September 15, 2011

Learn to Fly!

Joanne & Eithne 
I mentioned that my adventure group has been making the most of great deals from LivingSocial and Groupon. A few weeks ago, three of us spent $40 on a 1-hour flying experience that allowed us to pilot a little Cessna around our part of Maryland.  My friend, Eithne, captured the experience.

Eithne, Casey and the Cessna
“Getting away from it all” usually means taking a trip or vacation, but on August 7th Michaelle, Joanne and I literally and figuratively got away--we took off, left the ground and went flying. I have flown around the world, from Ireland to Australia, to the US and back to Ireland but in the past I have relied on folks who knew what they were doing, they flew the plane. This time, we took off and for 30 minutes each we held the controls! We were lucky, the weather cooperated and we had a terrific instructor, Casey, who although he looked 12 years old, swore he was 24 and had over 800 flying hours behind him! In for a penny in for a pound!

After about 30 minutes of “ground” instruction we were off. I went first - it was truly amazing, we were 2,000 feet above ground, close enough to see houses, cars driving by, swimming pools, and even people – for miles! As Joanne said “I can see why people get hooked.” It was also a little surreal to know that this plane was truly in our hands, we were flying! In the DC metropolitan area flight preparations are unique, because we are sandwiched between the White House and Camp David. We learned that filing an accurate flight plan is crucial, adhering to it even more crucial. Casey kept us on the straight and narrow and also ensured we stayed far away from other planes! Smaller airports do not have a control tower so navigating in the sky is dependent on the pilot being in constant communication with fellow pilots. Casey spoke to several during our 90 minute flight primarily to negotiate landing order. Suddenly, planes we could not see would appear from the clouds and land ahead of us, just as they had planned during their radio communication, it was remarkable!
In the pilot's seat

I flew from Montgomery Airpark landed in Frederick, Michaelle flew from Frederick to Carroll County and Joanne flew the home leg. Thankfully, Casey landed for all three of us and we were once again on terra firma. The next day in work, as usual, we talked about what we did over the weekend there were a few raised eyebrows when for the first time in my life but hopefully not the last I said, “I flew a plane, how about you?”

One note of congratulations to our flight instructor, Casey. He's the NFL's new Sunday-night aerial man. Next time you see an eagle's view of the stadium, you'll know who's piloting that plane!

Watch Eithne take to the skies in this video:

September 12, 2011

Anne's 1000 Mile Challenge: Final Entry

Taking a well-earned break

Outdoor Contributor, Anne, has  spent a chunk of the summer on a new project and a new training journal.  This is her final post about her 1,000-mile challenge.

My original goal was to move 1000 miles and lose 10 pounds by Labor Day. So, how did I do? Well, as of Labor Day, I had moved 533 miles, and I lost two pounds. By some measures, you would say that I hadn’t done very well at attaining my goal, and on some days I would agree. However, I’m trying to look at the more positive side of things. When I set the goal, I didn’t even know if 1000 miles was possible, and I didn’t gain any weight.

If I had confined my activity to biking, I might have made my goal. Instead I biked, hiked, canoed/kayaked, and even swam twice. I’m still tracking my distance to see how long it takes me to hit 1000 miles. Now, I’m at 606 miles. I’ve biked 419 miles, I’ve walked/hiked/backpacked 126 miles, and I’ve canoed/kayaked/swam 61 miles. I’ve covered some ground.

Here are a few of the things I’ve done this summer to help me get towards my goal.

  • I hiked 10+ miles in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.  It was a lovely day with a walk past more than four alpine lakes, and over a pass into a beautiful, glaciated valley.
  • I went on a couple of great kayaking trips on Flathead Lake.  One was to some pictographs only accessible by water, and the other was to some islands we had never been to before.
  • I counted my floats down the Clark Fork River in inner tubes—a summer tradition in Missoula. On a hot day, people float through town on the river on inner tubes, drinking adult beverages. It’s a very relaxing summer time activity.
  • I went on a backpacking trip to Trask Lakes in the Flint Creek Range.  I hadn’t taken a backpacking trip in more than five years, but managed to make it six miles into this alpine basin where hardly anyone goes.
 Looking ahead, I’m doing the Tour de Cure next weekend, but I don’t have any other major expedition plans. I don’t think I’ll get to 1000 miles until the end of October, but I’ll keep trying. As to the weight thing, I think I’ll have to address that in another post later.


August 15, 2011

skydiving: It's nothing but "Wow!"

Thank goodness for discount deal sites like LivingSocial and Groupon. Without them, I wouldn't have had the time of my life last Sunday strapped to a barefoot stranger and falling to earth at 120 mph.

