boats · canoe · Dancing · nature

Mallory Goes Thanksgiving Canoeing (Guest Post)

Several weeks ago for (Canadian) Thanksgiving I spent the weekend in Algonquin with the Western Outdoors Club. This is an annual trip which I have gone on several times. This year was the largest group I’ve been part of: 62 university students in 21 canoes!

Approximately 12 green canoes sitting on a hill on a island in Algonquin
A bunch (too many to count) of tents and people with a campfire nearby

There are several things I love about this trip (and about Western Outdoors Club in general):

  • the variety in skill level and equipment
  • the number of international students
  • how accessible the club makes trips like this
  • the cost
  • beautiful scenery
Scenic shot of a lake with fall coloured trees on islands on either side. It is raining quite heavily.

However, this year there was one thing I DIDN’T ENJOY and that was the weather: cold and wet. Weather forecast was for highs of 8 and lows of 2 with rain on and off most of the weekend. I’ve camped in much colder weather (-27 winter camping!) but I find fall weather much colder. I’m not sure why, possibly the damp but also possibly because I’m not mentally prepared for it and/or never seem to pack enough warm gear. That being said, I was not cold at night even though I was sleeping in my hammock tent.

Despite the cold it was a fun trip! If you don’t believe me, watch a video here

fitness · walking

Beach walks as exercise

Since damaging my knee, I can’t run. That was my go-to exercise when camping. I’d throw on my running shoes and hit the trails. No more, never again. That’s over. But with my knee brace on I can still cover lots of territory. I’m gradually coming to think of walks as exercise.
Cate put it much poetically in terms of giving your body the exercise or needs. Me, I’m just working on changing my attitude about all exercise needing to be intense

Last weekend Sarah and I packed the tent up and zoomed off in the car for a night of (unusual for us) car camping. I was anxious to sleep in a tent at least one night this year. So hello, Pinery Provincial Park. And hello Sunday morning beach walk. We covered  more than 5 km in 84 minutes. Lots of it was along the beach. It felt like fun and it felt like a fitness activity. Glad I’m gradually shaking the idea that if it’s not running or biking it doesn’t count. I’m hoping to work up to carrying a pack so that next summer we can do some back country camping by foot as well as by canoe.
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Sam in a red Guelph Arts hoodie and wearing black tights and a knee brace on the edge of a campsite.
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Driftwood sculptures on the beach
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Steps, boardwalk, trees, and dunes. And Sam.
Sam and Sarah climbing down the stairs to the beach
Sam pauses to have her photo taken on the stairs
Google Fit stats for the walk
dogs · hiking · walking · winter

Winter Camping with a Beast (Guest Post)

by Mallory Brennan

A few weeks ago, during March Break, I went winter camping! It was a short 24-hour trip due to an extremely busy life and getting our house ready to sell.

It was me, my younger brother, and our dog Cheddar. It was Cheddar’s first time camping and he was the best-behaved camping beast you could expect! We were the only people I saw in tents, everyone else was in a yurt or a trailer. When we first arrived we set up our tent and put Cheddar on a long leash to explore our campsite. We put a tarp on the ground for him to lay down on during the afternoon (he slept in the tent with us at night).

Then we went hiking. It’s always interesting to see what the parks look like in winter- frozen ponds and lakes, snow, ski tracks.

After hiking, we had a campfire and cooked our dinner. All our normal camping dishes were in storage so we cooked using no dishes- we roasted veggie skewers with vegetables, smoked tofu, halloumi cheese (which has a higher melting point so it doesn’t melt when you toast it). Then, of course, s’mores for dessert! As soon as it got dark (~8:30pm), Cheddar decided it was bedtime. He started circling us, going into the tent and looking at us (“Are you coming?”), coming back out to get us. We gave in after about ten minutes of this and curled up in the tent with him. It is very helpful to have a warm, furry beast in your tent. Especially a Cheddar-beast who loves to be as close to his people as possible and loves sleeping under the covers with you.

