Newcomers to Rhode Island could always use a little R&R to recuperate after the first week of classes, to recover from the stress of moving to a new place, to explore hidden corners of this small, treasure-packed state, and to meet new people. Since physical activity (ok, letís call it exercise) has been proven to combat a host of ills, here are some suggestions to get you moving, mostly outdoors, with one significant endorphin-booster usually done indoors. Granted, there are many, many individual and team sports to seek out, but the following are highly recommended for their non-competitive and restorative benefits, as well as their aerobic advantages.
SWIMMING + BEACHCOMBING
Swimming and beachcombing
Many new residents who arrive in the fall might not think of taking full advantage of the Ocean State's 411 miles of shoreline, but September and October are usually still warm enough for swimming, and the beaches are blessedly unpopulated. The temperature of the water gradually falls to around 60 degrees by Columbus Day, dropping down from a high of 68 or 69 in August.
If you start your beach sojourn with a brisk walk along the waves, getting your feet splashed (and perhaps other body parts), you will have no trouble diving into the refreshingly cool saltwater for swimming or body-surfing (best on Narragansett Town Beach and Block Islandís Mansion Beach). The all-over skin-tingle felt when you come out of the water is both warming and energizing.
Alternately, you can just stroll or wade along the edge of the surf, marveling at the daredevil movements of the least terns as they plummet into the water after fish, or smiling at the skittering of plovers when a surging wave wets their feet. Take in the sunlight bouncing off the spray, the salt air breeze on your skin, the sounds of crashing breakers, and mewing gulls.
surfing/kiteboarding/windsurfing/body boarding/skim boarding
Many of the above-mentioned things apply to this category, with air temps warm into the fall for boogieing across the waves. Body boarding and skim boarding donít require big waves for a good ride. But with all kinds of surfing, thereís a cheat factor for the cold water: wetsuits. Surfers tend to wear them all year long, surfing right through the winter. East Coast surfing championships have often been held at Narragansett Town Beach, because at the southern end of this mile-long crescent, the waves break from the southeast, creating a consistent place to surf.
There are actually 31 places to surf on the coast of Rhode Island, listed on the Rhode Island Surf Map, which includes a journal and a checklist of features. To learn more, go to www.surfmap.com. Or visit www.quietwaters.org/ririders to check out the "current local need for surf," ranging from comatose, desperate, medium, and cool to stoked, along with other communiqués from the Rhode Island Riders.
For weather updates and surf reports, check out www.northeastsurfing.com/SR_RI and youíll find info on ocean safety, surfer etiquette, women surfers, surf shops, and surf schools, plus windsurfing and kite boarding. This Web site mentions how Rhode Island gets an unusually good groundswell from storms that donít quite make it to the Cape before heading out to sea. In late August and early September, the waves can get huge, because of seasonal storms and hurricanes. This site gives phone numbers for Newport and Narragansett beaches, including the popular sports stores Warm Winds and Gansett Juice Shop.
Skateboarding has crossover fans from surfing, but when you fall off a wave, itís usually a softer landing. Skateboarders find their own special places in the urban landscape to execute and invent tricky moves. College Hill in Providence even made it into the Extreme Games for the skateboard luge, plus there are plenty of other challenging hills on Providenceís East Side. More and more small towns and suburban communities throughout the state are building official skateboard parks, each with its own combination of ramps and half-pipes to spin out on.
One site to check is www.skateboardparks.com/rhodeisland, though it seems to list parks only in Bristol and Newport. In the spring 2004, $4.6 million in recreational development grants were parceled out to Rhode Islandís towns, with Burrillville, Coventry, North Kingstown, Westerly, and West Warwick getting funds earmarked for skateboard parks. So this is one activity thatís not going away anytime soon.
Since the late í80s, when the East Bay Bike Path opened, running 14.5 miles from Providence to Bristol, Rhode Island has expanded its bike path network to a total of 43 miles, with plans to add another 20 in the next three to five years. In addition to East Bay, other paths in frequent use, by both cyclists and inline skaters, include the Blackstone River Bikeway, along the old Blackstone Canal tow path, in Lincoln and Cumberland; the Washington Secondary Bicycle Path, along a previous railroad bed, through Cranston, Warwick, West Warwick, and Coventry; and the William C. OíNeill Bike Path, running 5.5 miles from the Kingston railroad station to Route 108, near Cheloís.