Katy & Joanne
Four members of my adventure group, Joanne, Katy, Sheryl and I, purchased a great LivingSocial deal for a tandem skydive and we were beyond excited! We booked our dive date and headed out to Warrenton Air Park in the Virginia countryside.  At least Joanne, Katy and I did. It turns out tandem skydiving is wildly popular and by the time Sheryl tried to make a reservation, they were booked solid for another month.

But back to our trip, Katy drove for about an hour and a half while I did a terrible job of navigating. Happily, we eventually found our tiny airport and were a little surprised to discover the grass runway, spraypainted directional signs and a pack of canine greeters.

My surprise was rooted in my past experiences. I'll admit right now that I have never been skydiving and I don't know anyone else who has. My expectations were totally formed by TV and movies and included harnessed soldiers packed into the belly of a big plane, instructors yelling "Go! Go! Go!" and dozens of circular parachutes drifting down over WWII France.  It wasn't like the Army. Not even a little bit. My experience was very laid back, more like camp counselors at 10,000 feet.

While the airport and staff were exceptionally casual, the legal waiver was by far the most intimidating we had ever seen.  Once it was signed and initialed in 24 places (really) AND once I'd paid an additional $85 for a video (more than worth it!) we were ready for harnesses and a few minutes of instruction. My instructor, Chris, was wearing shorts, T-shirt and a wrist cam but nothing below the knee. I suspect he enjoyed the feeling of wind between his toes. Finally, Joanne, two instructors and I squeezed into a little plane stripped of everything but a pilot and we were off. (Katy shared a plane with a kid celebrating his 21st birthday.) During our two-mile ascent, Chris, rechecked the gear, hooked our harnesses together and reviewed the dive procedure:
  • pay attention,
  • when leaving the plane, grip the front of the harness and ARCH YOUR BACK,
  • let your feet go back toward your posterior,
  • maintain this position until you feel 3 taps on your shoulder then arms out and enjoy 5,000 feet of free fall at 120 mph.
Free fall.  Honestly, I was not worried. Maybe it was because I had no responsibilities, maybe it was because I had complete confidence in my instructor, maybe it was because I'm not afraid of heights (though I was nervous on that 25 foot trapeze platform). Nope, not worried at all HOWEVER those first 10 seconds were crazy! As Chris opened the little door to my left, the wind and noise smacked me in the face. Then, suddenly there was nothing around us but air. The plane was leaving and we were alone in the sky accelerating, face first, toward the ground. I wasn't expecting noise but the wind in my ears made it impossible to communicate. I was so distracted by... well...everything that I missed Chris' signal to let go of the harness and put my hands out. I have no idea if I was arching or not but suddenly the parachute was up, we slowed from 120 mph to 40mph and it got quieter.  Chris "let me steer" then asked if I like roller coasters. He pulled on the right cord and we went into a rapid spiral. Lord, it was fun! We chatted for a few minutes then suddenly we were sitting on the runway right in front of the crowd filling out their waivers.
Katy's flight

I've posted my video below so you can get a sense of the experience.  If you're into heights and speed, this adventure is a winner!  Thanks, Kesha, for being our on-the-ground photographer.

August 10, 2011

Anne's 1000 Mile Challenge: Bruised, battered, and behind

Outdoor Contributor, Anne, has a new project and a new training journal.  She'll be writing regular posts about her 1,000-mile challenge.

Scenic view of the North Fork of the Flathead

I truly meant to write a post a couple of weeks ago, but I have been in recovery mode from a river trip at the end of July.  So far on my goal of moving 1000 miles and losing 10 pounds by labor day, I have moved 350 miles and lost one pound.

An Update on my journey

As expected, the weight loss has been elusive. I’ve already started reading headlines on the tabloids in the check out line at the grocery—lose 10 pounds in 10 days. My brain knows this doesn’t work, but it sure would be nice if there was a magic way to lose weight.  I am eating more vegetables, less cheese, and drinking a lot less.  I’m still hoping to see some results.

On the movement end, one of our planned summer activities was a river float trip.  My husband, Eric, and I been planning to go with some friends that have a raft and two young children.  We planned to take our canoe, knowing that we have a lot of canoe experience, and we work together well as a team. We decided to float the North Fork of the Flathead River. This beautiful river flows on the Westside of Glacier National Park.  Most of the time, the beautiful mountain crest of Glacier is visible, and there’s always the possibility of seeing moose, black bears, and even grizzlies. 

