Weekend Recap – Ralking, LLBean Kayaking, Anomia, and the WI Fair

Saturday:

I woke up uber early to do the Gurnee 2-mile Fun Run/Walk (part of the Gurnee Days celebration). First, I called an info number that Gurnee had e-mailed and tweeted out to make sure the run was still happening. Thunderstorms in the area had put the race into question. The voicemail informed me it was on, so I put on my running shorts and sleeveless running shirt. I decided to run with my Shuffle, not with my phone. While the phone has the ability to track me, it’s heavier and more annoying. I started at the back of the runners, before the walkers. I did the first few minutes at an easy jog and then switched to walking for the rest of the first mile. At the mile marker, I switched to alternating run/walk. The net result is that I got my best per-mile time ever, which is awesome. It was hot and humid, too, so doing better in any respect is an achievement. (I really wish you could get XBox 360 style achievements in other aspects of life. I’m the kind of person who would love to have a liferscore.) After that, I came home, ate some fruit, took a shower, and napped for an hour.

Next up was some housework. I had to get the Iguana Room ready for visitors. It had been a staging area for cruise packing, so the bed was covered in rejected clothes and empty suitcases. I also had a megapile of laundry to put away. I eventually decided to put off cleaning the first floor because I’d have time between my afternoon kayaking and the Moos’ arrival.

On Friday, I’d seen a tweet from LL Bean Chicago that they had spots open in their walk-on adventures for the weekend. LL Bean does more of these adventures in Maine than here in Illinois, but they do offer kayaking and fly-fishing walk-ons. The basic gist is that it’s $20, they provide all the equipment, and they provide transportation to and from the store to the actual site. The goal, of course, is to get you hooked on the activity so that you’ll buy stuff from them. You can call and reserve a spot during the week before, or you can just show up at the store and sign up there. They recruit from shoppers, hence providing almost everything you need, like sunblock and bug spray and boat shoes. Still, it was a really fun kayaking trip. Our group was all women. My friend Jeudi, who is a frequent kayaker, drove up to meet me there and go along. We spent about twenty minutes on shore getting life jackets, trading for boat shoes (for people who weren’t wearing kayak-suitable shoes), getting bottled water, and learning basic strokes. I should also note that the LL Bean guides had a trailer there at the dock that they locked stuff up in. They also had a lockbox that people could use inside the trailer for extra security. Then, they loaded us into kayaks on the dock. One of the guides would sit on the end of the kayak while a person got in. He adjusted the foot pegs and then pushed you (backwards! scary!) into the water. Of course, it was no big deal once it happened, but I was terrified of that part at first. Backwards! Into the water! In a boat! The kayaks were the LL Bean Manatees, which are very stable and lightweight, so it really wasn’t an issue. I did some test rocking back and forth near the dock, and, just like the kayaks I’d been in before with friends, it was really not possible to turn it over unintentionally in calm water.

The annoying part for me, as always, was the PFD. PFDs are not designed for boobs, even the so-called women’s PFDs. (Side note: A “plus size” women’s PFD doesn’t fit me around waist or boobs. I don’t think they know what plus size means. The fact that the size is “plus size” and not variegated should be the first clue.) And, more than that, they’re not designed for fat folk. I’ve read a couple of articles that note that the usual PFDs are actually more of a hindrance than a help for fat people. Class III PFDs (most lifejackets used for kayaking and other recreational activities) only provide about 10-15 pounds of lift and will not cause you to be rolled over on your back if you’re unconscious or overwhelmed. For fat people, 10-15 pounds of lift doesn’t make that much of a difference in our ability to float (we’re floaty already, generally, and if 10-15 pounds is less than 10% of your body weight, it’s not holding you above water without your active help), and it does hamper our ability to move effectively. In fact, a poorly fitted PFD (which is what fat people are stuck with) can actually make you significantly less safe in the sense that it goes over your head and creates a situation where you can’t see. Another article mentioned that PFDs hold in your body heat, which on a warm day, can cause a person to overheat.

