Category Archives: Recreation

NOTHING BEATS HIKING FOR AUTUMN FITNESS

Mt.Laramore, Vermont, 9-16-2017.lfreeman

Nothing beats hiking for autumn fitness – at least not here in New England. If you do not live in an area of seasonal changes, please plan to visit. Even with the strange weather conditions we have all been experiencing this year, autumn is still heralded by shorter days and falling leaves. True, temperatures have been disturbingly higher than usual, but it appears we are now back on track and the 30s-50s are on their way.

Each of us has a seasonal preference. I love the summer months and can’t get enough of the outdoors. Others hide from the sun and break out when the snows fall. Thankfully there’s something for everyone in a four-season state (Though here in Vermont we credit an extra season for stick season or mud season – don’t ask!).

Typical September field and mountain scene in Northern Vermont. 9-23-2017 Greensboro.lfreeman

But why might hiking get such high marks in the fall? Serious athletes are often transitioning from one training or racing season to another and there’s a short lull in their work. Recreationally active individuals are eager to rebound from summer sports and land on something significant enough to tax their muscles yet relaxing enough to calm their hectic brains.

HIKING – For purposes of this post, hiking refers to trails that go up and down, over brooks and around boulders. Rocks, roots, ruts, mud, stone steps, wooden planks, ladders, ledge, exposure, fragile vegetation and weather conditions are all parts of the hiking experience. Trails, such as the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail provide sections or side hikes that offer day hikers a piece of the pleasure of a thru-hike. Though walking paths through towns, fields or forests are very pleasant and surely an excellent outdoor experience in and of themselves, that’s not what we’re talking about here. Nor are the more extreme hikes of weeks or even months that demand a level of expertise, fitness and preparedness beyond that of the day hike.

PROS – Most able bodied individuals who can walk can hike. Get outdoors. Gain strength, agility, endurance. See beautiful sights along the trail and vistas from the top. Hike alone or with others. Steady pace is calming and allows time to think. Get away from it all for even a few hours. Feed your appetite for adventure and challenge. Enjoy a sense of accomplishment when you return to your car.

CONS – Most disadvantages of hiking can be summed up in one word – preparedness (or lack there of). Finding yourself on a hike that is too long or too strenuous is a deal breaker. Blisters or strained ankles from inappropriate footwear can ruin an otherwise remarkable day. Getting lost, failing to carry water or food, not enough layers to be comfortable in cooler temperatures at the top or unanticipated rain … the list could go on and on.

PREPARATION – Though I said this above: Most able bodied individuals who can walk can hike… Gain strength, agility, endurance, it also must be said that preparation is critical to thoroughly enjoy a mountainous day hike. You do need to have a certain amount of strength (especially in the lower body and core – many complain of quadriceps soreness after a good hike), a sense of balance and practice dealing with uneven terrain, and should have built a level of endurance that keeps you moving for any where from 2-8 hours. Hiking can be both a reward from having diligently maintained fitness over the preceding months and a means to enhance that fitness by its practice.

see also http://lindafreemanfitness.com/2014/05/24/hiking-promotes-demands-fitness/ 

LOVE these blazes! lfreeman

Furthermore, it is imperative to know where you are going. There are books, the internet and other resources available to help you chose a trail that is appropriate for you and/or your group. Personally I like to back up my cell phone (coverage is spotty) with AllTrails app and even a few notes on paper that will help me find my way. I rely heavily on trail markings (that white blaze is such a happy sight when I have mistakenly left the main trail) and make note of such things as unusual trees or rock formations or whether I am following a brook. (Cell phone pics are useful here.) I famously get lost driving to a trail head (even with Google maps) and then again somewhere along the trail. So perhaps my preparation is a little more significant than yours might be!

You don’t want to be a packhorse and carry so much gear as to burden your play, but you do need to have the basic necessities. My go-to pack includes water, energy bars, gloves, hat, at least one long sleeved layer and a windbreaker. I usually add dry socks, sunscreen, insect repellant, small first aid kit, cell phone and headlamp. Basically I know the distance I intend to hike and that I will probably not run into trouble. (I have, however, exited a hike at the wrong place necessitating several miles of road walking to find my car.) I also know that hikers are very friendly and will help each other if possible. If you rely on this, be sure to choose a hike that is heavily trafficked!

Elmore Mountain trail (now expanded with Ridge Loop trail) 9-17-2017. lfreeman

HIKING WITH MY DOG – For many years I have wanted to hike but am usually alone so have been hesitant. As a city slicker pretending to be an active outdoors Vermont girl, I’m pretty much a wuss. This year I have upped the ante and have hiked as often as possible. My now one-year old Lab, Sophie, is my constant companion. We have played in the woods on local trails, MTB trails, and town forests – all of which are great for building up both conditioning and behavior on long days when there is plenty of time after work in the evenings to do so. We laid the foundation for several months (on leash and off) before heading to the hills.

Now we are adventuring every weekend and plan to move up to New Hampshire’s 4000 footers in the near future. I am learning how to pack her water, leash, treats, extra food, and water bowl. I have studied a wonderful little guide to hiking with your dog in New Hampshire and Vermont. Though written in 2005 and somewhat dated, it is super helpful. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0898869889/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

I do my best to practice good trail manners, leash my pup when it is best to do so and unleash her when it is equally appropriate. On a good day, on a busy hike, she will be leashed and sit to the side and wait while hikers pass. On a good day off leash on a lightly traveled hike she will run up to greet an oncoming hiker, but sit when she gets there and wag her tail. If another dog is off leash, I allow her to be the same and often she and her new friends romp for a few minutes while we proud parents swap dog stories. If all dogs are leashed, it’s harder as she is uber eager to make new friends. In fact, as you might expect, my Lab pup is often uber eager about most things.

Sophie after Mt Cube’s 7 miles with lots of vertical and play time in the woods and brook! lfreeman

Alas, another Hiking Pro – she sleeps very well after a long hike!

WHAT NEXT? – What happens next is anyone’s guess. As the days grow shorter we working folks have less time for the outdoors and often become weekend warriors. Hiking trails become treacherous in fall rains and wet leaves and downright nasty when covered by thin layers of ice. Maybe it’s back to walking the country roads for a few weeks? But then the white stuff will come to beautify the world and nudge us on from boots to microspikes to snowshoes to skis and to more fun adventures ahead. The trick is to just keep getting out there, right?

CHANGE – SEASONAL, PERSONAL AND ATHLETIC

 

October at Blueberry Lake in Warren, Vermont. L. Freeman

October at Blueberry Lake in Warren, Vermont. L. Freeman

Periodized training often corresponds to seasonal changes, sports and each individual’s personal preferences. Here in Vermont the autumn of 2016 has been sunny, warm and dangerously dry. However, it has also been an excellent season to view an unusually vibrant foliage season and steal as many outdoor hours as possible to train and/or play.

Transition means integrating the new with the old - not replacement. L.Freeman

Transition means integrating the new with the old – not replacement. L.Freeman

Fall can be a tricky time. For those of us who thrive in the warmer months of high energy and correspondingly high enthusiasm, the shorter days and cooler temperatures of autumn can drop us into a bleak state of imbalance, susceptible to cold, low energy and a lack of motivation. Perhaps it is the loss of summer’s bounty that makes us feel this way – the inability to play late in the day after work, the need for layers of clothing, (and, yes, gloves), the loss of our cycling season (for those of us who road bike only above 50 degrees!), the advent of hunting seasons that limit our hiking and woods time, and an undefined heaviness of heart that manifests itself in leaden legs and slow feet.

Contrasting greens and colors mimic our need for balance from summer to winter. L.Freeman

Contrasting greens and colors mimic our need for balance from summer to winter. L.Freeman

Yoga students might find that they check the boxes of VATA characteristics and determine that this year they will find balance through their Yoga practice. Athletes might begin their transition into the gym to emphasize strength training to support their summer aerobic training and activities. Fitness enthusiasts might need to join classes to maintain motivation and to replace their after-dinner walks or group activities on lakes or trails.

Though water shortage is not good, there is something positive about being able to explore new shores. L.Freeman

Then there are the others who are chomping at the bit for the first signs of snow – those who wait and/or train for months following the spring’s melt until there is enough snow cover to pursue their sport. For skiers and boarders the long hours of endurance work are done and they are already ramping it up for strength, power, quickness and agility, activities that generate enough body heat to eventually nullify freezing temperatures.

