Last weekend I did something brand new. And I had fun. And I will definitely do it again.
Sarah and I raced our Snipe, a 15 1/2 foot dinghy, in the Canadian National Snipe Championships. It was two days of racing over Saturday and Sunday based at our home club, the Guelph Community Boating Club, on Guelph Lake.
We had one goal, and one goal only, and that goal was to not slow down the racing. The next race doesn’t start until the last boat finishes and sometimes, earlier in the season, we were far enough behind that people had to wait. But not this time. We weren’t even last every race and often we were right in the mix with the other boats, having to worry about right of way rules and the like. Starboard! (That’s a thing you can yell when you’re on starboard tack and have right of way. Other boats need to move.)
We also had the perfect amount of wind. Yes, gusty. We have enough weight to be able to deal with that by getting up on high side and hiking. But also not dead calm which can be a bit of an issue this time of year.
What else to love? The community. One of the things I like best about Snipe racing is the range of ages of people racing the boats. Best guess? 12 to 70, but with a fair number of teenagers. There’s a perfect mix, for me, of community and fun and competition.
Our strengths? We got better over time and I think we’ve got lots of endurance and stamina. Thanks bike riding! We’re also good at paying attention and concentrating.
Our weaknesses? We need more time in the boat. We have to go out and deliberately practice mark roundings.
For me, I’ve been getting better moving around in the boat. With my severely arthritic knee, it’s taken a bit work but I am getting there.
After two days in the boat we both felt incredibly beat up, after a fair bit of crashing around. Both days we came home, grabbed food, and fell hard and fast asleep. That was a lot of work and concentration. Zzzzz!
So next year, and we will race again in the Nationals next year, we’ll practice and we’ll also break out our race sails. It was fun to be close enough to the fast boats to think that with work we can actually be competitive.
Here’s hoping that next year pandemic restrictions remain eased and we can actually get out and sail earlier in the season. Fun times!
And here’s some photos! Thanks to the lovely volunteers for taking them.
Dani Donders is a kayak enthusiast and kicksledder who works for the federal government and lives in Manotick, Ontario with her family.
She is also an excellent role model for how to maximize your fun.
Dani and I have never actually met but we’ve known each other online since our kids were young and we both enjoy trying new things…but only on our own terms.
I have long enjoyed her writing and her photography and I love experiencing her various hobbies from afar. In the past few years, Dani has gotten into two activities that have especially intrigued me – kayaking and kicksledding- and I wanted to know more about them. I thought that the Fit is a Feminist Issue readers would enjoy hearing about them, too.
Thanks for the great interview, Dani!
Small confession: I didn’t know that a kicksled was called a kicksled and my interview questions originally called it a ‘winter slide thingy’ but now I know that it is either called a kicksled or a spark. Yes, I could have left that out of this post but then you wouldn’t get to grin a little at my expense…what’s the fun in that?
What drew you to kicksledding and kayaking? Now that they are part of your regular routine, what do you enjoy about them?
I live on an island in the Rideau River and have pined for a canoe for the 10+ years we lived here, but for some reason I thought I had to get one that I could cram all three kids and both adults into – which would have been very expensive. Now that the kids are older, I felt comfortable buying a kayak and taking the time to go out on my own, away from the family. I’ve always been drawn to water, though. I’ve rented kayaks and canoes and even peddle boats and always loved them. I only wish I’d bought one years ago.
The kicksledding was more random. My friend Annie got one for Christmas, and I loved the idea of it. I’m afraid of falling, so I don’t really like skiing or skating, but I loved the fact that I wasn’t strapped to the kicksled – if I felt it was out of control or going too fast, I could just hop off. It was a bit of an impulse buy, but from the moment I tried it, I loved it. I absolutely love zooming down an icy trail, hugging the edge of being in control. It’s very exhilarating, while being quite safe!
I might have a bit of an obsessive personality, so for both kayaking and the spark, I didn’t just do it once or twice a month. I go out on long adventures on the sled (a 10 km run is my favourite length) and I have paddled more than 300 km so far this year in my kayak. Winter or summer, I’m out doing my favourite activity at least once a week but usually several times each week.
