Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Mom needs a kayak

May 12, 2017

Yup, you read that correctly: it’s your answer for the annual Mother’s Day conundrum — and you still have two whole days to shop (or procrastinate).

Freedom. Power. Shopping. Those are the reasons why you’ll buy Mom (or your wife or significant other — or yourself or your daughter!) a kayak this year. Let me explain (note: this is one of those kayak-endorphin inspired musings that revealed itself to me as I plied the windy waters of the St. Lucie River, which will make more sense as the explanation unfolds):

Freedom: The realization that she can’t do anything she wants and she can’t do everything the boys do is something that slowly and insidiously seeps into a young girl’s consciousness. The result is often a home-bound woman frustrated by her limited choices and afraid to step outside the boundaries that society and the media have created. Those boundaries tell her she’s too old or too weak or it’s dangerous for her to do something like kayaking.

Of course the first problem with kayaking is “I can’t lift one of those onto my car.” But this video (link below) shows plenty of ways to get around that issue, even for a small woman. Where there’s a will …

Think about this: As we age and grow, true freedom evaporates for girls. We’re in the kitchen cleaning up after parties and dinners while the guys continue drinking and watching the football game. There’s little choice in the matter. We’re constrained by expectations of appearance in dress and manner, further eliminating choices and options. By adulthood, because we’re working and nurturing others or doing free work at schools and libraries many women are too pressed for time to do anything for ourselves. We’re too concerned about smelling bad or looking disheveled to participate in anything athletic, so we turn to finding cute outfits and cooking or keeping house as our outlets.

But eventually the beast emerges, hungry for freedom and choices that aren’t satisfied by retail therapy. A woman who’s been saddled with raising children, toiling under an ungrateful boss, and frustrated by time passing will inevitably implode.

Unless she has a kayak and freedom.

A kayak is a vehicle that doesn’t need roads and signs; it carves its own path to adventure and happiness. Travel quickly or meander aimlessly, the kayak doesn’t care. She may look for fish, for birds, for signs of spring or fall colors — or nothing but peace and quiet.

A in kayak Pittsburg NH  Freedom. Serenity. Power.

Power:  Women are generally discouraged from building or using muscle. “Let me do that for you” is a frequent phrase we hear for everything from lifting groceries to moving furniture. Call the handyman when a job requires lifting. Get a man to do that. Well, I’m calling BS — start with a kayak and pretty soon she’ll be doing pushups like Ahhhnold.

The sore muscles are a badge of honor after a long paddle. They remind you that you did it yourself, you propelled a watercraft and succeeded. You tamed the wind and were challenged by the tides, but you survived. Pretty soon the desire to tackle more physical challenges takes hold and the sky is the limit: a 5K run? climb a mountain? anything is possible.

Shopping: This is the gateway, it’s one of the ways a woman’s mind works when her options are limited. Bear with me: If Mom/wife/daughter is used to handling the family shopping, she will love a kayak because it opens a new world of choices and decisions. Cruise through a scenic harbor and she’ll begin to imagine herself aboard a variety of yachts or looking down from the balcony of a chic townhouse (whether as a Bond Girl or maritime skipper, that’s up to her). Glide by some cute seaside shacks and she’ll consider the scenario of running away from responsibilities to make a new life without the SUV and 9-to-5. She may be immersed in the suburban lifestyle now while raising a family but things will change eventually and unless she’s got some inkling of her next step (through “shopping”) the transition could be rocky.

It’s liberating to enjoy sights and sounds and sensations that aren’t loading up the car, getting kids to school, or the same old power walk around the neighborhood. You might have let the genie out of the bottle, but that’s OK because she will escape one way or the other.

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Note to readers: if you’ve read this far, I have one small item of advice — DO NOT buy a tandem/2 person kayak. If she’s timid of the water then start on a quiet, windless day on a small pond in separate kayaks. Tandems simply accelerate the implosion that I warned you about.

