Ladies, It’s Time to Get: Outdoors!

After my failed attempt to paddle down the Yadkin in a tiny kayak a couple of months ago, I was in search of two things: someone who could fit me for the right sized kayak, and someone who could teach me how to maneuver it correctly. I was told that Great Outdoor Provision Co. would hold demos but when I checked their event calendar online, all local demos had already passed. I was starting to convince myself that it would be springtime before I would get to be fitted, when out-of-the-blue, a friend told me about a Demo Day in Greensboro through a company called Get: Outdoors. It was scheduled for July 23, and I already had plans for that day, so I jumped on the company’s website hopeful to find more Demo Days scheduled. What I found was even better.

Get: Outdoors has an amazing program called Women on the Water. (I love that the acronym is GO WOW.) The program is lead by JoAndra Proia, an ACA Certified Kayaking Instructor/Guide and Yoga Instructor. GO WOW offers women encouragement, support, and training for paddling flat water and beyond. Jo is passionate about unplugging from the digital world, sharing her knowledge of wildlife and nature, and teaching outdoor safety from kayaking to camping skills to first aid. Not only does GO WOW offer instruction, but they have many opportunities to utilize the skills that are learned in class with both day trips and overnight adventures. And it’s all for women only. How empowering!

I picked up the phone and immediately called Get: Outdoors to register for two classes that were being held on the same day, Intro to Kayaking and Foundations & Fundamentals 1. They were both held at the same location, one right after the other. The classes were only $35 each for two hours of instruction. The cost included kayak, life vest (PFDs), paddle, and lake fee. When I registered, I explained my previous experience and what I was hoping to find in a kayak. I was told that there would be several options of kayaks to choose from that day, and that fitting/demo was part of the class. I was ecstatic!

Just as promised, on the day of the class I was given the opportunity to demo any of the kayaks that Jo had brought. After chatting with her, and checking out the different makes and models, I ended up falling in love with the Perception Prodigy 12.0. It handled so easily, was just the right speed for me, and was surprisingly comfortable. At 12′ long, it only weighs around 50lbs. It includes knee/thigh pads around the open cockpit, slide lock foot braces, and an oval stern hatch.

The Intro to Kayaking class began at 10am. Many of us had very little paddling experience; some of us had no experience at all. Jo was thorough in making sure we were prepared well before we launched our boats. We had a PFD demonstration followed by how to enter and exit our kayaks. Once we were in the water, we covered the basics: forward paddle, reverse paddle, side sweep, and how to raft up.


Here are the participants from the Intro to Kayaking class at our first raft up. That’s me on the far right, at the end.


We’re working on our paddle grip in this photo. I have a tendency to hold my paddle too tight. The correct grip allows you to be able to wiggle your fingers. It took some getting used to, but I finally got it!


Jo had us team up to work on our side stroke. It’s hard to tell if you’re moving sideways without a stationary kayak beside of you. One of us would sit while the other paddled away. That way, we could better tell if we were actually moving to the side or forward.

At noon, class dismissed. Some of the ladies left. The three of us who were staying for the 1pm class had a nice lunch under the lake’s picnic shelter with Jo. We were able to ask additional questions and chat about paddling in general. It was fun learning about the history of Get: Outdoors, and all of Jo’s adventures!


At 1pm, the Foundations & Fundamentals class got underway. Those of us who had attended the morning class helped the “new” students with prepping. We grabbed a partner and shared our new-found knowledge with step-by-step instructions for PDFs and foot brace adjustment.

Once everyone was ready and boats were selected (I remained in the Prodigy), we headed back out on the water to learn more advanced maneuvers like “rainbow” sweeps, edging, steering with our hips, and spinning the kayak.

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Our afternoon raft up. 🙂


We even got in a little kay-yoga!

