At the Leslie Spit.
This really happened last night: Paddling by the island, on the dock side in the channel, I realized my shoulder was hurting, not in a good way, and thought I'd take the rest time and meditate.
Meditating, for me, is inherent in my kayaking, but that's a very specific sort of meditating (active, with music or a podcast, moving through landscape - maybe I'll get specific about that another time. Anyway, trust me: it's meditating.
But I never really do the sitting still, breathing meditation out there. And you can never really close your eyes for extended times. I don't have an anchor. Maybe I should get a little anchor. But last night, I was in some very still water, by the concrete stairs into the water, if you know it. So I tried to meditate. Took out the headphones, set a 20 minute timer on my phone's clock, took some breaths: Got it. Just listening, just seeing, without focus. In my body. Feeling my being.
And then I notice that off in the distance, a man is taking pictures of a lady who is taking off her clothes. Out on the busted up concrete pier, with the city in the background. Nice place to take a picture. Nope, she's not stripping - she's just taking poses with different clothing in different states of being on. That took a minute to figure out, but that was interrupted when the guy saw ME, and my mind switched painfully to his POV: Hey, an old man is watching us do this, all alone in a kayak, with his hands in his lap. Hey, it's my real curse: I'm so empathic and so self-doubting that I imagine how others may likely hate me, automatically. But it's not unreasonable, either.
So then I'm pissed off. I didn't ask for this. I'm trying to fucking meditate, alone. I turn my boat to face the other way and realize that I have been stuck in a thought for a LONG time. Since I noticed the couple. AND I'm angry.
So I take some breaths, and remind myself kindly to return to stillness, and I'm able. I sort of close my eyes, and feel my body, and listen, and exist.
And then I see two ducks fucking.
It took me a second to figure out what was going on - splashing, shapes and - Again, not meditating - Right after I realize that I am seeing two ducks fucking - a green-headed mallard and a grey lady duck with green on her wings - I remember that ducks have spiral, loong penises, and that female ducks have vaginas that spiral in the OPPOSITE DIRECTION because mallards are RAPISTS. GANG rapists.
This has confused me many times because I see ducks in pairs all the time, a mallard and a lady duck, and each time I wonder: why is she socializing with him? Is this an abusive relationship? Why aren't the female ducks banding together? Why all the happy-looking couples on dates?
So I watched. Not meditating. Watching to see if I could see any spiral dicks, wondering if it was a rape or a mating. And it wasn't that bad! He did have one asshole move - on her back, he would push down on her head with his beak as he was banging away, repeatedly pushing her head under the water. I know, gross. But ducks also do not hate water - maybe it's alright? The callout to head- pushing-blow-job-wanters sort of influenced my thinking. I kept thinking, okay, maybe it's mating - but he's a dickhead.
Anyway, after they were done (not long - maybe two minutes, just like humans), they swam over to the shore and hopped up and then, very cutely, cleaned themselves for about five minutes, never looking at each other. They cleaned every feather. Ducks can wash the back of their heads by rubbing it on their backs. It was a thing. Then they both did the little shuddering feather-shake thing, almost exactly like a dog - and then walked off together. They were almost holding hands. For whatever reason, they were looking into whatever woods are on the other side of the sidewalk along the shore. She would look, evaluate, and walk off. He would look in and then follow her. It was slow and interesting - I wondered if they, like robins, they were trying to lead me away from their nest. Then, at the fourth spot, she suddenly flew off into the woods. Would he? I watched, rapt. He did. I laughed. I paddle away.
I paddle past the couple, glad I've been able to let go of my dumb fear, my lame worrying what they think. I paddle around the edge of the edge of the concrete pier, by that sailboat that's been parked there since last summer. Who lives there? Who's boat is that? Then the timer goes off on my phone, reminding me that I have completely forgotten I was meditating.
Vandalism works. This piece of rubble has to be at least a bit old to have become part of the shoreline, but most of old mister WALTER's name is still there for the cormorants and ducks to read. If you want to be remembered, carve your name in some stone.
The first trip I took that across the channel to the Islands, and it's still a go-to route. You can head through its little river (on the side facing the city) or around the back. Today I took a trip around back, through the Airport Channel, across the front of the city and back to Cherry Beach. I'll share the route and some pictures from the trip.