Also, don’t buy a crappy $300 kayak. Spend the $1400 and get something above 12 feet with a bit of a keel. If she’s nervous about controlling it, get a rudder installed. Mom is worth it.

Fall hikes: Look out above!

October 2, 2016

Without April’s muck, May’s black flies, July’s thunderstorms, and August’s crowds, hiking in the fall can be sublime. Consider dry conditions, warm sun, and quiet trails for opportunities to see animals foraging for berries and nuts. Think of the golden late-afternoon sun warming yellow and orange foliage.

Then consider that the seasons change faster up north than at home. The ranger wasn’t joking when she admonished my daughter Grace and I that the summit we sought last weekend was 20 degrees cooler than the trailhead where we began, and the wind chill up there (at 10-15 mph) made it colder than that. We laughed at the warning sign posted at the trail head. C’mon, the sun was shining, we had food and water — what could possibly go wrong??

warning-sign-madison-hike

We’d chosen the trail to Madison Spring Hut because the 4,800-foot ascent was spread over a 3.8 mile trail, making it a relatively gentle hike. Compared to Mount Monadnock’s 3,600-foot scramble/climb in just a mile (white dot trail) it was a breeze. And then it got breezy.

As we climbed under the protection of a canopy of trees, we stripped off layers. I wondered several times if I hadn’t over-packed, as my backpack seemed to bulge with food, survival essentials like headlamps and gatorade tablets, extra clothing, and even waterproof matches. Surely I wouldn’t need most of it. My biggest concern was avoiding blisters caused by the new boots I’m still breaking in. The one thing we were slightly troubled about was our water supply, as we each carried a large bottle of water (and I had another bottle of Gatorade in my pack). We were counting on refilling at the hut, but the ranger at the trail head told us the hut was closing for the season that day and “might” be able to provide some. Neither of us liked that situation and it might have made us hike a little faster to get there before they closed the doors for the last time. (We had water treatment drops too but I’m not crazy about that option — we’d used it in Peru and didn’t die…)

Many of the people we met coming down were dressed for much colder weather. My brain took notice but didn’t completely register the reason: of course it was colder at the top, much colder. Given my experience at the Kinsmans a couple years ago, it should have hit me like a brick. But there was no snow on the ground to make it completely undeniable and duh, I was enthusiastic and enjoying myself so it never sank in.

When we broke out of the treeline, I looked up and saw thin clouds sweeping quickly across the summit. We were briefly showered in a light sleet when the wind blew. Windbreakers were in place before we approached the hut, but I could already feel myself cooling off rapidly. The northern side of every spruce tree was white with frost.

madison-hut-panorama

As we approached the hut, a sign to the left showed the trail to the summit of Madison (5,300′) to the left. I figured we’d go inside, get our water and have a snack then continue over the peak and down another trail … but it wasn’t to be.

Inside the hut, everything was boxed up and being inventoried. The kitchen was being cleaned by the AMC staff. And I quickly realized that the staff were not wearing hats and Patagonia down jackets because they’re young and hip but because the hut was just as cold as the outside temperature minus the wind. It was unheated. Still, we were there for water and a snack, which we immediately refilled and consumed. Then things unraveled.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize signs of hypothermia. I could barely eat and had trouble holding my water bottle to my lips for a drink. Grace immediately got me a hot cup of tea from the staff but it wasn’t quite enough. I stripped my wet layers off and put on dry clothes, then a down jacket and hat (look at that, those “extra” supplies in my pack were actually necessary!). I was still shivering uncontrollably. Grace put on tights under her pants, then extra layers. We were both shaking. I was amazed at how quickly the symptoms started and that they wouldn’t go away (multiple cups of tea later).

“Well, let’s hit the summit and head out,” I said to Grace. She shook her head. “No, we need to go back down. This is close enough to the summit today.”