We are so very individual – in body type, preference, adaptation and spirit. There is no right or wrong. We are all needed to complete the human portrait.

A sense of humor helps make any journey lighter! L.Freeman

A sense of humor helps make any journey lighter! L.Freeman

Balance may well be the key to transitioning from one season to the next. We live and move and breathe in cycles; the pendulum swings from lethargy to adrenalin, weak to strong, slow to fast, defeated to victorious. Should we fight or go with the flow? Should we make excuses for ourselves or push through? Is there something wrong with us? NO. We are fine. We are human. We ebb and flow like the ocean, rise and set like the sun and moon, and change as the seasons.

There are tools to be used and our contemporary civilization is seeking answers to ancient questions. It’s true, some are affected quite seriously by seasonal disorders and need more that self-help. But others of us who simply notice our seasonal preferences might want to delve more deeply into researching tools that are available such as updated information about nutrition, sleep, meditation, exercise and counsel.

Adjust the lens. Look for something you might otherwise pass by. L.Freeman

Adjust the lens. Look for something you might otherwise pass by. L.Freeman

Plan ahead. Just as you would fill your backpack with fuel, liquids, layers, cell phone and other safety needs prior to a hike, so fill your toolbox of helpful aids as changes near. For example, when you must put your kayak or road bike away for the season, replace those hours with something different such as mountain biking, walking or, when appropriate, hiking. Not only will you work different muscles while maintaining a certain amount of aerobic conditioning, you will also begin to acclimate your body and resistance to cooling temperatures. And then there’s the concept of trying something new like indoor climbing, swimming, Spinning®, martial arts, Yoga or square dancing.

Enough said. YOU are the one to best identify your needs and select options that spur your interest and tease your motivation.

Even a setting sun coaxes new sights and colors to the field of vision - physical and emotional. L.Freeman

Even a setting sun coaxes new sights and colors to the field of vision – physical and emotional. L.Freeman

Bottom line? Plan ahead; seek balance; try something new; take heart. Each season ultimately segues into the next whether we like it or not!

*******************************************************

October 18. 2016:  I have heard from a number of you that this time of year is all about putting things away. In the spring we get “things” out – sports equipment, gardening supplies, etc and now we put them away. It is also a time of harvest. In the spring we plant, and in the autumn we reap. Perhaps here in Vermont we mimic the former farming lifestyle that turned inward during the wintemonths to mend harnesses rather than plow fields.

Read what one of you had to say about autumn:

“I love the changes that accompany the fall season.

The garden has been put to bed, the fields mowed,

the woodshed is full and it is time to explore the

woods. You see things during stick season you

never see any other time of year and hunting lends

a bit of excitement and focus. As soon as the hunting

season ends we can put on our skis and skim along

through the serene, brilliant white landscape in

the cold and invigorating air. Then you come inside

to the warmth of a wood stove, a hearty dinner and a

night of reading and listening to classical music.

What could be better.”                                  Rodney Buck

HEAT, HUMIDITY, EXERCISE & EDIBLE SUNSCREEN

Respect the impact of summer elements on your exercise.

You either like the heat, or you don’t. Those who live in Vermont because they prefer cooler temperatures, and snow and winter sports, just might start to complain when the thermometer hits 70 degrees. Others luxuriate in the penetrating heat of a sunny Vermont day. Both camps often agree, however, that high heat combined with elevated humidity often cause a game change.

In any event, longer daylight hours married to pleasing temperatures lure most outdoors. An added bonus is how little one needs to wear in summer versus winter conditions.

That does not mean, however, that one should be unprepared for what summer elements may produce.

— Weather: It may change any minute. If it rains, will you be prepared? Be sure to check the forecast. Right or wrong, it will at least give you a good idea of what is possible. Above all, avoid getting caught unprepared when dangerous lightening strikes.

— Heat: The condition of heat exhaustion is preventable; heat stroke is deadly. Learn the symptoms and treatments for both (see, for example, www.mayoclinic.org). Your troubles may appear initially as heat cramps. If these escalate to dizziness, hot and clammy skin, rapid pulse, headache, nausea, fatigue (to name a few symptoms), it’s time to take action. Or rather, it’s time to stop, find a cooler place (even the shade of a tree) and hydrate with water or a sports drink. Untreated, heat exhaustion can become unmanageable and dangerous. If symptoms continue for an hour and body temperature is elevated to 104 F or above, seek immediate medical attention.

A warm, dry day is an excellent time to get outdoors to train for a sport or participate in a game, competition or event. However, if conditions are adverse, best to err on the side of caution: Play it safe, dial it back, reduce the intensity or length of your training, take special care to hydrate well and spend every available minute out of the direct sun.

— Wind: Unintended consequences prevail when one embarks on an adventure on a windy day. When checking the weather forecast, also be sure to note the wind. When cycling, paddling or running, for example, a headwind is disadvantageous because of the effort involved. Yet a tailwind, though often an exciting relief, just might be more than you bargained for. On water it’s easy to be blown off course, and on a bike those pesky cross winds can be unsettling. Wind is also unexpectedly dehydrating.

— First aid: It’s smart to refresh your memory of basic first-aid and to pack along a few simple aids that could make the difference between a blip on the day and a sad experience.

— Bugs and bee stings: Oh my; these do come with the territory. Some people seem to attract insects more than others. Know your personal tolerance level and bring along whatever you need to protect yourself whether it’s a topical spray or lotion or long sleeves and pant legs, or even netting. If, of course, you are allergic to bee stings, always be prepared with an EpiPen (epinephrine injection) or whatever antidote you use, and inform your companions of your allergy.

— Poisonous plants: Learn to identify poisonous plants such as ivy, oak, sumac, parsnips, and even common plants such as sunflowers wild grapes and clematis (www.uvm.edu). Reactions to toxins from these plants vary in different individuals.

Surely when your work is in the outdoors, choices are limited and precautions take on new meaning. If, however, you are off for a day of fun, think ahead to insure a safe and pleasant outing for yourself and those with whom you spend your hours.

— Sun protection: Finally, by now, unless you live on another planet, you have heard repeated warnings to protect your skin from the ravages of skin cancer due to exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Apply and reapply sunscreen as needed.

Read below to see what Kimberly Evans, a registered dietitian, has to say about nutrition and the sun.

EDIBLE SUNSCREEN

by Kimberly Evans, MS, RD.

The sunscreen dilemma is a frequent problem with athletes and outdoor enthusiasts come summer.  One might think that this is a no brainer.  After all, for a very long time now we have been programmed to lather up on sunblock before we even step outside.  You do this to protect your skin from harmful sunrays, and therefore protect your skin from cancer.  For the most part, we can all agree that skin protection is an important consideration for those who are active outside in the summer months.

But wait, there are some cons; maybe even more cons than pros.  For one, not only does sunblock keep out harmful sun rays, it also keeps out very beneficial Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is a crucial hormone-like-vitamin that not only keeps athlete’s immune systems healthy, but also plays a role in preventing stress fractures and other sports-related injuries. 

It is a good practice for active people to get vitamin D levels tested once a year, especially if they are sun-avoidant or heavy sun block users.  Salmon and mushrooms are a great natural source of Vitamin D, but many folks find that they need to take supplemental Vitamin D3.

Another very real sun block con is that many sunscreens are loaded with harmful chemicals, commonly referred to as endocrine disruptors. 

The skin is the largest organ of the body and creams, oils, and lotions applied to the skin quickly make their way into the blood stream.  Chemicals such as PABA, paraben, sulphates, phthalates, oxybenzone, and forms of Vitamin A are common sunscreen additives. 

If you lather up before going outside, a good rule of thumb is to choose a sunscreen that has strong broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection, such as those containing zinc oxide.  Badger All-Natural Sunscreen and Aubrey Organics are two good examples. 

The Environmental Working Group (a non-profit research group focused on public health protection) has several guides to choosing a good sunscreen, as well as several interesting articles such as “Eight Little Known Facts About Sunscreens.”

 As a registered dietitian and food enthusiast, I find there is always a celebration to be had when food comes to the rescue. In my world it often does.  Beyond topical sunscreen, foods themselves can offer sun protection for the skin. 

