kayaking



Readers-

I know I owe you the final installment of Day 3 of my snowboarding, mountain biking, exploring, and hot springing trip down to and through the San Luis Valley last month. But before I wrap that baby up, I wanted to interlude with a recount of my first-ever 50+ miles on a road bike. Since I began road riding six months ago, I have been looking for the kind of pain and gain that I get from mountain biking. I was able to find such pain/gain in late September at the Colorado National Monument, but until two weekends ago I had yet to feel the aches in my backside, groin, hamstring, and calves that tells my body it’s getting worked, and worked good.

Well, the nice young lady who lent me my road bike knows I like pain. So she invited me up to the farmlands of eastern Colorado, to ride the Poudre River Trail, a network of trails in and around Greeley, Windsor, and skirting just along the southern edge of Ft. Collins. (Note: at the time of this riding, the trail was closed due to fallen branches from the latest snow storm.)

The 50 miles were flat miles, so the distance was going to be the thing. We got a mid-morning start and headed out with water bottles and things that pack calories but don’t actually taste like food. These are the staples of road riding, as it is not cool to actually wear a Camelbak or pack too much when road riding. Someone wrote somewhere the road bikers are overly concerned with their silhouette and pesky water supplies just ruin your otherwise divine outline against the sky. Whatever.

The thing about road rides is unmarked, unseen obstacles can really ruin your day (or week), so we dismounted where the tracks dictated that we had to.

Them's cornfields ahead

Now folks who didn’t grow up in a state the size of a national park cannot appreciate the wonderment with agriculture and ranching that those of us who did have. So I insisted that we stop, play children of the corn, and frolic a bit among the decaying vegetables. 

 

Farms this big just don’t exist in Rhode Island, and I couldn’t pass up even this tiny little offshoot adventure.

My playmate frolicking around

 

Grasshoppers were covering the ground, crunching beneath our cleated feet, so we got back to our original adventure.

Now flat and brown is not usually my idea of fun. I’m from roly-poly, leafy New England and that topography and those colors have framed my aesthetic. But since moving to Colorado 16 years ago and since spending two of them in ranchland, I’ve allowed my aesthetic to be bended and molded by my more recent surroundings. Nuances of yellow, brown, taupe, tan, and other neutral-farming colors I have come to appreciate as beautiful. How mature and accepting of me.

Pretty, huh?

Back on the well-paved but sparsely populated bikeway (was it really a Saturday?), we wended our way through new developments with their curvy streets, overpriced cookie-cutter dwellings with oversized garages, and plenty of white folk and little else. These are the places that beg me to poke fun–the realization of the American dream has apparently culminated in hues of our least favorite color–brown and has been completely stripped of personality and vivacity. My mind was going on and on thus, until I saw the beach.

That’s right. The beach on the plains of Colorado:

The beach

 

Now making fun of how they imported sand, cattails, reedy things, and rocks just to keep the vegetation grounded during the next flood is also too easy. It smacks of the The Truman Show or Celebration, FL . There’s something insidious about these ready-made communities, and insidious is just too easy of a target.

Truth is: I would totally surrender my sanctimony regarding what it means to live well to be able to kayak or swim or fish or sunfish out my back door. Seeing the beaches put a big ol’ pang in the stomach as I remembered my recent, awesome kayaking adventures last fall at Worden Swamp and this summer at Point Judith Pond. How amazing would it be to end each day instead of being limited to a bike ride or one of those horrible jogging things and instead have the opportunity to paddle, swim, contemplate and fish, balance, sail, or oar it up?

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The cycling pace had been quite leisurely as we stopped for a few minutes to stock up on caffeine. The idea of lunch was bandied about, and as secure as I am in how I look, the thought of sitting down for lunch in Spandex was beyond my comfort zone. And this is a comfort zone I think everyone but dirty old men are glad exists.