Me in the front of the canoe
For our expedition, we put our boats on the river at the Canadian border. Since this was the first multi-day float trip for all of us, it took some time to load the boats.  We didn’t actually get on the water until two in the afternoon. We paddled for a couple of hours before calling it a night at a primitive (no toilets or water) campsite. We wanted to rest up before the only real rapids on the trip—upper and lower Kintla Rapids. Both are rated Class II. The water is still really high this year. The flow on the North Fork is setting a record this year. Eric also tried to cover up the front part of the canoe because we were having to bail all the time.  We were carrying about 400 pounds of gear so the canoe was riding low.

On the second day we set out and the canoe was doing better at keeping the water out of my lap in the front of the boat.  After a couple of miles we got to the rapids. We set up nicely, straight down the middle. The waves didn’t look too high, but appearance from a distance can be deceiving.  We swamped. We had so much water in the canoe that only a couple of inches of the gunnels were above water.  We went into shore to bail and regroup before the next waves. We got out of the canoe while the water was still raging. Eric had no problems finding his footing, but somehow, I ended up being swept away and farther down the river. Judging from the bruises on the right side of my body, I hit a lot of rocks before I was able to get to shore again. 

Ellie and our homemade decking to keep the water out
After bailing the canoe and assessing our situation, we were missing one dry bag, a GPS, and not much else.  We looked down the river; there was one more small rapid to run.  We decided to take a conservative line that was going to require some hard paddling. Our friends in the raft went ahead. They had no trouble.  However, we did.  When we tried to cross the river to avoid a big wave, we tipped completely over. This time I was able to stay with the boat. So was Eric. We floated down the river about a mile, holding on to the upside-down canoe, before our friends were able to pull us in.  Needless to say, I wasn’t overjoyed about spending the rest of the day in the canoe. So we switched out with the people on the raft. Our friend Jody went into the canoe with Eric, and I rode in the raft with his wife Casey and their two kids. 

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. The third day I was in the canoe and had a great time. We learned a lot on this trip—always wear your life jacket and I don’t like whitewater canoeing. 


July 18, 2011

Anne's 1000 Mile Challenge: 967 Miles and 10 Pounds to Go

Outdoor Contributor, Anne, has a new project and a new training journal.  She'll be writing regular posts about her 1000-mile challenge:

A few of my modes of travel: sea kayak, bike, swimsuit, running shoes, and hiking shoes

I'm very goal oriented.  If I set a goal that I care about, I usually hit it.  Losing weight is not a goal I've been able to do very well.  I can try to blame it on menopause, but I think I just eat too much. Anyway, this last week I decided I had to get serious about losing a few pounds.  I have another reason to care--at my most recent check up in March, my cholesterol was higher that it should be. I'm getting it re-checked in September, and I want it to go down by then.

The first half of my new goal is to lose 10 pounds by Labor Day.

But wait, there's more.  There was a challenge posted on the Weight Watchers website: lose 10 pounds by Labor Day, and move 100 miles.  I looked at that and said, "but I can go 100 miles in a week if I include biking. I need something more serious." So I decided that I needed to move 1,000 miles by Labor Day.  The only thing that counts is self-propelled travel.  I will bike, hike, walk, paddle, swim, or pogo-stick 1000 miles by Labor Day. I started this week, and I've done a measly 33 miles so far.  

When I told my husband, Eric, my plan, he suggested that I was crazy.  He said that there are only 9 weeks until Labor Day, and then he proceeded to do the math.  I need to do approximately 110 miles per week.  Well, it's not a challenge if it's easy.  

I'll post my progress and talk about the obstacles that come my way.  I’m going to keep track of all my miles, and I will keep track of what I eat on the Weight Watchers online site. There might even be a few funny stories--probably at my expense.


PS. I liked the headline even though a week has gone by since I wrote it.  Now, I only have 884 miles to go, but I’ve gained a pound (yikes).  Today, I hiked three miles with my dogs.

Some of my travel companions

February 19, 2011

Be the Dragon: join a dragon boat team

Dragon Boat  Photo credit: Morgan Crawford
Q: What traditional Chinese festival takes place on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month?
A: The Dragon Boat Festival, and if you start now, you and 21 of your closest friends can be part of something really exciting!
A couple of years ago, some friends and I discovered the DC Dragon Boat Festival – a weekend when the Potomac River fills with colorful 22-person canoes complete with scales and fierce dragon heads.  Why are floating dragons in Washington? They’re looking for blood because this festival is a two-day, high speed, competitive regatta. Naturally, we wanted to be part of the action.
Fortunately for my adventure club, Dragon Boat Festivals are open to community groups as well as corporate and “competition” (i.e serious) teams. When we realized we'd need  25-ish people on our roster (paddlers and alternates) we decided to look beyond the usual adventurous women. We coerced our families and begged our friends until we had enough to form our own team:  “We Be Draggin’.” With half of the crew topping the 50-year mark and the other half covering the span between 12 and 49, “We Be Draggin’” was a motley band and we took to the water like a penguin takes to flight.  But there’s a nice ending to this story so don’t think that age or talent should keep you from jumping into a dragon-headed canoe of your own. (Yes, I’m sure there is a Dragon Boat Festival near you!)
We Be Draggin' after practice
Registration for the DC festival was fast and furious and we were on the waiting list for weeks before making the final roster. Once official though, we were able to sign up for three 1-hour training sessions with an experienced paddler.  (Clearly, this isn't a huge time commitment.)