What sorts of physical activities did you do before getting into kayaking, etc?
I had a gym membership, and did hot yoga, but I did not do a lot of outdoor activities. I would say I struggled against being sedentary and am not a very “athletic” person. When I started kayaking last summer and then kicksledding last winter and started spending hours each weekend outdoors, I’d jokingly say, “why didn’t anyone tell me outside was so awesome?” This new-found outdoorsiness is very uncharacteristic for me.
How do your current sport activities contribute to your life?
Especially during the pandemic, both kayaking and kicksledding were enormous stress relievers, and while I go solo most of the time, both lent themselves well to social distancing so were a key form of socializing during the pandemic. What I didn’t expect was how empowering they would be. There’s something that makes me feel like a badass when I can lift my own kayak on top of my car and tie it down and then undo it all and get my kayak in the water by myself. I am actually afraid a lot of the time when I’m kayaking – I don’t like deep water, or seaweed, or bugs, or wide open spaces, and spend a lot of the time when I’m paddling talking myself out of being scared. So that’s empowering, too.
I’ve also gotten enormous peace of mind and stress relief from being physically active. This level of activity is unprecedented in my life. I was a regular but unenthusiastic attendee in the weight room of the local gym, and I did enjoy weekly yoga, but the idea of spending hours outside sweating in -30C temperatures is definitely new for a girl who always considered herself clumsy and unathletic. And it’s made me love my body, for all its softness and pudge, because it’s proven amazingly strong and capable. I used to get aching knees and hips from walking anything more than 5 km, but I can easily paddle 15 km or kicksled 10 km across ice on a winter morning. I would have never imagined I’d be capable of doing that, and I’m really proud of my middle aged body for showing up, if not a little late to the game.
If someone you knew wanted to take up kayaking or kicksledding, how would you advise them to get started?
Both sports have relatively low barriers to entry in that they’re pretty easy to just hop in or on and go. In both cases, there was a cost of about $400 for equipment. I’d recommend anyone who is thinking about it go ahead and get started – one of my only regrets is that I waited as long as I did to get a kayak. Both kayaks and kicksleds are often available locally for rent if someone wanted to try it out before plunking down an impulsive $400 each time like I did. I’m just happy it worked out – both the kayak and the kicksled would have made awkward, expensive paperweights if I happened to not love them as much as I did.
This blog is called ‘Fit is a Feminist Issue,’ how does the idea of fitness as a feminist issue resonate with you? What meaning does it have for you?
This gets back to the empowerment issue, I think. In both cases, kayaking and kicksledding are activities I do entirely for me, and largely by myself. As a mom to three kids, it’s empowering to carve that space for myself back into my life. I tend to go for excursions very early in the morning so it doesn’t interrupt our other family rhythms too much, but I’ve made taking the time to enjoy these activities a priority in our family routines. I think this teaches the family that it’s okay to do things for yourself, and that taking care of yourself is an act of love.
Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself, your activities, fitness, or feminism and fitness?
Kayaking is a pretty common sport, but the spark is very unusual and my friends all thought it was (might still think it is) pretty weird. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out that someone hasn’t stopped me to comment on it – usually with a smile in response to how much FUN I’m obviously having. So I’d also say don’t be afraid to follow your heart, even if other people think it’s a little unconventional.
I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a conventional gym again. Fitness used to be a chore that I did – going to the gym was important because I know exercise is a big part of a healthy life. What I didn’t realize was that when you find an activity that makes your heart soar, it’s not even remotely a chore. When I’m zooming down an icy trail or paddling up to a turtle sunning itself on a branch, I’m transported with joy and my muscles are just along for the ride. I haven’t been to a gym or done a yoga class in a year, but I’m in the best shape of my life. So whether it’s gardening or ultramarathons, don’t be afraid to try new things (even if you are on the far side of 50 like me) and don’t be afraid to follow an unconventional path.
See what I mean about Dani as a role model for fun?
Do you have a kayak or a kicksled or do you find your fitness fun in other activities?