The next time you are heading out for a run, hike, bike, walk, swim, round of golf or any other outdoor activity, plan a meal where you can eat your sun block or take sun protecting snacks along. 

Wait, what?  Yes. I am not talking about finding an edible sunscreen here.  I am saying that many foods in your kitchen contain natural protection against solar radiation. 

The phytochemicals in foods actually make their way to the upper layers of your skin, increasing resistance to UV damage. Think of these foods as part of your summer medicine cabinet that can be found in your kitchen and your garden.

Here are the top foods that offer skin protection.

TOMATOES. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a phytochemical that has been shown to protect the skin against sunburn.  This protein is enhanced by olive oil and cooking the tomatoes. (Bruschetta anyone?) 

AVOCADOS. The oils in avocados help protect the skin from damaging effects of the sun.  Avocados make a great addition to a smoothie, a salad, or as a sandwich spread.  (Although I have been known to simply cut them in half and eat with a spoon right out of the skin.)

APPLES, particularly red apples.  The triterpenoids in the skin of apples fight cancer cells by inducing apoptosis, or death of cancer cells.

GREEN TEA. The catechins in green tea offer skin protection.  Make a goal of two cups per day.  Green tea can be a good liquid to add to a smoothie, use in a sports drink or to make a simple iced tea.

CITRUS. Beyond the healing properties of the Vitamin C found in citrus, the essential oils found in the skin of lemons, limes, and all citrus contain limonene, an essential oil that offers a dose of skin protein when eaten.  Zest lemons or limes into your tea (hot or iced) or even onto a nut butter sandwich. (Trust me on this one; it is delish.)

OMEGA – RICH FOODS. Salmon, flaxseeds, and chia seeds are omega powerhouses.  The omega-3 fats act as sunscreen and have been shown to decrease squamous cell skin cancer by 20%.

POMEGRANATES are rich in ellagic acid and support glutathione production in the body. These phytonutrients offer antioxidant protection and fight skin damage caused by free radicals. Pomegranate juice is always available and makes a tasty pink lemonade. 

Pomegranates also make an excellent addition to guacamole. This is a win-win. Try this recipe.

Pomegranate Guacamole

 2 ripe avocados

¼ cup diced red onions

3 TBSP freshly squeezed lime juice

1 tsp salt

½ cup finely diced cilantro (mint or parsley can be used for those non-cilantro lovers – cut down to ¼ cup)

½ cup pomegranate seeds

Halve and pit the avocados and scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a bowl. Add red onion, lime juice, salt, and cilantro to the bowl. Mash the mixture together with a fork. Stir in pomegranate seeds and serve with chips or crudité (jicama is very nice here)

If you are active outside in the summer, add these foods to your shopping list.  Food does not need to replace sunblock entirely, but it can work together with it to increase its effectiveness in a most tasty and delicious way. Culinary medicine is a growing science that combines the art of cooking with the emerging science of nutrition, genomics, and biochemistry. Eating your way to skin protection is just one example of culinary medicine. 

To contact Evans, email Kimberly@wholehealthnutritionvt.com or visit her website: www.wholehealthnutritionvt.com

ASANAS ON THE WATER – SUP AND YOGA

This story ran in the Rutland Herald & Times Argus on 7-10-2016, written by Linda Freeman, Field Editor and Correspondent for ACTIVE VERMONT.

Last week on the Active Vermont page you read tips on how to choose your own SUP. Once selected, what next? What can you do with a SUP? The short answer is “a lot.” A stand up paddleboard is legally a vessel and can be used much like a kayak or canoe. One or more users can navigate ponds, lakes and rivers for sport, recreation or fitness.

Standing up is a lovely way to tour. The vantage is just that much better and what is below the board is easily seen. Looking straight down you will see far more than glancing across the top of the water from a seat. Though the very idea of standing on something potentially tippy in the middle of a lake can be daunting, it’s really not so bad. In fact, there’s no rule that says you must stand. You might want to begin seated or kneeling. In fact, if there’s a stiff wind and you really need to get where you’re going, you might want to lower your mass and cut through less wind.

But back to your first time out. Because I was skeptical about the touted simplicity of SUP, what I had heard of as “user friendly,” (yeah, right), I knew I had to try it before writing about it. So I did and will share the few bits I learned.

Begin, of course, with the right SUP and the correct length paddle. Don’t forget your pfd (personal floatation device), leash, water and sunscreen. (Refer to Active Vermont, July 3, 2016.)

If you start from the shore, simply push the board out a little way, lay the paddle across like an outrigger, put one knee on the board, then the other, and voila you’re afloat.

At this point the paddle is much too long to be effective, but will do something. As soon as you are ready, take your time, find a centered balance on the board, and straighten up. At first you might be tense, (I sure was) but allow yourself to move with the board and start to paddle.

Find a functional alignment: feet parallel, about hip-width apart, toes pointed forward, knees slightly bent tracking over the toes, back erect, and looking where you are going. “Much like bicycling, when your forward momentum increases, your stability increases as well.” (www.rei.com)

With one hand over the end of the paddle and the other partway down the shaft, begin to make sweeping strokes close to the board. There is a way to refine a “J” stroke that will help keep you tracking forward, but you will need to switch sides regularly anyway. The longer you’re on the board, the more comfortable you will be. Try standing slightly fore or aft and see what effect that has on your paddling. Practice turning and using so many of the same techniques that you would use with a canoe. The wider your board, the more stable. Soon, however, unless the water is really disturbed, you should find yourself relaxing and enjoying the ride. And, oh yes, don’t forget that the strength of the paddle stroke comes from your core and not just arms and shoulders. With arms relatively straight, twist from your torso to execute the stroke. Paddle wrong and you’ll tire too quickly.

“The paddle in the water is your 3rd leg of stability,” Mike Strojny said. As assistant retail manager at Umiak Outfitters, he has seen many newcomers to SUP. “A couple hours and you should be good. Wrong equipment is a problem. When it comes to technique, a lesson helps accelerate the learning curve.”

Finally, wear a swim suit. If you fall, you want to fall into the water, not on the board. Just be cool and pretend you meant to take a dip.

YOGA and SUP 

Yoga on a stand up paddleboard is not new. In fact, Wikipedia refers to this as an “emerging sport,” and cites its acceptance within an “international community.”

The Huffington Post lists the following reasons to practice Yoga on a paddle board. Certainly, if your Yoga is getting stale, SUP makes it a uniquely different experience. Because of the unstable base, you need to refine your technique and, in the process, get a better workout. Once you accomplish your goals, there is a sense of empowerment; and, because it is “a touch scary,” your success is well-earned. Furthermore, it is noted that the practice can be calming with more attention paid to breathing. It’s fun and it’s beautiful.

A quick Google search will find SUP and Yoga alive and thriving in Vermont. In the Killington area SUP Yoga is in its fourth season. (www.killingtonYoga .com). At Waterbury Reservoir both Grateful Yoga and Siren SUP with Merin Perretta and Anjali Budreski offer multiple classes each week into September. (www.umiak.com).

“FLOAT YOUR YOGA ”

Merin Peretta, SUP yoga.

Merin Perretta, SUP yoga. Photo courtesy of Merin Perretta.

Merin Perretta brings to her teaching a rich and varied background with personal, physical and intellectual depth. “I took my first Yoga class at the age of 15 or 16 with my sister at a Community Center in Newton, Ma,” Perretta said. “There was a lot of meditation and I liked it.”

Perretta has always been fitness-based and athletic. Her Yoga experience “planted the seed. It took a long time to germinate and set down roots.” First there was a move to the Northeast Kingdom where she found a little studio that “drew me in,” she said. As her Yoga learning and practice continued, Perretta went on to enhance her bachelors degree in medical sociology with a masters degree in counseling. Today in Montpelier Perretta pursues mind-body integration through her work as a certified personal trainer and Yoga instructor.

When Perretta and Budreski met, “we totally hit it off,” Perretta said. Both teach at Yoga Mountain in Monteplier. “I’ve learned so much,” Perretta said. “I’ve found my Yoga platform at Yoga Mountain.” Perretta and Budreski both love SUP and both love Yoga . “We’ve got to bring this to people,” they said. Siren SUP was born of their shared enthusiasm. The two became business partners planning their SUP classes as well as a trip to Costa Rica in March 2017 to a surf and paddleboard destination where they hope to work with women of all ages, engaging all the element of youth, coming of age, and maturity. It will be about sister groups, partnering, Yoga and, of course, SUP. (For more information visit http://trilliumhealthworks.com)

My own experience with Yoga on a paddleboard happened a few weeks ago on a beautiful, though breezy, sunny day on Curtis Pond in central Vermont under the guidance of Merin Perretta. I had never, ever, been on or near a paddleboard. Perretta was unfazed. I do, however, practice Yoga and, though relatively new, am also relatively comfortable with some of the asanas.