When class finished, we helped Jo load our kayaks back onto the trailer. I whispered “see you again soon” to the Prodigy, since Jo wouldn’t let me take her on home with me. haha [Get: Outdoors has an end-of-season sale in September where they offer their used boats at a discounted price. I am hoping to attend the sale and find my new-to-me kayak just in time for some last-minute fall paddling.] I left the marina around 3:15pm with a huge smile on my face. Yes, I had just received four hours of very educational training… but I also gained so much more. I had a new-found confidence, met some great people, and even had a sun-kissed glow on my arms and legs. (Hey, I don’t tan very easily so that’s a big deal to me!) It was such a wonderful experience. I just wanted to find a kayak that fit me but instead, I have found a new community of women with whom I can be adventurous.

Ladies, if you live in or around the NC Triad area and have ever considered paddling but aren’t sure where to begin, I highly recommend GO WOW. It is an experience that you will not regret. I hope to see you all on the water soon!


Happy Paddling!

I was not compensated for this post, and it contains no affiliate links. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way. Photo credit: JoAndra Proia

Kayaking Adventure

North Carolina is a wonderful place to live. (If you don’t live here, you should really consider a visit!) We’re blessed with so much in this state; from the highest peaks to the islands on our coast, there are a lot of places to see and things to do. So much so that I have barely scratched the surface myself, and I am a native Carolinian. I’ve decided, in my quest to visit all 50 states, that I would also make an effort to explore more of my own home state.

One adventure that I recently took was a river tour via kayak with Yadkin Riverkeeper. They’re a fantastic group of avid paddlers and environmentalists who have committed to promoting clean, healthy rivers… particularly the Yadkin River. The Yadkin is one of the longest rivers in NC, and is the northernmost part of the Pee Dee Drainage Basin. Most of their events take place in the summer, and are often relaxing, family-friendly journeys. If you don’t own a kayak/canoe, you can rent them from the organization for a minimal fee. (Roughly $30-40) The registration fee is $20.

[Side note: A coworker recently took up paddling. It sounded like something I would be interested in, since I always enjoyed white water rafting in my younger days. The idea of taking up paddling as a hobby piqued my interest, so I quickly considered purchasing my own kayak. In less than one week from making that decision, my neighbor (whom I didn’t even realize had a kayak) was selling his Pelican Vortex 80x for a very reasonable price. It was affordable. It was convenient. And it was blue… my favorite color. So I bought it!]

My coworker and I registered for the next available river tour and started planning our adventure. Two days before we were scheduled to leave, I realized that my kayak had a weight limit, and I was dangerously close to it. I started asking friends who paddle if I should be concerned but everyone seemed to think I would be fine. I even asked one of the outfitters on the day of the river tour, and he seemed to think I would be fine too. He did tell me that he would make sure that I looked safe before I launched though. He was kind enough to offer a rental kayak or even shuttle me back to my car if he felt I couldn’t make it down river in my own kayak.

All seemed a go when I climbed inside my boat, and we decided that he’d give me a push. I headed out into the river… and within three paddles, I immediately felt uneasy. I didn’t feel like I was going to sink, which was my initial fear. The Pelican Vortex was too fast, turned very quickly, and was unsteady for me. My experience on rivers had been in larger boats, longer and wider. I had never maneuvered something this small, and I was all over the river! And that’s when I realized, out of the 60+ paddlers in our group on the Yadkin at that moment, I had the smallest kayak. Even the professionals were in longer kayaks.

I basically had to let the water carry me (the river was low and the current wasn’t very fast for the most part) and I only paddled when I needed to over correct or stay upright. Despite traveling about 1/3 of the way trying to relax, I was overexerting myself. My muscles were tense and I was beyond thirsty… all because I was in a poorly sized kayak.  About that time, a guide – one of several scattered throughout the course to ensure all paddlers are comfortable and safe, came up from behind me. He apparently could tell I was struggling. After a short chat, he asked if I wanted out. I wasn’t sure if he meant ‘out of the river’ (which I didn’t want because the adventure was really cool) I replied, “I would like to be out of this kayak. I’m too big for this boat. I need a bigger one!”

