Active Outdoors: Summer’s beauty is in full swing

  • On a summer day in Conway this channel leading to the boat ramp can be very busy. Tim Jones / EasternSlopes.com

  • A kayak, a quiet lake, and the sun heading toward the horizon . . . not a bad way to end a summer holiday. Tim JonesEasternSlopes.com

  • Evening Lake 3: Sunset clouds make great companions on the water. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com)

For the Monitor
Friday, July 07, 2017

So, how did you spend Fourth of July? Across New England, it seems, the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Up here in the mountains, the early morning was cool, almost chilly with dew on the grass. As the day progressed, blue skies became dotted with puffy clouds, afternoon temperature in the low 80s, nice breeze blowing, not a trace of humidity, temperatures cooling quickly once the sun set. Perfect, simply perfect, a dream of a summer day.

And everyone was out enjoying it. One of the things you learn quickly living in a vacation destination is how to minimize as much of the tourist hustle and bustle as possible and still do what you want to do. On summer weekends and holidays, that means going out early or late in the day, enjoying home when everyone else is out and about.

My sweetheart Em and I were up early on July 4, and took a walk on a nearby recreation trail to watch the sun rise. This wasn’t a major hike, just a way to stretch our legs and get lungs and muscles moving. We didn’t want to go too far or take too long. The air was cool for the moment, a nice breeze was blowing, there were no mosquitoes out, and even though this is a very popular short hike, we only saw a couple of other people.

Many songbirds in the area have already raised their first brood of chicks (we’ve been seeing striped-breasted young robins learning to fly and hunt on our lawn), and it’s time for a second nesting. The air was alive with the audio warfare of males trying to establish and defend a territory to attract willing females. Robins, cardinals and doves were the most noticeable.

Wildflowers grow in abundance along this trail and the crown vetch was in full bloom. Gardeners and hayfield owners alike hate this aggressive weed with a passion. In favorable conditions, it can choke out more “desirable” flowers and more nutritious grasses in a hayfield. But, growing here, where it wasn’t doing any harm, it was simply lovely, covered with flowers shading lavender to almost pure white.

We had a great time. There’s nothing like an early stroll to start a summer day right.

By the time we got back to our car, the sun was well up and other people, most with out-of-state license plates, were starting to show up. As far as I’m concerned, they’d missed prime time. I don’t understand why people on vacation are so willing to spend the best hours of a sunny summer day in bed.

There’s a lake with a public beach and boat launch about a mile from our house. Before dawn, the beach was empty and only a few fishermen had put their boats in for the day. We could easily have paddled out for a quiet hour listening to loons, but we save that for non-holiday weekdays when there will be less boat traffic later in the day.

As we came back from our walk a couple of hours later, the place was hopping. Every available spot that would hold a vehicle and boat trailer was taken. It was still a little too cool for swimmers and sunbathers so the beach hadn’t filled up yet – but it would.  

By early evening, however, the situation had changed. Because it was the actual holiday, lots of folks would leave a little early to try to avoid some of the worst traffic. Others would stay on for the big local fireworks display but had to get dinner first.

So I took a chance, strapped my fast touring kayak on the car (yes, I have different kayaks for different purposes) and headed for the lake. While there were boats waiting to pull out, it was easy enough to carry my kayak to the water and launch it off the nearly-empty beach. Paddling out through the channel that leads to the main lake I had to keep to the side to avoid the parade of slow-moving powerboats headed back to the launch.

As I had hoped, by the time I rounded the point to the open lake, most of the powerboats were gone. One ski boat went roaring by with a tuber behind and disappeared down the lake. One jetski buzzed by like an angry hornet before disappearing as well. That left one fishing boat easing along a weedy shoreline with an electric motor, and a handful of kayaks, canoes and SUPs venturing out onto the now-still waters. A couple of families were enjoying lakeside barbecues, so the lake wasn’t as silent as it would have been before sunrise, but it was amazingly quiet for a busy summer holiday

I paddled quietly across the open water, ducked into a couple of quiet coves and circumnavigated an island or two, looking for loons and turtles and simply enjoying the solitude and the pleasure of paddling a sleek, fast, responsive kayak. Once you find your rhythm and the speed the boat wants to go, there’s a real Zen to paddling that engages your muscles and leaves your mind free to observe and enjoy. The miles flow by as easily as if the water were flowing and you were standing still.

I wasn’t in any hurry, but kept moving at a good pace and covered several miles down the lake and back. All the way back to the boat launch, I had the spectacle of the setting sun to keep me company. Who needs anything more? Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

(Tim Jones is the Executive Editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email him at timjones@easternslopes.com.)