Okay, I probably should have written a blog about waterskiing in June, instead of at the end of the season, but it’s better late than never, right?
A few weeks ago I got an email from my old friend John inviting me down to the Quincy Bay to go waterskiing with the Great River Water Ski Club. I used to ski quite a bit and was even in the ski show for a couple of seasons back in high school and college. John is still on the team, and has been performing in their weekly shows for many summers now.
My friends and I used to spend most of the summer on the water. Back then, I learned to slalom, ride backwards on trick skis, ski with no hands, and even did a bit of wakeboarding. One thing I never got around to trying, though, was jumping. I always meant to try, but some seasons the water was too high or too low, or I was working on other tricks, or I’d look at the size of that ski ramp and chicken out… This year though, with the invite from the club, I harnessed my love of adventure and decided that it was the perfect time to give it a go.
I met the ski team on the docks and several people were there to help me out. Eric Riutzel has been skiing with the team since he was a just a kid, and he’s become quite an accomplished jumper. He and John explained the most important steps: knees, trees, freeze.
Knees: As you’re approaching a ski ramp, you’ve got to bend your knees and bring the rope in toward your body. You lean up kind of on your toes because the feel of the ramp is slick and it will help you keep your balance.
Trees: This rule is the most important part of any skiing, not just jumping. You’ve got to look up at the trees and not down at your skis. If you look down, you’re going to fall down. If you look up and out, it will help you maintain balance.
Freeze: This is probably the hardest part of jumping. As you’re coming off the ramp, you freeze your position. Jump skis are broad but have no fin to speak of, and that means that when you hit the still water on the other side of the ramp, it will feel like wet glass. You freeze and let the skis grab into the water and the boat pull the rope taught again.
I suited up in protective gear which included a padded shorty wet-suit and a hockey mask, and I rode the boat to watch Eric jump a few times. He was awesome. He made it look easy. I could see every step, and it seemed like I could pull it off. Eric even did a helicopter jump — where at the end of the ramp he does a complete 360 degree turn before he lands — and after I saw that, I was primed for my attempts.
Steve Fleer was driving the ski club’s amazing Hydrodyne boat. It sports twin 175 horsepower Evinrude motors, and is easily the best boat I’ve ever skied behind.
I tested my balance as we rounded the corner to approach the ramp by jumping up and down and feeling the way they handled. It felt more like skiing on huge doors than on proper water skis.
I cut out hard through the wake to the left and the boat cruised right of the jump. The ramp, which sits on the bay at a nice 30-degree incline, looked more like a wall as I approached it. I think I held my breath. I pulled the rope in, froze my knees and before I knew much else, I heard the hollow thud of my skis hitting the wooden ramp, I looked up over the boat, I flew off the end of the ramp about a hundred feet in the air (okay, 12 feet. But it felt like a hundred) and…
Boom. I hit the water, lost the rope, and wiped out. You didn’t think I’d get it on my first attempt, did you? I popped out of the water and waved at the boat to let them know I was OK. The boat swung back around and everyone inside was grinning about my somewhat comic fall. They asked if I was going to try again, and I didn’t hesitate a bit!
I had two more attempts that night because the light was fading fast and there were other skiers that still had to try some things. My second go was my worst — I forgot the freeze part and ended up with crossed skis in the air. Someone managed to get a photo of that jump… so I suppose I’ll share that with my Get Out readers. My third attempt was very close. I actually landed and felt the skis underneath me. One dragged behind a bit though, and came off my foot, so I didn’t quite get the landing on that one either.
This water ski season is drawing to a close, but I was really happy to have had the chance to get out with the Great River Ski Club. If you would like to learn more about the organization, please visit www.greatriverskiclub.org. The club is always recruiting new members, and you don’t need any experience to get started. They also snow ski throughout the winter, so any time is a good time to give them a call. I’m going to keep on working on my jumping and maybe next year you’ll see me in the ski show.
It’s going to be hot this week. Very hot. I don’t know about you, but as soon as that thermometer tops 90 degrees, I’m looking for fun ways to cool off. Sure, you could go to a crowded pool this weekend, but if you’re really wanting to do something different, I suggest going over and checking out Mark Twain Lake’s Spalding Recreation Area.
