular” paddlers don’t and can’t include me. (FYI: I’m a size 16–18, XL/XXL) Yes, there are plenty of kayakers who weigh less than I do. There are many kayakers who are larger than I am. In sum, regular kayakers come in a variety of sizes and heights.
I want to be a regular kayaker in both senses of the word: 1) I want to be considered just one of the regular paddlers, not an outlier/special case “extra-large paddler” (regardless of my size); 2) I want to kayak regularly. In order achieve 2) I need to spare myself the ordeal of head shakes and “I guess I can see what we’ve got in the back”. So, I’ll get my own damn boat, thank you very much. Stay tuned for updates as the used-boat shopping commences.
I’ll end with some photographic evidence that they do, after all, make boats for people my size.
Readers: have you had trouble finding gear because you didn’t fit some advertiser’s or coach’s idea of the “regular” practitioner of your sport or activity? If you have something you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about it.
My Facebook status from Sunday night reads, “Driving home, with a heart full of memories of a special place, canoe strapped to roof of the car, listening to Tragically Hip. #PeakCanadian#Killarney “
There’s something special about back country camping in the autumn. Yes, it can be cold. And it’s dark early and that restricts how much you can paddle. But the colours are spectacular. The parks are less crowded. I also find there’s something extra special (and maybe I confess, just a little bit sad) about that last gasp of outdoors holidays. Though I am trying to tell new stories these days, I’m a person who finds the fall just a little bit sad. Paddling helps, so too does sleeping in a tent under the stars.
I went canoe camping thirteen years ago in the fall with my friend Laura: Camp Dragon with Laura 2006 . That was even later in the season, mid October, definitely cold and dark but bright with the orange, yellow, and red leaves.
I got my own canoe for back country exploring and camping four years ago. But lately other boats have been taking up my time. I know “too many boats” isn’t really a thing to complain about but I have been missing my canoe. Last year I didn’t get out canoe camping at all. We had booked a Killarney trip but that fell through for complicated reasons. See Jeff’s series of posts on running aground. We got a day trip in but that was it. I was worried this year was going to be the same. This year we’ve been racing the Snipe on Guelph lake. And I’ve also been visiting the big sailboat some weekends too. But no canoe trips in June, July or August.
All summer I’ve been looking forward to getting out in the canoe and it finally happened this past weekend. It was a quick trip but that’s okay. It was beautiful and restful and I’d go back in a heart beat. I mentioned the fall colours, right? So beautiful. Bright red leaves against the white rocks look extra special.
What else to tell you? I got to try my very first lift-over. That’s when you run into a beaver dam with your canoe, get out, lift the canoe over the dam, and get back in again. I was nervous about it because of my bad knee and was worried about getting out the canoe in those circumstances. This was an ideal time to try since there was an alternative on the map, an extra long portage. But we did it. My knee behaved just fine. Thanks knee!
We also tried out some new lightweight gear which made it possible for us to do the portages in one trip. Sarah took one pack and the canoe. I carried the other, heavier pack that contained our food, as well as the PFDs and the paddles. We declared the new tent and sleeping pad a success and it gave us hope for longer trips even with more food. By the end we were feeling ready for bigger adventures even with my misbehaving left knee.
I was amused at all the bear signage in the park. I’m always surprised that people need reminding that there are bears in Canada. There were even signs warning us that the bears were back for the fall. I didn’t even know they went anywhere for the summer. In the end, we didn’t see any bears–phew!–but we did have a trio of trash pandas (aka, raccoons) hop up on the bench besides us and grab our food bag. They made off with all the food (except snacks) for the weekend. I screamed but Sarah, more sensibly, took off after them and got our food back. My hero!
Our trip involved three lakes–George, Killarney, and OSA–one pond, three portages, and one liftover, lots and lots of paddling. We were lucky with warm days and nights, highs in the low 20s and overnight lows still well in the double digits. The day we paddled out was very rainy and windy but we were just very happy that there was no thunder and lightening and we didn’t have to hunker down and stay put.
Here’s a lot of photos from our trip. Sarah brought a real camera so we took lots of pictures.
Sarah and I raced our first weekend race today on the Snipe. We’ve done a couple of evenings of short course races at the club but this was our first longer event.
“Serious sailing, serious fun” is the motto of the Snipe class. The Snipe is described as a tactical, racing dinghy. It’s 15.5 feet and it’s raced by two people. Today Sarah was skipper and I was crew.
The good news? We had fun and no one drowned. We finished the course and didn’t crash into any other boats. Our peak speed was 7 knots. We had a good amount of wind. Also, thanks to us an 8 year old racing a laser is very happy he wasn’t last! We’re a pretty good team and we’re getting better at communicating on the boat.
