boats · cycling · fitness · holidays

Happy to be biking and boating, the 2023 edition

Sarah and I have holidayed a few times visiting Jeff on the boat and bringing our bikes. The best trips have involved canals or rivers with bike paths along the side. I think my favourite were the Montreal locks and bike paths. (We haven’t always done so well on the roads in cottage country.) I haven’t done it in awhile because of my knee troubles, but now with surgeries behind me, I’m back.

This trip combined two things–helping Jeff get the boat up the Welland Canal and giving me a chance to try out cycling in the real world. The idea is that you get on the boat, leave the car, get to the end, and then bike back to get the car.

The Welland Canal, connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie with a series of 8 locks. “Regulations require a minimum of 3 crew. For those with less, there are people who will provide this service for a fee.” So this time we were actually needed on the boat.

Here’s a map of the canal:

You can read more about the trip and see more photos on Jeff’s blog here.

“Average transit time is about 12 hours. However, crews need to be prepared for longer times.” That’s from the online guide to the lock and it turned out to be important advice. We had to bike back to the car as it was getting dark and I should have packed lights.

We started out at Lock 1 at 9 am but had to wait for some shipping traffic to come through. These are commercial locks and the big boats definitely take priority. There was a fair amount of waiting. Shipping traffic was running in both directions but pleasure boats alternate days for upbound and downbound trips.

It felt pretty adventurous getting the boat through the locks. It was just us and Dixie Chicken, a boat from Maryland, and they had 6 people on board.

By the time we got to Port Colbourne it was 8 pm and getting dark. We quickly changed into bike clothes, grabbed some pizza and hit the trails. I was so happy to ride outside and discover that I could in fact do it.

Here’s me on my bike and some very happy smiles.


Catherine learns to support swimmers in Sharkfest (reblog)

Hi everyone– Sharkfest Swim is a series of open-water swims hosted mostly by US big cities. Participants get to swim in places they usually can’t, like busy working harbors. Local officials close areas to boat traffic and the event organizers provide a lot of support, both in and out of the water. In 2015, My friends Janet and Steph and I provided kayak support for hundreds of swimmers doing a 1500-meter open-water course. I had signed up to do it this September, now that I have my own kayak. But, along with many other events since COVID hit, it’s been postponed to Sept 2023. Well, I can wait.

While we’re all waiting, here’s my blog post from the 2015 Sharkfest event. Take a look. Readers, are you doing any open-water events this year? I’d love to hear about them.


boats · fitness · kayak

Paddling–following the signs

Yesterday my friends Janet and Kathy and I took advantage of the lovely September weather and did some kayaking north of Boston, at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, north of Boston. It is largely salt marsh, which means two things: 1) you need a canoe or kayak to see it; and 2) because of tidal ebb and flow, you need to time your trip for between two hours before and two hours after high tide. Otherwise, you’ll be dragging your boat through mud.

The very kind folks at the refuge created special routes for us (and other people) to follow, marked with signs.

Two marked paddling routes through the salt marshes at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Two marked paddling routes through the salt marshes at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

We dropped off our boats and gear at the landing– the green teardrop at the upper right. The area had potholes with water in them and was generally kind of wet, even though it hadn’t rained overnight. Unbeknownst to Kathy and me, Janet had spotted fish in the puddles. What could this mean? We’d find out a few hours later.

After moving the cars to the parking lot (there was no parking allowed at the landing), we launched our boats and set off. We crossed an area with boat traffic, then (as Siri advises us), proceeded to the route.

It was a beautiful day, in a beautiful place.

Janet, a very experienced sea kayaker and navigator, had maps and navigation app and gps and everything to keep us on track. However, the signs in the marsh were very visible and easy to follow, which is great for more recreational paddlers. In fact, this route is meant for them– to make it possible to explore the marsh safely.

View of Kathy and me paddling from the bow of Janet's boat, equipped with extra paddle and compass.
View of Kathy and me paddling from the bow of Janet’s boat, equipped with extra paddle and compass.