All that having been said, I found that Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s (both outdoors shops that cater to a very different segment than LL Bean) offer really good PFD options for larger folk. Jeudi (also a fat gal) uses and recommends the XPS brand from Bass Pro Shops. Those stores also have automatic inflatable vests, which I’ve read are a much better solution overall, for all sizes of people.

Once in the water, we paddled off as a group. One guide (Dave) stayed toward the front of the group while the other (Matt) stayed toward the back. I mapped our kayaking route out here at GMap Pedometer if you’re curious where we went (there were no street signs or mile markers in the canal, but I counted bridges to know where we were). On our trip, we saw two Great Blue Herons, a Blue Heron, and a Green-backed Heron. The Great Blue Herons really fed into my “birds are dinosaurs” phobia. They look like pterodactyls, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I think movie-makers use their calls as pterodactyl noises. They have a distinctive “RAWK!”. I worked on improving my stroke technique, focusing on pushing with the upper arm instead of pulling with the lower arm and having even strokes. I have a really bad pull to one side because one arm is stronger and digs in more than the other and because I tend to lean to one side when I sit. I also recalled a friend’s advice that a kayak generally reacts to your motion about a minute later than you do it, so it’s easy to over-correct.

Another challenge for me is sitting position. Not unlike skiing, kayaking has an aspect where what is comfortable when you start is not the same as what is comfortable once you get going. The footpegs have to be really close to me for me to get the balance right, and what feels like the right closeness on shore does not correspond with what feels right once I’m into paddling. In fact, I almost think I’d do best if I sat cross-legged in the kayak, but that’s less safe for exiting, I think. (Experienced kayakers, feel free to provide your two cents.)

Just like previous times, the webbing between my pointer finger and thumb got hot and sore. In fact, I’m still feeling it there today. I ended up buying some kayaking gloves (which can double as biking gloves) at LL Bean when done. When you finish the kayak trip, they give you a coupon for 10% off your purchase, usable for 2-3 weeks after that day’s date. To get out of the kayaks, they had us paddle quickly toward the guide standing on the dock, and he grabbed the end of the kayak and yanked us onto the dock. It was kind of fun (“better than Six Flags” was what Dave said).

Back at the store, besides the gloves, I bought a sippy cap for my Klean Kanteen. But, I was in a rush because the trip had taken longer than I anticipated. The adventure left the Bean store at 3:30, and we got back to the store at 6pm. Between bathroom and shopping and saying goodbye to Jeudi, it was 6:30 before I was on the road, and I’d told the Moos to meet me at the house at 6pm. Eek! They were already on their way and would arrive before me, so I called to advise them to grab dinner and plan to amuse themselves for about 45 minutes while I drove home.

That evening, Ms. Moo and I played British Rails while reminiscing over a photo album I made between the ages of 12 and 15. Mr. Moo watched and cursed at the ball game in the background, finally turning it off to go downstairs and play COD. We fetched him back upstairs when we finished and ended up playing a few rounds of Anomia. Then, B* called around 11:30pm to see if we were still up and doing things. We were, and we watched an ep of South Park while he drove over to the house. Mr. Moo went to bed, as he planned to wake up early and head to Potawatomi in the morning, but B*, Ms. Moo, and I played more Anomia, with shots, including a final round of MEGA-Anomia, with both decks and two play piles per person. That definitely added a level of challenge. We ended up in bed around 2am.

Sunday:

I had my alarm set to go off at 9am, as G&K were meeting us at 10am at the house to head to the Wisconsin State Fair. While I’d been to the Coastal Carolina Fair as a kid, the state fairs in the midwest are a whole separate beast of hugeness and fried food. G&K arrived as expected, and I handed over the DVD set of The Wire that DH had borrowed from G* long ago. We decided that we would pile into my car, since mine is the roomiest of the three we had at the house. So, I put the rear seats back into Victory and got the floorboards cleaned up enough for company. We made a brief stop to drop B*’s car off in Kenosha and then we were off.

