Archive for the ‘tips’ Category

Fit By Numbers

Fitting a bike helmet is one of those things that we all feel we can do well enough.  This however, is completely untrue.  All day long one can see examples of poorly fitted helmets pedalling past.  Most often it is perched too high, or is sitting too far back.  At Bikefest Toronto this year, we were lucky enough to have a trained professional from the organization ThinkFirst, fit Zach with a new helmet.

Have you heard of the 2-4-1 rule?  Here’s how it goes…

TWO – hold your first and second fingers together and place them just above your eyebrow.  This is where your helmet should sit.

helmet fit - two

FOUR – make two V’s with your first and second fingers.  Place the V’s starting under your ears, your fingers flat along either side.  This is where the straps should sit.  They should not run over your ears.

helmet fit - four

ONE – place one finger under the chin strap.  Tighten the strap so that no more than that one finger can fit underneath.

helmet fit - one

Easy peasy, right?  I think it goes without saying the size of the helmet itself should also fit.  They can be purchased in different sizes and are somewhat adjustable with thicker or thinner padding.  Some have a dial in the back that when turned adjusts an internal band.  The helmet shouldn’t be able to rock back and forth and shouldn’t slide to the front or back.   It can only save your noggin if you put it on, so WEAR IT.  Go forth, ride on!


Stern But Not Angry

I’m embarrassed to say that Fraser left me in his dust.  He was miles ahead of me and was eating a sandwich at the time!   My first attempt at sterning a fully loaded boat was a disaster.

can you see fraser and the kids eating their sandwiches?!

I was in the rented prospector, a sixteen foot model with a lighter load than Fraser’s.  I struggled.  It seemed like with every stroke I was correcting the last one.  I was so frustrated and discouraged.  How am I ever going to be able to stern a three-week trip?!
Fraser suggested that we switch boats on the next lake.  I took our Maple and my goodness, it was like night and day.  She was like putty in my hands.  To have a side by side comparison like that was invaluable.  I am not a prospector girl, who knew?
The model of canoe you choose is very important.  What will you be using it for?  Where will you be paddling? Will it be a solo venture or will there be a (capable) paddler in the front?  How much cargo do you plan on hauling?

fraser in the maple

Canoes styles generally fall into one of three categories, although specialty canoes can push this number up (for example expedition and racing canoes).  Recreational canoes are super stable and tend to be made of heavier materials.  They don’t feel tippy and the price won’t break the bank.  These are perfect for the cottage.  Tripping canoes are usually longer and have a higher load capacity in order to accommodate all of the gear necessary for longer trips.  They track well for easier handling and have clean entry lines.  Whitewater canoes are made of heavier, more durable materials to withstand run-ins with rocks.  They are designed with extreme rockers to allow for enhanced maneuverability and while they may feel tippy, they are in reality very difficult to actually turn over.

What do I mean by “tracking”?  That is the ability to maintain a straight line while paddling.  Rocker?  The curvature of the keel line.  Keel line? The center line of the boat running from bow to stern.  It’s like learning a different language isn’t it?  I could go on like this for pages!  Let’s see if I can make this more simple to understand…

You need to decide what is most important to you.  Here is an example of how I would choose a new boat for long-ish trips on flat water with me in the stern and Luke in the bow:

I need to be able to haul heavy loads (long-ish, fairly deep)

I need to be able to portage the boat (light-weight materials)

I will need to be able to get from point A to point B in an efficient manner (tracks well…clean entry line, moderate rocker, possibly a keel)

I need to be able to steer it well and not feel too tippy as well as not tip over (moderate rocker, a shallow arch hull)

that's me struggling in the prospector

Now take everything I say with a grain of salt.  Manufacturers, paddlers, retailers…everybody has an opinion on how each design aspect affects the performance of a boat.  These recommendations are a good place to start, but no amount of advice can substitute a good old-fashioned test run.  Before committing to a boat, ideally you will paddle a bunch of different models.  See if your local shop or outfitter has a demo night, or if a model you have your eye on is in a rental program somewhere.  Take ‘er for a spin and find the boat of your dreams.