Also it’s a great community. People were very happy to have us out there and recognize that we’re beginners and have lots to learn. We’ve been attending Thursday night race training where an experienced sailor follows us in a motorboat offering tips and advice. Thanks Harri!
The bad news? We lost Sarah’s hat overboard, attempted to rescue it but didn’t succeed. The line for our pole which allows us to fly the jib like a spinnaker came undone and we had to do some fixing underway. We were very much dead last.
But we’re learning lots.
Our experience reminded me of a conversation I had on our Newfoundland trip about the advantages of racing, both bikes and boats. I like riding in a community of cyclists where everyone races because there are skills you only only acquire in that context. It’s true for boats and sailing too. Everyone learns to race as part of learning to sail.
Our day ended with a moving ceremony to remember Mark Parkinson, former Commodore for Life of Guelph Community Boating Club. His grandchildren were there to raise the colours and a bench overlooking the race course has been named after him. We also awarded the Commodore’s Cup to the winning boat. At GCBC it’s filled with jujubes not beer or champagne. Congrats Julian!
Oh, and a friend asked recently about sailing as a fitness activity. I guess it depends. There’s always work getting the boat in and out of the water, even on a trailer. It weighs 380 lbs. There’s moving about the boat as we tack and jibe across the lake. Today we did lots of hiking, getting our body weight out over the edge of the boat to keep the boat flat. That’s a pretty good ab workout.
I recently watched a Netflix special by a woman named Brene
Brown on the topic of vulnerability and courage. She defined vulnerability as “the courage to
show up and letting ourselves be truly seen” (weaknesses and all), when you
can’t control the outcome (or reactions of others). She was talking primarily
about emotional vulnerability but as I discovered this week, that can show up
in all areas of life including in sport and fitness.
So this two part blog is all about two new activities I tried this week, which required two distinctly different types of vulnerability: 1) learning how to sail which involved a willingness to make mistakes in front of my loving, but sarcastic cousin Dale with 60 years of sailing experience and 2) participating in a naked yoga class! Yep, that’s right folks, nothing but my birthday suit…aka: totally STARKERS! However this week’s blog will only address the sailing component. You will have to follow up on next week’s post to hear all about the Naked Yoga!
My cousin Dale had invited me to sail with him several times
in the past but I had declined. This year he told me he was selling the boat by
the end of June, so this was my last chance.
So off to Michigan and Lake St. Claire I went. Prior to this week, I had planned to do an
online sailing course, which I proudly announced to my veteran sailing cousin 6
weeks ago. Sadly, I bit off more than I
could chew and only finished chapter 1!
So, when I got on the boat, all I could do was name basic boat features
including: the main sail, jib, boom, port, starboard, bow, and stern. In fact, that was about all I knew. Dale was
duly unimpressed since I was one of only 2 crew for his 30 foot boat and we
were racing that night and the next. He
mumbled that it was “a good thing we have 2 hours before the race gets started!”
He then began giving me directions to rig the boat on my own
instead of enlisting me as a helper which would have been easier for both of
us. This was a great strategy for me to learn
quickly, albeit somewhat embarrassing at times, as I was prone to confusing
port with starboard and right with left!
Shortly after I finished rigging the boat, it started
pouring rain and there was zippo wind. Things continued that way until we got
off the water at 9:30 pm. I was hoping the race would be cancelled since I was
tired after all that learning and rigging, but no such luck, so off we
went. And we sat… for a long time… in the
boat… in the rain…with no wind.
After 30 minutes of 2-4 knots per hour, I started engaging
in some idle chit chat with my cousin, because really, what else was there to
do? I was quickly informed that “this is
no time for chatting, we are in a race, not on a pleasure cruise!” Okay, so
this sailing thing can be really serious business I guess. On the bright side,
since there was practically no wind the entire evening, Dale was able to teach
me to tack and steer without any serious safety risk.
The next night the weather was much better and I was happy
to demonstrate my new found ability to rig a boat on my own with minimal
direction. This time I was able practice
some more tacking of the jib. I learned
that the combination of tacking and
steering at an angle as close to the wind’s direction as possible, can get me to just about any
destination that I choose (although I can’t say I personally experienced this!).
All in all this was a great experience and I look forward to
trying it again in Guelph sometime, maybe with Sam and Sarah one night.
