Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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.


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.


Taking rides from strangers

April 9, 2014

It happens to all of us, eventually: the moment when you’re cold, hungry, tired, lost, far from your destination and looking into the eyes of a complete stranger who’s in a position to make your life easier by offering space in his or her vehicle. Or, perhaps, who could kill you.

There’s only one way to know.

This Outside article about getting a flat in South Africa prompted me to reflect on the kindness of strangers. For every nutcase who harms a passenger there are probably 10 — or 100 — whose good deeds go unspoken. Remember hitchhiking? I want to write a book about it because I can’t believe my kids don’t have any idea what it was like. Even my mother would pick up strangers who often entertained the car full of kids on the ride home. I believe that when it was more common to hitch or “thumb” rides people were less paranoid about asking and offering.

how it was done (not me)

how it was done — so simple!

There was a big gap in my “bumming rides” — maybe from the time a friend and I thumbed across northern France in 1984 to a time in adulthood when I decided not having a car wasn’t going to keep me from going where I wanted to. In those years my formula for deciding when and whether to take a ride from a stranger has evolved to include cigarettes, coins and scratch tickets. It isn’t  complicated at all, requiring that 1) you be the one who initiates the conversation and 2) have cash on hand.

Most of this is common sense, but I’m putting some serious effort into teaching it to my kids, because they think that as long as they have a cell phone they’ll never get stranded. Of course the first part of the lesson is to not end up in the situation by planning well, but the other is to develop and listen to the signals sent by one’s gut, because it’s usually right. That may mean there are times you’ll hoof it home, too.

Being on that edge, weighing that decision about your next move, is often a make-or-break proposition: if it goes well you’re more likely to pursue adventure, to trust your gut the next time you plunge in. If things go poorly you may become a hermit afraid to interact with people. I wonder if there’s a way to skew it in favor of adventure or if it’s left to a combination of  personality and circumstance?

Only once do I remember my gut yelling “NO!” when a guy offered me a ride home. I was about 15 and pushing my bike with a flat tire. There was some combination of his creepiness and my instinct telling me that since he offered without me asking there was something wrong with the equation. When I look back at it I’m glad I overcame the “good kid” urge to be obedient when he told me to put my bike in the back of his station wagon. I might have been the next picture on a “missing” poster but it didn’t scare me away from going back out on my own, looking for adventure.

You can’t always know it’s going to open up and pour on you miles from home, or that the subway is going to be shut down, or that the trail you’re on empties out on a road miles from the parking lot. And I’ve found, contrary to my paranoid friends’ firm belief that there’s an axe murderer behind every tree, people really enjoy being generous when it’s not inconvenient. Heck, I gave a ride to some shivering students walking back from a dance on a winter’s night in 1985 and they thanked me again at a reunion decades later.

The key is to trust your instincts. Once in Stonington CT I had walked miles from the marina to a store for much-needed allergy medicine. Facing a stupidly-long walk back after dark with a grocery bag, I opted to investigate taxis. Duh, I learned that Stonington is nice on the waterfront end but barely a speck on the map otherwise. The cab service I called said it would be a couple hours before someone could pick me up. That’s when I devised the cigarette/coin/scratch ticket strategy. I waited until a guy came into the store with 2 little kids and paid for his cigarettes with pocket change. I followed him out and offered money for a ride back to the marina. When he hesitated I told him my own daughters  were waiting for me there and would be worried that I’d been gone so long. He caved, and I was back at the marina in 30 minutes, leaving $10 or $15 on the car console.

not always the most reliable form of transportation

not always the most reliable form of transportation

Then there was the horrid sailing vacation to (overrated) Block Island when I hitched a ride for my whole shivering wet family so I didn’t have to listen to the kids complain all the way on a long walk into town. It was far better than staying in close confinement on the boat for yet another crappy, rainy day and hopefully the kids learned that there are gray areas around the edges of the rule about never taking rides from strangers. Exception No. 1: when you are traveling in a pack large enough to overcome the driver and steal his car if necessary. Or, when your parents say it’s OK.

When we were in Colorado we were out hiking when the sky opened up. Not being sure how far it was back to the car, we tried thumbing and ended up meeting a really nice couple who’d been mountain guides in the Rockies. Dumbstruck by our luck meeting them and hearing their stories, we kicked ourselves for not getting contact information when they dropped us at the car.

My most recent stranding was of my own doing: I got dropped off in an area where I know several people, and knew my car was just a couple miles away. Unfortunately I couldn’t connect the dots that afternoon and was stuck: smelly from a race and exhausted. Couldn’t even find a bicycle to steal. To add insult to sore muscles, my cell phone died while negotiating with far-flung cab companies for a $40 ride that might last 15 minutes. Bottom line, nobody was available to give me a ride, except for the lady who drove her 15 year old sh–box of a car to the convenience store for cigarettes.

It had been a few years since Stonington and Block, but I wrapped a smile around my frustration and approached her. She was friendly, and definitely interested in the money, never pretending to turn it down. She had to call her daughter first, she said, but quickly waved me back. I was at my car in minutes, happy to give the $40 cab fare to her in exchange for the nail-biting drive (while she was safe to take a ride from, she wasn’t the safest driver to ride with). And I hope she won something with the scratch tickets she was definitely going back to the store to buy with my fare.

Just like that lady in South Africa, it turned out fine. Relax, not everybody is an axe murderer.

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.

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