One important note: at either end of the airport, there are areas you cannot enter with your boat. They're underneath the flight path, so it's probably a reasonable rule, but if you don't know they're there you can easily float into the area. The fine is huge. Little diagram below:
It can be hard to see where these buoys ARE on the West side of the airport, if you're travelling clockwise - the direction I was on this trip; I discovered these by paddling right into the middle of them. Nobody caught me, and I still see people take the shortcuts - but ten grand... You can avoid this by pointing your nose at Ontario Place/Molson Amphitheater.
The water will be its choppiest in the channel where the airport ferry runs.
While you're avoiding the forbidden area on the East side of the airport, you'll also have to contend with Water Taxis and Ferries. Don't even try racing a ferry. If you fuck up it'll be an embarrassing death, cuz all the people on it will be watching. When in doubt just sit still and wait.
I'm trying to recall the questions I had at the start...
1. How much money?
I couldn't have started when I was student; it's not crazy expensive, but it's not free. A kayak can cost anywhere from a few hundred (these are Canadian Tire, really just big water toys for cottages) to thousands.
I spent 1200 (tax in) for mine, a Venture Flex. I picked it partly because it's shorter than most; that turns out to have some downsides (only one bulkhead, which makes bailing and self-rescue impossible, which demands I keep within swimming distance of the shore) but is mostly great. This is important if you live downtown - my backyard and storage space are limited. It's a wide kayak, which is a nice thing if you're just exercising and taking photos and meditating, which is what I'm up to; the thinner ones are faster.
Prior to that I bought a used inflatable kayak (not as silly as you'd think, not as useful as you'd wish) from Advanced Elements. I got it for about 400 on kijiji, and will sell it sometime soon - go used. More on ups and downs of that choice later, probably. Long and short: slow, stable, nice, recreational (not good for exercise, says I).
You'll need some gear, too: a way to transport it (foam blocks and ties do the trick for me); a lifejacket (kayak life jackets are shorter than canoe - ask in the store. I bought the wrong one first, cuz it was on sale, and had to replace it). A paddle, obviously; a safety kit (a rope, a bailer, a whistle and a light (legal requirement and good idea).
I found it pretty hard to find any decent information about where to paddle in Toronto on the East Side. I think I'll try to share what I learned, eventually, over time. Everybody hates a web thing that evaporates, I know - so I'll state at the outset that I'm new to paddling and not adventurous. I'm quite happy to get to know the area I know, and save moving on for later. Like a character in Wind in the Willows or something, the stodgy one. So if you're looking for action, move along.
I paddle from Cherry Beach. It isn't far to walk from the parking lot to the water, and you will have to carry your kayak (or get a little cart). It's a really nice place to learn to paddle: its in a little bay, and so if you want to avoid harbour sized waves while you're learning, this is pretty still water.
Lots of people launch from this beach; be careful to go to the outside of the swimming area, the lifeguarded bits; the far end of the parking lot is great.
You can hug the shore and do quite a nice route. I do this in the late Fall and early Spring, because I don't have a drysuit, so I can't go into any depth. It's a pretty route (if you like the Toronto shoreline mix of nature and construction refuse, which I do).
In the map below I cut across the bay at the end, and that's about 10 km. [continued below]
The whole area surrounded by the red line in my map is super calm. Easy paddling, and really beautiful; you'll pass a couple marinas, and the Hearn. You can use this route in the colder months, as it's shallow (I did this in summer, so cutting across the bay was safe). The Paddle Logger app I use is great, btw, for simple uses like tracking routes It's free. Just remember to turn it off before you leave, or you'll log a speed of 46 km/h, which is hard to maintain.
What else for now? The Complete Paddler is a great shop, and, not being MEC, they'll talk to you for a long time about paddling. (Not meaning to dis Mountain Equipment Coop - they are great, and they're where I bought most of my gear originally). But I like the little guy by nature, and TCP has a community thing; they have group paddles all the time, classes, and last year, a film festival. Not being one of those community people, I do not partake in most, but I took one of their courses in the winter (on doing a self-rescue with a paddle float) and it was great. They're really nice people and know what they're talking about.
I'll try and share a bit later about weather, gear, other places to launch. All from a beginner's place. Just so you can find it on the internets.