What are asanas? Though strictly speaking asana may refer to a seated stillness, asanas in Yoga are often referenced as postures, or the physical actions of Yoga . Though Yoga is indeed about far more than exercise, it is often the place where most of us begin.

So to begin at the beginning, I managed to stand up and paddle and reach the point where I might try a few simple asanas. Working from a tabletop postion, on all fours, was easy and a real start in adapting to the movement of the board on water.

Transitioning into downward facing dog, basically a pike position with hands and feet on the board, added something new. As I looked back past the end of the paddleboard (for all purposes upside down) the play of the water against the board did weird things to my eyes and balance. Looking the other way in camel pose was another story. As I looked up at a cloudless sky the world seemed still; so much easier.

Trying a few poses lifting one leg, twisting, stretching or moving from plank to the board were all done with a sense of exploration. Strangely aligning from bow to stern on the board was do-able (warrior I or pyramid pose) but aligning with the long side (warrior 2 or triangle poses) was far more challenging. Just as I was feeling pretty good in dolphin pose with one leg in the air (sort of half standing on my head) I looked to see Perretta in a full head stand. Oh well. The sky’s the limit I guess.

The bottom line is that if I can do this, anyone can. Each class,similar to my experience, is taught with respect for what each individual brings to the board. No previous SUP or Yoga experience is needed.

WHY YOGA ON A PADDLEBOARD

SUP yoga class taught by Merin Peretta.

SUP yoga class taught by Merin Perretta. Literally Asana on the Water.  photo supplied by M.Perretta.

Perretta, who practices her Yoga with precision focusing on alignment and fitness, also brings to her work a deep sense of the mental, emotional and spiritual. “Yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice,” she quoted.

And then there’s the fun part. Speaking of SUP Yoga she said, “If you’ve even a glimmer of curiosity, try it. Encounter it, look it in the eye, and do it.”

But perhaps more importantly the experience deepens a Yoga practice and expands it to include more than navigating the poses on water.

The unstable surface challenges core strength and balance, yes, and there is a playfulness about the process. But there is also a connection with your immediate yet vast environment; with water, sky and air.

The board becomes your mat, the space in which you engage. It becomes your partner and your teacher. You learn to release, to float. You may sit, kneel, stand or lie on your board, your Yoga mat in action. You feel buoyancy and relate physically to the movement of the water, to tides, to flow.

Your perspective is organic. When you seek your drishti, your focal point, you may need to look inward.

When you finish your practice, you lie supine on your board, eyes closed, and give yourself to the water’s surface, be it active or still. You feel and sense rather than see and do. Your board gives you feedback from your practice. You learn which muscles worked and which joints opened. You feel your spine, hips, skull, heels, elbows and hands against a stiff but moving surface. It makes you think about where you’ve been and where you are going, and then perhaps relieves you of thought. Flow is a word often united with Yoga . On the water, flow is quite literal.

For me, my take home was a very real example of what in Yoga is called Sthira and Sukha, steadiness and ease. Uniting these two qualities that could be perceived as opposites, is profound. Finding a balance between effort and ease significantly impacts sports performance as well as daily living. Striving for strength, energy and capability; then softening with ease, release and freedom, just might be what it’s all about.

Wha’SUP? The growing sport of stand up paddling!

 

Stand Up Paddleboard, or Stand Up Paddling, or simply SUP, may be here to stay. Skeptics dubbed the sport another passing fad, but that was sometime around 2001 or 2002. Here we are, more than a decade later, and we see boards strapped to car roofs, beached on shorelines, and, of course, on the water.

Here in Vermont, most SUP paddling is done on flat water, though Lake Champlain, power boats and even a windy day can give the paddler rock and roll. In other areas, SUP is more closely connected to its surfing roots from places such as Hawaii and with names such as Laird Hamilton.

Standing up to paddle can be traced back for centuries. Old paintings and a multitude of anecdotes suggest SUP possibly dates back far more than the early 20th century. Of course it’s probable that Native Americans stood in their canoes to paddle up river, but the claim that in Peru as long ago as 3,000 BC, and possibly even Pharoah’s daughter, the one who found baby Moses in the rushes, was standing up to paddle, necessitates unsubstantiated acceptance. (To read an intriguing and short history of SUP go to http://www.supthemag.com/complete-short-history-sup/)

Assuming you find the sport of SUP interesting and would like to give it a go, there are many ways in which to do so. By all means, rent a SUP or borrow a friend’s, and get on the water before you decide to purchase. However, remember that when you do, you may not be on the board that is most appropriate for you. It’s a good way to taste but not to digest. And, to be sure, a SUP lesson is a great way to begin.

SUP - a family adventure photo by L. Freeman

SUP – a family adventure
photo by L. Freeman

Once hooked, you will want your own board, paddle, leash and pfd. (Note that a Type 3 USCG approved personal floatation device is mandated by law. If you are over 12 years old, you do not need to be wearing, but must have one easily accessible on the deck. Twelve and under must be wearing.)

HOW TO CHOOSE A BOARD

How do you choose your board? The best answer is to visit a water sports store where an informed associate can give you good advice, not just sell you a board. Finding the right board is not rocket science, but it really does matter and must meet your individual needs, fitness level, body type and budget. Buy the right board the first time and your purchase will be cost effective in the long run.

For more information I visited Umiak Outdoor Outfitters on South Main Street, Stowe (www.UMIAK.com) where Mike Strojny, assistant retail manager, spent unhurried time answering my many questions. Here’s what I learned.

What do you want to do with SUP? Is it for fun and fitness or touring or maybe even racing?

There are basically two types of hulls from which to choose: planing and displacement. A planing hull is flat and wide like a surfboard, costs a little less money to build and therefore a little less money to buy, and “is the board that most recreational customers come into the store looking for,” Strojny said.

“We think most people should buy a displacement board because Vermont lakes and ponds are flatwater.” And why is that? A displacement hull is straighter and faster. The front and back (bow and stern) are slightly pointed allowing the board to be moved forward with less effort. A displacement board is a good choice for the recreational paddler who wants the option to spend his or her hours and effort touring. Displacement boards are far more stable than one might think and versatile in their use be it fitness, cruising or even yoga.

SUPs are built from the inside out, whereas a kayak or canoe is built from the outside in. Foam inside is wrapped in a fiberglass sock. While there are many kinds of boards, and some are extremely attractive, Strojny suggestions caution. “They’re like a nice sports car; it’s what’s under the hood that counts.” The variables are the materials (a plastic board will weight 45-50 pounds while its carbon fiber equivalent only 20 pounds or less), board length, width, thickness and volume. A textured mat or surface on the top of the board provides stable footing.

Put in simplest terms, the bigger the person, the longer the board needed. Also to be taken into consideration is where you will paddle, the size of your car roof, where you will store the board when not in use (an inflatable SUP folds up into a wheeled suitcase), and perhaps how far you will need to walk to the beach. Width affects stability. A board 31-36” wide will be more stable; one 29 or 30” will be faster. Volume is a mathematical equation of length x width x thickness. The answer suggests the board’s ability to float with a certain amount of weight on it. All boards have a fin to help tracking. Paddling skill aids in keeping that straight line while wind factors present problems of their own. Roughly speaking a smaller person, woman or child, might shop for a 10-11’6” board while a larger or taller person might move up to a 12’6” board. Athletic ability and fitness definitely play a role as well.

What else do you need? In addition to your SUP and PFD, you need a paddle leash. “Four people drowned a few weekends ago,” Strojny said. “Not around here. Lake Tahoe and elsewhere. They didn’t have a PFD and they didn’t have a leash.” Strojny went on to explain that a SUP can also function as a large floatation device. It’s unlikely that you will hit your head when you pitch off of one. You are, after all, standing. Most likely you will land in the water and, with your board attached by a leash, can reel it in and clamber back on, or at least hold yourself up until help arrives. Wearing a PFD (there are some that can be worn unobtrusively around the waist), is, of course, the ultimate safe way to paddle.