Without hesitation, he made a quick call and within 60 seconds (or less), I was being circled by paddlers and a raft was on the way. As a runner, I have always bragged about how incredibly helpful and motivating that community is, but I have to admit that this community of paddlers were equally, if not MORE, supportive. I was so impressed with their care and concern, as well as their encouragement.

When the raft arrived, several paddlers cornered my kayak against it with theirs. It steadied my boat enough for me to be able to climb into the raft. Since there were no access points on the river for me to unload my kayak or get a bigger one, we ended up having to tie mine to the raft. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed to not get to experience the entire adventure in a kayak… but I still was able to see over 10 miles of the Yadkin from the river itself. (And Justin, who was rowing the giant 150lb raft – with two heavy objects in it, a full Yeti cooler and me! – couldn’t have been more awesome. We chatted, we told jokes, and we may or may not have sang a little too.

Despite the river tour not going completely as planned for me, I still strongly recommend it. You will be safe because you are surrounded by some of the best people I have ever met, and you will have a great time. Just make sure you have the properly sized boat. If you’re unsure of what style/model/size boat that you need, please go see the folks at Great Outdoor Provision Co. They have locations throughout NC. They’re located in Thruway Shopping Center in Winston-Salem, and in Friendly Shopping Center in Greensboro. Each location will hold a Demo Day where you can get expert advice on the right boat(s) for you, and then try them out before you buy them. (You can bet that I will be at the next one. Let this be a lesson learned… do not buy your kayak from a yard sale if you have never owned a kayak before, even if it is your neighbor selling it!)

If you would like to take up paddling but need to learn the basics, you can also find classes and meetups through your local Great Outdoor Provision Co. or contact the awesome folks at Yadkin Riverkeeper.

Paddling the rivers of NC is a unique way to experience this state. It’s a great alternative to a more expensive (and often less adventurous) vacation too. If you have any questions, please comment below or reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter. I hope I see y’all out on the water soon!

[Click here to see a video, courtesy of and copyrighted by Justin.]

Chicago: My Recap of Chitown

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago with five of my friends. I had never been before, and was unsure of what to expect. A large city in the midwest isn’t exactly my idea of a dreamy vacation. I’m more of a slow, southern riverfront or tropical beach kind-of-girl. But I have realized that the older I get, the more I want to see and do. And I think that includes travel to all fifty states. So when my friends suggested the trip, I was all in. I justified the expense as my 40th birthday present to myself.

To my surprise, I fell in love with Chicago. It is such a beautiful city, richly filled with history and culture. I won’t bore you with every detail of the vacation, but I do want to highlight some things. I should probably remind you that we traveled on Friday and Tuesday, so we only had three full days to explore. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do, but here is a list of my favorites from my first trip to Chitown.

Landmarks:
Buckingham Fountain – Located in the center of Grant Park, just off of the Magnificent Mile and adjacent to Lake Michigan, this towering fountain operates from April to October. It is accompanied by lights and music, and is quite the show! (Note: if there are any Married… with Children fans reading, this is the fountain shown in the opening title sequence of the show.)

Chicago Theater – This theater was the first large and lavish movie palace in the US. It is located in the Loop, on N. State Street. We didn’t have the opportunity to take a tour inside, but we certainly stopped for a selfie with the iconic sign.

The Bean – Apparently, its official title is Cloud Gate, but it has been nicknamed ‘The Bean’ because of its shape. It weighs roughly 100 tons, and is made of polished stainless steel. The sculpture can be found in Millennium Park within the Loop, just off of Michigan Avenue. My favorite part of visiting? The underneath of the sculpture. Do yourself a favor and don’t just observe the sculpture from the perimeter. Head under the “omphalos” … it’s the concave chamber also known as “the navel”. It produces the most beautiful distortions.


