Archive for the ‘kayaking’ 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.

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Flip Flop to Costa Rica

February 4, 2017

This Central American country had been on Mike’s bucket list a long time. He showed me magazine articles about traveling there in the first month we were dating, but it remained the elusive, exotic goal for a few years.Costa Rica surfing

We were there a year ago this week. Was it amazing, was it worth the wait? I’ll let you make up your own mind.

First, we had visions of dipping our toes in the Pacific as soon as we got off the flight, but that evening we were instead schlepping chicken and canned beer from a street vendor to an unanticipated overnight in a city hotel room. That’s because we’d arrived too late to make the drive to our guest house by the sea. And because the car rental agency had abandoned us when we got stuck at an airport. Travel in Costa Rica is still pretty third-world. Our hostess had warned us that the 30+ mile trip from the airport to her guest house near Manuel Antonio National Park would take two hours or so, depending on traffic. I didn’t believe her until we were zig-zagging around food vendors who walked in traffic with bags of snacks for sale. Or maybe it was when we got on the main highway and discovered it was only one lane wide.

Narrow roads are the norm in Costa Rica, and I won’t exaggerate but I need to be clear. They’re often twisting, steep lanes where it’s risky to walk or drive because cars come at you at top speed only to skid to a stop just as the Grim Reaper has his hand on your shoulder. Once we arrived in our little village we decided we wouldn’t travel far for that reason. But this location would be just what we needed for relaxation and access to what matters: great waves on a long stretch of beach on one side of the peninsula, a calm lagoon for snorkeling on the other.

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The first thing we discovered is that the calm lagoon contained very little sea life. We had hoped to snorkel to some coral or pretty fish or SOMETHING to look at,  but there was very little. The water was also MUCH warmer than expected (yeah, I know we were close to the Equator but this is the largest ocean in the world..). Swimming was barely refreshing because of the ocean temperature. Everyone told us it was a warmer than average January, but isn’t that what we’ve been hearing everywhere?

The surf side of the peninsula was pretty spectacular. Big waves rolled in across a sandy break. We could walk for miles along the beach, right to the national park entrance. We both rented surf boards and had a great time practicing that (despite the bandage-covering-stitches-and-wrapped-with-duct-tape on my hand).. until Mike caught some waves that were a little too big and got freaked out (what’s sport without near death experiences??). But the sunsets here were to die for!

[I wasn’t joking about the lines at Manuel Antonio National Park, nor the monkeys]

Our outings included a morning in the National Park (honestly my assessment was a resounding MEH because of the crowds, the heat, and the damned monkeys). It was scenic but a chore to shuffle through with a million other people looking for sloths sleeping in the trees, and much of the park was closed to hiking without a permit and a guide, which was disappointing. When we took a sanctioned hike around a not-so-crowded peninsula to see cliffs and jungle we were accosted by a couple nasty monkeys on a bridge who wanted snacks. Also had a nice conversation with a giant iguana that got between me and my stuff on the beach — those suckers look lazy but can move really fast!

Another interesting day trip was to zip lining recommended by our hostess at the guest house. It included a bus ride with a ton of other American tourists into a very scenic area of the interior of the country (about an hour each way). We weren’t disappointed by the big trees we were frequently jumping off of! My issue (and this isn’t a minor one) is that the crew here made the quickest, most cursory equipment checks I’ve ever seen. I haven’t done a lot of rappelling or rock climbing or zip lining, but I know that  the way they were slapping on the carabiners that were going to hold a person 125 feet above a river isn’t enough of a safety precaution. I was nervous much of the time on this side trip but tried to put a good face on it. Also, I couldn’t help but analyze the return on our investment: we saw a beautiful area, we can say we did zip lining, but the reality of it was a lot of driving and standing around and perusing the base camp’s butterfly exhibit with a total of about 45 minutes of actual zip lining thrown in.

One of the aspects of the trip that we revisit is that we met some great people. Our guest house had a common room with kitchen that allowed us to relax and interact with couples from Europe, Canada, and the US. We had sundowners at a bar one night and met a naturalist who works at a local hotel and was very fun and interesting to talk to. There were people on the beaches who enjoyed sharing their suggestions and travel tips. All in all, the people were friendly, unlike the monkeys who were cute for about a day then got pretty annoying.

[Monkeys were cute for the first day or so.. and grocery shopping in foreign countries is so amusing to me!]

This blog item might sound cynical — Costa Rica is beautiful, but go with your eyes open. Don’t expect American-level facilities or infrastructure. Don’t try to pack in too much.

We had fun but we’re not in a big hurry to go back unless I decide to do the cross-country MTB race… which would probably result in the Grim Reaper REALLY getting his hands on me. (Check out this story!)

 

My Big Bang

February 20, 2016

When I scraped myself off the pavement, I tested my range of motion. Probably nothing broken, but the blood was starting to flow, running over my hand and .. definitely not stopping.

I thought about my options: who would I call? Did I really need to call anyone? I guessed I’d make it back to my car so I held my bloody hand in the air and started skating again. My car was about three miles away, at the far end of the Cape Cod Canal bike path, which gave me time to replay the accident in my head a few times. My wrists were still buzzing from the impact but I kept going back to feeling my right temple slam against the ground – through my bike helmet, which I always wear. This time I was glad for those 300 other days I strapped on the damned thing, even when it was too hot, the sun was in my eyes, or more recently when it was cold and I wished I could wear a warm hat instead.

skate sideways

It was my first wipeout in I can’t remember how many years or how many miles of inline skating. I typically do the 14 mile round-trip here in 65-80 minutes depending on the Buzzards Bay wind factor which ranges from rare days of no breeze to a stiff wind that feels like I’m dragging an anvil. It’s a great workout when the weather permits, something that uses muscles complementary to those needed for biking and running. Fortunately in January the only potential witnesses to my pavement kiss were the crewmembers of the tugboat I was “racing” down the canal (and dammit I still won, even when leaving a trail of blood).

There’s never a good time to get injured, and two days before my significant birthday made its impact more palpable: a reminder that, oh shit, maybe I’m mortal after all? Not to mention it was the day of the premiere of my significant other’s movie and I was supposed to be dressed up, happy and concerned about nothing bigger than twisting an ankle in high heels in a couple hours. And oh yeah, we were leaving on an international trip the day after.. wait, how was I going to get pantyhose on with one functioning hand?

There was a kid on a skateboard in the parking lot, so I took the opportunity to menace him with my ugly bloody hand and strongly suggest he invest in a helmet. He probably thinks they’re dorky, but I don’t care. The more I thought about my head hitting the pavement the more thankful I was for the minimal precautions I take, like carrying my cell phone and for that previously untouched first aid kit in my glove box that was put to good use.

first aid kit

It took days for the ugly yellow bruises to show up on my hip, elbow and wrist but the ER doctor was satisfied with putting a few stitches in – and gave me the go-ahead to do all of the snorkeling I wanted on our trip (the surfing was a little tougher on the sutures but I gave it a try anyway). And somebody loved the bandaged hand that got us priority boarding on our flights, he thinks I’m keeping the wraps for future trips (only if he wears them!).

 

Pro tip: that duct tape I wrapped around my water bottle to fix anything and everything came in handy as a tough outer bandage when we went sea kayaking and zip lining.

duct tape hand

Which leaves me here, planning an epic 50-degree day of mountain biking tomorrow but contemplating the mouth guard I bought a year ago and haven’t used. Hmm..

 

Happy Flu Year to you

January 1, 2014

A couple days inside with a flu is enough to make anyone feel crappy. Particularly during the post-holiday period. Add to it that today’s New Year’s Eve and we’ve got the formula for a sorry ass situation in the making.

life feels this way sometimes

sometimes I’m just not feeling it

But I decided to turn that frown upside-down! Yessirreee.

First, I let my phone battery die in order to avoid all those happy party shots and new year’s greetings (or worse yet — if none are texted to me!). Then I dug out my calendar and decided to tally up my notes for the year. Turns out I enjoyed runs, skating, skiing, snorkeling, hikes, mountain biking, SUP, swimming, kayaking, fishing, yoga, spinning classes and weight lifting an average of 18 times a month. And I didn’t even count a couple of trips when we were just enjoying ourselves on auto pilot.

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I’m glad I kept this calendar of ups and downs through 2013 because I might have just assumed —  influenced by the chill and ache fluctuations over the past couple days — that the year averaged on the sucky side. Upon closer inspection, I see notes about beach days and remember SUP’ing for hours around Narragansett RI. Things like “90 min bike S.Woodbury/run around pond/swim” go a long way to ease the discomfort of sitting on the couch wrapped in a blanket. And then there’s the mid-July day that’s marked “All Day Adventure on the Ammonoosuc” and it’s impossible to discount the year as a complete suckfest.