Practice one:  It was cold. We struggled into our grungy, public-use life vests as a toned team of kids in matching Under Armour and professional paddles ignored us.  Training involved:

Water safety (what to do if you fall out of your boat)
Paddling technique (it’s a full-body experience)
Paddling in unison (harder than you think)
Paddling speed (starting off, race pace, SPRINT!)

Practice two: it was warmer. Our trainer told us we were improving...a bit

Practice three: Initially, our trainer yelled instructions, helped us set the pace and kept us in sync.  By our third session, however, that job fell to the drummer.

The drummer is perched on a tiny “seat” in the bow of the boat (see top photo). She faces the paddlers as well as the steerer who stands in the stern. If the drummer is good, her efforts get the boat off the starting line quickly, establish an efficient race pace, and then inspire the team to a sprint finish. If the race doesn't go well, everyone knows whom to blame.
Festival Day: I was the drummer for our first official race and I good.  This proved to be a mixed blessing. Our poor showing in the first heat meant we were placed in one of the lower (slower) divisions. Our second drummer, Eithne, realized that the elderly folk in our boat only had one good burst of speed and decided to forgo the warm up sprints. She also decided that we couldn’t paddle in unison AND change pace so she adopted the “sprint from beginning to end” strategy -- which worked!  We won our next two races and moved into the finals.

We Be Draggin' preparing for finals
Final race: Most teams prepped for finals by working on timing and technique with dry-land drills. We Be Draggin's strengths lay in other areas so we concentrated on storing energy.

As our final race approached, Eithne settled into her drum seat and beat a steady, don't-hurt-yourself pace to get our boat into starting position. The wind over the Potomac calmed and the waves lulled our dragon into thinking we were out of contention. But as soon as the starting gun fired, the combined energy of our frenzied drummer and her crew rocketed us into the river, kept us neck and neck with the two high school teams to our right and left and finally allowed us to inch into the lead.  In the end, We Be Draggin' went home with gold (in the D division).

It was a very good day.

We Be Draggin' takes the lead in the final race    Photo credit: B. Mulvihill

To read a little more about the history of the Dragon Boat Festival, click here.

Check out these resources to find a Dragon Boat Festival near you.  You're just in time to get ready for the 2011 season!



Los Angeles

Nova Scotia



The American Dragon Boat Association

The International Dragon Boat Federation

Worldwide Dragon Boat Calendar

January 13, 2011

Time to Plan Your Adventurous Year

Every January, my adventure club, the League of Adventurous Women, gathers to vote on four official adventures for the year. We always end up with bonus activities because opportunities just pop up.  For example, we have yet to hold our meeting but we've already tried a free CrossFit/Russian kettlebell workout (thanks to Michael Krivka at CrossFit Koncepts), and have formed a team for the Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure, June 4, in Washington, DC.

I'll let you know the results of our annual meeting but with such a great beginning, it's sure to be a fabulous year! What's on YOUR agenda for 2011?

January 8, 2011

A Stellar Idea!

I read about 10-year-old Kathryn Gray's discovery of a supernova and thought it was time to post something about one of my favorite sit-at-the-computer adventures: Galaxy Zoo. (You can't be on the trapeze or playing paintball ALL the time.)  I thought I was being creative but then I heard Ira Flatow discussing it on Science Friday. I guess there must be something in the atmosphere....

What is Galaxy Zoo? It's another citizen-scientist opportunity that allows you to help researchers make amazing discoveries.  The Galaxy Zoo Web site offers a brief tutorial about the characteristics of galaxies and then you get to look at pictures captured by the Hubble telescope and apply your new knowledge.  It's ordinary citizens like us that help scientists process the tons of data coming from their research.

Galaxies aren't the only thing in the universe, visit Zooniverse to participate in research on sunspots, supernovae, new planets, and more.

If outer space isn't your thing, check out some of these other citizen scientist opportunities:

Track bees with The Great Sunflower Project

Track the seasonal changes in your own backyard with the USA National Phrenology Network

Or mark your calendars for The Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count.

Actually, there are so many things you can do, there's a whole site dedicated to citizen science projects.  Oddly enough, it's called Science for Citizens.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA