holidays · swimming

Summer happy places

I’m currently on holiday. “Again?”, you say? “Didn’t you just come back from one?” Yes, our family calendar has decided to bunch our holidays up in June and July this year. Which is nice because lots of time off within a short period, but the downside is that as of now, I don’t know if there will be another “proper” holiday between the end of July and Christmas. We’re in Spain visiting family, and there’s a fabulous outdoor pool close by. Since the temperatures climb to the high 30s daily at the moment – which is not at all usual for the region we’re visiting, the Basque Country; oh hi, climate crisis – I’m making use of some mornings to go for a refreshing swim before things heat up too much and you can no longer move.

As I was doing my laps this morning, I realised that there’s a certain type of outdoor pool that is my happy place in summer. It’s a non-urban pool, i.e. located in a small town or on the outskirts rather than in a city centre, so it’s not overcrowded. It has trees that provide some shade enjoy after or in between swims. It has a large, olympic-size pool that has lots of lanes cordoned off for swimmers. It has a toddler pool and ideally a playground in case a visit with the whole family is on the cards. The water in the big pool is nice and fresh. Just like the picture below:

An Olympic-size outdoor pool with lanes cordoned off, a kids’ pool in the background, under a clear blue summer sky – one of Bettina’s happy places. Not pictured: the lovely grass area with trees and lots of shade for between-swim lounging.

As it happens, the pool close to my mother-in-law’s house ticks all the boxes. So does one not too far away from where we live. While I was splash-splashing along this morning, I was overcome with gratitude for these happy places. What are yours?

camping · cycling · family · holidays

Bettina goes on holiday

Yes, you read that right. After two plus years of pandemic and nearly two years of life with a little one, we are going on holiday. As in, travelling somewhere that’s not to see our family, or visit friends (we are, in fact, going to visit friends on the way, but we’re also going to be on our own for a bit).

We’ve rented a camper van and will be cruising around Dutch campsites. We’re taking our bikes (the adults) and trailer (the toddler), in the hopes that it will stop raining for long enough that we can do some cycling tours through very flat landscapes. This may not sound very adventurous, but right now I think it’s going to hit the sweet spot of being active but not overexerting ourselves, and fun for everyone in the family. We also have a kite, beach toys, and swimwear – not that we’re planning the brave the North Sea (though who knows?!), but the weather forecast really isn’t great, so if it won’t stop raining, at least we can go to the indoor pool.

When you read this, we will actually already be on our way back, but I’m writing this post before we even leave, since I don’t know how much Internet we’ll have along the way (the campsites all promise wifi but I also honestly don’t know how much I’ll feel like posting when the alternative is frolicking around a campsite or the beach!

I’m very excited about this trip.

Do you have holiday plans already? What are they?

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.

cycling · family · holidays

Southwestern Ontario Biking Trails We Recommend!

When Elan posted her story of a stormy Guelph to Goderich ride, it made me think, as summer approaches, that it might be nice to have a summary post–which we can update from time to time–which lists local biking trails we like. The conditions are that they are dedicated trails–bike only, or multi-use–and that they’re in this region of Ontario. Oh, also they are wide and not particularly technical, best for gravel bikes or hybrids but no mountain bike, or mtb skills needed. With the pandemic I did a lot more trail riding than usual. I liked that it was local and also safer than road cycling.

Here’s the list so far:

Guelph to Goderich

Blog posts: Elan’s two day trip and Sam’s two shorter versions here and here.

Trail info: 132 km end to end, trail website.

Highlights: My favourite section is the bridge coming into Goderich.

Brantford to Port Dover:

Blog post: Sam’s blog post about the trip

Trail info: 100 km round trip, trail website.

Highlights: Port Dover beach and perch and chips for dinner, shady trails.

Advice: Don’t do this during a heat alert!

Prince Edward County

Blog posts: Sam blogged about riding the Millennium Trail.

Trail info: About 40 km end to end, trail website.

Highlights: Would definitely recommend for families with children. Lots of good on and off spots with parking. Perks include trail side alpacas and nearby Slickers Ice Cream!

Simcoe County Loop Trail

Blog post: See Simcoe County Loop Trail

Trail info: 160 km loop, trail website

Advice: The website makes it sound like this is doable in a day or 2. Maybe if you’re going fast and not carrying gear. We say, take your time and stop at some of the communities along the way. I loved my avocado and grilled sandwich at Em’s cafe and also homemade butter tarts at farmer’s stand en route. We also want to recommend Chef Bill in Midland, of Chef Bill Presents, who cooked up dinners to go for us to eat in the park. Thanks Sarah and Bill!