No day is truly that bad when I’ve spent an hour or two out in it. Tomorrow I’m starting the year with one resolution: to improve my average.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
John Muir

The things we carried

August 24, 2013

It’s great to spend a summer with a person on the same wavelength:

“That’s a fishy looking stretch of river. Pull over and let’s take a few casts!”

“Oh, we’re going within 25 miles of that stand of pristine hemlocks I heard about, let’s detour over this mountain.”

“We’ve been driving for hours and it’s hot. There must be a swimming hole around here somewhere.”

On the other hand, being prepared for these and other mini-adventures means we’ve got to have some gear. Therein lies the rub. We don’t exactly travel “light and fast.”

not exactly light and fast

not exactly light and fast

How much gear is too much? Sometime several weeks ago we loaded the truck with a box of food, duffel bags and fishing gear, then strapped kayaks to the roof and bikes to the back. Things got a little ridiculous when we had to dive over the back seats to reach anything because we couldn’t open the rear hatch with the bikes on there.

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Almost immediately we reconsidered: how long to keep kayaks on the roof when they suck the gas mileage down to nil? How often will we actually use the bikes? After a week, we thought we could have gotten away with just bathing suits and fishing rods.

But bringing all that stuff along was good in many ways. We rode bikes when the weather turned too chilly for swimming. We took advantage of higher-than-usual rivers with the kayaks, logging more miles than anticipated. And we held one another to the pledge that we’d take any challenge, jump in any river, explore any back road. No excuses, no sitting on the sidelines.

without the kayaks we might not have seen some fabulously remote stretches of river

without the kayaks we might not have seen some fabulously remote stretches of river

We lived in quick-dry shorts and old, reliable water sandals (the sneakers, flip flops and -definitely- the pretty sandals were superfluous). While we had long pants for wading through fields and scratchy underbrush, they remained in the duffels as we successfully prayed that ticks would not be interested. Mike acknowledged that I’ve provided him plenty of breathable shirts but he didn’t bring any (per usual) and wandered about most often without any upper body coverage. No complaints here! My raffia sun hat got wet, squashed, dirty and lost under the stuff in the back of the truck. Then I dusted it off and put it back on. What an amazing $10 investment that has been. And, oh, the $5 CVS sunscreen is just as effective as the $15 stuff.

Of course this nomadic existence has had its downsides.

Getting a 10-foot SUP in and out of hotel rooms can be tricky. We apologize to the people in #510 who had the “Do Not Disturb” sign on their door the other morning. You can’t bend a SUP around corners unfortunately.

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One morning this week we awakened in the luxurious confines of a friend’s home in Orleans where we had use of a $1200 espresso machine (I only know because we had to Google instructions to use it — then nearly blew it up) and this electric commode that made me laugh: which button to flush vs getting your backside rinsed?

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Another morning we awakened in this houseboat on the Annisquam River in, let’s say, more rustic surroundings (yet fishing on a moment’s notice) … and a complete absence of plumbing.

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On another day we were in a library parking lot (he was getting ready for a presentation, I might have been changing my clothes from paddling) and a woman gasped when she witnessed “stuff” tumbling out of the back as I opened the hatchback. Suddenly I realized that there aren’t many people who would enjoy living like this. Homeless? Aimless? Funny, I don’t care what anyone thinks. There are a couple of weeks of summer left and I’m gonna keep it going as long as I can.

Rope Swing at swim hole

Fishing Lessons

August 2, 2013

We had three glorious weeks in Vermont and New Hampshire this summer. Day after day, we asked each other, “what do you want to do?” Sometimes we mountain biked on back roads and snowmobile  trails (VAST), sometimes we swam and picked blueberries. But mostly, we fished.

Fishing isn’t the same as catching fish. I know that and I’m just a novice. Not that it mattered. It was the exploring, the hunting for fish that captivated me.

“When I say I fish, most people think I sit in a boat,” Mike said one day as we bushwacked to yet another remote spot. It’s an understatement to say nothing deters him from getting to what he thinks will be good fishing. I didn’t keep track of all the places we went except for the dozens of photos that show “going fishing” included climbing under highway bridges and over guardrails, following railroad tracks, crossing farm fields, sliding down steep embankments, fording fast-moving water, worrying about critters and poison ivy … and — sometimes — finding fish.