Fortitude to Spare

Some are born with fortitude to spare, like my little Zachy.  He’s had a fever for four days and when he couldn’t shake it, I took

zach's x-ray, a broken index finger

him to the doctor who pronounced that he had a raging throat infection.  “Does your throat hurt?” the doctor inquired.  Nope.   Not the hint of a complaint.  It’s like the “shovel incident” of 2009 when Luke almost chopped off two of Zach’s fingers.  Yes, there were some tears, but mostly due to the surprise and fear.  At the hospital the doc gave Zach’s hand a shake by the fingers, “does this hurt?”.  Nope.  He had the cuts scrubbed out with a stiff brush and glued back together.   He was sent home only to discover a week later that the bone was snapped through and through.
Meanwhile, I’ve caught Zach’s cold and I’m simply dying.  I am a totally useless drippy, sneezy, wallowing mess.  Some of us were better built for “roughing it”.
On trip,  how do you prepare for, and how do you deal with illness when it strikes?

I’m not talking about wilderness first aid.  That is a whole other ballgame.  I’m talking about tummy aches and headaches and toothaches and all over body aches.  When planning your first aid kit, along with the essential bandages and ointments, think about taking some useful medications.  Don’t forget to pack any medications that your family members use for special ailments, such as inhalers for asthmatics.  In addition to these, bring some pain and fever reducers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.  In case of an allergic reaction, bring along the antihistamine  diphenhydramine (brand name Benadryl).  This will help provide temporary relief of seasonal and perennial allergy symptoms as well as insect bites (even if there is no allergic reaction).  Be careful though, this medication can cause drowsiness, so take adequate precautions.  Toothaches?  oil of oregano or oil of cloves on a bit of cotton ball packed in the tooth will take the edge off.  Is camp cooking giving you a not so happy digestive feeling?  While there are medications to help relieve diarrhea and nausea (bismuth compounds aka. Pepto-Bismol), that isn’t necessarily the go-to solution.  Your body may be trying to purge itself of something.   Keep some rehydration salts in your first aid kit, maintain a steady intake of fluids and rest.  Medicate  if necessary.

For the kiddies, bring a children’s version of pain relief and fever medication as well as children’s Benadryl and After-Bite for the inevitable mosquito bites.  This sounds like a lot, but you only need to pack a few of each of these in a waterproof container and pop it into your first-aid kit.  Depending on how far from civilization you are, you may take more or less.

You are unlikely to need most of what you pack for emergencies, but it is much better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.  Like Robert Baden-Powell so eloquently put it, be prepared.

If a Girl Pees in the Forest…

Does a girl pee in the woods?

hot, stinky, buggy (though surprisingly clean) outhouse that i did not love in frontenac provincial park

Of course she does.  Does she do it without getting her pants or shoes wet?  That’s a different story.  Peeing successfully en plein air is all a matter of technique.  This is something that I perfected years ago when my dad used to take me fishing.  We used to go night fishing in the middle of nowhere.  If there had been a washroom, it would have been locked up tight hours before our arrival.  I took to peeing where I could and I learned to do it quickly (in order to sustain the fewest mosquito bites possible) and efficiently (in order to avoid being stumbled upon by a stranger).  As an adult, I’ve taken this expertise for granted.  I was reminded of its importance when on our latest trip, my brother asked if aunt Jenny had any tips for my niece Charlotte on how to accomplish this feat.  At first I thought he was yanking my chain but I gave a full description and demonstration (shorts over long johns) anyway.  I was rewarded for my efforts with big smiles and sincere thanks after Charlotte’s next trip behind a tree.  So here goes,  this is the girls version of how to pee in the woods successfully every time…

How to pee outside:
I’m gonna do us all a favor and not include “how-to” pictures for this post.

  1. pick a spot a reasonable distance from your water source and camp, one that protects you from being seen
  2. look for a bit of a slope and stand at the high-end of it (so as not to find yourself standing in a growing puddle)
  3. drop drawers, but only to your knees DO NOT DROP YOUR PANTS TO YOUR ANKLES
  4. squat down as far as you can
  5. bunch up your bottoms and underpants and pull them forward (and out of harms way)
  6. keeping your feet as far apart as you can, let loose
  7. keep your eyes on the prize…make sure that you aren’t missing your target
  8. ta da!

This should have achieved your end goal without incident.  I hope this provides years of angst free backcountry bathroom breaks for all the ladies in your life.