In addition to navigating, Janet was our trip photographer. Here’s our obligatory on-water selfie:

Janet, me and Kathy, in our trio of kayaks.
Janet, me and Kathy, in our trio of kayaks.

We took the slightly longer yellow route and then, because Janet had maps and a navigation app, went a bit further before making a left turn to go back to the marked route. The marsh was very full because 1) it was high tide, and 2) it was a spring tide, which happens after a full or new moon. At those times, the difference between high and low tide are largest. This is one reason why it’s important to read tidal charts before settling off in one’s boat in coastal waters.

Eventually, we got hungry for our lunches, which were waiting for us in coolers at our two cars. So we reluctantly left the beauty of the marsh, and headed for the boat landing. Entering the landing, we noted what a difference a few hours makes.

The three of us in our boats at the landing. The whole area had flooded with the tide!

When we launched our boats, we did so at the two poles in the background. A couple of hours later, we could float in right past the poles, pretty far into the landing area!

When they say No parking at any time, they’re serious. And there’s a reason– you can see it in these pictures.

Honestly, the extra water made it much easier to move our kayaks from the landing area to the parking lot. We could float part of the way, pull the boats in water a bit longer, and carry them across the road to our cars in the designated parking lot.

After loading the boats on the cars and changing clothes, we grabbed our lunches and headed to the beach, which was on the other side of the parking lot. Loads of people were there, enjoying the warm sunny September Saturday. Not many were swimming, though. Hurricane Earl, far off the Atlantic coast, was bringing pounding surf and rip currents up and down the East Coast.

Janet had originally planned a coastal sea paddle for us to a lighthouse on Cape Ann. But reading the warning signs posted on weather and navigation apps, she changed course and picked a safe route for us instead.

The waves on the beach confirmed the predictions. They were bigger than usual and very powerful. Swimming was strongly discouraged. We enjoyed watching them, though.

Kathy, standing near (but not too near) the pounding surf.
Kathy, standing near (but not too near) the pounding surf.

I learned more about kayaking this trip. The most important thing is to read the signs and follow them; that will make life easier (and also probably longer). The other thing is to bring a bin or plastic bag for soggy, salty, sandy stuff, so as not to mess up the inside of your car. Live and learn…

East coast readers, did any of you see the pounding waves this weekend? They were really something.

family · fitness · holidays · kayak · kids and exercise

Catherine tows two boats with her kayak and learns more kayak lessons

What better place is there for a sunny and warm US Memorial Day holiday than the water? That’s just what I thought, so I went paddling with friends Deb and Tim and their teenagers Mari, Leah and Jacob (who actually just turned 20, but who I’ll refer to as teen for the purposes of this blog post), as well as their dog Ruby, who is turning 7 soon.

It was Tim’s birthday, so he planned a group paddle trip with the current down the Concord River in Massachusetts. We left cars at put-in and planned take-out spots, and then launched a) two inflatable tandem kayaks; b) one inflatable rowboat; and c) my sleek lightweight zippy carbon/kevlar 13′ kayak. Off we went.

There was paddling. There were hijinks. There were photo ops. There were snacks.

Ruby the dog liked to keep herself moving, preferably between boats. She moved nimbly, but sometimes resorted to swimming (with her doggie life vest). My narrow boat was a no-go. That didn’t stop her from trying, though.

About an hour or so into the trip, though, the teens began to tire. Admittedly, wrangling the inflatable kayaks is difficult– they simply aren’t made for speed or distance, and they’re difficult to steer, too. And the inflatable rowboat? Fugetaboutit.

I had an idea: I’d practiced towing another kayak in a Maine weekend course. But I didn’t have a tow line. Rats! Luckily, Tim came prepared with lots of rope. So we tied one kayak to the stern of mine, and I began paddling. Turns out it was way easier than I thought. Yay! And, it was much easier to paddle in a straight line while towing than not while towing. Great!

We tried rotating the kids into different boats to take breaks. Deb hosted her son Jacob, who was in turn hosting Ruby in one of the inflatables.

Deb paddling a yellow inflatable kayak, her son Jacob lying with his head in her lap, and Ruby keeping watch.