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Mike has been fishing New England for many years and he studies the rivers. His atlas is dogeared and annotated with many circles and notes about getting to particular pools. In three weeks we didn’t hit all of his spots, and some that we hit didn’t give up any fish. It’s a scavenger hunt, the kind I could do day after day, outside in the woods, riverbanks and fields. Fortunately the equipment is pretty lightweight and easy to set aside when it’s time to jump in the rivers to cool off. These kids on the Mad River had the right idea.

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And then there’s the scenery. Do I really need to say that the most beautiful parts of rivers AREN’T the ones you can see from the highway? Sure, those glimpses you get from the air conditioned comfort of your car are nice, but they’re nothing like this. They were so beautiful that it was a challenge for me to stop snapping pics long enough to cast for fish.

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I used to think of fish as slimy (yet tasty), something I wasn’t really interested in until it was properly cooked or sushi’ed and on a plate. But once I started hooking into them I realized the fish you may get in the seafood market aren’t as beautiful as these, with golden scales, orange spots or blue patterns on them. (The little ones are still out there swimming, we didn’t keep them all.)

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And there’s something completely different about catching your own fish. I mean, I’d been fishing before — as a kid, with a worm and a red-and-white bobber — but learning how to find the right spots, then casting across whitewater and feeling the tug of a fish on the line and landing one were all amazing steps along the way. After a couple of weeks I knew I couldn’t really claim the “fisherwoman” title unless I went beyond the happy photos of posing with the fish I caught.

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Yup, I finally told Mike I needed to start cleaning my own fish. He was surprised. “I’ll do that for you,” he said. But I’d leaned on his expertise enough already, taking baby steps in landing my own fish, then extracting the hook. It was time.

On the last day, I landed a beautiful rainbow trout. It wasn’t pretty or as efficient as when Mike handles them, but I took out my Leatherman and opened him up, butt to gills. I scooped out the guts and twisted the head off with my bare hands. Then I cut into the stomach and made my report: two Japanese beetles, a few golden snails. Great, Mike said, sounds like we’re using the right lures if that’s what they’re eating.

Slow down, summer

May 18, 2013

It was a rough winter around here, blizzards and broken pipes and all. Finally, it’s May and everyone is thrilled with the warm weather and sun shining.

I wish the offseason would linger a little. That’s because my time in my winter rental house is ticking away and I can feel my little seaside town subtly shifting toward summer. There’s definitely more traffic, and there are contractors everywhere fixing up houses, making noise. Where there were just two boats in the harbor all winter, the moorings are filling up. The first few times I went out on my board I was the only one on the water. Not so anymore. Now when I’m out paddling I worry more about navigating boat wakes than the wind — and that’s saying something when you consider Buzzards Bay’s breezy reputation.

Even as the summer people scare the hell out of me by setting off M80 fireworks near my house, I’m composing a sad country tune called “I’m Gonna Miss this Place [more than I miss my dog].”

the harbor that was so quiet all winter is getting "crowded"

the harbor that was so quiet all winter is getting “crowded”

You see, I’m living in my “divorce house” — the perfect existence my friend Liz describes in this blog post that made it to Huffington Post and reminiscent of Virgina Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own — but mine is not a fantasy. I’m living alone for the first time ever in my life and I love it. This morning I got up really early, didn’t have to deal with anyone else, and went kayak fishing for oh, a few hours. Then, without consulting anyone again, I did 20 miles of rollerblading on the Shining Sea trail.

The best part is I chose to live here, unlike so many places I have lived in the past 25 years. I didn’t “have to” live here to be near a spouse’s work or good schools, I simply saw the water view through the windows and picked this one. And it has exceeded my expectations. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had that opportunity?

my early morning view

my early morning view

Oftentimes when I finish a day’s work I grab my board and look for a corner of the harbor and inlets that I haven’t explored. The water can be shallow in unexpected places, providing a great 3D view of sea life from above: the crabs that get defensive and raise their claws as I float over them, the jellyfish that rhythmically propel themselves to points unknown. It’s not unusual for me to drag myself back very close to dark but completely invigorated by the experience and in love with this place.

from every angle, this town has been perfect for me

from every angle, this town has been perfect for me

The entire experience would have been perfect except for those uninvited guests. Maybe the late spring has been a blessing after all, or the aggravations of sharing this space might have started months ago.