So what does this have to do with vulnerability? Well at the
age of 55, I do not learn as quickly as I used to, so I had to be willing to
make mistakes without personalizing my cousin’s sarcastic and sometimes impatient
remarks. 10 years ago, I would not have
been emotionally strong enough for this type of situation. At that time, I had
a thin skin and took myself way too seriously, so I probably would have wound
up crying and feeling sorry for myself at the end of it all. Instead, I felt proud of myself for trying
something new and was really happy to have the opportunity to bond with my
Overall, I would say there was both personal growth and
learning in my sailing adventure. I am learning a new sport and stretching my
limits physically and mentally as I attempt to learn something new. I was also
able to vulnerable by “showing up and being seen” when I am not feeling strong
and confident… first by trying with no
success, trying again with some luck, and then finally, trying and succeeding…all
in a day’s work on a sailboat!
Ellen Burgess is from Guelph, Ontario and is a runner, yoga practitioner, meditator, and cycling enthusiast. She is currently fulfilling her career dream working as a mental health RN within the greater Wellington community.
Sunday was a big day for Sarah and me. “Big” not just in terms of how much we packed in, though that was certainly true, also big in terms of it feeling like the end of one season and the beginning of another. The day began with brunch with the members of the feminist fitness challenge group that Tracy, Cate, and Christine run on Facebook. I don’t have time to really participate but I’m loving the community that’s developing there. So great to meet everyone!
Sunday ended with lasagne with friends. In the middle it snowed.
Last week it was 27 degrees. Sunday it snowed and we moved some boats around.
I put my summer clothes into basement storage. Sarah found my hats, mitts, and scarves.
More dramatically we braved the cold and the wind and put away our small sailboat. Bye bye Snipe! We had help from our friends Harri and Molly who somehow talked us into trying ice boating this winter. Don’t worry. We’ll blog about it!
Several weeks ago for (Canadian) Thanksgiving I spent the weekend in Algonquin with the Western Outdoors Club. This is an annual trip which I have gone on several times. This year was the largest group I’ve been part of: 62 university students in 21 canoes!
There are several things I love about this trip (and about Western Outdoors Club in general):
the variety in skill level and equipment
the number of international students
how accessible the club makes trips like this
However, this year there was one thing I DIDN’T ENJOY and that was the weather: cold and wet. Weather forecast was for highs of 8 and lows of 2 with rain on and off most of the weekend. I’ve camped in much colder weather (-27 winter camping!) but I find fall weather much colder. I’m not sure why, possibly the damp but also possibly because I’m not mentally prepared for it and/or never seem to pack enough warm gear. That being said, I was not cold at night even though I was sleeping in my hammock tent.
Despite the cold it was a fun trip! If you don’t believe me, watch a video here…
In our Fit Feminist Challenge Group we have a thing every Tuesday called “Try This Tuesday.” It’s a way of encouraging people to try new things, using the “Try This” entries in Fit at Mid-Life as prompts.
This week when I posted I realized I haven’t actually tried anything new myself in ages. When Sam and I did our challenge in the run up to 50 a few years ago, one reason I got excited was that I discovered triathlon. It was new and a bit scary and super challenging. It involved a learning curve and pushed me in a different direction. And I haven’t felt that way about anything workout and training wise since.
Enter Stand-Up Paddle-boarding. As regular blog readers may know, among other things I’m a sailor. My partner lives on our boat, Guinevere, and I visit him from time to time (yes it’s a slightly unconventional arrangement and it works well for us!). I’m visiting at the moment and he surprised me with an SUP. This was a huge surprise because we have been talking about it for a few years.
I always say, “wow that looks like a good workout.” He always says “I can’t see why anyone would want to do that. And where in the heck will we store it?!” (Space on a boat is at a premium). But at the boat show in Annapolis this weekend (I wasn’t even here yet) he found a great deal and texted me that he got a SUP!
I couldn’t wait to try it. So this morning I took it out for a spin in Spa Creek, where we are at anchor. I worried that I might fall in (it’s lovely on the water but not as nice here in the water, which is briney and dark). I’ve seen people struggle. Often they start on their knees.
I read a “ten tips” primer on the internet and watched a short YouTube video about paddling style. You’re supposed to bend your knees, use your core, keep your paddle vertical and your bottom arm straight, and turn the contoured paddle to face the opposite of what you think it should (you don’t want to scoop the water).
So I started on my knees to get used to the paddle. Then after a couple of strokes I went for it and stood up. Luckily it was a flat day on the water, no waves at all. The board is solid and though I did lose my balance a couple of times I didn’t actually fall in.
I paddled around for about 20 minutes or so and even stayed upright without difficulty when a couple of people went by (slowly) in small boats that produced a bit of wake. I followed the directions from the video. It’s quite the workout. I need to work on technique still, but I did get into a good rhythm and I know I’m going to love using the SUP.
But it’s actually a lot more stable than I expected it to be. Loads of fun. I’m glad I got out yesterday because the edge of Michael is rolling our way and it’s probably my last chance until the Bahamas at Christmas time.
