Stand-up Paddle Boarding on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I am fortunate to live in a gorgeous part of Virginia. While I travel regularly, I would be remiss not to take advatage of some of the wellness activities that are just outside my door. I met my river guide, James, at Explore Park, mile marker 115 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park is just a fifteen-minute drive from downtown Roanoke, Va.  Explore Park is a jumping off point for many outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking, fishing, boating and now stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) thanks to the folks at Roanoke Mountain Adventure. It’s worth taking a look at the calendar of events at Explore Park– there are museum exhibits, live exhibits showcasing historic Virginia themes, and now one of the hottest outdoor activities, stand-up paddleboarding.

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I called Roanoke Mountain Adventures, a local SUP outfitter, and booked a private lesson to learn the techniques needed to enjoy this sport. Like all water sports, it is important to enjoy SUP with a friend for safety. James Revercomb, the owner and a guide is my SUP friend today. Group classes fill up quickly, and with the peak heat of the summer, I did not want to postpone my opportunity to get in on this perfect summertime activity. I love being on the water and out in nature, so I thought this sport would be right up my alley.

James and I got to know each other on land, and then he unloaded the equipment we would be using. Since I am familar with canoeing and kayaking, we were able to make quick time going over the fundamentals, and move quickly to the equipment that is new to me, the paddleboard and the oar. The board we are using today is an inflatable 10 foot 8 inch paddleboard with a fairly wide width of 32 inches. The bottom of the board has three hard fins like a surf board. It is very lightweight and can actually be deflated, rolled up, and put in a small car, like the convertible that I drove today.  These boards are well made and can hold up to the day-to-day stress of multiple rentals and novice paddlers. He stocks boards in different widths and heights, and most boards can hold up to 250 lbs without a problem. Although the board is inflatable, it is extremely strudy and had no real give once fully inflated. This is also the same board he uses for the very popular Stand-up Paddle Yoga classes that he hosts.

Stand-up Paddle board and Oar
Stand-up Paddle board and Oar

One of the first things I noticed is that the paddle is adjustable to the person’s height. It also has a bend. It is bright yellow on the bottom. The yellow paddle helped me identify how deep my strokes were, which is key for good paddling technique. James went over the techniques needed to get in without falling off, on my knees and steady myself. We also went over several different strokes needed for this wide calm portion of the Roanoke River that we would be paddling on. We focused on paddling straight, which can be done by paddling on one side with the proper technique. Turning and stopping were also on the list.

Easy access to launch my paddlboard
Easy access to launch my paddlboard

Once on the water, I steadied myself at first on my knees, but I was standing up within a minute. Now, standing upright on the water, we went through the same strokes that we had done on the land. James made certain I felt safe and comfortable with all the strokes before heading out into the open river. He had given me the option of a fanny pack type of life vest or a traditional one. I was so glad I had chosen to go with the waist-belt life vest, as I had no trouble manuvering my paddle or body as I think I would have with a traditional life vest. I had all the right gear for this activity.

Stand up Paddle board lesson on the Roanoke River
Stand up Paddle board lesson on the Roanoke River

We spent the most of the morning paddling. He set up an inflatable buoy for a practice point, and I worked on my turns. As an experienced guide and lover of nature, he pointed out a gorgeous blue heron to me, and several other birds including a osprey carrying a small fish. We did have a small boat pass by, but the wake was no problem for the wide paddleboard.  By that point, I had already mastered one-side paddling. He mentioned that he has gear for fishing off of the paddleboard. He also said some people like to lie down for a nap. Hmmm, maybe I will get my husband out here!

What to know before you go:  Call ahead and make appointments for peak times, especially holidays and weekends. He has a few launching places to choose from. I chose the Explore Park for its natural beauty and convenience to downtown. James recommends wearing moisture-wicking clothing, or even a bathing suit. Water shoes are not needed. I wore flip flops and left them on the shore. He will have a dry bag for your phone or anything else you think you might need. He can host groups of up to a dozen people, which would reduce the cost per person. They also rent kayaks, tubes, and bikes. He might have just talked me into a mountain biking lesson.

I loved SUP.   I plan on going back for a kayak lesson as well.  Check his calendar for SUP yoga classes as well.

What are you waiting for?

I was not given any special treatment other than being a paying guest of Roanoke Mountain Adventures. This is my life.