Finally you need a paddle. Yes, you use only one and it is very long. A quick measure is to stand on land with the blade tip next to your feet. With one arm extended straight up towards the sky, the end of the handle should be at your hand. On the board in the water, you will hold the top end with one hand and partway down the shaft with the other. Some paddles are adjustable, others are custom. Less expensive paddles are heavier and can cause stress to joints, fatigue and just maybe take away from the joy of paddling. Small, narrow blades and light, stiff paddles made of fiberglass or carbon fiber allow for more dynamic paddling, a faster cadence if desired, and a less tiring experience that can make racing, yes, but even touring more enjoyable. Sometimes it takes surprisingly little effort to move forward, but equally significant is the core workout you will get.

Oh, and one more thing. You will need a roof rack on your car, usually the bars already there will do. Hoisting the board to the roof is as easy as your board is light. Simple straps usually get the job done.

SUP FESTIVAL

Burlington SUP Festival 2016, photo by L. Freeman

Burlington SUP Festival 2016, photo by L. Freeman

I met Roxanne Scully at the 2nd Annual Burlington Paddleboarding and Windsurfing Festival, June 25, 2016, on one of those perfect Vermont days: sunny, breezy, lots of people eager to participate, vendors happy to answer questions and hopefully make a sale, kids, dogs, and boats and more boats. Festive indeed.

Roxanne and her husband, Russ, began with The Spot, a “surf style restaurant” near the Burlington waterfront. Along came a new sport, paddleboarding. “My husband and I started this whole venture,” Roxanne said. “There was an article in the NY Times about Russ. After that he became the go-to person for paddle board.” The Scullys mixed business and pleasure. Russ became a rep for Starboard paddleboards and soon the couple started selling out of their restaurant. It was not long before they opened WND&WVS (say it quickly and you’ll get wind and waves, of course), a SUP, windsurf and other types of water sports store. (www.wndnwvs.com ). When asked about the popularity of SUPs, Roxanne said: “I think it’s just the beginning. There are so many different ways to use it from enjoying the sunset with your family or dog to racing. There’s a large spectrum of what you can do.”

Though the festival was for SUP and windsurfing, I saw only SUPs. And I saw many. Juxtaposed against the backdrop of sailboats and cruisers, boats of mixed size and use, some moored and some in action, were dozens of people of all ages on a huge variety of boards. Some were adept, some a bit anxious. Some boards were slim, some were large enough for a family, some short, some long, some hard and some inflatables.

I noticed a woman wearing a dress, but holding a paddle. When I asked her if she was having a good time she told me that she was down to three boards. She had tried the inflatable and was surprised by how hard it was, not rubbery at all. But she did find it a bit “bouncy” on the water. She then tried one that was more sleek and a better performer. Finally she tried one somewhere in the middle, a board that was stiff on the bottom but had a soft covering on top. She was still uncertain. But one thing was for sure, she was going to buy one of these boards and SUP on Lake Champlain.

As noted above, paddles are important. But let me introduce you to Steve Berson of Oblio Paddles. (www.obliopaddles.com) When Berson first explored the world of SUP he loved standing on the board, but was uncomfortable with the concept of a single paddle with a single blade that had to be switched from side to side and sometimes caused balance and/or tracking problems by its very nature. Why not design a long paddle with a blade on each end with a rotating grip that would serve as an aid to balance (much like the tightrope walker and his pole) and would provide rhythm and symmetry to smooth the rough edges of an otherwise seamless sport? So he did. The process began in March 2014 in Morrisville. The first year was spent in development and prototyping. Today there are different models available ranging in price from $229-$429 and made of fiberglass, a composite, or top of the line carbon fiber.

Even this Welsh Corgi enjoys SUP on the Lake. photo by L. Freeman

Even this Welsh Corgi enjoys SUP on the Lake. photo by L. Freeman

Over the years we’ve learned that stand up paddleboarding is not limited to the big surf of Hawaii or southern California; or, in the State of Vermont, to larger lakes like Champlain or Bomoseen; or even Vermont’s smaller lakes and ponds, surrounded by summer camps and home to both motorized and non-motorized water craft. In fact, one may not really know just how much this sport may grow. SUP is one new kid on the block who may have moved in to stay. Perhaps this IS just the beginning. Perhaps in years to come we will see many variations on the SUP theme.

This story first appeared in the Rutland Herald & Times Argus Sunday newspaper,     7-3-2016 written by Linda Freeman, Field Editor and Contributor to Active Vermont.

Wearables v. Unplugged

 

UNPLUGGED?  DIGITAL ADDICTION IS ATTRACTING ATTENTION

Unplugged  Jeb Wallace-Brodeur;  Winter hikers from Vermont unplugged as they descend from the summit of Mount Flume in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Unplugged Jeb Wallace-Brodeur; Winter hikers from Vermont unplugged as they descend from the summit of Mount Flume in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

Time to deliver the mail, to deliver you on target in this new year and make the most of your time. Before we do that let’s take one step back and ask a key question. Could you go one day a week unplugged? That means not plugged into a device of any sort, but plugged into the moment, plugged into reality, instead of virtual reality. If the answer is no, you could not go a day without your device, maybe that is your new year’s resolution. To plug back into you and those around you!

If the answer is no, then let’s figure out why. Or, as this is a fitness article, let’s figure out if your devices are serving you or are you serving them? We know from brain imaging that a ping, ring or vibration for most people activates a dopamine squirt in the brain. Simply put, dopamine is a chemical created in your brain that is generally released and is associated with a reward response. However, too much “reward”, like too much of any good thing, can quickly become not a good thing. That is why we’re now seeing more and more digital addiction as devices surround us every day. Hence, the pressing need to unplug on a regular basis.

But let’s go back to the first sentence. Mail delivery; how does that relate to what the fitness world and to what marketers are calling wearables? Before wearables, we relied on training by feeling, or what exercise physiologists called RPE, rate of perceived exertion. There are a variety of RPE scales, 1-10 and 6-20 tend to be the most common scales used. The scales correlate on the lower ends with exercising easily, and as the scale progresses, exercise increases from moderate to hard at the top end of an RPE scale. Training by feeling is like delivering the mail to the right street. It generally gets you close to the destination of exercise that is on target.

One of the first wearables, in a consumer sense, is now known as the ubiquitous heart rate monitor (HRM). A heart rate monitor simply does that, measure your response to exercise, which is generally associated with an increase in heart rate as exercises becomes more difficult. Training by heart rate will show several patterns over time, but I would argue that training by heart rate is like delivering the mail to the right block on a street. It gets you close to the intended address, but not to the exact house all the time. The house you’re trying to deliver your mail to is the house that has the right intensity of exercise at the right time. The danger with heart rate training is generally most people just play the high heart rate Olympics, seeing how high they can get their heart rate up each workout. This isn’t a system that will support sustainable fitness. Rather it is a system that will ensure that the mail will get farther and farther away from the intended address as time goes on, farther from becoming a fit, happy and healthy person.

Perception and heart rate are fickle responses to a variety of stressors. They are affected by many variables. The key ones are generally sleep, nutrition, stress, hormonal variation and hydration. Often those five are interconnected. Each (and other “stressors”, including positive stressors) has an impact on perception and on heart rate. For example, if you haven’t slept enough or ate a big meal the night before exercise you might feel sluggish the next day. That means, what was an easy workout yesterday might feel hard the next day and your heart rate might be higher or lower than usual. Again, your fitness mail won’t be delivered to the right address and you won’t be making the most of your time.

That is where wearables and measurement come into play. Many of you likely received Fitbits, Garmins, Misfits or Jawbones (or one from a host of other companies), power meters or another type of GPS devices or apps over the holidays. Or you’ve already been using one or many of them. The real question is, are you using them or are they using you? Do you know what that data overload means and why you’re doing what you’re doing?

The key functions of devices like Fitbits (the most common wrist wearable) are to measure steps, purported calories (which in most cases when compared to lab results are highly inaccurate), heart rate, and sleep. There is other data you can mine from these devices, but those are likely the key metrics. A power meter (usually associated with cycling or rowing) measures watts – just like the power a light bulb uses. A power meter measures the power one produces while exercising. Finally, a GPS usually is used for outdoor exercise and measures pace per mile. In the very near future we will be potentially wearing oxygen measuring devices and accelerometers are already being used in the commercial marketplace to measure speed of movements.

