Last week, I blogged about how I was dying to get back into kayaking, which used to be a passion of mine in college. I started my web search that very night, hoping to find a local, like-minded group of folks I could join for a weekend paddling trip here and there this spring and summer. I Google searched “kayak meetups”, “Virginiakayaking groups”, and “VA paddlers”. I found absolutely nothing even remotely close to my hometown. Bummer. But I did find the website for people interested in paddling trips, rentals, lessons and even camping in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and on the Potomac River(www.rivertrail.com/kayaking). So my next goal is to find a friend to join me, and to get signed up for a trip.
This would be a great time to mention my ten day sea kayaking adventure in the Florida Everglades, back in the spring of my junior year of college. Our school’s adventure club was offering the trip as an alternative to the typical spring break, and my roommate Kelli and I were all about it. The ridiculously low cost covered the entire trip, including travel expenses, food, boats, guides, and camping equipment. After a long drive to southern Florida, we prepped our wet bags, loaded all the gear (including the camp stoves, water, and food), and shoved off from the state park. Our first day was a twelve mile paddle that took us through the winding, gator-flecked mangroves of the Everglades, and shot us out into the Gulf of Mexico where we glided alongside dolphins and manatees. Twilight started to fall well before we reached our destination, the first deserted tropical island where we would make our camp. It was pretty scary paddling through the darkness with only voices and lanterns to guide us, and our arms burned with pain as the miles passed, but I will never forget the feeling I had when we landed on that island. It was the pure joy of serious accomplishment.
The next morning, we all awoke to the shock of our muscles being locked up in protest. I often think of that morning when I complain about being sore after a tough workout. Those days are nothing compared with that one. We could barely straighten our arms or open our hands (they were locked in a kayak paddler’s grip). The pain was intense. But as we began to take down our tents and prepare breakfast, our limbs warmed up and life went on. The rest of the trip was spent island hopping, sharing stories, alligator/dolphin/manatee watching, cooking, singing, being eaten alive by bugs, dealing with body image issues, learning about the ecosystem, and building friendships that would stand the test of time. I have always thought of that trip as one of the most physically and mentally difficult things I have ever done, but with one of the most rewarding returns.
I learned last week that my old roommate and friend had passed away. Kelli was only thirty-three. Although we had lost touch for a few years, we recently reconnected and I learned that she had spend the years since our trip continuing to feed her love of the outdoors with more kayaking, camping, and hiking trips. This is one of the reasons I’d like to get back to these things. Kelli was by my side for ten days that changed my perception of self-possibility. So besides returning to something I enjoy, I want to honor her memory by continuing to challenge myself, both physically and mentally. I know it will be tough, but so was she. So was I. I think she will be looking down on me from the moment I climb into that boat until the moment I pass out, exhausted and joyful, arms locked in that paddler’s grip.