Ritz-Carlton Signature facial in New Orleans

Guests of the Ritz-Carlton have a choice six facials in this spa, if you include the one that they offer for men.  I chose the Signature facial for the custom approach to this treatment.  In my heart, there is only one option when it comes to facials, the eighty minute facial. This spa offers fifty minute facials as well, but those are just a tease in my book. By the time your esthetician discusses any skin issues, gets you settled on the heated table, customizes the treatment, and gets the steam going, that would make a 50 minute facial only 45 minutes of goodness. I am not down with that! My esthetician today is Kathleen.

A beautiful reception area includes amazing fountain.
A beautiful reception area includes amazing fountain.

Kathleen was able to understand what I needed from this treatment. She knows I’m on vacation, because she asked. She also knew my skin would be dry from the long flight and a bit dehydrated from some delicious beverages that I have enjoyed while on Bourbon Street. My intention was to get a moisturizing facial and address any signs of aging appearing on my face.

Just around the corner is Bourbon Street, one of the most fun streets in the United States.
Just around the corner from the Ritz is Bourbon Street, one of the most fun streets in the United States.

Sometimes I am in a quiet, meditative mood while in the spa, but today, I was not. I booked this appointment at 11am. I had already been in the spa for a while and was able to enjoy some Champagne (straight, no orange juice for me)! Intuitive staff already knew my affinity for Champagne from the day before. I was able to meet some other ladies in the plush locker room, also into town for the same convention.  I was in a pretty chatty mood when I met up with my therapist. Beside being a knowledgeable esthetician, Kathleen was able to adjust to my mind-set and we had fun discussing other treatments and restaurants that I might like. She was professional, fun, and helped me my narrow down some of my many restaurant choices while in town. There are so many great restaurants to choose from!

I did not meet Mildred, or I would have asked her for a bite! An amazing spa for special occasions.
I did not meet Mildred, or I would have asked her for a bite! An amazing spa for special occasions.

About my treatment, I really like it when a spa is not tied to one product line. Multiple product lines means that I can get a truly custom facial. I can get products that I can’t find at home, find an old favorite, or just sampling something new. This spa has a serious arsenal of products so the options were amazing. After discussing my options, we quickly decide to continue on with the Dr. Gross product line. I was introduced to this line in January while at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes property in Orlando, and I really liked it. I also decided to add-on the alpha beta peel.

Large retail area includes all of the beauty arsenal and other carefully chosen spa products.
Large retail area includes all of the beauty arsenal and other carefully chosen spa products.

Here is the thing about add-ons. Usually, they do not add time to your service, and they will almost always cost additional money. But, it is a great way to try new treatments and products. Some of my favorite facials have had a scalp treatment add-on. Other popular add-ons are lip and eye treatments or hands and feet paraffin treatments.  Kathleen was not pushy, but just simply offered the Alpha Beta Peel as an answer to my issue with aging. This peel uses natural alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) to lightly remove dead skin. The goal of this peel is to reduce appearance of fine lines, address acne, rosacea, and oily skin. Excellent! I have all that, sans the rosacea. This natural product was applied nearing the end of the treatment and followed up with the application of many moisturizers. There is no downtime with this particular peel. It is not as harsh as a chemical peel or other higher potency natural peels. Due to it’s lower strength, there will be no redness, flaking, or peeling. Expect more downtime with products found in physicians offices, versus a spa environment.

When I bond with a therapist sometimes I take a photo to capture my crazy spa hair! Kathleen is amazing.
When I bond with a therapist I take a photo to capture my crazy spa hair! Kathleen is amazing.

I loved this facial. Great news, I did not need too many extractions, and if I did, I already had my champagne, so no worries there! Kathleen did a great job explaining the many steps in this facial and the products used. She pampered me with lots of massaging strokes, all while answering my many questions about this fun city. When she finished the service, I was definitely more relaxed, my skin felt more moisturized, and I had a bit of a glow. She reminded me to leave the products on as long as I could, and to take care if I was in the sun. She also gave me a note with the names of the products she used for my reference. I find this helpful, as really good treatment tends to give me “spa brain.” She walked me back over the relaxation room where I met up with two friendly, local ladies enjoying a spa day. They were enjoying very fancy, mini cheese burger sliders in their robes in between thier services. No judgement at this spa! It is an oasis in the heart of the French Quarter. 

Helpful tips:

Always discuss your current regimen with your esthetician, don’t forget to mention any peels, laser services, or other topical products that you use on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

If going to the beach or pool after a facial, be sure to wear a hat. Keep one in your spa bag along with sunscreen.

If you have not had a facial in a very long time, expect more extractions 🙁

Have you had any special add-ons to a facial you recieved? What was the add-on and was it worth it?