My cycling partner promised we would click in and never leave the big chain ring for the last ten miles, which meant more power with each stroke and (finally!) some soreness.

Hours later I was joking about how tired I wasn’t. Until I tried to walk up the stairs and my leaden legs needed to be coyly coaxed up every step.

Thanks, road biking, for getting difficult. And thanks, Windsor exclusive community for having a beach and making me rethink before I make fun. Sort of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Readers-

Twas a good week for ol’ SheSpoke, whatwith her post on road biking Colorado National Monument being Freshly Pressed last Tuesday, September 27th. It was eerie watching my shespoke@gmail.com inbox fill up with comments, subscriptions, and likes. My first clue that my blog had been picked up and featured somewhere came with the comment from PCC Advantage, who congratulated me for being Freshly Pressed. The afternoon was punctuated by a series of low bells emanating from my Smartphone (not that smart, really), announcing the latest like, subscription, and comment, and sometimes all three.

But ya know, I kinda promised my editor a story on the very same topic, Colorado National Monument. That post went up today where I write about cycling for TrailsEdge, and what I’ve done is digitally remaster my memories and the facts I picked up along the way to come up with basically the same conclusion:

If you want an epic weekend of road cycling, head over to Colorado National Monument in western Colorado.

Read about SheSpoke’s epic kayak adventure in Rhode Island this summer.


I do a lot of sports, and there a lot of sports I don’t do. The sport that I don’t do and don’t really ever plan on doing is climbing. ‘Fraid of heights and ‘fraid of dyin’. Other sports on my bucket list, which I have just not gotten around to yet, include downhill skiing, scuba diving, and now paddleboarding. Would that I had world enough and time, these coy mistresses would not continue to elude me. Carpe diem.

Then there are those sports I only get to do a few times a year–surfing, kayaking, cross-country skiing–because the weather and geography gods, hands wringing together gleefully, deem it so. The last time I went surfing was Christmas ’09 (it pains me to type that), and the surf rental and wave nymphs seem to be conspiring as well.

But kayaking I get to do at least once a year. Because at least once a year I head home to Little Rhody to see the fam, inhale some clam chowda, and hit the water. A high school friend of mine, an avid kayaker, is always up for an epic kayak adventure. Two summers ago we paddled to Greene Island from the Edgewood Yacht Club and collected shells on a shipwreck of an island. Last year we explored the nooks and crannies of the the Great Swamp.

This summer it was Point Judith Pond, a saltwater collection across the way from the Block Island Ferry. (Now in hi-speed! Only half an hour!)

We put in at the boat launch and paddled our way northward, hugging the middle-west of the pond after ducking underneath the bridge.

Picture-perfect briny day

We gave the quahoggers plenty of berth, as they were busy with their rakes, and floating buckets, digging up some bi-valve mollusks for dinner or sale. I wouldn’t know the difference.

The water was just a few inches deep, and we took our time, picking up shells with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for elementary school children, which we felt like, at that moment.

Booty full of beauty at the bottom of the boat

We were concerned, at the beginning of our shell-collecting adventure, with razor clam shells, so named for their elongated , somewhat elliptical shapes. After that we were digging with our fingers and coming up with scallop shells, mussel shells, and quahog shells. Almost all of them empty but pristine.

Then we headed for the shallow, wild blue yonder, with islands smattered here and there and boats passing on the western edge because by now the eastern edge was only inches deep.

Point Judith Pond opens up to adventure

We paddled past a family picnicking on pizza and a huge fruit tray, and they were kind enough to share in that special way only natives know how: “Come ova heyah and git sum pizza now.” We had packed a full lunch of oversized spring rolls from the farmer’s market in Pawtuxet and a special treat for when our journey was almost over: cheap champagne and cranberry juice, with which to drink poinsettias. Christmas drinking in July for all our hard work. More on that later.