Kids on Parade – Portaging and Pack Fitting

Okay so enough about my portaging experience this past weekend. It’s time to talk about the kids.

zach and the canoes

like a well oiled machine, luke and zach load up














I was so proud of them all.  Boy did they ever carry their share.  We even packed a little bag for Charlotte.  At first she seemed skeptical when we broke the news that she too was going to participate.  Soon enough though, she was lamenting the fact that her bag was so much smaller than Luke and Zach’s.  Don’t worry sweetie, next time we’ll make up for it with a nice big pack of your very own.  She’s gonna need a pack too.  Where else is she gonna  sew that “I paddled

luke’s drybag pack isn’t fully adjustable, but fits fairly well

Frontenac” patch that Steve bought her at the park office?
Experienced guys like ours want to show how helpful they are by begging bigger and heavier loads with each subsequent trip.  Although they would haul whatever we packed for them, there is a safe limit to how much weight a kid should carry.

This begs the question, how much is too much?

Unfortunately there is no consensus on this number.  For everyday school bag use, specialists advise not allowing children to carry more than 20% of their body weight.   Portaging is slightly different in that it is for a short period of time and happens only periodically, not on a daily basis.  I think that a 20% limit is a good place to start though.  If your child is big and strong and has experience, you might try venturing a little bit heavier, but it only takes one misstep with a heavy pack to pull a muscle.  Err in favor of going lighter.  Having said that, how the weight is carried and the backpack you choose as well as how it has been fitted is of paramount importance.

this pack is a little bit big for zach, but is adjusted well

that’s charlotte portaging like a pro













Here are some tips, but you should really have help fitting the pack properly at your local outfitter.

  • wide padded straps reduce pressure points and make things more comfortable (less whining)
  • a padded back will prevent gear from poking against the back (owie), provides back support and helps prevent bad posture
  • padded hip belt transfers the weight load to hips instead of carrying it with the shoulders
  • a sternum strap helps hold the shoulder straps in the right place
  • the pack must fit the back length (not based on height), look for an adjustable back system for a better fit and to get more than a seasons use out of the bag!
  • pack the heaviest items closest to the child’s back to help with balance, and the lightest item (eg. sleeping bag) at the bottom and mid-weight items at the top to avoid a top-heavy pack which is what makes them fall over and get stuck like turtles on their backs
  • compression straps reefed down nice and tight keeps gear close to the body and helps the load from shifting around

Now that you know how to load them up, go ahead and do it.  They are going to love contributing in a tangible way, and you’re going to love being able to bring the bigger Therm-a-Rest again 😉

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

zach and luke entertained by the scenery in algonquin (ages 2 and 5)

So you wanna take your kids on a canoe trip?  I’m talking about a real trip

look at our paddles

here, not just a day paddle.  Day paddles are pretty straight forward.  You can take whatever you want, including your time.  But what if you’ve packed for a multi-day trip and can’t afford the space to bring juniors collection of beach toys?  As a general rule, Luke and Zach are only permitted to bring a couple of toys on trip at all, but even these stay packed tightly away while in the boat.  The last thing you want is to lose any favourites overboard.  This will result in whining and tears for the duration of your trip.  Not fun.  If there is one special something that MUST come and it absolutely isn’t up for debate (I’m referring to Lambie here), you can tie said object of affection to the thwart.  My suggestion would be to use those multi-coloured plastic baby chain links.  Something about having a cord that little ones can get tangled up in, in the unlikely event of a dump makes me nervous.  It makes me think of why manufacturers

stopped putting drawcords in kids hoods.  They are a choking hazard.  If you insist on using cord, at least make it short.

first trip with kiddie paddles (ages 7 and 4)

