Archive for the ‘swimming’ Category

Gear up with decent equipment

February 25, 2018

Good gear is always a challenge to find, particularly on a budget. Here are a couple items I’ve been able to count on recently and would endorse:

Something fun: Akaso video camera. People have been telling me for a few years that I should get a GoPro camera. Sure, that could be fun, but for the longest time these gadgets were financially out of reach for me (falling well below bike maintenance costs on my ledger!). As much as I dislike the big online retailer that starts with “A” (oops, I used to work for them) — I found this Akaso mini video camera for under $100. It came with rechargeable batteries, has been reliable and is so much fun to fool around with!

Underwater videos have been my favorite part, because the camera came with a zillion mounts and accessories, including a waterproof housing. I can’t really get good mountain biking videos on it yet because I haven’t tried the helmet mount (I tried a handlebar mount and thought it was too shaky and tried clipping it to the chest strap of my backpack but got too much footage of my knees rather than the trail ahead of me). My issue is that it’s really hard to tell if it’s recording when you’re looking at it through a snorkel mask and the waterproof housing. They could make a bigger flashing red light on the screen or something. As a result I’ve taken lots of footage that looks like I’m in a washing machine and missed lots of footage of cool underwater things because it’s off when I think it’s on and vice-versa.

I’d love to upload the actual video (especially of Mike swimming with the fish in our favorite Florida spring, above right) but I’m not on the premium plan here so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Good shoes. Seriously, don’t skimp by buying cheap sneakers when you have a lot of hiking or even city shopping to do on a vacation. I like Salomon as a brand because they are rugged and last a long time. I tried out these new “Sense Pulse” style shoes (on left) just before we went to California and Hawaii last fall and I haven’t regretted it.IMG_20180224_181126_971[1]          IMG_20171019_145929_308

My partner, on the other hand, bought cheap sneakers before the trip. I think they’re Avias (on the right in photo above). Don’t make this mistake (I need to underline that and put it in bold too!). The Avias were worn out and lost all structural integrity by the end of the trip. We’d done some hiking, perhaps 15-20 miles, plus plenty of just around town walking, but that’s nowhere enough use to destroy a pair of decent sneakers — it’s the brand, the cheap construction, that is at fault.

You think I’m exaggerating? Look at the above photo of the soles, taken roughly a week after the trip. Our shoes were both brand new before the trip. I hiked a bit more than he did during the trip — and mine still look like new while his are destroyed. It was a bad decision to buy cheap shoes, and he’s paying the price (ask his podiatrist). Now that I’ve walked and run about 100 more miles in mine they’re starting to show some wear, but the upper is still intact and strong. I would buy this model of Salomon again in a minute.

Of course you still have to find the shoes that fit your feet correctly in order to get the best use of them. Not every Salomon sneaker is right for my bony feet. I decided to start running again this winter and again, just like last year, had to try on a million pairs of shoes that didn’t fit perfectly before I found some that do (I refuse to relive the toenail incident I caused by wearing too-narrow Hoka Cliftons last winter). The aqua pair of Salomons in this photo (next to my worn-out Missions and newer Sense Pulse) just didn’t work for me. It’s like dating — I knew they weren’t for me as soon as I laid eyes on them. Too narrow, not made of the same rugged materials as the others. Oh well, they’ll work for someone else.


A solid pack. When I was working for Eastern Mountain Sports I stocked up on backpacks using the employee discount, and it was a good investment. I can’t even estimate how many miles are on the tough Fen model pack I have. It goes everywhere I go, from biking trails to skiing to travel. At times it feels a bit heavy but the construction has been solid and it’s not practical to bring more than one for slight variations in use or conditions. It has a waterproof pocket built in to protect things like my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I’m hiking in the rain (hello, Kauai).

My only significant quibble with this pack is that the mesh side pockets aren’t deep enough to keep a good size (20oz) water bottle from falling out. It has gear straps that enable me to lock my packable rain jacket or sandals in those mesh pockets but they don’t work for the water bottles unless the bottles have a loop to thread the strap through. (Yes, I’m available to work as a gear tester, just say the word!)