G* had a chosen free parking space for the fair that was a short (3/4 mi) walk away. (I should note that G&K are city folk who live in a walkable downtown and thus have slightly different definitions of a short walk than I and my suburbanite friends. 😉 But there was a breeze and it was a pleasant walk at an easy pace…and free parking in a nice neighborhood with shade, where we didn’t have to deal with traffic, was a boon.) By the time we walked into the gates of the fair, it was 11:30am and all our minds were on food. We made a beeline for the cream puff pavilion. Apparently the cream puffs are a Wisconsin fair must-do. They are filled with a generous helping of fresh cream on an unsweetened pastry. There’s a light dusting of powdered sugar on the top that adds just the right amount of sweetness. We got a six pack to split among us, but we ended up giving away the sixth one to another group of people as we were creamed out after each having a full one to ourselves.
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By going early, we avoided the lines. They had a queue set up like a theme park would for the cream puffs. We had only a 5-10 minute wait, and B* noted that he’s seen hour-long waits for cream puffs before. It was a perfect breakfast to start our day. Next, as we walked back to where the cows were, we stopped at a roasted corn vendor (run by the Lions or Geometers or something like that) for giant ears of buttered corn. That was messily delicious. Ms. Moo skipped the corn but got a container of fried green beans instead that we all shared.

We watched the cows being judged for awhile. The comments by the announcers were funny both in and out of context:

  • Nice mammaries on this one. Even and full.
  • Long as a freight train!
  • I’d like to see that girl back in a few months, give those mammaries a chance to fill out nicely, that’ll be a nice one.

Ms. Moo was in heaven, of course. We did a brief walk through the cow barn and then split up so Moo could spend more time with cows and the rest of us could look at the other livestock. This turned out to be a perfect plan as we were inside or in shade for the hottest part of the day. We saw pigs, rabbits, doves, ducks, chickens, and goats. There were only a few horses still around, so we didn’t bother with that barn, and the llamas were gone, much to G*’s dismay. We also saw a 4H show choir performing, which was Glee-ish. They sanitized “Joy to the World” (the Jeremiah was a bullfrog version). Then we headed to the Wisconsin products expo and got porkchops on a stick from the Wisconsin Pork Producers. They were juicy and delicious. K* got an apple cider donut, and I sampled several types of local honey and eventually bought some. Ms. Moo met back up with us, and we headed back to the WI expo to wander around. We got Maple Root Beer and tried Maple Cotton Candy. (Maple Root Beer would be *awesome* as a dark & stormy….dark & mapley?) Moo and G* got grilled cheese sandwiches made with Wisconsin cheese, and we all sat for a bit to people-watch. There were many interesting aesthetic choices to see and lots of cleavage to admire.

B* and Moo headed to the WI wine tent for wine tastings while G&K and I went to see the goats, but after that, we all went together in search of potato pancakes. B* and Moo each got some potato pancakes, and G* got some pierogis. We saw a stealth bomber go overhead, which was pretty darn cool. We’re guessing it was on its way home from the Chicago Air & Water Show.

We all sampled everything while resting in the shade in a nearby bar tent. K* picked up some fresh cut fries that we dipped in the honey mustard (with Wisconsin honey) that I’d bought. Then, we headed for the main expo area, aka the place to buy stuff from infomercials. We split up there and wandered around. But, before I left, I had to try a deep fried Oreo, so G&K and I headed to that while B* and Moo went to see a musician that Moo knew from a bar near her house. But, the musician had gone on break just as they got there, so, after splitting up my bag of fried Oreo goodness (and zOMG it was soooo good), we headed toward the exit. Well, there was one quick detour for deep fried Snickers (B* and G* each got one, on a stick, and we all had a bite or two) and fried cheese curds (Moo and the rest split those…I didn’t touch them of course). Then, we headed out.

Whereas we were full of conversation on our way to the fair, we were near silent on the way home. Exhaustion and a sugar crash had done us all in. 🙂 But, it was an awesome weekend, and I’m still sore from it all. 🙂

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