A couple weeks after arriving in McAdam my cousin Tina invited me to join her and some other women for an afternoon of kayaking on Wauklehegan Lake.
Tina and I have known each other our whole lives and have a long history of laughing a lot so I was thrilled to be invited.
The big day came and I was lucky to be able to borrow all the gear I needed from my mom from safety kit to personal flotation device to kayak and paddle. AMAZING!
At the dock I recognized a few women and chatted as everyone got gear in the water. Tina’s daughter Vanessa joined us. It was great to get to know her a bit. She’s a really cool human.
The pace was laid back and the weather outstanding. There was a wide variety of watercraft: canoes, paddle board (go Vanessa!), two person kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and all models and sizes of recreational kayaks
We made our way up the lake to Sandy Beach, chatting, drinking, laughing and wondering at the splendor all around us.
At one moment we were surrounded by a school of palm sized white perch that were fining and jumping all around us. The water practically boiled from their efforts.
Every event needs a commemorative tank top and beverage coozie. These were made by Jenni and super fun! Her brother is married to another of my cousins so it was great to see her again.
There was over 35 vessels all told and with that many folks you tend to cluster into smaller groups. Tina, Vanessa and I ended paddling with mother daughter teams, Kerri & Emily (who I think maybe we are related on my dad’s side?) as well as Fonda & Destiny. I met Fonda when I was very young, she’s the nearest and dearest friend of my other cousin Nicole. These relational things are so important, you’ll see why later.
As we got back on the lake after libations some folks made a direct line back to the landing. It was so beautiful Tina suggested we take a circuitous route around a nearby island. We were joined by Lindsay who I had met at the beginning of the trip. (We never got to last names…this is important later) Kerri and Emily agreed to hang out for a bit before going to see other friends.
So we toddled about for a few hours, chatting with people Tina knew on a jet ski, a couple who have this vessel made from two 14’ aluminum boats held together with a dock on top, to a fellow with a boat and an Adirondack chair bolted in for passengers.
They were lots of great conversations and laughs. I did get a bit sunburned. Oopsie!
When we finally decided our trip was over Lindsay kindly offered to give me and my kayak a lift home. When her beloved arrived with their truck I introduced myself, as I had been doing all day as few people knew me or recognized me. The man burst out laughing, it was another of my cousins, Jamie, who I didn’t recognize as it had been too long. Lindsay thought that was hilarious as she knew how I was related to her. I was the clueless one!
I was so thankful for a day of companionship and gentle movement, not for working out or getting to a destination.
It was a wonderful way to reconnect to old friends and make new ones. Thank you for the invite Tina!
My word of the year is flow. It’s a good thing. My July vacation was very planned, down to the last detail, in the way that long canoe trips need to be. Thanks Sarah, trip planner extraordinaire. It was going to be our longest canoe trip yet, 8 days in the woods, moving and traveling every day, but the world had other plans.
In the end our 8 day canoe trip turned into three mini vacations not one long canoe trip, but it all felt suitably vacation-like and restful once we got creative and went with the flow.
Part 1: Algonquin
Our trip began with a massive thunder and lightning storm so bad that we spent the first night sleeping on our inflatable mattress pad in the back of Sarah’s Subaru. We had a site on the first lake so it would be easy to get to but I hated the idea of starting with everything soaking wet.
So we were heading out on day 1–putting in at Magnetewan and paddling and portaging our way through Hambone, Ralph Bice, and staying the night on Little Trout. But en route we broke one of the canoe’s thwarts that provide stability to the boat. Given the rain and how wet everything was, our duct tape fix wasn’t going to hold. We talked about options but there was no good one other than coming out of the park and repairing the canoe. We couldn’t rely on meeting up with other paddlers with duct tape. Leaving the park was sad but it really felt there weren’t good options. Leaving was the adult, responsible thing to do.
It actually was strangely liberating to know we could sleep in the Subaru in a pinch. But in the course of doing that we punctured the mattress pad and so we ended up heading out with only a single sleeping pad purchased at the last minute from Algonquin Base Camp outfitters in Kearney. It was all they had.