Whatever device you’re using, the key becomes the use of the information to create positive change. If you’re not using the information (inferring meaning) and tracking progress then you’re likely using the wearable as a toy, a digital distraction that is eliciting a digital dopamine response. Some are calling this digital cocaine.

However, if you are using a wearable to create a better sleep pattern for example, or to increase your pace per mile, set steps goals every week, or increase your wattage output with the same or lower heart rate, then you are on the right path. If you are doing these things (or other strategically tracked and utilized metric), using the data to create change, then you are delivering your fitness mail to the right address every time you use your wearable or device. You are using a feedback loop called assessment (data) to inform instruction to create change. That change will be a newer, stronger, fitter, and faster you in the year ahead. And a smarter you by unplugging from your devices once a week and plugging into your life. Wishing you miles of safe smiles in 2016 and a fitness quest that is dialed in. 

Joey Adams, M.S. Exercise Science, Intelligent Fitness, Metabolic Specialist, VO2 assessments and performance analysis. www.intelligentfitnessvermont.com

WHAT ARE WEARABLES?  Fitness gadgets flood the market. Becoming more and more easily accessible, these gadgets run the gamut from Fitbits to power meters measuring everything from calories burned to oxygen processed.

You see them on your coworkers’ wrists. You wear them in your Spinning® class, on your cross country ski, even in the pool. You sleep in them at night to determine your resting heart rate and you check in with them to see how you’re feeling.

What we call wearables is high level technology that may even surpass that of computers and smart phones. Narrowing the topic to fitness, wearable tracking devices do just that, and more.

Of course there’s the element of GPS that can find your location, plot a course or record your travel. Fitness tracking devices can also give you immediate access to pace, speed, distance, time, altitude, heart rate, watts, calories and oh so much more.

Furthermore, this data can be uploaded to a computer program used to record and store workouts or compare with previous training sessions, assessment and sharing with others such as a coach or training partners or competitors.

Wearables, as opposed to hand-held or equipment mounted, come in a staggering variety of styles and models. The technology in each is similarly efficient and reliable. The difference is primarily one of individual needs and preferences.

For example, are you a runner, cyclist or swimmer? Do you want to record your effort during weight lifting of your heart rate in the pool? Do you want to know where you’ve been when snowshoe touring or where you need to go to find the next shelter on the Long Trail? Do you want alarms to notify you if you are leaving a training zone or reminders to get up out of your chair and move a bit? Are you fine-tuning your competitive performance or simply wanting the motivation to lead a more active daily life while you check to see how much you are sleeping? You could, after all, just be looking for a fitness watch as some new bling.

Yet wearables have stepped far outside the restrictions of watch design. Leading wearables include Jawbone, Garmin, Fitbit, Microsoft Band, Moov Now, Misfit and Polar. Wearables are found on wristbands, clip-ons, glasses, shoes, helmets and even socks that tell you when to buy new ones or headbands that interpret dreams.

For years runners have worn chips to clock their race time and other micro chips have been implanted in pets for identification.

Those uses are tame compared with some of the more weird devices such as Ping garments that allow social networking on Facebook, digital tattoos, pet pac collars that transmit bio data directly to the family veterinarian, and a tweeting bra that, yes, allows the wearer to use Twitter. (And we thought amazing the early tracking devices worn by seniors who tend to get lost.)

Mind you, I do not condemn the use of wearables. I confess that I am an athlete heavily reliant upon my heart rate monitor and power meter. Both have helped me train more effectively and given me confidence to push to the next level. Perspective, however, is an important tool in our training toolbox. Balance is, as always, imperative.                                 Linda Freeman

These articles first appeared on the Active Vermont page of the Rutland Herald & Times Argus on January 29, 2016.

HOLIDAY SEASON = ATHLETIC EVENT

 

Let the holidays begin, 2015

Let the holidays begin, 2015

You’re in it now. The holiday season. No matter how you treat it, Thanksgiving is the beginning of a holiday marathon that ends for some on January 2 and for others on February 14.

It’s Sunday morning and you’re reading the paper. What led you to this point? Perhaps on Wednesday you finished early at work and headed home or here to Vermont to visit and wrap up the final preparations for, most likely, one of the most glorious and gluttonous meals of the year.

Thanksgiving is the one holiday nearly everyone can agree on and celebrate. There’s no quarrel over the naming of it and no squabbling over the commercialism. (Of course there’s the struggle between Native Americans and Pilgrims and the Christmas – strike that – holiday – decorations, songs and sales that began just after Halloween, but …)

Thanksgiving is the warm up to the main events, the 5k that spikes your speed for the marathon. Hanukkah falls early in December this year, Christmas on the 25th, and for all others, school breaks, office parties and holiday events mark a period of merry-making as an occasion to prepare for, endure and ultimately recover from.

Sunrise Thanksgiving morning 2015, Harpswell, Maine. D.Bonito

Sunrise Thanksgiving morning 2015, Harpswell, Maine. D.Bonito

Thanksgiving. Hmmm. Let’s see. After Wednesday you may have jumped out of bed early Thursday morning to go run a Turkey Trot or Gobble Wobble, or you may have dashed to the kitchen to begin the final round of cooking for the feast to follow. After the travel, sports, football games and feast, you finally sink into bed exhausted from the sprint to the finish.

But can you recover? No. It’s up early (and I do mean early) to attack Black Friday with a vengeance. After an all out race on Thursday, you’re really not up for the endurance event on Friday. However, it happens, and you must draw on your tediously conditioned reserves, your base.

Saturday is the family’s opportunity to ski (several resorts are optimistically open and there are always the early season trails on which one can make his or her way down, albeit cautiously), explore and visit, in addition to the endless feeding of the multitudes that inevitably follows Thursday, though everyone declared they would never eat again. Saturday is a day of intervals, either dragging along or speeding forward, on a straight path or multiple detours.

Alas, post Thanksgiving Sunday dawns. The fourth day of this particular event signals one of two things. There might be a frantic effort to stuff in a few more non-working activities (or leftovers), or one last-ditch attempt to come home with a buck. Or, the day may demand recovery. Perhaps the only exercise for many will be handling the remote. Monday, a workday, looms as threat or relief, a return to schedule.

But will you return to what has become the usual? Most likely, the answer is no. First of all, your body has become accustomed to an abundance of holiday foods. Rather than being satiated, your appetite now demands more. And more often. You decide you want to bake cookies, or that your friends would just love a home-cooked something as a gift for the next gift-giving holiday. Very nice. But are you sure? Or is it just your need to hang out in the kitchen, pick up a spoon and stir something? And please, no fruitcakes.

If you celebrate Hanukkah, you’re on the fast track for your next extended event with barely a recovery period. You must be organized, honor your need for rest and recovery even as you push forward to the start line. For others, preparations for the Christmas holiday season begin on Thanksgiving evening. Perhaps you watch one of the versions of “Miracle on 34th Street” to put you in the mood. Maybe you drag out your boxes of decorations, write your gift list or organize cards, stamps and addresses.(Note: there continues to be some sort of practice of mailing greetings. The ready use of the internet has altered forever the face of correspondence and giving with electronically delivered holiday wishes and the ever useful last minute gift card.)

Somewhere in the intervening weeks professional obligations must be met while scrambling to put the finishing touches on the end-of-the-year fiscal records and social calendar. January 1st will arrive all too soon and you will begin another new year in whatever condition you may have brought upon yourself.

An athlete periodizes his or her annual training plan, as well as shorter blocks such as the holiday season. For many athletes, this last month waiting for snow conditions to cooperate or this first month of on snow activity marks the start of their peak season. For others, December is the off season, the month of play and early base building before January training picks up in earnest.

The off season is never entirely sedentary. To give it all up in favor of a six-pack and the sofa is to invite an uncomfortable and discouraging return to training. A happy mix of activity is the key to maintaining enough fitness to move forward, but enough rest and relaxation to allow fatigued or damaged bodies to become whole.

Waning dedication to one’s sport, even to the extent of burn out, is always a risk and can be circumvented by deliberate time off. Better to choose alternative activities than be sidelined by overuse injury, don’t you think?