Then, about 30–40 minutes later, more teens got tired and our pace slowed to a crawl. The charm of the wildly careening inflatables was wearing off, and the kids just wanted to head down the river. No amount of snack application was working. Fair enough. So, Tim once again dug into his backpack of treasures and came up with more rope, this time tying the rowboat to the kayak (which was tied to my kayak). I restarted paddling.

This time it was harder, and I made very slow progress. But it was forward motion and it was sustainable over the next couple of hours. Check out the picture below for verifiation.

Me, towing an inflatable kayak and rowboat, with three teens and a dog.
Me, towing an inflatable kayak and rowboat, with three teens and a dog.

Tim and I decided it was best to take out at the next big landing. We arrived, and some of us stayed with the gear while others took an Uber to get the other car at the desired but un-reached take out spot. Hey, it happens, right? (Raise your hand or comment below if you’ve had this experience.)

We all made it home, considerably later and considerably hungrier than we expected, but none the worse for wear. It was a really fun time, with lots of laughs, some snacks, great weather, serious energy output, and some lessons learned. Here are my takeaways:

  • I can paddle for longer than I thought, even when it’s not as fun and I’m going slowly. This lesson may be applicable to other areas of my life, maybe…
  • I’m getting a tow line for my next trip– you wear it around your waist so you can attach and detach yourself from the line.
  • Slowing down the process of getting into my kayak worked very well. I kinda wish I had done the same with the getting-out process; I might’ve ended up less wet and smelly. Duly noted.
  • Bringing in-case gear, especially since it’ll fit in my boat’s rear hatch, is a good thing. I’ll be bringing extra rope and bungee cording, a knife, bug spray, headlamp, extra snacks, space blanket, an extra-extra bottle of water, and probably a few other things for all my kayak trips.
  • Every active trip I take– by land, sea or air– is going to be am opportunity for learning something new. Janet suggested I document my kayak outings with what happened, how it went, and what I learned. Imma do that.
  • I’ll bring a map next time. And the time after that. and so on.

Hey readers: any anecdotes about over- or under-shooting pickup or car locations during hikes, paddles, etc.? I bet you’ve got some good stories, which I’d love to hear about.

death · fitness · kayak · meditation · paddling · swimming

The power of water

My favorite thing about summer is the knowledge that, at any time, I could run and jump in water. Ocean, lake, river, backyard wading pool– just about anything will do. All of them call my name throughout the season. My best real-estate fantasies include a backyard pool, with beautifully landscaped surroundings, all of which are magically maintained by unnamed third parties. Alas, I know (second-hand from my sister) how much work and expense a pool takes. So far, none of my friends have taken the plunge and kitted out their residences with a gorgeous aquatic oasis. But one can hope…

In fact, I’m lucky to live not far away from both ocean and freshwater places to swim and paddle. This summer, my plans include regular dips and laps and floats and strokes and landings and submergings, always surfacing for that big breath of air waiting for me.

Surfacing, taking big breaths of air. I think of those children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, with no more breaths of air awaiting them, and my own breathing becomes more ragged from anger and grief. I’m not alone. Author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg led an online loving-kindness talk and group meditation on Friday night. One thing she said that resonates with me is that sometimes, the breath is not the thing that settles us. Sometimes it is sound, or a visual image, or a touch. Maybe it’s the feeling of the weight of our bodies in contact with a cushion, mat, chair or floor.

What always settles me and puts me in contact with the world and myself is the feeling of my body in (and even on) water. I feel feelings I rarely experience on land: I’m buoyant, weightless, sleek, smooth, strong, even patient. I know, right?

I don’t know what to do or say right now. I don’t even know how to settle my breath when I read about or focus on the horrors that are happening in the US. There’s a lot to be done, and I want to do my share, pull my weight. This requires strength and stamina and stability. I think that being in and on and around water– for me– will help me gather myself for the work to be done.

Readers, I hope one or more of the elements speaks to you and strengthens and sustains you. Thank you for reading.

fitness · kayak

Return to kayaking: paddling and learning things

As many of you readers know, I bought myself a new-to-me kayak in honor of my 60th birthday in April. It’s a used (but in beautiful condition) Epic GPS Ultra– 12 ‘ 11″ (3.3 meters), weighing 27 lbs (12 1/4 kg)!