I felt like a kid who had been denied a treat. I wanted to say we’d summited a 5,300′ mountain. It was only a few hundred feet away — we could SEE people climbing it. She pointed out that we could see people climbing it because the approach was completely exposed — to the wind, sleet, and whatever else. I knew she was right. Dammit.

grace-at-madison-hut

We took some pictures and hiked out. Thank God the trail we’d chosen was gradual as I was a little shaky at the beginning. Then we had a little Nutella and pretzels to celebrate, and made it back to the car in no time. And without injury.

Hike carefully out there. And don’t think that you have to go to the big mountains to enjoy beautiful scenery — there are at least 52 mountains in New Hampshire with gorgeous views that are more accessible than those over 4,000 feet. See this list for ideas.

madison-hike-sept-2016

 

A family in motion

September 29, 2014

There was a long straightaway around mile 3 of the race, and I was finally starting to think I could finish this thing, my first Olympic distance triathlon.

Then I saw them. Oh God. My parents were walking along the street opposite the runners. Really. They’d made their way, 50 miles from home, into this giant, poorly marked state park on a hot sunny day, to cheer me on in a field of 100-plus.

Like a 15-year-old caught with a red solo cup at a party, I turned to the guy running next to me and said, “What are my parents doing here?”

I’d tried to be vague about the race. I tried to discourage their curiousity. I said, “It’s way down in the park and I don’t know if you’ll be able to drive in, and I don’t know about parking or how you’ll find me. Why don’t you just go to my house and sit on the porch and watch the boats on the lake instead?” But there was no stopping them.

For the next 4 miles I had flashbacks of my mother shoving a peanut butter and honey-smeared rice cake in my mouth between field hockey practice and a race when I was a freshman in high school. She was onto something because that styrofoam-dry platform and gag-inducing topping propelled me through a 10k. I remembered her entering me in a 10k before I had any grasp whatsoever of the distance (maybe age 12?) and nearly got lost along the way because I didn’t know the route and basically followed people who looked like they were running too. And how she’d gamely participated on a sprint triathlon team (our biker) something like 10 years ago when she was closer to an age divisible by “7” (shhh!).

mom the triathlete, second from right

mom the triathlete, second from right

Back then my father loved the fact that I’d finished second to the rich kid who had a private running coach. He and I went through a running phase when I was about 10, me trotting along behind him on the dirt roads near our house. Swimming with him was better, he’d throw us over his shoulder to dive into deeper water (and he took us to the beach after work when there was no lifeguard to tell us what we couldn’t do). Too bad he didn’t drill me on laps, I would really appreciate that now when I have to keep to the outside of the swim course or be run down.

We bought them matching bikes about 25 years ago, and they were thrilled. This was to be their retirement activity (outside of cheering on grandkids at various soccer fields, softball games and freezing cold hockey rinks). Since then they’ve probably been on every bike trails in New England. I think they’ve worn out and replaced three or four sets of bikes. Last spring they showed up to do the canal path with me and completely amazed me with their speed and comfort level riding through crowds of people. They’re not ready for rocking chairs yet.

 

not slowing down

not slowing down

So I was the only runner today finishing the race with her parents cheering like crazy on the sidelines. And they both took pictures. The the questions started: why does that guy’s bike already have shoes on the pedals? can I carry that for you? did you get a t-shirt? aren’t you going to eat something? how early did you get here this morning?

Imagine what I might have missed if I had done this alone.

We walked to the transition area. “Wow,” my father said, “have you ever seen so many bikes in a lot like that?”
“Yes, I was in there with them a few years ago!” Mom reminded him.

Wait, Dad has to take a picture of all the bikes (he uses disposable cameras for heart-stopping images of antique trucks and stuff).

Then we walked to the lake and I jumped back in. The cold water felt really good this time, nearly 4 hours after the plunge the race started with in the morning. They sat on a picnic table and watched. For a few minutes I felt like the 10 year old again, showing them how I just learned a new stroke.

As I close in on an age easily divided by “5” I really appreciate that these two set my life in motion, literally. They haven’t stopped and I won’t either.


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