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Still Paddling

 Aug 13, 2019 8:00 AM
by Helen Spence

Every summer for the past 21 years the same group of “wild” women has gotten together for an annual canoe outing in Algonquin Park. We started this tradition in our 50s and have continued well into our 70s. Our intention is to keep on canoeing until we can’t. 

If you ask any of us if we consider ourselves to be old, I can assure you that the answer will be a firm “no”. 

Granted, many of us have replaced knees, hips and other body parts and we have modified our portage lengths considerably, but we have never considered giving up our annual summer event. In fact, if anything, we gather more frequently during the other three seasons, allegedly planning our next adventure, but actually celebrating the friendship and the fact that we can still paddle.

Are we crazy or foolhardy? I don’t think so. We don’t take any major risks and we adapt our portaging strategy to how much weight we can carry for the distance. Those who are truly fit return multiple times to bring our belongings to the next lake or river entry. We may not enjoy the mosquitoes and deer flies that buzz around us when both hands are occupied carrying packs, paddles and canoes, but we suck it up and depend on “After Bite” when we fall into our tents at night.

Tents! Herein lies the biggest challenge---getting into and out of a tent at any time of day is a nuisance, but going out at night to the kaibo is definitely awkward. Climbing over one or more tent mates to get out for a midnight pee is an endurance test. Can I hold on for one more hour or do I really have to go now?  

And yet it’s the simple things that have created lasting memories for us.  Sometimes we spot a moose in the marsh ahead or see a great blue heron take off.  Sometimes we find the perfect rock for our sunset drinks and find two camping sites that are adjacent to one another so that we can tell stories and laugh til we cry.

 So, no, when we are on these trips, we don’t think of ourselves as old. The word refers to a chronological number that doesn’t reflect the way we feel. We know we are privileged to be financially and physically able to still enjoy canoeing, but the things that keep us all feeling more youthful are things that anyone can do regardless of age. 

All the research points to how longevity and quality of life increases if the following can become components of your life: 

  • Push yourself outside your comfort zone from time to time. It helps with perspective taking and valuing what you do have.
  • Be grateful that you can physically take part in activity. Optimism promotes well-being.
  • Learn. Develop new skills and abilities (reading maps, j-stroke, gain an understanding of the flora and fauna of the environment, etc.).
  • Incorporate physical activity and nutritious meals into your lifestyle. Good health depends on it. 
  • Seek social interaction. Isolation and loneliness have been found to bring on early death.
  • De-stress. 

Our annual event touches on every one of these and the whole experience is best summarized by the following, written by one of our crew.  While I love the physical challenge and proving to ourselves that we still have it in us, I probably love the camaraderie more. The humour, the interesting discussions and the outright silliness from time to time are the best. You don’t have to be chronologically young to be silly, but you do have to push yourself into new situations to learn, grow and enrich your life.

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