When we woke up in the morning and got up (12 hours later), he was still sound asleep in the tent and even looked at us as if to say “Do we have to get up yet?”. But he cheerfully got up once we got his leash out for a W-A-L-K (if you have a dog you know why we need to spell that word!). A couple hours more of hiking and we headed home. A successful 24-hour camping trip with a beast.

Mallory Brennan is many things. She’s the daughter of Samantha (and Jeff!), part-owner of Cheddar the dog, lover of the outdoors, hater of shoes, singer, conductor, and traveler.

family · running

Jogging with dog versus running with son

So I’m back to running, slowly but surely increasing the amount I’m running versus time spent walking. It’s the usual drill. You can read about that here.

Often I’m dog jogging though the dog too got a bit out of shape during my running hiatus. It’s nice though because a) dogs are motivating, she’s got to be walked so we may as well run, and b) she keeps me in line. I’m tempted too run faster, further and right now she can’t and that’s okay.

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This week though I was away camping, car camping really, with my teenagers and twenty something, at a nearby provincial park. It’s a bit of a family tradition getting away the week before school starts. I love it.

My teen athlete is recovering from concussion and he’s just getting back to physical activity after a few weeks of not much. It’s better now he can read and watch movies and use the computer. The days of “watching paint dry” as the doctor put it were painful.

He’s getting excellent care at the university’s sport injury clinic. They have a dedicated team working on concussions. He’s even seeing a physiotherapist who specializes in concussion.

All good.

But when he asked me to go running with him while we were camping, I realized I was playing a role for him that the dog plays for me. I was his excuse for taking it easy.

It was tough for me. We ran about five km, walked another couple, at noon on the hottest day of the summer. It was faster than my usual pace, accompanied by lots of “come on mom, you can do it” and good natured ribbing about my pace.

It was also hot.

Heat advisory? I know! Let’s run. His reasoning was probably right though. He was asleep earlier and if we put it off till later we wouldn’t go.

Luckily since we’re at the park we ran on shady trails. I love trail running.

And I love that, athlete though he is, he’s not embarrassed to be out with his nearly fifty year old mother huffing and puffing along! I’ve written about this before. See my post on life as a sports parent here.

It’s one of the ways that we all benefit from having a serious athlete the house. When I come home from a soccer game he always asks how it went. I once asked him if he was embarrassed by having his mother in her road cycling clothing, sweaty after a ride, watching the end of practise. He said he was happy I got to ride my bike while they practised and it was the parents sitting in chairs the whole time who were really embarrassing. (Some parents have to embarrass some teenagers some of the time. It’s a rule.)

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Guest Post

Freedom is a Kevlar Canoe

Last year at the end of the season, I purchased a Swift Algonquin 16 Kevlar Fusion canoe with carbon Kevlar trim. It comes in at a whopping 35lbs and I love it. I have christened her “The Catnoe” for #reasons and this year I took her on her maiden trip with Sam for three days and two nights in back country Algonquin Park.

First, a pop quiz. . .how many other canoes do you think we encountered with two women identified people in them? Don’t just jump to the first conclusion, think for a minute. . .naw, I’m just kidding. Your first conclusion is likely totally correct. The answer is none. It was just us. We saw two male gendered people, we saw male and female (male in the stern of course) but there were no other women tripping partners to be seen. This is consistent with my 6 years of annual trips to the park. I am almost always in the only two woman canoe, with the exception of a group of 5 women (2 canoes and one kayak) we saw two years ago.

I’ve been thinking about why this is for all 6 years I’ve been doing it so I’d like to share some of those musings here, in light of the spectacularly successful Catnoe excursion.