Other greenways and bikeways are marked-off lanes along regular highways. To request a map, gaze at safety rules, and to find other information about bicycling in the Ocean State, cruise the state Web site at www.dot.state.ri.us/bikeri, or for trail info in Connecticut as well as Rhode Island, check www.a1trails.com/rail/trailsct. For Rhode Islandís advocacy organization, and the latest news in bike path extensions or openings, visit www.rigreenways.org.
Rollerblading is also popular on Rhode Island's bike paths, having the special advantage of being a safe place to learn this sport away from the distractions of traffic. Most of the bike paths are an oasis of calm, away from the sights and sounds of even the most populated areas through which they run. Granted, segments of the paths pass next to the backyards of residential areas, but the biggest portion of the rides take you past parks and woods, or over rivers, swamps, and inlets of Narragansett Bay.
Rhode Island offers many possibilities to avid kayakers and canoeists, from the whitewater of rivers to the flat water of lakes, from the expanses of Narragansett Bay to surfing waves just off the beaches. The Rhode Island Canoe/Kayak Association, at www.ricka.org, has a comprehensive listing of group trips or special events, current weather reports, and more than half a dozen places to buy or rent equipment, including the Kayak Centre in Wickford (www.kayakcentre.com), and the Sakonnet Boathouse in Tiverton (www.sakonnetboathouse.com).
Both of these quiet-water types of boats can take you to beautiful, peaceful places along otherwise inaccessible shoreline and islands. Along the way, there are always flora (such as pickerel weed and cardinal flowers) and fauna (including egrets and Great blue heron) that you donít come across in the daily rush of urban and suburban life. Along Narrow River, you can access the 317-acre John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge, home to the largest population of black ducks in the state. And along the Wood River, there are bends where you meander under branches and through waterweeds at a pace that slows you down and makes you listen intently to the sounds of birds, frogs, and insects.
With many indoor places around the state offering rock-climbing gyms, how much more fun would it be to do it outside? In a small, flat state, there are a surprising number of bouldering opportunities in Lincoln, which actually become climbable much earlier than other New England spots when the spring thaw happens. The following site will take you to information about the granite boulders in Lincoln Woods State Park, including route maps, photos and the particular "problems" to be conquered on each: www.newenglandbouldering.com/ri.
There is also a short history of climbing these boulders, including a group of local crag-rats in the late í60s/early í70s who were dubbed "Rhodiesí Loadies," for smoking grass and climbing boulders at the same time. The climbing itself is described as "straight up problems, sit-down problems, traverses, overhanging face, fist crack, hand crack, finger crack, even off-width crack," and climbers are advised that they wonít need to bring any rope. They are warned to bring hand/finger tape, though, because of so many sharp edges on the rocks and landings littered with tree roots and smaller rocks, so itís best to make a plan before doing the actual climb.
Dancing can be every bit as energizing and aerobic as climbing rocks, especially if youíre doing it outside, for say, 12 hours at a stretch. Who would be insane enough to do that? Cajun/Zydeco dance fanatics who attend the annual Labor Day weekend Rhythm & Roots Festival at Ninigret Park (this year, September 2-4; see www.rhythmandroots.com.
Louisiana-based musicians Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys are back as the host band, and they will kick off their Rhode Island sojourn with a show at the Towers in Narragansett on Thursday, September 1, the night before the festival starts. There will be dance lessons at the Towers and at the festival. But donít be intimidated by specific steps. Just move to the groove and the music will infect you.
Around Rhode Island and all through the year, there are Cajun dance lessons and Cajun/Zydeco concerts if you need another hit of this music: www.ridance.com/ cajun. The www.ridance.com site will also take you to scores of other kinds of dance lessons and social dances. Classes listed here range from African dance and Argentine tango through hula, Irish dance, and Zydeco. The "social dance" category includes folk, square dancing, ballroom, country (contra), country-western, swing, and Latin. And to complete the circle of being next to the ocean, even as you learn to tango, check out the Towers for lessons and dance events throughout the coming year (www.thetowersri.com).
Issue Date: August 26 - September 1, 2005
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