The Spalding public beach at Mark Twain Lake is a short 40-minute drive from Quincy, and it’s a great summer destination for the whole family. The area features a swimming beach, a nice shady grassy area with picnic tables and charcoal grills, a sand volleyball net, and a bathroom and shower facility so that everyone can clean up and not drag sand into the car for the ride home.
The bottom of the lake at the swimming area is sand, which is nice for people who would rather not step in lake muck. Though there are no lifeguards on duty, the area is fairly safe for even small children because the increase in depth is very gradual and the swimming area is roped off from all boating traffic. As long as you’re keeping a close eye on the kids and having them use the right flotation devices, you should be good to go. Heads up: If you’re bringing water toys, there’s no air pump at the beach, so inflate those rafts before you get there or bring a hand pump. It’ll save you from getting blue in the face! There are a limited number of lifejackets available at the shelter house that can be borrowed, but you should probably bring your own if your kids need them.
For boaters, there is a launch at Spalding Recreation Area, and also sandy areas to pull up your boat and enjoy the beach. We launched kayaks from this area a few weeks ago, and it was the perfect point for setting off to explore.
Perhaps the best part about this close-to-home adventure is that it’s so affordable. For the cost of one ticket to the pool, the whole family can swim at Mark Twain Lake. Swimming costs $1 per person, up to a maximum of $4 per carload of people. The pay station is self-service as you drive in, so be sure to have exact change in cash. Bring along a picnic lunch and/or charcoal to barbecue with, and you’ve got all-day fun for everyone. No alcohol or glass containers are allowed at the recreation area, so plan your picnic accordingly. And don’t forget sunscreen!
Directions from Quincy: Take 172 across the bridge at Hannibal, continue on 24/36 and then turn right on Route J by the Spalding Recreation Area sign. If you reach the Cannon Dam, you’ve gone too far.
Do you ever have one of those days where everything you do reminds you of a song? Well, I went kayaking both this weekend and last, and it’s one adventure that definitely keeps popping song lyrics in my head.
“Row, row, row your boat…”
I think the reason I’d never tried kayaking up to now was that I assumed you’d need to have really great upper body strength to row. As it turns out, that’s not really the case! I was delighted to find out that a good rower uses not only her arms, but lots of torso and leg to power her rowing. Once I had the hang of the technique, I was right in the front of the pack, and even passed up some of the “tough guy” rowers. It’s a sport where finesse is just as important as strength, and you’ll be surprised at what you’re capable of doing.
“You know a dream is like a River, ever changin’ as it flows…”
Yeah, that’s a Garth Brooks lyric. It’s true though! A dream is like a river and a river is like a dream. I’ve been out on the Mississippi and Mark Twain Lake lots of times, but nothing is quite like experiencing these bodies of water via kayak. You can approach wildlife and shorelines quietly; you can hear the birds singing and the lapping of the water at the banks; and you can really appreciate the way the water moves and sculpts the landscape around you.
“I will go down with this ship, I won’t put my hands up and surrender…”
Maybe you’ve always wanted to try kayaking but were afraid of flipping over. I’m here to tell you that in calm water, flipping isn’t all that likely. And more importantly, getting back in your boat if you do flip isn’t hard at all. On my first experience out on the water, I didn’t get wet at all, so on my second, I volunteered to flip on purpose to demonstrate how to get back in the boat. With a little rocking, I flipped the boat, slipped easily out of the hatch, righted the boat all on my own, and was soon back in the cockpit. With the guidance of our instructor, I actually learned three different methods of getting back in the boat. My point is, there’s no reason to be afraid of flipping your kayak, especially if you’re wearing a lifejacket. Actually, on a hot day, I’d recommend flipping every once in a while just to cool off!