We tried to rebook the trip so we could fix the canoe and the pad and go back in but there weren’t any available reservations. The good news was that we were heading back in with a tail wind. Sarah said it was a sign we were going the right way. We made it down the length of Ralph Bice Lake in a record 45 minutes. That’s a trip that can take hours going into the wind.
We had a lovely couple of days of paddling. And we learned that we can pack and carry enough food for an eight day trip. Next year, friends, next year.
Part 2: Massassauga Provincial Park
So once we knew we couldn’t get back into Algonquin, we headed home to Guelph to execute canoe repairs. But we were also still fully packed for canoe camping and viewed more canoe camping as the best possible Plan B. We bought a replacement inflatable lightweight mattress pad. This time we went high end and got the one that matches our Big Agnes Fly Creek tent.
Enter The Massassauga Provincial Park which had a couple of free nights available, on two different locations. There’s very little portaging at Massassauga. Our trip had none. It did have a very active beaver, excellent yoga rocks, terrific swimming, and a great spot for the hammock.
Part 3 Biking to Port Dover
We arrived home on Saturday with some holidays still to spare. I’ve always wanted to bike from Brantford to Port Dover on the trail and so we did, staying over at the Erie Beach Hotel in the middle of the 100 km round trip. Great trails, some paved sections, some chip and some packed gravel. All easily ridable on the gravel bikes. Sarah got to try out her new large under-the-seat bag and I put panniers on my bike. We left the Bob trailer behind this time. Next time I do it though, I hope there isn’t a heat wave.
In most ways, this year, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been for me a year of doing less. I’m riding my bike outside now but no big distances. There’s (obviously) no big summer travel. Normally my summers involve academic conference travel, usually in Europe, with vacation tacked on to the beginning or end. Not this year. In 2020 my holidays have been low-key, close to home.
The year of doing less has had one notable exception: Our big Algonquin canoe tripping adventure. I love Algonquin Park. It’s so beautiful and so close to home for me. Yet, in busier years I’ve only had time to go for long weekends. This year is the opportunity to do more.
Since my canoe came into my life in 2015 (thanks Jeff!) what I’ve done are back country canoe trips where you paddle to a place, make camp, stay there for a few days, and paddle around some minus all the gear. Lots of us here at the blog do this kind of adventuring. You can read all the canoe stories here.
Susan has done some longer trips. Sarah too. They’ve done the kind of trips where you start out a place and keep moving to a new campsite each day, eventually ending back up where you started. That’s a new adventure for me.
But I wasn’t sure I could, physically speaking. I was worried about my knee. I was worried about carrying stuff through long portages.
Two things made it possible. First, Sarah’s careful planning (see below). Second, her acquisition last year, when we were talking about hiking and camping, of ultralight weight camping gear. Thanks Sarah!
Here’s what we did:
In our usual fashion where work never seems to end or stop, we worked until the last possible second on Monday, piled everything into the car, zoomed north, and arrived at the park office in a bit of a rush. Friends who know us will laugh at this bit of the story. We even stopped several times on the access road to Lake Magnetawan for the final few bars of cell phone signal.
And then we parked, unloaded the car, and loaded up the canoe.
We paddled through Magnetawan then Hambone, and then made camp on Ralph Bice.
We paddled and portaged our way from Ralph Bice to Little Trout and Queer Lake where we stayed for the night.
This was the first big day, with long portages. 1330 m isn’t that long but it is when you are carrying a lot of stuff! Also, it feels long when there are big hills, ankle deep mud, and narrow paths. But paddling on the Tim River was fun. I got to learn about steering in a downstream current. Less fun was arriving on Shah, our stopping point just as a storm was brewing. We had a bumpy trip across the lake and rejected the first campsite as too grown over. Luckily we got the tarp up fast and stayed dry through dinner.
We paddled from Shah to Misty to Little Misty, where we were the only campsite on the lake.
We paddled from Little Misty to Daisy via the Petawawa River with portages to bypass rapids. There was also some scrambling over beaver dams with the canoe.
No photos because my phone ran out of charge but we paddled from Daisy to Hambone to Magnetawan. We were very happy to have left clean clothes in the car for the trip home.
