Winter has many meanings. Where I live in Northern California winter means heavy rain, strong wind and often large and powerful Pacific swells. “Dressing for the weather” translates to a good rain jacket zipped up over a fleece hoody. I have always thought of snow as a novelty, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to travel to Thunder Bay, located in Ontario, Canada, to teach some rolling clinics for the Superior Kayak & Canoe Club and to play in the snow a bit.
I met up with Sean Smith, an Australian sea kayaker (aka Fat Paddler), during a flight connection in Los Angeles, California. A business trip had brought him to Chicago and he’d decided to come to Thunder Bay for some rolling clinics and a visit. It was pure coincidence that we ended up on the same flight from Los Angeles to Toronto. We had talked many times but had never met, and after a couple of airplane cocktails we were laughing and talking like we’d been friends for years.
Sean stopped in Toronto for a night, and after a brief visit with some of the Toronto locals and Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson of Kayak Ways (who were in Toronto teaching a skin-on-frame building class) I headed on my way to Thunder Bay. As I walked out of the airport with Joe O’Blenis and his friend Seth I got my first breath of “real” winter air. My lungs immediately rejected the icy air and I went into a series of coughing fits. I was shocked as I felt the skin on my face became tingly and then hard to move and found myself wondering how long it takes before frostbite kicks in. I had never experienced anything like this.
The following day we picked Sean up from the airport, and went on a short tour of Thunder Bay. The novelty of walking on Lake Superior and having a deer touch my hand with his nose was quite exciting. That evening we went on a snowshoe walk with some of the locals on the frozen river. Bundled up from head to toe, it was difficult to move any part of my body, and even harder to walk with snow shoes strapped to my feet. On land I’m a total klutz, and the get-up of layers and layers and layers of clothes matched with a full-face bright blue balaclava (which kept falling in my eyes and preventing me from seeing) were not helping my far-from-graceful strides. A quick glance over at Sean, who had an Australian flag trailing off his body and looked like he was having as many problems as me made me feel a little less out of place. The locals meanwhile trotted down the river like there was nothing to it. These Thunder Bay folks are tough, and I scurried along trying to keep up without falling on my face.
The next morning we woke early to head to the pool for rolling classes. It was apparently the coldest day of the year in Thunder Bay at -37 Celcius. This was my third time teaching in Thunder Bay, and it’s always a joy to see the same friendly faces, as well as some new ones. It’s also wonderful to see how much the skill level of this group jumps with each visit. Even with frozen water outside and icy cold air, the club rents the pool regularly to practice their rolls.
Throughout the weekend good times were had by all, with a visit to Hoito, a popular local restaurant, evening board games, card tricks and laughter from kayakers from three different countries who were brought together because of a love of water. Nestled in my memory too are a couple of solo walks along the snowy roads and the icy river. There really is something magical about the quietness of snowflakes.
All in all it was a wonderful weekend. It was great to meet Sean, and awesome to see Joe and Diane Hogan again.