IRM postcards 1.27.18 148

And although I don’t think it’s x-ray proof, the TSA hasn’t confiscated stuff out of the bottom of it like my spare fishing knife — maybe they just know it will take all day to empty the pile of snack bars, Nuun tablets, pens, foreign coins, notes, etc. etc. to get to the contraband?? Every now and then I actually empty it to wash it. It’s like Christmas, finding my iPod shuffle and the odd seashells in the nooks and crannies.


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.


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!)


An exotic domestic trip you’ll remember

January 30, 2017

Winter getaways are so sinfully fabulous: you go back to the office after a week or so with a mild tan, refreshed attitude and a secret smile about “something I just thought about.” Yes, that means the absolute best part is that your coworkers wish they’d done the same rather than blowing their vacation time on an extended Labor Day weekend stuck in traffic.

Here’s one to do, and it’s incredibly simple: Puerto Rico.

Want to be out in the sun, to enjoy a tropical vacation without going broke, and not have to endure the snobbery of resorts? PR has it all, plus surfing and mountain biking and easy-to-navigate services. And, there are ways to avoid the crime that the little island was once known for.

[It took us about an hour to end up bushwhacking to a beautiful rocky overlook on Day 1.]

Jet Blue flights are pretty inexpensive to the island (you don’t need a passport!). We took a late-night flight to save a few bucks (Orlando-Ponce). The island is small enough to travel the perimeter by car in a day (but why would you?), so distances are easy to cover as long as you avoid San Juan-area traffic. Don’t expect high rise beachside resorts here (maybe in San Juan if that’s what you like) — better yet, skip them entirely! We found a lovely AirBnB accommodation that allowed us to enjoy home cooked meals on the wide veranda with other guests and offered local info from the owner.

Our route was Ponce-Guanica-Aguadilla, running from the south-central coast to the northwest coast on Route 2. If I were to go back (yes I would), I’d love to spend more time around Aguadilla, a small city with a decent airport and great beaches/surfing nearby, including the surfing hotspot Rincon.

In the south, the coast has small waves and from what we could determine, not much to look at when snorkeling. There are many mangrove islands offshore that make an interesting destination if you rent a kayak (just don’t rent a tandem, a.k.a. “Breakup boat” with your partner unless you’re prepared for all of the possible ugly ramifications). Guanica’s coastline in particular is bounded on the east and west by nature preserves, so the water was clear enough to see the sea urchins lurking on the bottom, waiting to stab bare feet!


It only took a couple hours to drive from the Guanica area to Aguadilla on a Saturday afternoon. The main highway is 2 lanes in each direction but goes directly through several towns including mid-sized Mayaguez and Rincon. There are lots of opportunities along the way to stop and check out beaches or surfing but we were rewarded for waiting until we reached Aguadilla and Borinquen.

Weekdays were the best time to access beautiful stretches of beach, long rolling waves and some colorful snorkeling around Aguadilla’s Crash Boat Beach and Surfer’s Beach.

[Crash Boat Beach above]

[Surfer’s Beach above]

We also visited the north shore’s premiere surfing beach, Jobos, on a stormy day when the waves were crashing over offshore islands of lava rock in spectacular fashion. The beachside bars were empty and Mike’s memories of the place included being swept out past the surfers by a killer current. He learned later that more people die at Jobos than any other beach on the island due to the current. He made a joke about it at the Coast Guard gathering he spoke to but few people laughed (ahem).

Please note: Undertow and currents at these beaches aren’t funny! If you go, scout first and use caution. Crash Boat Beach had a great gradual break but the undertow would leave you at least a quarter mile south if you had a good run on a wave. Many beaches have  waves that can land you on rocks.

