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The US and Canada: A Love-Hate Relationship for My GPS June 29, 2008

Posted by dianehuhn in Travels.
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Last Fall I drove my Mom and Aunt to Chicago for my sister’s surprise 60th birthday party. In preparation, I spent a good chunk of time on MapQuest plotting our course and printing out all the possible directions we might need–from my Mom’s to the hotel; from the hotel to the church where the party would be; from the church back to the hotel; from the hotel to all of my nieces homes; from all of my nieces homes to the church, from each nieces home to the other, and on and on and on. After killing a small tree, we were off. And still, with our Sears catalog size stack of directions in hand, we got lost. Not just once, but several times. So I decided to make my last visit to MapQuest in order to obtain directions from the hotel to the nearest Circuit City to purchase my first GPS. Nearly a year later, I can’t imagine how I ever got along without it. Her name is Rita. Does everyone name their GPS?

So as I set out from Upstate New York to Southwestern Michigan yesterday, I summoned Rita to lead the way. Even though I know the trip by heart, it’s somewhat comforting to have Rita telling me to turn left and right and guiding me to the nearest Tim Horton’s. But a strange thing happens when I travel through Canada. Rita understands that cutting across Canada is the most direct route for my intended destination and dutifully guides me to the border. But as we get within a couple of miles of it, Rita apparently starts to get cold feet and begins telling me to take turns that will send me back to where I just came from. In a last ditch effort, Rita even tells me to make a legal U-turn in the middle of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. Once I’ve crossed the magic international boundary line over the Niagara River, however, Rita becomes happy again and cheerfully guides me to the US border.

If you think that Rita would be thrilled to cross back in to the US, you’d be wrong. Once again, as we approach that magic line, Rita begins her evasive maneuvers—turn right, turn left, make a legal U-turn, Canada is a beautiful country, let’s stay a while. As much as I do enjoy Canada, I was ready for some great lakes and great times, so I let Rita take a little nap.

What to do if your kayak encounters alligators… June 25, 2008

Posted by dianehuhn in Paddling.
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Took a paddle along Sampson State Park on Seneca Lake tonight. It was beautiful! Saw more fish than I’ve seen in a long time. More birds than I can name. Even saw a snake twisting it’s way across the surface, which I admit scared the heck out of me. It was huge. OK, well maybe it wasn’t that big. Well, actually it was just a baby snake. But it was still a snake and it was heading right for me! Well, I thought it was. Alright…I admit it. I’m a wimp.

Anyway, I can’t wait to paddle the bayous, but the snake incident got me to thinking. So, what am I going to do if I come across a gator??? Well, I decided to do a little research and share my findings with you in the event that you are ever in this situation. Here are some tips I found, but I’ve added a few of my own thoughts in boldface.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR KAYAK ENCOUNTERS ALLIGATORS:

When you happen on a gator, it will almost certainly run right into the water (and at that point I will undoubtedly be crying and sitting in a puddle of something other than water) . Although it appears to be charging, it is just trying to get into the water where it feels safest (are they completely sure about this? I mean if I’m scared of something, I tend to run away from it, not charge towards it.). Pay attention to the following in planning a paddle adventure in alligator territory:

1. Contact your local Fish & Game Dept for trends in predator activities such as mating and nesting season for alligators, seasonal behavior patterns and times of day of increased predator activity or recent attacks (yep, I’m scared). This is usually dusk & dawn, as darkness gives any predator an advantage (OK, no dusk or dawn paddles. Not a problem.); but don’t just rely on that (oh great!).

2. It is always smart to keep your wits about you (easy for you to say!), so stay sober (alright, but if I’m going to get eaten by a gator, do I really want to be sober?), and in the warm months do not cut around creek bends too closely, as these are the strategic spots where alligators like to lay hidden and keep an eye out for prey (ie. me). Shallow waterways in the south (ie. the bayou) are favorite places for alligators to nestle down. Avoid the chance you may unsettle them (yes, yes, no unsettling). Although alligators are shy, they don’t like being surprised (well, sure, neither do I, but I don’t have jaws capable of delivering a bite with 1800 pounds of pressure), and paddling in ditches about 5-10 feet wide when alligators can leap 5 feet from water’s edge is asking for trouble (OMG, they fly too???), especially in the warmer months in the evening when they are on the prowl, and during nesting season which is roughly the entire summer (note to self–no summer paddling trips).

3. If you want to explore shallow narrow areas where alligators frequent, do it when temperatures fall below 70 degrees, when alligators basically become inactive (but it’s Southern Louisiana, so how often does this happen?). Put as much as 100 feet distance between them and your kayak (You got it!).

4. Although a gator that slips off a bank on your approach is somewhere underneath you (ahhhhh!), and may even follow you a little (oh boy, maybe this isn’t such a good idea), stay calm (um..sure) and know that it will not “thump” you from underneath (that’s what she said) or lunge out of the water at you. Keep paddling (very, very quickly), be wary, and if you are a little spooked (a little?), a group of South Carolina kayakers familiar with alligators advise that you bang your paddle on your kayak a few times to intimidate it (ok, banging paddle good). Some however believe this may sound like wounded prey thrashing about in the mud peaking its interest (whoa, so am I supposed to bang my paddle of not??? Come on people, this is serious, make up your mind!). Because their hearing is sensitive I would remove all doubt and use my PFD whistle (I think I’ll be investing in a nice large air horn).

5. Signs an alligator is near (oh good, they post signs): A wallow where they like to roll and cool down in the mud; a slide where they slip into the water; a nest (so will there be signs posted or not?). If you ever come across small alligators with, depending on the species, yellow stripes, you have found juveniles, which means the mother is somewhere nearby. Baby alligators stay with mom for up to a year. If you remember anything, don’t ever stop to observe them or try to touch or catch one (seriously, there’s no need to worry about that happening!). The protectiveness of mother alligators can not be overstated. Certainly do not hunt, harass, or feed them (certainly!).

Alrighty then…anyone interested in a cheap used kayak???

Bayou Bound! June 23, 2008

Posted by dianehuhn in Bayou Bound.
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My first blog! I created the account for this site a number of weeks ago, but was waiting for the first tangible action in the next chapter of my life. Well, it’s official. I submitted my resignation last week. So come July 11th, I will be officially unemployed. But come September, I will be embarking on a new journey as I head to Chauvin, Louisiana to complete a year of service work with Bayou Grace Community Services (http://bayougrace.org/).

Excitement doesn’t even come close to describing my anticipation for this experience. As many who are reading this probably know, I spent a week in Terrebonne Parish, LA in March of this year with an amazing group of people from various churches within the Detroit Presbytery. For those of you who don’t know, this 70+ member group spent the week volunteering at ten different work sites rebuilding and repairing homes damaged during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. My sister Sue and I were in charge of documenting the activities of the group. What an awesome experience! I met the most wonderful people and saw firsthand what great things can be accomplished when people dedicate a little time and sweat to a good cause. You can check out the website we put together during our mission trip at http://katrina6.joyfullyserving.com/

When I returned to New York, I couldn’t shake this feeling that I had to go back. Was it some kind of mid-life crisis? Very possible, I don’t know. But after some soul searching, I decided I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I just knew that I didn’t want to wake up 2o years from now and think “Geez, I should have done more.”

So, long story short (for now), I’ll be off to the Bayou. In the short term, I’ll be heading home to Mom’s for the 4th of July (the greatest holiday ever!), then heading back to New York to clear out the house, and then back to Michigan for a few weeks of R&R on Gun Lake. Then I’ll be packing up the car for the 1100 mile journey to Chauvin.

So please stay tuned as I can’t wait to share my adventures with you!