My runs are now interrupted by people on the sidewalks and actually sitting on my beach stairs! Now that is massively aggravating. It means I can’t just go out in the middle of the day and do reps of the stairs at will, I have to skip the sets that are occupied or wait for a cloudy day. That’s not to mention little kids playing on the beach where I want to run! OMG! And I can’t wait until the people living along the “private beach” I’ve run on all winter start telling me to get off when I’m doing my usual route.

as long as there are no summer people sitting on them, the stairs are the best workout around

as long as there are no summer people sitting on them, the stairs are the best workout around

Recently there were other bikers on the trails I’ve enjoyed all winter (fair weather boys), not to mention the gridlock on the canal path when I go there to skate. Weekends are getting ridiculous. Do I have to move to Acadia to enjoy seaside solitude? Jeesus, I’m starting to sound like a Cape Codder who stays in all summer to avoid the tourists, and I rarely cross the bridge!

The hardest part is that my landlady asked me to come back next winter. Wouldn’t I love to! But it’s probably not in the cards. Unless…

Paradise in perspective

February 1, 2013

Spend a week on this tiny Caribbean island and you’re tempted to believe that life could be a lot simpler, slower, less stressed.

that's it, the whole of Salt Cay, a triangle in the ocean about a mile long

that’s it, the whole of Salt Cay, a triangle in the ocean about a mile long

For a week (plus) we had roosters awaken us rather than alarm clocks, biked to the beach (hoping to see it all before we left), we siesta’d in the heat of the day, we took walks at night to look up at the stars.

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the locals were very friendly

the locals were very friendly

We’d go out for a swim and some beach combing, look for new fish on the reefs and amble back to the house for a bit. Swim, eat, repeat. IMG-20130123-00310

paradise

paradise

It was perfection. Except that my conscience followed me there.

Staying with a local couple, we saw up close how they carefully planned the use of food and other stores because it’s not possible to just stroll out to a Super WalMart to stock up. They have cisterns in their yards to capture rainwater for drinking. We took showers in 1/2 cup of water. Or just about.

But the beaches we visited told a story that was very different. Considering that the island’s longest side isn’t much more than a mile long, it was absolutely shocking how much junk piled up on them. Disgusting, even. And there’s no lack of irony that one of the great beach areas on the island was accessed by taking a left at the dump the locals use. Where they burn their household trash.

IMG-20130127-00459  This was just one of hundreds, maybe thousands of plastic jugs we saw washed up. Need I repeat that the island offers only a mile of beach to collect this trash? Where does the rest of it end up, and how much is floating out there somewhere? The organization Oceana tracks such pollution, but a peek at their web site is a reminder that the big plastic pieces are the easy ones to spot. Mercury and other stuff that are killing the reefs not so much. Think about it: our synthetic clothing (fleece) breaks down a little each time we wash it, discharging tiny plastic particles into the environment and adding to the burden. Even the founder of retailer Patagonia gets it and feels the guilt.IMG-20130127-00454

Snap a photo in any direction on these beautiful beaches and you get piles of fishing net, dozens of individual shoes, buckets, baby doll legs … you name it.

IMG-20130127-00455Yes, that’s the object (a tank that formerly held formaldehyde, we were told) that appears considerably smaller in the photo above. And that is Mike standing next to it. Something that big washed ashore. “How’d you like to hit that in your sailboat?” he asked, evoking the storyline of a friend’s book about losing his boat near the Azores (probably to a submerged object) and drifting a very long way in a life raft.

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can't say if one of the refrigerators we saw on the rocks could sink a boat, but the sight of it was enough to sink my spirits

can’t say if one of the refrigerators we saw on the rocks could sink a boat, but the sight of it was enough to sink my spirits

Sure, we enjoyed our brief foray into the tropics, the feeling that a little time away from our usual schedules really puts life into perspective. We weren’t counting on the beaches putting our buying and recycling habits into perspective. Sadly, as we walked the beaches, Jack Johnson’s neo-hippie beach tunes were continually being pushed out of my head in favor of Joni Mitchell singing, “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Write it on your heart

January 2, 2013

Are you fascinated by other people’s New Year resolutions? Naw, not me, either. But you can’t help thinking about it this time of year, can you? The media is in our faces with resolutions that are made and not kept and they’re all so predictable.

Mine is: don’t change a thing this year. I think it’s the first time ever that I haven’t had some major aspect of life to repair/renovate/retrieve and I couldn’t be happier. The thing is, I didn’t consciously make all of the changes that add up to what’s going right for me. That’s because lot of it had to do with letting go.

