By ALVIN REINER
---- — KEENE — A 40-degree windchill and 25 mph breezes did not deter eight members of the Dames of Wine and Chocolate from going full speed ahead on a recent kayak excursion.
For the past 15 years, the Dames, a loosely knit group of about 30 ladies, mostly in their 60s and 70s, have plied North Country ponds, lakes and rivers weekly from summer to fall. Since some are still employed and others spend time volunteering or caring for grandchildren, the average trek has from six to a dozen adventurous souls.
To add to their adventures, the Dames also rough it with a couple of three-day, two-night kayaking/camping excursions, in which the menu includes delicacies created with their namesake.
“Karen Glass (Keene Valley librarian) and I started the Dames many years ago,” said Linda Deyo, a retired science teacher. “We live in a beautiful area, and this was another way to see and appreciate it. It was just the two of us the first year or so, but gradually others started joining us. In an effort to prevent endless phone calls as the group got larger, we started coming up with an annual schedule, which originally included one two-night camping trip and now includes two.”
An appreciation of nature and the camaraderie are the principal reasons for Deyo’s participation.
“We all enjoy the leisurely scenic trips, viewing wildlife and flowers, a waterside picnic, swimming and the company of the group. We are definitely flat-water paddlers. The wine is just for the overnights; the chocolate is for each trip,” Deyo said. “Probably my most memorable experience was watching the interaction between a pair on loons with a baby and a bald eagle who wanted the little loon for breakfast on Hitchins Pond in the Bog River Flow area.”
The ladies want to live life to its fullest.
“My philosophy is that none of us are promised tomorrow, so enjoy today and do what you can to leave this world a better place. As for other interests, I enjoy reading; gardening; horseback riding; skiing; hiking; and good food, family and friends,” Deyo said.
Lacy Rezek, 64, a recently retired school psychologist who grew up in the Adirondacks, was a Peace Corps volunteer in North Africa. Each summer, she returns to the North Country from her skiing adventures in Nevada.
“Many (in the group) were friends, since my kids were in preschool at Children’s Center in E’town, and have remained so,” Rezek said of her reasons for joining the group. “Some were colleagues at Keene Central during brief employment there.
“Every time I join them, these grandma looking ‘old’ ladies turn into very gutsy mud-walking, beaver-dam-climbing, canoe- and kayak-hauling, rain-camping troopers. It’s amazing to have this experience with women not willing to sit back in their rockers and watch the world go by as they get older,” Rezek said.
As for her outlook on life, Rezek said: “In general, it only gets better so far. Health concerns can be limiting, but meeting the Dames and learning of their ambitiousness helps me focus on maintaining my health and improving my abilities so I can continue for a long time to come.
“Kayaking is a great activity for many because on a calm day, most folks can paddle a kayak and get out on the water, enjoy nature, etc. even if you don’t go far, or if you need help moving the kayak to and from the car.”
“It (kayaking with the group) has expanded my appreciation of the Adirondacks,” Rezek said. “There is so much water here, and a small canoe or kayak is perfect for getting to know this area from the vantage point of the water. It helps get me away from the crowds and closer to the birds, especially the loons.”
Glass introduced Bethany Krawiec, 69, to the group near its inception, when they were all paddling Walden kayaks.
“My most memorable time (with the Dames) may be swinging from the rope swing near Buck Pond,” the retired math and science teacher at a boys’ boarding school said. “I go on as many trips as I can each year. In addition to paddling, I cross-country ski and hike whenever the weather allows, and quilt when I can’t. I take life day by day.”
One would never guess Ellie McAvoy’s age of 74. The retired elementary-school art teacher, mother of five and grandmother of eight, who also lists herself as the “wife of Joe,” joined the Dames because she “wanted to paddle, and they paddle weekly.
“In addition to the paddling, they’re a fun group of women,” McAvoy said.
Among her more interesting experiences with the Dames, McAvoy said, “We paddled out toward Lake Champlain, and it felt like we were paddling in the ocean. It was very different from our typical paddles.”
Besides paddling, she keeps busy gardening, quilting, hiking, running and skiing both downhill and cross-country.
As for her outlook on life in general, McAvoy succinctly said: “It’s life. What do you want? I like it and prefer to keep doing it.”
So what do these intrepid women do in the fall? They transform themselves into a “hunting widows supper club,” even though most of their significant others are not in the search for game.
Email Alvin Reiner: firstname.lastname@example.org