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