Traditional recommendations for athletes during their off season is to step away from their primary sport and focus attention and energy on other types of training. For example, a cyclist or runner should take advantage of the off season to further his or her core conditioning, strength training and even more intense yoga practice. Later, during peak season, whether competing, touring or adding miles, the pendulum will swing in the other direction and core, strength and other practices should moderate to balance the increased intensity of sport training.

Mentally a break is superb. Though reading and studying one’s sport or passion is motivating and educational, a good chunk of fiction might better relax the personality that self-disciplines.

The final piece of the off season pie is sweet. Take time to roll on the floor with your kids, meander through the woods (after rifle season and/or garbed in orange), slide recklessly down a hill, try some pond skating (when thoroughly frozen, please), roll a ball down an alley or try an old fashioned game of hide and seek.

Sunrise Barre Town Vermont late November 2015

Sunrise Barre Town Vermont late November 2015

Stop to notice spectacular sunrises and by all means plan to celebrate Winter Solstice. Do you remember last winter when I challenged you to find new and different outdoor ways to commemorate each full moon? Have you done so? Some of you have and keep in touch to let me know that you have had snow shoe adventures, hiked, paddled, enjoyed moonlight picnics, and more. I have heard of some good ones.The next full moon falls on December 25th. How will you celebrate?

Until then, it is Sunday, the fourth day of the initial holiday athletic event, Thanksgiving. You have done it. Now you are ready to look forward to the month of December and all that it means to you and yours.

May the habit of giving thanks be one you practice regularly. Whatever our situation in life may be, there is always something for which to be grateful. You know the old saying, “any day I wake up in the morning is a good day.”

The American author William Arthur Ward wrote: “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

There’s this, too: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” John F. Kennedy.

Pause for a glorious sunset as well. Barre Town, Vermont 2015

Pause for a glorious sunset as well.
Barre Town, Vermont 2015

LINCOLN’S QUODDY LIGHT LV KAYAK

Marc Bourgoin, CEO, Lincoln Canoe & Kayak, asked me for a recommendation for the wonderful, snappy little Quoddy Light LV kayak that I own and love.  Here it is – with pleasure.

Quoddy Lite Lincoln KayakAs I segued from equestrian sports to skiing and, when single-parent finances dictated, to running, it never occurred to me to try a water sport. Then came surgery that stole my running shoes. So if I was to be permanently grounded, I’d try water.

My first boat was a plastic tub that served only to get my attention. I traded up, really up. A friend in the business found me a great deal on an elegant Epic18. She was beautiful, swift and, though light, a pain for me to maneuver on land or to the roof of my car. But I was hooked and even dreamed dreams of joining a local recreational racing group.

That was 6 years ago. In the interim I fell in love again, this time with road cycling. Normally I am a one-sport woman, but I have learned the perfect formula – dedicated training hours on my bike balanced by any extra hours I can find to paddle.

I have finally acquired the perfect bike and absolutely the best kayak for me, a low profile Quoddy Light.

It all began when, on vacation, I met Marc Bourgoin in Freeport, Maine. I wanted to test the local waters and he sent me out with a Quoddy Light. In fact, he wanted to share his love for a Chebeague, but once I had paddled the Quoddy Light, I was snared.

Why? My Epic was serious. I am serious. Paddling the Quoddy Light made me laugh out loud. The day I tested it, the wind was up and the boat should have been unstable. It was not.

Mind you, I am small, not brave or super strong or highly skilled. I am also a grandmother. But in that boat, on that day, I sliced through wind and waves that should have alarmed me. Instead I returned wet, salty and exhilarated. So much from so little.

It didn’t make sense. Anyone knows you should paddle at least a 16’ boat if you want performance and stability, right? Wrong.

The fun I had that day haunted me. Bottom line? Marc was patient. Finally I let go of my beloved Epic. The sale made the new owner very happy and financed my new, custom built Quoddy Light.

Each and every boat that comes out of the Lincoln factory is meticulously finished and embodies a spirit, a personality, of its own. The lucky ones are those of us who connect with our boat. I love mine. She rides on top of my X-Trek along with my bike. I can go anywhere and ride on land or water. These two are my friends, my training partners, my playmates. And we trust each other. We fit. We work hard and celebrate big. We live life the way it is meant to be lived.

Who knows, maybe someday there will be room in my “stable” for a Seguin. But whatever, it will be a boat built by Lincoln, maybe even by Rusty himself.

P1000187

 

Thru-Skiing the Catamount Trail

The Catamount Trail is unique to Vermont and the Vermont winter of 2014-2015 has offered skiers on the Catamount Trail the equally unique opportunity to thru-ski the entire 300 miles. The quality as well as abundance of snow during this very cold winter has provided coverage and unlimited possibilities.

The following story appeared in the Rutland Herald & Times Argus, ACTIVE VERMONT section, Sunday, March 8, 2015.

Snow and Cold

This has been a winter to remember. For some, memories of battling the cold, shoveling snow off roofs and moaning about the salt brine that sticks to vehicles as well as roads, are not the best reminders of the winter of 2014-2015. But for others, this has been an astonishing trip and it is still going.

Recreational snow sports participants, competitive athletes and kids of all ages love the white stuff, and this has been white stuff to love.

Alpine ski areas boast multiple feet of snow, 100% open trails and powder, yes powder, in the north east. Cross-country ski areas have not been hampered by the lack of snow-making and VAST snowmobile trails have never looked better. Out the back door, on with the snowshoes, and there’s adventure to be had for almost anyone.

What makes this year’s snowfall so special? Amy Kelsey, Executive Director of the Catamount Trail Association, explains. “The abundance and the cold,” she said. “There are no layers of ice. The snow is soft, not crusty. Significant amounts of snow make breaking trail challenging, but the abundance and quality of the snow provide uniform coverage.”

Catamount Trail

Catamount Trail. Photo by Greg Maino

Photo by Greg Maino

The Catamount Trail extends 300 miles from Massachusetts to Canada through the state of Vermont. Since 1984 the Trail has been developed, managed and conserved by the member-driven Catamount Trail Association. At times, some of the 31 sections of trail are unavailable due to poor snow coverage. Not this year. “With several feet of snow in some locations, 2015 has been a banner year for winter enthusiasts,” wrote Andy Wood, Outreach & Youth Program Coordinator CTA in a recent press release, “and thru-skiers on the Catamount Trail reported deep snow and excellent trail coverage across the state.”

The Catamount Trail beckons skiers of all levels. Some choose to spend a few hours on cross-country skis or even snowshoes enjoying a local section of the trail. Time or skill constraints make this a possibility. Others embark on more challenging uses of the trail and most often with back country (BC) skis and gear.

Then there are those who choose to ski the entire distance. “Thru-skiers undertake the 300-mile trip in one journey,” Woods said, “camping along the trail or staying in the homes of CTA members and friends.”

“Of the 70-plus skiers who have skied the entire trail, few undertake the journey in one season, let alone in one expedition. Currently at least four separate attempts to thru-ski the Catamount Trail are underway or recently completed.”

Inn to Inn

On Tuesday night, Bob Ordemann was in Lowell, just 28 miles from the finish of his thru-ski. Ordemann, from Groton MA, began on the southern end of the trail and pursued a unique journey, carefully arranging in advance with innkeepers along the way who often helped pick up or drop off at the trail after spending the night at their inn.

Ordemann has skied alone as many do. “Skiing alone forces me to engage with other folks,” Ordemann said. “I meet people I would never meet with somebody else. The variety is stunning.”

The hours of solitude on the trail balanced the social interaction at the inns. “I wanted to clear my head and relax,” Ordemann said. Fortuitously between jobs, he has been able to do this with the support of his wife and three kids, all of whom now have bragging rights to his soon-to-be success.

With storms pounding the states south of Vermont, one can only imagine the amount of snow Ordemann faced in Massachusetts. “I struggled early on, there was so much snow. Sometimes I broke trail in 20” and in Sections 3 and 4 the drifts were dense.”

There has been, however, a good side to the intensity of effort. Did the cold bother him? “Not at all. It was surprising but I was working so hard breaking trail that I kept warm.” Dressing appropriately, of course, is a must. So is fitness.

“I’m rather fit,” Ordemann said, “and because I compete in triathlons and running races, I train all year round.” As to ski skills, however, Ordemann said: “This is a do-able trail. If you have determination, basic skills, can side-step, snow plow and herring bone, you can do it.”