So we paddled, paddled, paddled, fighting this current, sailing with that current, laughing giddily at the beauty of the day, the simplicity of it all. We

Wanna know how much? There's an app for that.

spotted the killer beach house we would never buy, all 500 square feet of it, with its own breakwater and dock. Asking price? Just over half a million. We snaked through some inlets, passing yachts and Donzis and killer homes, the kind where you could just wade out and dig for dinner. Sigh.

We zigged when the rest of the boats zagged and landed in a southerly cove, with nothing but a few houses and some egrets and osprey.

Skittish little things, these egrets

Osprey nest in the distance

Osprey were continually flying overhead, with their massive wingspans, and at one point we could see one bringing another prime stick to the nest. We put our ornithologist caps on and just watched the aviary dances around us. S took some photos and marveled, and not necessarily in that order.

Eye spy an osprey nest

We lally-gogged our way through the quiet cove, talking in old-school library whispers, and feeling very, very lucky. And then….mud and a dead end. The dead end marked the portage, which we knew was coming. S wanted to turn around and head back. But I knew such a move would spoil the magic of the day, the sense of discovery, and the challenge of getting a kayak, and a person and a very important cooler full of cheap champagne to the other side. Plus, there would be no Poinsettia Island if we turned back now.

Mud marks the end of the cove

There was no getting out of the kayak because the mud was feet deep and smelled strongly of sulfur–not very friendly. So I began pelvic lurching the kayak through the mud, arching the back forward and, using the pelvis as a fulcrum, forcing the kayak forward, about six inches at a time. Still, progress was being made. S looked on from twenty feet away, still convinced that turning around was the better option. But we could see and hear the cars passing on the road that marked our portage. I was not giving up Poinsettia Island.

Muddy mess

The pelvis lurching was a great ab workout, so I’m expecting that six-pack from my 30s to re-emerge from the fridge any second now.

The lurching also left a trail, better known as an imprint.

Gives new meaning to stuck in the mud

The only solid ground was reeds attached to mussels, and I faltered a bit heave-hoeing myself onto those marine hillocks. Suction almost stole one of my sandals, but stubborness prevailed and using the muddy paddle I coaxed the kayak up and onto the closest thing to land I’d seen in 20 minutes. S was motivated by my success and followed suit. We were on our way.

We dragged the kayaks through ten-foot high reeds and eventually onto the asphalt. I have never been so happy to see asphalt in my life, except for that one time on cross-country skis. We scoped out the other side, noted the poison ivy growing everywhere except where we had been (how lucky!) and made a plan to portage the boats over to the rocky section of beach instead of plunging once again into the mud. The second half of the portage was downright cushy as compared to the first.

Deceptively calm

After re-entering the water, we returned to that blissful state we had known while collecting shells. And Poinsetta Island was just ahead. We paddled with our legs out of the water so the mud would dry.

Sorry about the mess

We shorelined for Poinsettia Island, being careful not to alert the neighbors (probably landowners) to our arrival. We attacked the champagne and spring rolls, and laughed at our good fortune. Then we went for a swim in the warm, quahog-filled waters, enjoying the sunshine and full bellies and slight light-headedness.

We were six miles into our eight-mile journey by then, and during that long rest period someone had hung barbells onto my arms. Drag. Actually, we dragged our fingers through the shallow water, and listened to the feedback: unnnhhhh, nnnnvvvv, ththththuh, nuhhhhh.

Stupid English phonology. None of those is right. Think dull roar meets trickle. Back at the boat launch, we were sad and glad the journey was over. But! Still friends:

The disheveled ponytail braids tell the real story

And it was over, six hours later. Favorite quote of the day, directed to me during the portage: “I can’t hear what you’re saying over your big brass balls clanging together.” Not brass balls. Just determination.