{Look up!! Seriously. The inside is crazy awesome!!}

Navy Pier – There is so much to take in at Navy Pier. There are too many restaurants and gift shops to name. However, one highlight from the pier is the newly renovated Centennial Wheel. It’s the first and only one of its kind in the US. The Ferris wheel stands nearly 200 ft tall and overlooks Lake Michigan.

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge – It is said that this jazz club, located in Uptown, was a local hangout during the prohibition era for various gangsters. The most well known, Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone, was said to have a secret hatch in the club that led to underground tunnels. You can request to sit in his favorite booth, but don’t ask to tour the tunnels… you will be denied.

Willis Tower – Formerly, and most well-known as, Sears Tower, Willis Tower is the home of the SkyDeck Ledge. The building itself, located on S. Wacker Drive in the Loop, is 108 stories. The Ledge is located on the 103rd floor. Access to the Ledge is via an elevator that travels the distance in a short 60 seconds. Between 1973 and 1998, Willis Tower was the tallest building in the world.

Wrigley Field – With its ivy-covered brick outfield and its hand-turned scoreboard, this Major League baseball field (and home of the Chicago Cubs) is beyond charming. It’s the oldest National League ballpark. I love that it’s tucked away between brownstones and local bars, right near the Clark/Addison “L” stops, in the quaint community of Lakeview in North Side. See below (Cubs Game) for additional information!

Restaurants:
Fiesta Mexicana – We rented a brownstone in Uptown just around the corner from this incredibly delicious restaurant. The food was authentic, flavorful, and reasonably priced.

The Parthenon – Oh my goodness! We stumbled upon this little piece of heaven on S. Halsted in Greektown. The restaurant and its staff gave us incredible, authentic food as well as a history lesson, too. As wonderful as the food and atmosphere were, I enjoyed meeting Yanna the most. She owns the restaurant, which her father started in 1968. The coolest part of it all? Her father created Flaming Saganaki. CREATED. IT.

Things to Do:
Memorial Day Parade – Little did we know that Chicago hosts the largest Memorial Day parade in the country. It travels down State Street. We found that the best place to watch was at the intersection of State and Madison, just outside of Target. Center Stage was located here so we could hear all of the announcements that went along with the parade.

Architectural Boat Tour – If you have an hour or so to spare, consider boarding the sightseeing barge at Navy Pier and heading up the Chicago River. The tour itself not only highlights the gorgeous architecture of the city’s many skyscrapers but you’ll also learn historical facts about Chicago, as well as some interesting folklore. [Side note: Check Groupon for deals!]

Chicago Cubs Game – Even if you’re not a huge baseball fan, the experience of catching a game in Wrigley Field is history in the making. Not only is Wrigley Field the second oldest ballpark in the US, but the Cubs fans are some of the best around. Even if they’re playing your favorite team (like they played my LA Dodgers while I was in town), hope for a Cubs win. There is something extra special about that team winning at home. You’ll see what I mean if you’re lucky enough to witness it first hand.

I cannot wait to head back to Chicago. There are so many places that I wanted to see but didn’t have time. There are a lot of places that I want to revisit. I want to catch some shows, and head to the beach on Lake Michigan. And truthfully, I just want to soak in this city. The history of our country fascinates me, and Chicago holds so much. I strongly recommend a Chicago vacation… even for my fellow beach bums.

 

(All photos in this post and on this site are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.)

New Luggage

It’s time to replace Big Blue!

