Launching some rockets

When I was a kid, my uncles would, on occasion, take me to go launch some rockets. Either that or they would drop me on my head (according to my mom, being dropped on my head happened a lot more often than I can remember thanks to the concussions). The farm field we would often go to to launch the rockets in is now the Laurelwood neighborhood in Waterloo. With a little researching, I found a new location: Snyder’s flats in Bloomingdale. It is only a 15-minute drive from my side (the far side) of Waterloo, so the trek out there wasn’t too bad. Just a little further down the road from the A on the Google map image, below. Here is a direct link to the Google map location if you want to visit the area yourself. Synder’s flats is overall, a very interesting place. I noticed a lot of off-leash dog walkers there; it seems to be pretty popular place for owners of canines.

Just go past the church, and park in the first open parking area on your left, across the road from the sand hill (pictured below). We launched in the large, flat area beside the sand hill, in the shade of a large oak tree, the only tree around. Fortunately the wind was on our side that day, blowing away from the road, in the general direction of the shadow of the tree. No sunburns, and we were comfortable in the heat.

My kids thought they should rock out with their rockets. The photo below doesn’t quite capture how hilarious and unintentionally suggestive my daughter was with her rocket. Rocketry is a relatively cheap activity for kids. Small, click-together rockets perfect for young kids sell for $10-20.

Launching rockets with your kids is a fairly peaceful activity. Rocket¬† launches aren’t very quick to set up, but the build-up is worth it and once the kids see the first one go, they are more than patient for the others to be launched. You’ll need a launcher of some sort, which can sell for $20 for the one I have (although I found mine at a thrift store and paid a lot less) or you can improvise and stick a firm, straight wire, 2′ in length, into the ground (a well-straightened coat hanger will do). An igniter can sell for $20 as well, or you can improvise, I just used a 6V battery holder (4 AA batteries) soldered to 20′ of wire, cost about $2 in materials. I clicked in the fourth battery when I wanted to launch the rocket.

Photographing the falling rocket is the easiest way to lose track of it. Every time I was trying to take a photo of a falling rocket, as soon as I pulled the lens away from my eye I had no idea where in the sky the rocket was anymore.

The other great part for the kids was running after the rocket for the recovery.

We almost lost this one. Again, due to trying to photograph its fall. Tears were shed when I broke the news. Then, off in the distance, I spotted the flutter of the parachute. The day was saved.

We only launched 4 rockets in about an hour and a half. It went by quick, but it wasn’t stressful and it was quite fun. Overall an excellent activity for two, young kids and their dad. Here the rockets are cooling after their launches. I use an ammo crate I bought from a surplus store to store the rocket engines in. Rocket engines can be costly depending on the size, they usually sell 3 engines for $9. This is one area you can’t skimp on, nor should you try unless you have significant experience with handling explosives and chemistry.

They’re debating how far the wind will blow the next rocket. There are kits you can buy, usually around $50, in which you’ll get a launcher, igniter, rocket and at least one engine. Enough for hours of fun and repeat use. Once you have some experience launching, building new ones becomes quite easy. There are many more kits out there, but with some ingenuity, you can figure out how to make you own rocket out of scrap cardboard tubes (just don’t use toilet paper rolls).

North Campus of uWaterloo and its secret swings

As a lifetime local, I can remember when there was very little to the Kitchener-Waterloo area relative to today. My parent’s first house was near the corner of Queen and Fischer Hallman, backing onto Fischer Hallman road, when it was only a two-lane street. Across the street from our backyard was an abandoned farm field, which is now the Real Canadian Superstore. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much beyond Fischer Hallman; the Forest Heights neighborhood was just starting out, and construction was everywhere. Growing up, I spent countless hours in the farm field, watching ducks in the pond, picking the “wild” daffodils that grew by the pine tree stand, and building forts with construction materials that were seemingly abandoned everywhere.

It’s sad to think that there aren’t too many places left like that around here. Construction is booming, and wild areas are all quickly filled in with homes. New parks are built everywhere, and there is very little reason for kids nowadays to wander off into the woods in search of adventure. There is still some space left like that, wild and free, but you just have to look harder, and one spot is hidden in the University of Waterloo’s North Campus. Slowly construction is filling it in with the business park, but there is still the stream and wild area surrounding it.

The area has changed considerably since when I was a kid. There used to be a golf course up there, and Columbia Lake looks nothing like it did a decade ago due to its recent re-engineering.  North Campus was pretty far to bike to when I was younger, but I still made the trip once in a while. During lunch the other day I went for a walk through the woods along the stream, just off the bicycle path, part reliving the memories of my youth, part for the sake of adventure, only to be pleasantly surprised.

I counted at least three swings installed on trees along the stream through North Campus.

The one pictured above is tried to a cedar tree growing beside the stream.

Immediately upon finding the first swing I was transported back to my childhood. I felt that same sense of wonder and magic that comes from venturing off the beaten path and making new discoveries. Finding the first one was pretty cool; subsequent discoveries of more swings turned it into an adventure. How many would I find? Who put them there? Why? From my childhood adventures I knew there was a foundation that the stream ran through further back into the forest, possibly it was an old mill, and it was a target I wanted to find again. So, I trudged further back into the woods, to find the best swing of all was installed looking over the little “waterfall” that ran through it:

Here’s a closer look at the swing:

It was a rare treat to find something like this. If you are feeling adventurous too, I recommend you go look for them in the near future. I only wish I’d thought of doing this first.