Out on the Water

Slow down a bit, take a breath, maybe dangle your feet in the water for a moment, and you’ll discover this: These lakes have a social life of their own.

Amber Ault leads you to the water and ways to beat the summer heat.

We’ve all heard about Madison’s status as an extraordinary cycling venue—our town hosts Ironman Wisconsin, seriously ranks as a potential site for Olympic cycling, serves as home base for a host of charity rides and recreational bike tours, and, of course, anchors the challenging, moving, inspiring ACT rides. Perched atop a bike travelling 20 miles an hour, Madison’s lovely lakes become just another part of the scenic backdrop on the way to the hills. But slow down a bit, take a breath, maybe dangle your feet in the water for a moment, and you’ll discover this: these lakes have a social life of their own. And for swimmers, kayakers, windsurfers and fisherfolk, those cyclists whizzing by are just a busy piece of the bucolic scenery. For them, it’s all about the water.

An Itch to Fish

Or about the fish. “Madison is a fishing Mecca,” says Barb Carey, local fish fanatic, fishing facilitator, and owner of wiwomenfish.com. Since Madison is also a lesbian Mecca, it was probably only a matter of time before worlds converged and the town became a lesbian fishing Mecca.

I asked Carey how many of the women who attend her fishing camps and classes are lesbian. She laughs, “Oh, about 95 per cent.” This might suggest that women attending are fishing for more than walleye, but Carey is all business when it comes to angling: “It’s about the fishing!” she insists.

As Carey tells it, fishing offers an addictive combination of relaxation and excitement. “You can disconnect from the urban chaos,” she notes, while being engaged by the possibility that “something exciting could happen at any time.” Carey likes the community-building aspects of fishing, too. She teaches individuals, small groups and classes how to get started, and notes that anglers often have opportunities to strike up conversations with folks from walks of life different from their own. Although fisherwomen can reduce their grocery bills by eating what they catch, they can also “catch and release,” a practice that sounds like lesbian dating to me.

A Whim to Swim

Much of Carey’s summer fishing facilitation happens along the shores of Madison’s lakes, marshes, ponds and lagoons. For those interested in seeing aquatic life a little closer, there’s the possibility of open-water swimming. For those of us whose swimming has been defined by baby bathtub photos (of us at six months), or by sunbathing next to chlorinated pools, swimming in open water seems like a mysterious, sometimes dangerous voyage in a foreign country. Every queer swimmer I’ve met in Madison eventually dog-paddles to Mark Peterson, an exercise physiologist who owns SwimFastMadison.com, and who specializes in teaching people to swim in open water-and to love it. Despite the seasonal blooms of cyanobacteria-informally called blue-green algae—there’s still great open-water swimming in Madison and vicinity. If Lake Monona is having a bad day, the water is likely clear at Fireman’s Park in Verona or at Devil’s Lake State Park, just up the road.

A Penchant for Paddling

If this is your season to learn to paddle, whether to follow your favorite swimmer around, or to take someone special on full-moon paddling dates, or just to prepare for the next great flood, Madison is a fine place to do that, too. Lots of lesbians have enjoyed Rutabaga Paddle Sports’ Water Divas outings for women kayakers (bring your own or rent one at Rutabaga in Monona). Go to rutabaga.com for more information. Camp Randall Rowing Club and Mendota Rowing Club also make it possible to learn to row on your own or as part of a team, and Hoofers at the UW Memorial Union Terrace, like city park venues and for-profit paddling companies, makes it possible for you to learn to sail, windsurf or paddle before you commit to buying a boat.

Oh, and while you’re out at the shore in your wetsuit or rowing on the water, remember to wave at the cyclists. They are a nice part of the scenery.