Ordemann spent leisure hours posting photos, travel notes and helpful advice on planetbcatamount.blogspot.com.Check it out.

"Wednesday, February 18, 2015, Blueberry Hill to Rikert XC ski center “The ski from BB Hill to Rikert (thru to Wagon Wheel road) was the most pleasant 12 miles of skiing I've done on the trail. The terrain was undulating, but relatively flat, and in the woods. The trails were all groomed or broken. There was a nice long downhill with bumps heading down to highway 125. Photo by Bob Ordemann.

“Wednesday, February 18, 2015, Blueberry Hill to Rikert XC ski center “The ski from BB Hill to Rikert (thru to Wagon Wheel road) was the most pleasant 12 miles of skiing I’ve done on the trail. The terrain was undulating, but relatively flat, and in the woods. The trails were all groomed or broken. There was a nice long downhill with bumps heading down to highway 125.
Photo by Bob Ordemann.

17 Days

Sam Blakely, owner of Hermit Woods Trail Builders in Norwich, thru-skied the trail in 17 days, camping out every night but one (a visit to his grandma in Middlebury). Blakely has a history of experience in the backcountry beginning with trail building behind his dad as early as 8 years old, and moving on to long-distance hikes and paddles. “Every year I guide month-long canoe trips to northern Quebec,” Blakely said. “That was why I set out on this adventure. I love being in the woods, the rhythm that a trip falls into, and the peace and serenity I find by slowly moving across a landscape.” Looking for a different adventure, “the Catamount seemed a right fit.”

While Blakely brought strong outdoor skills to his challenge, his ski skills were something less. Formerly a downhill skier, Blakely gave cross-country skiing a try because of his girlfriend. “Since she was so passionate about it, we would go out together, she gracefully gliding along while I shuffled and huffed and puffed behind, arms akimbo as I tried to keep up. I didn’t even like it all that much at first.”

Things must have changed. Finishing the trail in 17 days indicates some powerful skiing.

Temperatures were extreme, well below zero. “Every minute of every day I was conscious of my body and my extremities,” Blakely said, “and maintaining sufficient warmth and circulation was always at the forefront of my mind.”

Nights were long with almost 13 hours of darkness. He carried a small tent (“on several mornings I woke up with just the top 10-12” showing above the newly fallen snow”), 3-4 days of food, (Consuming enough calories was necessary yet he still lost 8 pounds on the trail.) and a Whisperlite stove. “Each night I just packed out an area of snow, set the tent up, cooked my dinner, and then crawled into my sleeping bag for some reading and writing.

Perhaps most memorable for Blakely, however, were the people. Other skiers, store-owners, folks in a general store – all were supportive, generous and shared his enthusiasm.

“It was so cold out there that mistakes would not have been good,” Blakely said. “And that, in and of itself, was liberating and exciting.”

“By living like that, alone in the snow and cold, I knew that I was capable and self-sufficient. I could face challenges and conquer them, and keep on making progress, while also enjoying the stunning beauty and wintry silence of a Vermont forest landscape.”

SUE JOHNSTON’S STORY

Sue Johnston of Danville has a different take on snow conditions. Despite her early worries that there might not be enough snow, its abundance hasn’t always been in her best interest. Johnston skis alone. “If the trail’s not broken out,” she said, “it’s really hard to trail break by yourself.”

Sue Johnston, Little Pond in Section 5 of the Catamount Trail, near Stratton. Photo by Chris Scott. (2/2015)

Sue Johnston, Little Pond in Section 5 of the Catamount Trail, near Stratton. Photo by Chris Scott. (2/2015)

Johnston, primarily a Nordic skier who has chosen to ski the length of the Catamount Trail this season, brings a mixed bag of skills to her plan. “I am not a gifted skier,” she said. “mostly touring center. BC (back country) is new to me. I am so not a BC skier.” Last year she bought BC skis, “a little wider with metal edges, and soft boots that come up a little higher. I’m a snow-plower. I don’t do tele (telemark)turns.”

What Johnston must confess, however, is that she has a history of endurance sports: ultra running, distance hiking, (Appalachian Trail and Long Trail), and winter hiking in neighboring New Hampshire mountains.

This is significant. Yes, Johnston skis alone, but she’s fit, experienced and “knows what to put in a pack.” She is an excellent example of what CTA teaches and encourages: you don’t need superior ski skills but you do need to prepare thoroughly and understand risks as well as self-sufficiency.

“I like to make grand goals,” Johnston said, “and reach them.” On January 18 her journey began at the Canadian border. With the help of her husband, a non-skier, who supports by dropping off or picking up, snowshoeing in to bring supplies or to check on her, Johnston skied as far as Camel’s Hump in Duxbury. She did so in day trips, going home each night and missing a day now and then.

Because it seemed easier to follow the guide from the south, she decided to change tactics and, on February 18, hit the trail in Massachusetts and has, so far, gotten to Heldville, near Ludlow. What remains are the sections connecting Camel’s Hump with Heldville, and she hopes to finish these before the end of the month.

For Johnston, who must deal with the cold hands of raynauds syndrome, managing the sub-zero temperatures has been challenging. “The cold has been such a pain,” she said. Chemical handwarmers helped, but grasping the poles was problematic.

After so many days of cold, however, she said she became acclimated to it. “There were a couple of days with severe wind chill warnings. I had intended to start at 7 a.m. but told myself ‘I can’t do this,’” so spent a few hours over coffee before a delayed start.

Johnston’s advice is uncomplicated: “Watch the weather and know your limits.”

Johnston makes it clear that skiing alone is not for everyone. She was surprised by the extent of cell phone coverage, but knew better than to rely on it. “Concerns cross my mind,” she said, “but I’m never afraid. I’m always comfortable outside in the woods by myself and carry enough to survive an emergency.” Except for lightening, cold rain, and city subways, not much alarms her. But, then, her off-trail partner knows where she is.

End-To-Enders

Not all who embark on the journey plan to complete it in one trip. “Since the inception of the Catamount Trail, nearly 70 intrepid skiers have completed all 32 sections,” Wood said. Some complete section by section with days, weeks or even years off in between. All deserve kudos as successful End-To-Enders.

In the stories of Ordemann, Blakely and Johnston, one thing becomes clear: while advanced ski techniques may be helpful, they are not mandatory. What IS mandatory is a functioning level of strength and endurance, a huge dose of determination and an appreciation for the Vermont outdoors, an appreciation that is best coupled with experience, planning and respect for what nature might deliver.

This is where the Catamount Trail Association can help. Visit the website http://catamounttrail.org. There you will find answers to questions you might not even know to ask. CTA maintains trails, works with landowners, provides education and sponsors guided tours and events.

Timid or unsure? Ski with others. Considering an overnight? Check out the Winter Camping Guide. Want to know what it’s like before you head out? Look to those who have gone before. You might be breaking trail in the snow, but you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Others are happy to share their stories and helpful information with you.

“Contact us,” Kelsey said. “It’s fun for us to help you make connections. Don’t let the winter and cold keep you from being outside. The Catamount Trail is only one of many. I’ve bundled up and gone out and it’s made me happy.”

The remarkable snowfall, cold temperatures that can be dangerous but have created a quality of snow unparalleled for recreational use, spectacularly crisp, clean and clear vistas, and the availability of a designated trail system, can be acknowledged from the comfort of an armchair in front of a blazing fire, but are best understood through involvement.

“The Catamount Trail,” Kelsey said, “gets you to places you can only imagine.”

The Catamount Trail Classic

Section 22, the stretch of trail from Bolton to Traps may be the most frequently skied and dramatic section of the Catamount Trail. On Sunday, March 15, CTA offers a fund-raising event to benefit the CTA’s Ski Cubs and Youth Ski Program. “This is not a race,” Kelsey said. Come enjoy a 9 mile climb of about 1,000’ followed by a 2000’ descent into the Nebraska Valley, all supported and with a sweep provided to be sure that all participants have a safe and enjoyable day. Follow it up with an after-party at Trapp’s with a “few surprises.” This event offers a perfect opportunity to sample the Catamount Trail if you haven’t already. If you have, come show your support and celebrate a ski season to remember.

ACTIVE VERMONT, Linda Freeman, Contributing Writer and Field Editor.