In case you missed it: me, sitting on top of my kayak (on dry land).

This weekend marked my debut outing with my very first boat. Seasoned kayaker and good friend Janet met me at the boat ramp on the Concord River. But first I had to load the boat on top of the car by myself. ACK!

I had taken pictures of all the places the boat was tied down when Janet and I had previously loaded it on my car. We used foam blocks and straps tying the blocks to the car and the boat to the blocks. Also there was a bow line, connected under the hood of my car. This was the setup I was to reproduce.

tl:dr version: it wasn’t pretty, but it happened. I managed (with three phone calls to Janet) to load the boat and get it to the launch intact. I had loaded it backwards (stern to the front), which made Janet smile. Thing #1 learned- always load the kayak with the bow facing front. It’s apparently a kayaker superstition, which I’m happy to respect.

Unloading the boat was easy, as was getting it to the launch– did I mention it only weighs 27 lbs? Then comes a hard-for-me part: getting in (and then out of) the boat. I have always had a hard time getting in and out of kayaks without a lot of help (even with help, honestly). It totally stresses me out. I’ve tipped over so many times, it’s no longer surprises anyone who paddles with me. For you kayakers out there, I’m the queen of the shallow-water wet exit and solo rescue…

Yes, there are loads of techniques for getting in and out of kayaks, and I’ve had 1) a lot of instruction; 2) a lot of experience kayaking off and on over more than a decade; and 3) a lot of help and tips from friends. And still it feels scary and embarrassing.

Which leads me to thing #2 learned: getting in and out of my boat is something I can practice, both on grass and in the water. After all, I have my own boat now– why not play around with ways to deal with this so that I can avoid throwing a conniption fit every time I go paddling?

I did some googling (as one does), and discovered I’m not the only person who has trouble getting in and out of a kayak. One site suggests that, if the water is warm enough, just tip over and roll out of the boat (which in fact I did– twice– during our paddling outing). It worked fine, other than getting me wet. But, as Janet reminded me, kayaking is a water sport… Still, it would be nice to have drier options.

Once we got on the water though, the fun began.

We paddled easily down the river, chatting and looking at the many birds. We even saw a happy yellow lab fetching sticks in the water. I was getting used to steering this boat, which has no rudder or skeg, and also is flat on the bottom (as opposed to angled in a v-shape). Also I was getting used to paddling again after a hiatus of at least 3 years (wow). Which gets me to thing #3 re-learned: I love being on the water in a kayak! I hadn’t actually forgotten, but I had been away from it for a long time. It’s so great to be back! I’ve already made plans to kayak with some friends next weekend, and will keep it up this summer.

But of course there’s still the issue of loading the boat on my car and unloading it. Twice. All by myself. Enter thing #4 learned: there are some super-cool gadgety kayak carriers out there for every price point and preference. Janet recommended, and I ordered an inflatable roof rack that will carry my boat easily, and has built-in D rings for tying my boat to the rack and tying the rack to my car. It was delivered just as I had loaded the boat onto my car using foam blocks (a fine low-cost way, but this is much better). I took the package with me, and Janet and I tried it out for my boat’s trip back home.

Inflatable roof rack secured to inside of car, with boat tied to rack. Handy and dandy.

It is easy-peasy to use, inexpensive and simple to store. Perfect.

As we were able to depart, Janet told me that she keeps a notebook to log her paddling trips, noting location, distance, conditions, etc. But she also writes about things she’s learned or needs to learn based on that trip. She suggested I do the same. I like this idea. So, for the last thing, #5, I close with: note my experiences and what I learned from them, and what I can change or add or subtract for next time. This will prepare me for future trips and help me enjoy paddling even more. I’m down with that.

Readers, what have you had to remind yourselves about or relearn when coming back to a sport you were away from? Has it been fun? How have you dealt with the stresses and changes? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · kayak

Not-very-wordy Wednesday: Catherine buys a kayak!