Conventional wisdom is stupid. Conventional wisdom for those of us who spend much of our time playing in the outdoors is a special kind of stupid. In order for conventional wisdom to work, the intended recipient of that wisdom is usually a dilettante or a newbie or a weekend warrior. Conventional wisdom I like to ignore:

Never ski/ride/hike/surf alone

Carry a GPS device with you

Ski/ride/hike/surf with those better than you–it will raise your game

To those purveyors of outdoor recreation wisdom I say “hogwash” and proffer this up instead:

Know thyself

Do go out alone, especially if you’re in very familiar territory and need some alone time to reconnect with nature, your thoughts, your soul, or all of the above.

Do not venture out alone if you are just getting started in this sport. The chances for injury/getting lost are high.

Do not carry a GPS device unless you are geocaching. Instead, read your maps, use a compass, or go with someone who knows where they’re going.

Do not rely on GPS devices to compensate for your lack of preparation.

Do challenge yourself by going with others who are stronger at the sport than you are. They can show you that catching that wave/riding those trees/navigating that rocky singletrack is possible.

Do not always go out with those of better abilities because you will be constantly catching up and out of breath, and this particular sport will cease to be fun for you.

That last point rings particularly loud for me. I spent most of this snowboarding season going with other folks, all of whom were better than me. It felt really good hanging with folks who are considered experts, and it did a ton for my confidence.

But I was always huffing and puffing, always wanting to head back to the lodge, always needing water. I was often grateful for the long, cold, windy lift rides so I could catch my breath. Meanwhile my present company was usually yukking it up, talking about the sick trees I didn’t dare drop into or the steep drops I rode around.

I often felt on the verge of collapse or control, and my legs were often begging me for a respite, both that day and the next (and the next). We can be challenged away from a sport if we have too many experiences like these.

My field hockey coach in high school called me a tiger. My skills were barbarous, but I could keep up with any mid-fielder, and I just went after it. I even tried to argue with her when she took me out of a game because the rock-hard ball had pierced my skin, right through my shin guards.

I love a challenge. I love brainy challenges, athletic challenges, and professional challenges. (For the record, I HATE interpersonal challenges, although I am getting better at them.) I swear I’m gonna teach myself the basics of Sanskrit grammar some day. I look forward to scuba diving and finally taking up downhill skiing. I will turn my (mis)adventures into a travel memoir, even though conventional wisdom tells us that that genre is a difficult one both to write and publish in.

So here’s to the comfort zone–the ability to have sustained confidence in your abilities because you’re going at your own speed and are staying within your limits. You look around when you’re in your comfort zone, taking things in instead of having them rush past you. In your comfort zone you can concentrate on your strengths, paying attention to the little things you do well. Getting better at the things you do well, so next time you head out with those higher up on the skills food chain, you will huff and puff less and learn and enjoy more.



Readers-

The story that has been in my head–simmering, stewing, roasting, emerging, ebbing, flowing–has finally found an outlet.

The good folks over at National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, are once again sponsoring a month-long attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That pace is 1,667 words per day, about four single-spaced pages. I wrote for two hours.

What is the novel about? I don’t know yet, as I haven’t written it yet. I am drawing from over ten years of adventures.

Here’s an excerpt from a kayaking adventure from the summer of 2009:

That day represented the third time I’ve kayaked. A did a little lake thingy once and I braved, with my brother-in-law, a Class III river in the Berkshires, an adventure that ended with us missing my niece’s dance recital and the Massachusetts State Patrol out looking for us.

But he knew me from my tomboy days of high school and some afterwards, and he figured that anyone who roadtrips by herself into the middle of the desert or national forest or mountains must be up for a kayak adventure in Narragansett Bay, especially with the added enticement of a subtle shipwreck just off the shore of the Warwick suburbs.

My arms are the weakest part of my body, owing to years of neglect. Mountain biking, snowboarding, and hiking make for Olive Oyl arms, not Popeye. And arms and core are at the root of kayaking. I went into the day expecting to be unable to lift my arms the following day.


Playing by the buoy in Narragansett Bay

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Right now it feels more like a memoir, I know. We’ll see where this literary journey takes me.