What did I learn on this trip? Here’s six things.
That even with my miserable, painful, stiff knee I can do trips like this and enjoy myself. I babied my knee. I took ibuprofen. I stretched. I walked carefully and slowly on the portages. Some mornings I’d wake up and think, “wow, this is it, they’re going to have to air ambulance me out of here” and then I’d stretch and walk around a bit. And then I was fine. Deep breaths, Samantha, you’ve got this. And I did.
2. Paddling on the river–which requires active involvement of the person in the bow–takes skill but it’s fun. I like learning new things. Even when things go wrong–like when we landed in the shrubbery on the side of the river–the worse thing that happened is we got covered in yellow furry caterpillars. Navigating the beaver dams also took skill and effort but in the end it was all pretty low stakes. When I messed up one beaver dam the current just took us back and we tried again.
3. Lightweight camping gear–if you can afford it–is an amazing thing. I was shocked at how little the tent and the sleeping bag etc weighed. We had very lightweight gear even down to the titanium spork!
4. The weather spanned from too hot to brrrr! (at night) and I should have brought a warmer layer and possibly even (no joke) gloves. I always forget that about camping in Algonquin.
5. I was concerned about food and about carrying six days of food but we did well. I learned that a warm meal at night goes a long way and that even mac and cheese over the camp stove tasted pretty good.
6. If I were doing it again, I’d book a day off in the middle, a rest day, where we’d stay on one campsite two nights and maybe even bring a book!
Next up? I’m looking at route maps and planning for next year. Now I know we can do this I’m going to do it again. In light of the great squirrel attack on our food bag on the last night, I’m considering more secure food storage and a good pack for me to carry it all in.
This year’s planning was made more challenging by the fact that Algonquin was as busy as I’ve ever seen it. Lots of folks spending summer vacations in a tent instead of a cottage. When selecting a route between the few available sites, I used a few rules of thumb. Wanting to have lots of time to rest and explore, I limited the distance traveled to about 5 km on the map each day, and a maximum of 2,000m of portaging. Of course the actual distance paddled would be more than that – we move through the water at about 4 km/h – but there’s a fair bit of time spent wandering toward pretty rocks or out of the wind, stopping mid-lake to pump water, paddling from site to site looking for one that’s free to camp on, etc. It also takes time to get in and out of the canoe at each portage.
In order to reduce the strain on Sam’s knee, we decided that she would carry only her clothes and the food pack (which is not too heavy and gets lighter as we go) for the portages, along with our water bottles, paddles, and PFDs. This meant being minimalist in our packing to bring down the weight of the “house” pack (including my clothes) to a manageable 32 lbs (14.5 kg). When combined with 48 lbs of canoe, this comes in right at the 80 lbs (36 kg) maximum weight this “weekend warrior” can safely carry in the backcountry. We made choices like : a tiny, lightweight backpacking tent; a down quilt instead of sleeping bags; one set of clothes (plus warm and waterproof layers), using pot lids as plates. We also needed to be minimalist in our food, bringing only enough dry, lightweight calories to keep us going, and enough sweet snacks that it still felt like vacation. And two full Ziploc sandwich bags of coffee, because there are some things that one cannot do without!
What did Sarah learn on this trip?
I’ve done nearly all parts of this year’s trip in previous years, so the things I learned this time were largely around food:
Naptha fuel to cook breakfast and supper for 2 people = 200 mL per day
One serving of oatmeal or pancake mix = 125 mL (1/2 cup)
One serving of maple syrup for oatmeal or pancakes = 50 mL (even if we have more, we don’t actually use it!)
Unless it’s a rest day or half day, budget for both lunch (sandwich) and a protein bar.
We don’t actually eat salty protein snacks like nuts or trail mix except buried in other meals. Better to bring more protein bars and peanut M&Ms.
Double check not only the count of meals but also the meal type. We were somehow short one breakfast but had an extra dinner(?!)
Oh, one more thing we learned, the sleeping quilt is toasty down to 6 C. But it works best if no one steals the covers!
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.