Four years ago we were under the Sydney harbor bridge for New Year’s Eve. I was a magazine editor enjoying a decent salary after a 20-year climb in my career but not happy with lots of things in my life. I thought I was near the top of my game professionally but was juggling like mad to deal with family stuff, never having enough time to really enjoy the fruits of my labor. That all changed a few months later as I was laid off and my magazine shut down due to the economy. For two years I struggled to get back into the game while biking, running and exploring away the unwanted free time. The tumult turned out to be a gift in disguise.

I accepted the first full-time job I was offered, and despite it being technical and tedious and having nothing to do with my career in journalism, it is the best thing that could have happened to me. It took a while to make the transition but the hardest part was shutting up and learning to enjoy the benefits. It’s work-from-home and completely flexible, allowing me to take a laptop on the road to pursue adventures anywhere, or to check in with the fish on the bay rather than being tethered to a desk just about anytime I feel like it. It has freed me from the professional aggravation of climbing a corporate ladder or sitting in an office on a sunny day that’s perfect for being outside. I’m still putting money away for retirement, but I’m not putting off enjoying life.

Emerson said, “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” And that’s what I’m doing.

Could I have made these changes consciously? Probably not. The Kool-Aid has been in my system since birth, telling me to pursue corporate success but not really justifying the servitude. Now I am learning to look at situations that we assume are “normal” and asking whether I want to take that route. It took major upheaval to alter the path of my life, but it was a good kick in the pants. I just wish it had happened sooner.

I wasn't ready for my life's path to veer off-track but now I am glad it did.

I wasn’t ready for my life’s path to veer off-track but now I am glad it did.

My road to riches

November 23, 2012

It’s easy to make January 1 a day of reflection and reassessment. We always think of it in terms of joining a gym, trying to stay in touch with friends, or traveling more in the coming year. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, another opportunity to reflect on who and what we have.

Thanks to a deep vein of attention deficit disorder, to me every day is a combination of New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving. I’m constantly reassessing, looking for new opportunities, turning over more leaves than a landscaping crew. Enriching my skipping from one activity to another is gratitude, a recent theme.  Rather than mindlessly charging into activities, the presence of gratitude has changed every run or bike or paddle, and every sunset, every kiss, every colorful flower I see.

Before you wonder if I’ve been consuming wild mushrooms, read on.

It all started last spring when I was in a hotel room in Hoboken, looking forward to a day of exploring Manhattan by myself on my old bike, following my whims and my wheels around the city. That’s when I learned that my first childhood friend, Scott, had been killed in a car accident.

I hadn’t thought of Scott much in years, hadn’t seen him in a long time. So it’s a little twisted to think of him now nearly every day. But he was taken unexpectedly in an accident on a familiar road near his home, leaving daughters about the same ages as mine. At his wake it took hours to get through the line to his wife and parents next to his casket, and I passed the time chatting with “kids” we’d grown up with, played touch football, street hockey and truth-or-dare with.

It took months for the reality to settle in that someone healthy, my age, and absolutely treasured by a loving family could be snatched from life. Somehow that horror mellowed into gratitude that has become part of my everyday thinking.

Now when I’m out on a trail and have to stop and spend a minute enjoying the way the light is filtering through the leaves or a bright bloom of color on a plant, I think of him. I think of Scott when I’m alone on the water, just enjoying the rhythm of my paddle and the ripples alongside the bow of my board. When my daughters smile or laugh it has new meaning to me.

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That day in New York was all about remembering him and the way we played together as kids. I pedaled for miles, lost in memories of the years he and I spent together. He had an uncanny ability to imitate old style police sirens, so we always had to play Adam-12 on our bikes, up and down the street, investigating “break-ins” by the mailboxes and pretending the space under the neighbor’s forsythia bushes was the squad headquarters. We built forts in the woods, played endless games of street hockey and basketball, got jobs at the same place when we were 14.

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At his wake I learned that he and his family had rented a house every summer in Edgartown, overlooking the area where my family frequently anchored our boat. We worked in the same industry. He had just taken his oldest to visit his alma mater, the college where my youngest are now freshmen. We might have passed each other on the street many times, shuttling our daughters to practices and to visit our parents.

Instead of a greedy pursuit of my “bucket list” items, bagging peaks or charging down a trail without taking time to look around at the beauty there, I am now proceeding through every day with gratitude. Life is precious. I plan to enjoy every moment, every opportunity, every beautiful vista I have left to see.

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