If you’ve read this far, I’ve got a reward: the best hike you can do in the NW of PR. Go to Surfer’s Beach and take the little bridge on the northern end to a trail. Here you’ll begin a spectacular jungle and cliffside journey to the remote, secluded Coast Guard beach, which is the sort of strand of sand and palm trees that your Caribbean dreams are made of.

The day we went, the surf was pounding the rocks. While it made for a spectacular walk, it cut off access to the beach at the end and was a little worrisome as we’d gone out with just enough time to get back during daylight (nothing new for us!).

The route was just challenging enough to make it worthwhile, the scenery was gorgeous, and there were some huge, spectacular lava rocks where the surf spume roiled and hissed. Plus, we saw a huge iguana on the trail on the way back. It was hard to keep moving as I wanted to take so many photos. If you go, you MUST try this hike.

It’s the mind that matters

November 15, 2014

My spinning instructor was so nice to us last week. “Don’t worry about it, this won’t be a big hill day,” she said. “We did that on Tuesday. Today will be easy.”

That’s exactly what I needed to hear. But man, what a liar!

Fifteen minutes later I was drenched in sweat and gasping for breath as she told us to slow down, get off the bikes and get our weights for rows, crunches and lunges. I glanced at my odometer — we’d already done nearly 8 miles and my aerobic threshold was roadkill a long ways back.

The great part is that her psychology totally worked on me. I KNEW it wouldn’t be an easy class. I don’t want to go to an easy class. But lie to me and I’m good with getting my ass kicked. After a sorta easy summer, I really need this. I gotta wear a bathing suit in February again, for God’s sake.

Like many women in (cough) middle (cough) age (argh!) I’m in a duel to the death with creeping deadly assfat, and thus far it’s a draw. I’m fighting so much more than cellulite, biology, and age — assfat also has human instinct on its side. When I try to get ready for a run my instincts kick in and distract me with a million little things I have to do that would keep me in the house until it’s too late to go. Then the first mile or two are so unpleasant that I really have to crank up the ipod to plow through the ancestral voice in my head telling me to go home, pig out on whatever is left by the fire in the cave and hibernate until the woolly mammoths come back from the grasslands.

the truth is, very few women can actually embrace their curves -- the rest of us are locked in a duel to the death

the truth is, very few women can actually embrace their curves — the rest of us are locked in a duel to the death

Working out is something like 40 percent physical and 60 percent mental. My running brain is like a squirrel on crack telling me I should stop, it’s not necessary to run without a raptor chasing me; my feet hurt, my stomach is queasy, this sand really isn’t fun to slog through, etc etc ad infinitum. I have to remember that voice is my assfat trying to get the upper hand. Psychology Today agrees for the most part, saying we’re wired to avoid discomfort, even if we know it will result in a reward (such as not being embarrassed to wear my bikini in -gulp!- two months). Runner’s World says you’ll run better if you think about your form rather than the random voices in your head reminding you of something more important you should be doing.

If it’s this difficult for me some days (and all joking aside I LOVE working out, cycling, running etc once I get going) I can’t imagine what it feels like for someone who’s uncomfortable taking the first step. So if a new outfit helps, or a hot playlist on the ipod or uploading to endomondo and comparing with friends, it’s important to find that wedge you can put between yourself and staying inside and immobile.

I’ve figured out  if I can get myself to the gym on my toughest days, it’s a different story. At the gym I can’t just stand there, I have to DO something. And showing up at a class introduces competition into the equation — I look around and think, I can’t slack off and let that guy cycle faster than me or do more burpees. There’s also a nice variety of classes to mix things up and keep me working. Just when I think I’m doing pretty good I go to a class like tonite’s Boot Camp and realize (shit!) that I can still get my butt kicked in a “simple” class (we did five things — mountain climbers, jack knives, pushups, burpees and overhead presses — for an hour!).