I’ve been saying for several years I was going to buy a kayak. I’ve even mentioned it in blog posts. Like these:

Well, on Monday I DID IT!

I BOUGHT A KAYAK. Take a look:

My new-to-me boat, in its lightweight glory. It's white with red paint on bow and stern.
My new-to-me boat, in its lightweight glory.

Say hello to a gently-used Epic GPX Ultra kayak. It’s 12′ 11″ (363 cm) long, and weighs 27 lbs (12.24 kg). That is super-duper-light! This means I can load, unload and carry my boat all by myself, without any help at all. That was the main sticking point for buying a kayak– sea kayaks weigh on average 50 lbs (22.6 kg) or more, and are 14–17 feet long (426–518 cm) which makes them awkward and unwieldy for moving around. This baby is light, maneuverable, and apparently built for speed. I’m so happy we found each other!

Me, sitting carefully behind the cockpit of my new-to-me boat, waving at all of you.

This kayak is not, however, built for serious ocean conditions; it’s fine in calmer coastal waters, but not for playing in big seas, ocean rocks, or for surfing. That’s okay– I’m looking for mellow scenic paddles in fresh and saltwater. If I decide to do multi-day or big-water trips, I can rent or borrow something for that purpose. But until then, I’m not going to need a bigger boat…

It was easy (for my friend Janet) to load the kayak on my car. And it was easy for me to unload it at my house. Here it is, sitting jauntily on top, not bothering anyone:

My new kayak, home in my driveway, waiting for me to unload it. Which I did with relative ease.

Now, all that remains is for me to take it out on water (likely one of the rivers near my house). I’m waiting for a little bit warmer weather and for classes to be over, both of which should happen soon. Of course you’ll all be the first to read all about that first outing, so stay tuned.

Readers, have you taken the plunge into really committing to gear or to a sport or to activity classes lately? Was it hard to do? Did you feel a sense of relief? How is it going now? I’d love to hear from you.

boats · cycling · fitness · holidays

Boating and Biking, the 2022 edition: Day 3, The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

Old chain of rocks bridge

What we did: Bikeway to Old Chain of Rocks Bike and Pedestrian bridge to Missouri from the Alton Marina in Alton, Illinois. About 50 km. It’s our third day of boats and biking. It’s also day 1 of #30DaysOfBiking.

What we loved: The view of the Mississippi River from the Bikeway perched above the levee. Also, the pedestrian/bike only bridge to Missouri.

What’s the scoop on the bridge?

“Chain of Rocks Bridge is one of the more interesting bridges in America. It’s hard to forget a 30-degree turn midway across a mile-long bridge more than 60 feet above the mighty Mississippi. For more than three decades, the bridge was a significant landmark for travelers driving Route 66.

The bridge’s colorful name came from a 17-mile shoal, or series of rocky rapids, called the Chain of Rocks beginning just north of St. Louis. Multiple rock ledges just under the surface made this stretch of the Mississippi River extremely dangerous to navigate. In the 1960s, the Corps of Engineers built a low-water dam covering the Chain of Rocks. That’s why you can’t see them today. Back in 1929, at the time of the construction of the bridge, the Chain was a serious concern for boatmen.”

Read more here.

Also, Chouteau Island was pretty terrific.

“A series of three islands – Chouteau, Gabaret, and Mosenthein – is uniquely situated in the Mississippi River just minutes north of downtown St. Louis. These islands are collectively known as Chouteau Island. The 10-mile length of Mississippi River that borders Chouteau Island to the west is the only natural stretch of river without barge traffic between St. Paul and New Orleans. This section of river is a very high-quality habitat, but also at high risk. Chouteau Island is one of the few locations in the St. Louis Region with direct public access to the Mississippi River for recreation.

Combined, all these islands provide wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, and flood storage on over 5,500 acres. This site has a fulcrum of historic river infrastructure – a one-of-kind 1-mile pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River managed by Great Rivers Greenway. The pedestrian bridge connects Illinoiss and Missouri’s system of trails. All these opportunities are positioned in the middle of the St. Louis Metropolitan Area.”