Highlights: The Tiny Trail and all the food along the way.

How about you? Which trails in Toronto have you ridden? Which do you recommend?

fitness · holidays

On Easter and renewal

It’s happening again: Easter. Whether that means a new pair of special occasion shoes, seasonal consumption of marshmallow peeps, upping your gardening game, or attending religious or family events, Easter makes an impression on many of us.

7 years ago, I wrote my first Easter post for the blog. It was about rebirth, renewal and change (with obligatory photos of animals in their Easter finery). I was then (as I am now) about to begin my sabbatical– 8 months of research leave. Oh, the plans I had back then! Here’s some of my list of to-do changes I was planning on making back in 2015:

  • Getting back in shape for summer road biking with my (faster and younger) friends;
  • Returning to mountain biking;
  • Daily meditation;
  • Regular stretching and strength training;
  • Training to become a better hiker;
  • Canoeing and kayaking more;
  • Picking up tennis again after a 30-year hiatus;
  • Eating more veggies

Well, it’s 2022 now. And I don’t know about you, but 2015 feels like a hundred years ago. Life is different. Work is different. My body is different. Even Easter is different: we are approaching each other more distantly, more carefully, with more virtual events replacing in-person ones. The world is in turmoil. Many of us are dealing with losses of loved ones or struggles of our own.

Looking at that 2015 list, I can say that in 2022, I’m:

  • planning to purchase an e-bike for road and gravel riding with friends;
  • meditating daily;
  • doing yoga and stretching regularly;
  • writing more;
  • still not doing much strength training, but we’ll see;
  • kayak shopping this week;
  • not even thinking about serious hiking or tennis;
  • still a work in progress in terms of eating in ways I find self-caring

In this list I see change, movement, intention, hope, and some letting go of my past self and my past goals and plans. This is a new year, a new Easter, a new spring. That’s my Easter message to you, dear readers. There’s renewal to be found in change, letting go of old goals and plans, and finding direction by looking at where you are now.

I wish you all a Happy Easter, with whatever sense of renewal and rebirth that speaks to you here and now.

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.

boats · holiday fitness · holidays

Summer camp for grown ups?

Summer camp for adults where we stay in our cabins and read all day and then in the evenings we sit around the fire and talk about our books and eat smores.

Yes!

But then I realized that my ideal summer camp for adults would also have long bike rides, swimming, and yoga. Maybe some canoes and kayaks on the dock for playing in the lake.

Since this is my ideal summer camp there aren’t a lot of hikes. I can’t walk very far with my knees that need replacing.

There’s also a hot tub at this camp.

Sarah chimes in that we need a hammock for reading and naps.

Hammock hanging at our campsite

And a BBQ.

Lots of non alcoholic beverages and amazing vegan and vegetarian food.

But definitely yes to fires, talk about books, and smores.

Marshmallows roasting over the fire

What goes on at your favourite summer camp?

commute · cycling · fitness · holidays

Welcome to Fool’s Spring!

It’s March! Here in this part of Canada, southern Ontario, that means it’s Fool’s Spring. A friend pointed out that this is missing a category. Just before Real Spring, it should say The Pollening. That’s the season in which, each year, I wonder why I am on the verge of tears all the time and then only after I’ve found things to actually be sad about, realize it’s spring allergies.

Yesterday it was 14 degrees and sunny. Today it’s below freezing, just and there’s freezing rain outside. But there are birds chirping in the morning, even today. And the roads are gradually clearing of snow and ice.

This year I didn’t ride through the winter–mostly because we were under a ‘work from home’ order for pandemic reasons during the most challenging time–and I’m looking at getting my adventure road bike geared up for commuting again. (I’ll take the Brompton out once the roads are completely clear of grit.)

In years past I started riding again in March. See here and here.

So this week I’ll get the commuting bike out, swap the tires, and drop the good road bike off to the bike shop for a tune up. In a few weeks we’re headed south to Kentucky to meet Jeff on the boat at Land Between the Lakes recreation area and maybe do some gravel riding. Route suggestions welcome!

And after that I hope to be back regularly riding outside here in Guelph.

Calvin and Hobbes