Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Steves Island, 3/15/09

Lately, most of my paddling excursions have been solo. I would like to have companions, but the number of paddlers here is greatly reduced from October through June, when the water temperature stays below fifty, and especially in these winter months when it stays near freezing. To paddle in the winter, a kayaker needs adequate skills, gear and motivation. It isn’t for everyone.

When variable weather and schedules are added to the mix, it becomes obvious that I wouldn’t get out much if I didn’t go alone. Admittedly, I started paddling solo long before I had good self-rescue skills. Maybe I felt impatient when I couldn’t get others to go along, or maybe I just knew I would like it. My job sometimes requires me to chat with people from morning well into the evening, and at times I have become extremely worn-down by it. If I got out for a couple of hours in the morning by myself, pausing occasionally to listen to waves or the drip from my paddle blades, or to just drift and well... look at rocks, I discovered that I carried that calm with me through the day. I hung charts in the bathroom, and found myself lingering there, staring at the places I’d been, evoking them in my mind.

John Island, 3/10/09

I remember one of those first tentative trips out by myself. I hate to admit that I didn’t even have a chart. Or a compass. It was early on a summer morning, calm and warm. Because it was low tide, the stretches between islands seemed smaller. I paddled along the shore, keeping islands on my left, continually drawn on by the next island. I didn’t know the names of the islands or which ones were privately-owned or public. Maybe the newness and the lack of proper names in my mind added to the elemental feeling, the simplicity of it. I hardly thought about it, didn’t know where I was going; I just enjoyed it.

Then I heard waves breaking on the shore, and felt the lift of a swell beneath me. I had come to the end of the interior islands, and found myself beside a steep granite shore, strewn with glacial erratic boulders. Little stood between me and the bold open ocean. The swell lifted me up again, and I wasn’t sure if I should be nervous. I was nervous, and unsure of myself. The swells broke upon the shore harmlessly, but there was a lot of power in them.

Spruce Island, 3/17/09

Maybe that was the first time I consciously did what I now do automatically: ask “what if I capsize?” There would be no landing on that steep shore. Looking back, I know I should have turned around, because I didn’t have the skills to be there. But man, I wanted to be out there, paddling in that swell alongside that bold coastline. I went, and of course, it was magic. I returned home knowing that I had a lot to learn.

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