You are going to want to set out some in-boat rules, and they must be laid out days in advance of your departure.   They will need to be firmly deposited in your little ones memory bank.  Examples?  There will be no toys in the boat.  There will be no electronic devices including but not limited to cell phones, iPods, portable DVD players and handheld game devices.  Sunhats and sunscreen are a must.  For safety, children must respond to all instruction immediately and without fail.  I realize this sounds strict and like a bummer of a trip, but it makes the time more relaxing in the end.  If you’ve laid down the law well in advance, it heads off most arguments.  I get it.  You’re thinking to yourself, “This chick’s crazy.  What kids will agree to, let alone follow, these rules?”.  Or maybe you think your little one is, well, too little.  This harkens back to an earlier post about how toddlers are tricky.    You can reinforce how one of their jobs is to stay in the middle of the boat.  It’s their job to help keep the family safe.  If they veer over to the edge, they can feel the boat listing to that side.  This tippy feeling can in and of itself spook them into staying put.   Cause and effect.  “Oops.  Help Mommy keep us safe by staying in the middle”.  I honestly never had a problem with my boys in the boat.  Never a complaint, never a restless moment, never a fight.  And my boys are normally quite crazy.  For older kids that can’t be finessed into compliance, it’s simple.  Don’t make me turn this boat around.  No cooperation, no trip.

Let’s talk kids and paddles.  You can buy amazing quality paddles in kids sizes, and they

zach opts to sit in the bow

make for such cute photo ops, but also make for pain in the butt boat companions.  I thought that these would make my kid’s early trips more special and they would feel like they were contributing.  In reality, they were too small to reach over the edge and touch the water, so they leaned out further and further  to make contact.  Ahhhh!  This was a disaster waiting to happen and it made steering awful.  I put the kibosh on kids paddles until they were big enough to actually help out.  In fact Zach still doesn’t paddle during the actual trip, just during day outings.  Even then, with four of us in one boat, there is never enough room, or dexterity, to coordinate paddling in unison.  I have found myself sitting in the bow with teeth clenched tightly, trying not to freak out at the unsteady rhythm and the constant jostling.  That is something that I’m not going to miss.

zach and lambie take a turn (massasauga 2010)

So what do you do to entertain the kids if they don’t have paddles or toys?  My answer is simple.  Nothing.  How did you entertain YOURSELF before you ventured into the realm of family tripping?  You listen to the sweet sounds of paddles dipping and loons calling.  You keep a keen eye on shore in hopes of spotting a moose or maybe even a bear.  You laugh and talk

a bear seen from our boat in killarney

and dream.  Don’t rob your kids of a true wilderness experience by bringing home along with you.  With our over-scheduled lives filled with classes and lessons and late-night meetings, canoe tripping is an opportunity to connect

a deer seen from our boat in algonquin (pondweed lake)

with your kids.  Slow it down a bit and enjoy the time with each other.

Hot Fun in the Summertime

I don’t know what your neck of the woods is like today, but in Toronto it is H-O-T!  With the humidity it is hitting 43C.  I spent some time in the back yard earlier, but now I’m hiding in a dark room in the center of my house.  The fans are blasting, the popsicles are melting, and the cold bath is running.  Ahhhhh.

luke getting a refill

What if you’re in the woods though?  How do you deal with the heat when there is no a/c?  In extreme heat, you need to avoid heat stroke and stay comfortable.   Here are some tips:

  • High output activities (like hiking and paddling) should be reserved for the morning or the evening.  Save the middle of the day for quiet activities in the shade or swimming!
  • Drink, drink, drink.  You should be drinking regularly and more often than usual.  You’re not going to want to wait until you’re thirsty (this is a sign of dehydration) but rather hydrate BEFORE your body needs it, avoiding too much sugar , caffeine and alcohol.
  • Although you’ll probably be dying to strip down to bare essentials, loose-fitting, light coloured and breezy clothing that covers up your skin will help a lot.
  • Do you remember grade 9 science class?  I do.  The process of evaporation draws heat away from the surface (evaporative cooling).   What this means  is if something is wet, as it dries, the surface gets cooler.  In other words, get wet!

That last point reminds me of a trip that a friend and I took to Mexico.  We were backpacking and ended up in a small inland town.  We checked into the hostel in the middle of the night to 40C+ temperatures!  Everything was sweating.  We couldn’t sleep, heck we could barely breathe.  A couple of Australian girls down the hall gave us the tip that saved us from the suffering.  Get wet.  My companion and I took turns jumping into the shower fully clothed and lying on our beds until we dried off.  The cotton held the water and so the cooling effect lasted longer than if we’d gone au naturel .  The next day involved climbing pyramids in the middle of the hottest day I have ever experienced.  We survived, and so will you.

Just grab your water bottle and your sunscreen and plan your days accordingly.  Most of all, enjoy the heat.  It lasts for such a short time.

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