Active Outdoors: Rainy day play


Back in early June, I planted tomatoes in containers in the sunniest spot on the random green stuff I mow infrequently and call a "lawn," figuring I'd have to water them every day that it didn't rain. They've grown huge; I've watered them once.

Getting outdoors and having fun when it is raining, has just rained or is about to rain is a psychological challenge. It's hard to force yourself out the door, but once you do, chances are you'll have just as much fun as you would have if it wasn't raining. Maybe more, because all the time you are out and about, you'll be congratulating yourself for having escaped a dreary trap.

That's one of the reasons my sweetheart Marilyn and I enjoy bike touring from inn to inn as much as we do. Traveling by bike forces you to get out and enjoy the day, rain or no rain. If you didn't have to get somewhere else, you might talk yourself out of going biking at all. Yes it's sometimes tough getting started if it's pouring, but that is more than offset by the pure, silly fun of laughing as you ride through puddles and get splashed by a passing truck. After that, you can't get any wetter, so the rain no longer matters.

Some of our best biking memories are of pedaling through torrents of rain in Vermont, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Cape Cod and the Islands. Those days really stand out more than the perfect days under blue skies. And then there's that moment when you arrive where you are going and get in out of the rain. You strip off your wet gear, stuff newspapers into your bike shoes to start the process of drying them and jump into the shower to sluice off the road grime. Heaven!

However, my personal favorite rain sports (as long as there's no lightning about) are out on and in the water. I love swimming in the rain. When you go surfing or whitewater rafting, you are going to get wet anyway, so rain makes absolutely no difference. In fact, if you are looking for something to do on a rainy day with your family, there's probably nothing better than whitewater rafting.

Kayaking is also especially great in the rain. If the day is chilly, you sit in a kayak wearing a hat and a paddling jacket, button up the cockpit with a spray skirt and you are perfectly comfortable no matter how hard it rains. If it's warm, you wear a bathing suit, get wet and cool off.

Out on the water, rain becomes a multi-sensory treat. Watching a summer shower come at you across the water, feeling the breeze pick up moments before the rain reaches you, hearing the hiss of raindrops on the water's surface, and the gentle drum of raindrops on the kayak's hull. Again, it's a very different experience than you'd have on a sunny day, but it's not to be missed.

I'll have to admit that even I have a hard time launching a camping trip if it's actually raining or if there's a prolonged multi-day rainstorm in the forecast. But a summer afternoon shower doesn't really impact a camping trip negatively. If possible, get your camp set up before the rain arrives and then enjoy the smug feeling of relaxing, reading, maybe napping, listening to the sound of rain on your tent (one of the most soothing sounds in the world).

In any case, the one thing you don't want to do on a rainy summer day is stay inside and grumble. Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Appropriate caution

A little rain is one thing. Thunder, lightning and extremely heavy downpours are something else. If you're biking, very heavy rain can make it hard for passing cars to see you. Don't be foolish -- if it's raining too hard for you to see, find shelter until the downpour passes. Really heavy rains are usually fairly short-duration.

If you are out hiking or camping and it starts to thunder, get away from tall trees and rocky outcroppings -- both of which are lightning magnets -- and crouch with just the balls of your feet on the ground. If you have a closed-cell foam mattress with you, it probably wouldn't hurt to stand on it, and put a little more distance between you and the ground, though I don't know for sure that it would help.

Twenty-three Boy Scouts at a camp in New Hampshire were recently hit by a single bolt of lightning when they took shelter beneath a tarp among some tall pines. The lightning hit a nearby tree, traveled through the ground and zapped them. All survived. It made the national news.

Fast-flowing water from downpours is even more dangerous than lightning. A trickle can become a torrent in a matter of minutes, and the power of flowing water is simply amazing -- especially if you can't see where you are stepping and the footing is unsure to begin with. Two women were wading on the edges of the appropriately named Swift River in Conway, N.H., (near a roadside turnout along the Kancamagus Highway) during this week's heavy rains. Both were swept away. One clung to a rock until she was rescued, the other drowned.

You don't have to be a daredevil deep in the wilderness to get into trouble. Be smart.

Summer fun

Rain or shine, there's a Northern boreal forest summer tree ID hike at Tamarack Hollow in Windsor ( on Saturday, July 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Outdoor educator Aimée Gelinas will help you learn about the unique trees of this high elevation northern boreal forest ecosystem such as balsam fir, red spruce, tamarack, striped maple and hobblebush viburnum and sample some of the wild edibles we find along the way. This is a 2-mile, easy to moderate hike. Bring water and a snack and wear sturdy footwear. To register/pay, call Mass Audubon at (413) 584-3009 or visit

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email:


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