For Christmas in 2005, my friends’ parents gifted me with my first set of luggage. I remember being nearly brought to tears; it was a nice set that, at that time, I couldn’t have invested in myself… and it was my favorite color, royal blue. Their gift was prompted by two traveling experiences that I had earlier in the year. The first was a week-long vacation in April to the Bahamas where I packed only in a carry-on I had picked up just a few weeks before the trip. (Thankfully, it was the Bahamas and I spent most of the time in bathing suits.) The problem of space surfaced when I had to travel to Washington DC on a week-long business trip that November. I simply could not fit my required convention uniforms, casual clothing – like jeans and sweaters, and boots into my carry-on bag. Having just returned from modeling in Paris where she had packed clothing and souvenirs in her giant red suitcase, I asked my friend Jill if I could borrow her luggage for the winter trip. It was then that I realized what I was missing by not having a set, and apparently it was then that her mom decided to invest in my future travel. 🙂

Jump ahead to today. My niece has officially settled into her dorm. I have a feeling she will begin her own journey of traveling soon, whether it’s with her new college friends or simply back home for fall break. Regardless, I started having a gut feeling that she needed luggage. Nothing fancy. Something that could get damaged or easily be replaced if necessary. Think about it… college road trips and life in a dorm aren’t the best environments for many material things. Ha! With my upcoming travels, it hit me; why not upgrade my luggage set and give Kim my trusty blue suitcases. They nestle in each other for easy storage. They’re reliable. They’re perfect for a student.

It didn’t take long to find their replacement. Kohl’s was advertising a 3-piece set in a catchy black-and-cream colored pattern. Regularly retailing at $249.99, the luggage set was marked down to an unbelievable low price. And because the total was over $75, I would receive free shipping! I jumped at the chance to buy it. I feel like I can easily add to the set in the future, if necessary, by just buying solid black pieces. But here’s the best part… if you search for “valid Kohl’s promo codes” you actually find online promotional codes! I found a 15% off code and literally feel like I’m getting this luggage at a steal. When it arrives, I will write a review to compare it to my current blue set. I’m excited for my niece and myself. Maybe now we can plan an adventure together!

Obsessed Over Packing

Am I the only person who obsesses over packing for a trip? Out of most of my friends… I seem to be. Perhaps I don’t travel enough? Maybe it’s anxiety? Is it a disorder? Certainly it isn’t vanity, is it?

Usually when I start to prepare for a trip, no matter the length of time I’ll be away, I start with a spreadsheet. I list out the days I will be away and any events that I will be attending while there. Then I write down some of my favorite clothing items or maybe something special that I purchased for the event. I get specific, down to shoes and accessories. Then I spend the next couple of weeks (yes… this begins at least 2 weeks out) fine-tuning my list. My reasoning? One, it ensures I won’t forget anything. It also prevents me from over-packing. Or does it?

I understand the absurdity of this process. It actually makes me sad. Why can’t I pack the day before I leave, like most people do? Will it be THAT bad if I forget to pack an extra outfit (in the event of an emergency?), toothpaste, or the “perfect” earrings for that Saturday night dress? The majority of the places I travel to have shopping centers and grocery stores. If I forget sunscreen or socks, it isn’t like I can’t go buy them.

I remember, once, I went to the beach on a very sporadic weekend getaway. I was literally there only 2 nights. It was the fastest I had ever packed, and when I got to the beach… I had forgotten my swimsuit. Can you believe that? It sent me into a tailspin. I was with a friend, who wore the exact same size as me, and who had packed a plethora of every style and color swimsuit that you can imagine. A couple of them were even new. I still freaked out. Ridiculous, right? Because not only did I have options there in the hotel room… but I was AT THE BEACH. There are stores that sell swimsuits on every corner!! I just don’t understand why I am so traumatized at forgetting (or the thought of forgetting) something that can be easily replaced.

So here I sit, in front of my computer, checking off items on my spreadsheet as I pack for an upcoming conference. My carry-on is already packed to the gills, and everything isn’t in it yet, because I keep grabbing extra shirts out of the closet… you know, just in case. (In case of what, I have absolutely no clue! The conference only lasts two days.) The mentality of using a list to prevent over-packing, really only just causes more work and stress for me in the end. I still take too many things in an effort to not forget something.

Aside from suggesting therapy, does anyone have any helpful hints that they can share? When you travel, when do you pack? Do you have a system? What are ways you prevent over-packing? I would love to hear your tips!