Chouteau Island

There were also lots of geeky engineering conversations about floods, managing river levels, waterways, etc.

What we loved less: Okay, I’ll fess up it’s mostly me who was bothered by this–gravel! A pretty significant gravel section. With some mud and puddles! My bike got dirty but mostly I’m nervous of falling if my skinny road bike tires get caught in gravel.

Also, it was cold (if sunny). We saw only one cyclist out there today and my sense is that it’s too cold for locals to be out riding.

Overall, this is a pretty great area for cycling if you’re a fan of bike paths and rivers.

Various photos of our ride
boats · cycling · holidays

Boating and Biking, the 2022 edition: Day 2, The Ronald J. Foster Heritage Trail

It was the third day of our trip but the second day of biking.

(Our second day in Illinois was cold, wet, and windy. We spent the afternoon in the National Great Rivers Museum and I finished a wonderful collection of short stories, Home of the Floating Lily by Silmy Abdullah.)

The weather wasn’t warm–see forecast above–but we were keen to ride anyway.

For our route we chose the Ronald J. Foster Heritage Trail. “The paved path travels 12.2 miles between the villages of Glen Carbon and Marine and hooks into a 130-mile network of interconnected trails that MCT has been creating since 1993. The trail is named for a former mayor of Glen Carbon, Illinois; the city originally built the trail on the disused corridor of the Illinois Central Railroad in 1991. Illinois Central was one of three railroads that passed through the coal-rich community from nearby St. Louis, Missouri. In 2012 the village transferred trail ownership to Madison County Transit, which upgraded and extended it.”

All told we rode about 40 km and Sarah says only about 10 km of that was into the wind, across an open field! Once again that was on the way home. The sections through the woods were pretty nice and sheltered and I imagine, in the summer, riders would appreciate the shade too. Jeff and I had cold toes–I should have brought shoe covers–but Sarah made the sensible choice of wool cycling socks and she was fine.

Just after we were done and had all the bikes back on the rack the heavens opened and it started to pour rain. Perfect timing.

boats · cycling · fitness · holidays

Boating and Biking, the 2022 edition: Day 1, The Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail

Sam and Sarah at the start of the trail in Alton

The first plan was to meet Jeff and Escapade in the Florida Keys with bikes in December. Thanks to Canada’s pandemic travel advisory–essential travel only–that didn’t happen.

Our back up plan was Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes recreation area. But given the river levels Jeff decided to sprint north.

And so we ended up meeting here–on the Mississippi River, in Alton, Illinois, just outside of St. Louis.

Bikes on boat

It’s not much warmer than home but the roads are definitely clear of snow and all the trees are in flower. With highs predicted to be in the mid-teens, it looked like fine weather for riding.

Escapade, the boat

Now that the US border is as open as it ever is, we popped the bikes on the bike rack on the back of the Subaru and headed southwest. Guelph, Ontario to Alton, Illinois is about 11 hours of driving.

On our first day of riding we opted for the The Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail. From the trail website, “The Sam Vadalabene Bike Trail is completely paved and takes cyclists through the towns of Elsah and Grafton for a relaxing and beautiful National Scenic Byway ride.” It’s about half a separated bike path that runs parallel to the main road and half bike line with a rumble strip divider between cars and bikes. We saw no other bikes, just the occasional dog walker.

It was the perfect distance for a bike ride for lunch, 50 km out and back, with catfish fritters for lunch in the middle. The route followed the Mississippi out of Alton, past the historic town of Elsah, and ended in Grafton for lunch. Our favorite bit of the ride was the close up view of the of the riverside bluffs. See photos below!

Sarah and I have been riding indoors all winter on Zwift and while there are many differences between riding virtually and IRL the one that was most striking was wind. (Jeff? He just maintains a base level of fitness that allows him to not ride regularly and then hop back on the bike whenever he wants. Jealous!)

We had a tailwind heading out which can be a dangerous thing. You know when you’re pedaling easily and chatting and notice your speed is over 30 km/hr, that makes for a slog into the wind on the way home. Thanks Sarah for doing the bulk of the work!

It felt good to be riding outside again.