“We all live in the ocean, we all start in the stream, and we’re carried along, by the river of dreams…”
Billy Joel was certainly on to something with the lyrics of “River of Dreams.” Learning to kayak in the calm backwaters of the Mississippi or along the sheltered shores of Mark Twain Lake has been a wonderful opportunity. I’ve now practiced the basics of rowing, turning, stopping, flipping, and getting back into a kayak. The next step is to head out of the streams and steadily work my way to bigger water. There are great places to kayak locally, but eventually, I’d like to try Lake Michigan and then the ocean. I remember seeing people out in Puget Sound (Seattle, WA) kayaking alongside killer whales. I really, really, reallllllly want to try that. And there are thousands of other great places in this wide world just waiting to be explored. I guess I better get a list started.
“Teach the children well….”
So what should you do if you’d like to try kayaking for the first time? Find a great teacher. Kevin Dempsey of Kayak Quincy led the groups I was in. He’s a very knowledgeable and practical instructor who will help you learn the basics and develop your skills out on the water. He’s also happy to help you learn what to look for if you were selecting a boat of your own to purchase, or can help you find interesting places to kayak. The Kayak Quincy schedule, rental fees and more can be found at www.seequincy.com/KayakQuincy.html or by calling the Quincy Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at (800) 978-4748.
When I was a kid, my grandpa used to play his guitar and sing me an old Mills Brother’s tune called, “Up the Lazy River.” Last weekend, during a float trip on the Meramec River, the song was stuck in my head the entire time. I suggest you click this link: http://tinyurl.com/lazyriver and listen to it, while you read the rest of my blog.
The song describes floating on the lazy river past kind oak trees, listening to robins’ songs, with nothing but blue skies and the noonday sunshine overhead. I can’t explain a day on the Meramec better than that.
Meramec State Park is located west of St. Louis near Sullivan, Missouri, and is about a 3-hour drive from Quincy. The park itself is breathtaking. hiking and biking trails, limestone bluffs, forested hills with secluded cabins, places to picnic, and many other outdoor opportunities await visitors to the park. The stream-fed Meramec River crosses through the center of nearly 7,000-acres of state land, and there are ample opportunities to enjoy the water, including fishing, canoeing, swimming and raft floating trips.
Our five-mile long float trip was in celebration of a friend’s 30th Birthday (Happy Birthday Mike!), and we couldn’t have picked a better afternoon to be on the water. The temperatures outside were near the century mark, and the river was the perfect way to cool off. We met the group in the parking lot of the State Park offices, got our life jackets from the shed, applied sunscreen liberally, and then loaded a repurposed school bus for the quick drive to the beginning of the float. Our group was large, with 16 people, but since we had reserved ahead of time, the park had us ready to go when we arrived. We had two heavy-duty eight-man rafts with paddles already sitting on the launch ramp when we pulled up. All that was left to do was hop in the boat, shove off the launch, and enjoy our day in the sunshine.
The five-mile float took about four hours, but that included a few times where we paddled to the riverbank to stop and swim and throw the football around for a while. The river, while higher than it normally is this time of year, was fairly slow moving, and families with children of all ages seemed to be
out enjoying the day. There were a few spots where we needed to navigate around a downed tree or two, but overall, this is a slow and safe river for beginners.
Prices for float trips on the Meramec vary by day of the week and what type of raft or canoe you are going to rent. It’s always a good idea to call ahead and reserve your raft, especially on the weekends. Rates and schedules can be found at http://www.meramecpark.com or by calling 888-MERAMEC (637-2632).
A special note: Many people associate float trips and other river activities with alcohol, while it’s true that some members of our group brought along coolers and had some beers, personally, my husband and I only drank water and Gatorade on this trip, and we had a wonderful time. Remember that boating and alcohol, especially on extremely hot days, can be a very dangerous combination. If you’re going to drink, be responsible and make sure you’re still taking in plenty of water. According to the American Boating Association, people who have had as few as two beers are 10 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident while on the water than those who do not. My philosophy is there’s plenty of time to imbibe when you’re on land, so why not just enjoy being out on the river without the booze?
Whatever you decide, I hope you have fun and be safe whenever you “Get Out” this summer!
For more on boating safety: http://www.americanboating.org/safety.asp