I first tripped when I was at overnight camp about 32 years ago. It was awful. My shoes got wet. I didn’t have a sleeping pad for the ground. The mosquitoes were in the tent and I didn’t like doing my business in the woods. Yet somehow, I went back to it as a staff about 5 years later. I think it was because it seemed to me that the cool kids were volunteering for trips. It may also have had to do with that Israeli, gymnast, ex-paratrooper person who was on the trip but we won’t pay any mind to that now. My most vivid memory of the trip was of my unit head grasping the yolk of the canoe, yanking it up to sit on her thighs and then magically hoisting it over her head. I had never seen a woman do that before. This was not made of Kevlar either. It was aluminum. It was on this trip that I learned about multiple pairs of socks and the necessity of drying your footwear as much as possible between soakings. I had hiking boots instead of sneakers. I think I may have had a pad to sleep on in the tent too. I played with camp cooking and I sterned my own boat. I came back to camp dirty and stinky and proud of myself. Over all, a total success.

It was not until 20 years later that I finally went out again on a portaging canoe trip. There are some things you have to accept when agreeing to go on a back country trip. You will get dirty and stay kinda dirty. You will use every part of your body to its maximum at various points in the trip. You will struggle. You will occasionally feel some pain. You will get bug bites and at some point, you will be alone at night in the forest sitting on a wooden box with a hole in it doing your business.

Let’s face facts, none of these things are the kind of things most girls are brought up to expect to enjoy. I was certainly not brought up with the idea that this was a fun thing to do. I got the idea because of who I hang out with (and I’m so grateful for that). However, I have learned to love them. Surprisingly, sitting on the aforementioned box (a privy) is one of the more pleasant things about camping in Algonquin. It’s far better than sitting in an enclosed space doing the equivalent activity. Even in a light mist, it’s quite refreshing.

I love the challenge of getting from one place to another. I love figuring out how to cook yummy things with my camp burner. I love the little comforts, a good sleeping bag, mat and tent, a book, a cup of coffee, dry socks. I love swimming in wicked cold water I would normally not bother to swim in. I love not looking in the mirror for 3 days. Of course there is the actual place, so beautiful and further in, so serene you can feel like you are the only human for kilometers, even if you are not really.

But back to the canoe. The one limiting factor for me has always been that extraordinary act of flipping that sucker on my head. My customary tripping partner (Sarah) is a life-long athlete whose physical strength and attitude have always leaned toward “of course I can do that”. And so, she does. In all years past, she has been chief canoe-flipper-upper. I have carried it occasionally (either the 45 lb version or, one time her 60 lb canoe) but always with her help to get it up and only for the shorter distances (200m). It meant I always had to have a person with me who could carry the canoe. That meant her or someone else, maybe a man. I know there are other women in my larger friend circle who can do it but they aren’t close enough to be going on trips with me. Like I said, not a lot of two women canoe partners in the park or available generally, even when most of my women friends are queer identified.

Enter the Catnoe. She is so eminently flip-up-able. She allowed me to master the technique without being afraid I’d accidentally take my head off. She allowed me to say, when Sarah couldn’t go, “Hey, Sam! Will you let me take you into the back woods for a trip?” and know that no matter what, even if Sam couldn’t carry the canoe, I could! If something bad happened and I had to go get help, I could. I had the capacity to fill any role on the excursion and let me tell you, that is power. A whole world opened up to me.

(Just to be clear. . .Sam could carry the canoe, I just didn’t let her.)

I could have done more overhead presses and heavier squats. Then I could have a hope of working with the 45 lb canoe. But, my Catnoe has let me have access to this entire experience now, without my usual fears. It has also likely given me the muscle memory to flip that 45 pounder up there if I had to and so launched me on a path to even more freedom.

Isn’t this the reason why we struggle to acquire fitness and if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be? I’m 46 years old and next summer, as long as my 71 year old mom can get up and get down from a sitting position on the ground, I’m taking her in to the park with me. I will set her up on a chair at the end of the portage and I will bring the pack and the canoe. I will feel powerful and happy and free. What else can you ask for?