Above: Mary and Mark Perloe canoeing at the Chattahoochee Nature Center; photo by Phil Mosier

In August, almost all local weather reports begin with the words “hot and humid.” If you’re ready to cool off, getting on the water is well worth considering.

A stop along the Chattahoochee River
Courtesy of TGA Communications, LLC

Paddling a canoe is one option. A canoe is an open boat that can easily fit you and a friend. Ideally, one will paddle for “push” and the other (the one in the back) will use the paddle for steering, like a rudder. A good workout is another reason to try water sports.

The exercise concept worked well for a Vinings couple, Wendy Barnes and Joel Bohlmann, both in their early 60s. They registered for their first Chattahoochee Nature Center’s canoe trip in early June.

Although they hadn’t canoed in quite a few years, they felt they could handle the two-hour ride. “The section of the river one gets to see on the Chattahoochee is lovely,” she said. In fact, admitted Barnes, “It’s hard to believe that you’re in a large city.”

Wendy Barnes and Joel Bohlmann on the Hooch
Courtesy of Wendy Barnes and Joel Bohlmann

Barnes says they both love natural surroundings and the outdoors. “And we’re trying to stay active as we get older.”

The couple said they saw deer, kingfishers, herons and even an osprey along the way. A staff naturalist who offers an introduction to the river’s ecology leads each nature center trip.

Water adventures are found both near and far.

Last summer, Mary and Mark Perloe traveled from Sandy Springs to the San Juan Islands of Washington. The islands are located in the Puget Sound, known for an abundance of natural beauty.

“I found a trip with a few people that combined four to five hours of kayaking visiting different islands each day,” said Mark, a physician in his mid-60s. His wife, also in her early 60s, is a nurse practitioner, and says she was more than “ready for an outdoor adventure with some physical activity versus pure rest and relaxation.”

“It turned out we were the only couple who signed up, so we could set our own pace,” Mary added. “We were concerned about whether we had the stamina to do this, but found we could work with our guide to personalize our daily activities.”

The Perloes had not taken kayak lessons before, but their guide spent an hour or so orienting them and helping improve their paddling techniques.

Mary and Mark Perloe Kayaking in the San Juan Islands
Courtesy of Mary and Mark Perloe

“It was surprising to both of us that we weren’t very sore,” said Mark. “We paddled for about two hours, then we would take a nice break in a park or beach along the way.

With a “tryout” trip among the San Juan Islands, they learned they had the physical and mental strength to plan more kayaking journeys. They’ve bought their own tandem kayak.

Recently, the Perloes headed to Florida where they floated with the manatees. Closer to home, they’ve tried the lake at Stone Mountain Park. They recommend bringing your dog.

Safety First!

If you’re over 65 and haven’t been in a canoe before, consider Family Canoe Day at Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC). Family trips are shorter and take place in a large pond, rather than the river. The pond is a more manageable and if you tire, it’s easy to come ashore.

Whether you’re kayaking or canoeing, you’ll need a paddle. Kayak paddles have blades on both sides with a bit of a curve, whereas canoe paddles have just one flat blade.

Mary Perloe and pet Andrew enjoying the lake at Stone Mountain Park
Courtesy of Mary and Mark Perloe

Selecting the right sized paddle is important. The stick part of a canoe paddle should be about six to eight inches longer than the length of your arm, after your fingers are extended, according to experts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that all boaters should be strong swimmers and always wear life jackets that fit well.

Save your paddling for fair weather days, suggests the CDC website: “…you don’t [always] know what mother nature will throw at you, know where your float trip will take you…or different ways to go in case unexpected trouble strikes your route.”

The best shoes to wear for canoeing or kayaking are sneakers or durable water shoes. Flip-flops are out. Getting in and out of canoes can be a muddy experience. Flip-flops can become trapped in the mud, which will leave you barefoot and vulnerable to cuts if you flip over.

The CNC guides are CPR/First Aid Certified and experienced paddlers. And the Chattahoochee River maintains a cool 50 to 60 degrees. Falling in is like opening the freezer for an ice cream, with no need to count calories. Even in August, the river may be cooler than you expect.

Judi Kanne

Judi Kanne is a public health communications consultant and contributing writer to Atlanta Senior Life.