For a solo runner/biker/whatever, going to a class is weird but really effective for drowning out the assfat voice in my head. It gives me motivation and momentum to keep that endorphin rush going. Needless to say, I never average over 20 mph on my bike when I’m out riding alone (ha, barely went that fast in my last race) so classes really motivate me to work hard and consequently improve my performance when I am out by myself.

After all, there are only a couple women on the face of the earth who can actually embrace (and profit from) their assfat, including the butt that broke the internet a couple weeks ago and the girl who sings about her “bass.” I had to laugh when Mike said (with great surprise) “hey, is she actually singing about her BUTT?” Yeah, sweetie, and you’ve only heard the song ten times a day for months.

OK enough for now — I have to get off my BASS and go for a run!

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.

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.


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

A valuable inheritance

December 6, 2013

When I think about my dear departed Grandfather I can almost hear him coming down the hall, his slippers slapping against the hardwood floor and making quite a racket in their small house in Illinois. He’d suck his dentures in and say, “ho, ho, ho” a lot, in a sighing sort of way. I thought he was roguish and charming, a real character with sparkling blue eyes and a fascinating life that included getting tossed in a paddywagon in Harvard Square when he was a student there in the ’20s — my mother would whisper loudly that he shouldn’t tell us that story, but he did anyway.

Other than remembering his choice of expletives (“Oh for crap’s sake” made us giggle) and the Ogden Nash poems and limericks he recited for us, I’ll always remember his connection to his YMCA. He took us a few times when we visited, including my first experience in an indoor pool (to the girl I “bombed” when I jumped off the diving board prematurely in 1973, I apologize — I still feel awful about it!). And the Y was the scene of a great ass-kicking he delivered to my teenaged brother on a handball court, when Grandpa was around 70.

I didn't get my grandfather's sparkling blue eyes but the YMCA gene was definitely passed to me

I didn’t get my grandfather’s sparkling blue eyes but the YMCA gene was definitely passed to me

He used to tell us he “set out to beat old age” when he was about 55. Frequent trips to the Y were part of that plan, and it impressed me. He didn’t beat old age, but surely lived longer and healthier as a result of his workouts (this article shows he was way ahead of his time). Now I’m an avid YMCA fan and frequent visitor. My kids learned to swim at a Y, and when I’m in desperate need of a shower away from home there’s always a Y around with decent facilities — oops, except if you’re in northern New Hampshire, I checked). Membership is reciprocal anywhere in New England, that’s a perk you don’t get at most posh clubs.

My “home” YMCA is really a community center, completely unlike the snooty tennis and swim club I used to belong to, a breath of fresh air. They host after-school sports and the place is always full of kids mixing with adults and mostly behaving themselves. The weight room is pretty balanced with older folks (hey, that’s not me yet!), young male muscle heads and a surprising number of young female lifters.  The pool is an oasis for me, even when busier than the Southeast Expressway with lane sharing aplenty alongside the Q-tipped Aqua Zumba class. I should be careful, some day that will be my favorite class, I’m sure.

it"s as busy as the expressway but I love the pool

it”s as busy as the expressway but I love the pool

Winter is coming on, bringing its unpredictable weather and early darkness that makes me look indoors for a workout. The Y has a spinning and weight-lifting class perfect for a little midday ass whupping. The instructor could use some more imagination in her music track (I mean, every class uses the 1984 cornball classic from Dead or Alive, You Spin Me Right Round) but ouch, she’s got the quad-burning sequence of simulated hills and sprints nailed. We spin 15 minutes, get off the bikes and lift, then spin some more, repeating the sequence. After an hour I feel like I’ve definitely been to the gym, and that’s the whole point. My goal this winter is to be in shape enough to actually go to that class twice a week; right now all I can handle is one, it’s that good.

When I leave this world my kids won’t inherit much, definitely nothing worth fighting over, but I hope they get this gene that was passed to me via my grandfather. Because I’m finally at the age where I’ve realized my health is the most valuable thing I have.

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.


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.


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?


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.


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

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.

IMG-20130126-00449     IMG-20130127-00478

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



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.


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.”

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