54 is just fine so far. I turned 54 last Friday and spent the weekend celebrating. See Happy 54! Celebrate Sam’s Birthday Season. There was a lot of cake but also a lot of friends and family and adventures. Thanks to everyone who took part and helped organize!
On Sunday fifteen friends and family members went rafting on the Grand River with me. Here’s a review of the activity, note though that we were on the shorter, faster section, from Edon Mills to Paris. So much fun. I’d definitely do it again. You can hang with people or go off on your own. Definitely though bring lots of snacks, sunscreen, and things to drink. It wasn’t all about floating leisurely down river. We had a headwind and in some sections if you didn’t paddle you went backwards. My sub-group didn’t paddle much. We were committed mostly to not paddling. It took us the full 5 hours.
Often we rafted up and appointed the people at the edges the chore of paddling.
At one point I landed up in super shallow water and could neither paddle nor float. I got up out of the boat and tried to walk it downstream but nearly lost my boat, paddles, and pfd in the water. Luckily Sarah rescued me! Thanks Sarah!
You can rent kayaks, canoes, large rafts for groups of people, or individual rafts like the one below. Despite the paddles they aren’t actually that maneuverable. And they’re definitely not speed machines.
But they are a lot of fun, especially through the fast sections.
On Saturday, a group of us rode our bikes 54 km to celebrate my 54th birthday. We chose the country roads east and south of the university being careful to avoid campus because it was move in day. In the end it turned out to be 52 km due to detours but I pedaled around the block a few times to make it an even 54.
Kim didn’t join us for the ride but came along for cake.
Best of all, my former PhD student Mark stopped by with his daughter who is starting university at Guelph and his son who was along for the ride. The teenagers gave us flossing lessons. No video though!
All in all, a happy birthday weekend full of friends, family, cake, and birthday adventures.
I blogged last summer about combining boating and biking. It’s part of my effort to spend time seeing beautiful Ontario countryside by boat (thanks Jeff!) while also getting some road cycling in. That’s partly about fitness but mostly about pleasure. I like moving, not sitting, and the bike/boat combo seems like a great way to do that. In Europe there are lots of bike paths that run alongside the canals and there’s a whole tourist industry built around the boating-biking thing. It’s your mobile home on water that you meet up with at the end of each cycling day. No need to carry stuff. It stays in the boat. Got a non-cycling friend or partner? They can stay in the boat too. You’re both going to the same place.
Last year it worked really well. This time it didn’t work so well but the boating part was a lot fun anyway. The basic idea is sound. For us it’s not about following the boat by bike. What bikes allow you to do is go back and get your car and keep your car near to the boat for trip home. With all the locks and no-wake zones the boat isn’t making great time and so mid-afternoon it’s easy to bike back to where you started and rescue the car. That way when you go to leave the car is nearby.
On day 1 we started in Peterborough with the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock and with best of intentions of biking but we started late and Jeff didn’t have bike shorts and instead we motored on up the canal.
We had dinner out that night and stayed in Young’s Point, anchored where we could hear loons with some bonus cottage noises–playing children and personal watercraft. Zoom zoom.
Bikes at rest on the boat
The next day it was raining hard. But now we couldn’t avoid biking as we had to go back and get the car. Biking and boating involves bike trips back to the car and then shuffling the car on ahead. We waited the rain out until it stopped and then went on what was possibly the worst bike ride of my life. I don’t usually write about things that don’t go well. But this time, cottage country, I’m making an exception.
The main road we needed to ride on was busy and had an inadequate shoulder for riding on. Worse though were the people honking at us and passing too closely.
I got home and posted to Twitter
“Dear cottage country, Would it kill you to pave the shoulders? It might kill us cyclists if you don’t. I’m not asking for separate bike lanes, nothing fancy, but paved shoulders, please.”
“Dear cottage country drivers, We’re bikes, riding single file, just two of us. Speed 25 km/hr. You’re cars going 95 km in an 80 zone. You’re passing us and there’s a dotted line and no oncoming traffic. You’re allowed, in fact required, to leave the lane. Please pass safely. #opp.”
(You can follow me on Twitter. I’m @SamJaneB)
Later, we looked at a bike guide for the area and saw this road labelled, “High volume road, use appropriate caution.”
After the busy road there was my next favorite: gravel bike path. And it was followed by a construction zone that had us riding on the sidewalk. Just 3 km from our car I got a flat. Argh!
At first I thought the drivers just hated cyclists but later I drove a car through the area and continued to get abuse. Argh.
The next day we could have ridden some more but I looked at the roads and decided to stay on the boat. It was a gorgeous day and we made the right call.