Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wait, we’re kayaking in THAT??

We get to our put-in point on the Klickitat River on Tuesday morning, and right away I see that there’s been some kind of miscommunication here. Rather than the gently burbling water I expect, what I see are clearly class 5 rapids, maybe even 6. How high does the scale go? Because these are off the charts, a maelstrom of frothing water. My god, they really ARE trying to kill us!

Spanky: Okay, so as you can see, these are some nice calm….
Me: Class 5 rapids!
Spanky: Umm no. Right here I think we’re at a 1, maybe a 2.

Hmm, I’m skeptical, but so be it, I’ll let the instructors have their little delusions. We learn about eddies, the calm spots that we can eddy into and relax and chill. I love eddies, their calmness and predictability. Eddies are my friend, so easy to manage (note: more foreshadowing here).

We then get our starting out instructions, for handling this obvious Class 5 rapid in front of us.

Mrs. Robinson: So you want to head towards that rock on the other side, then let the current take you to the right, but the most important thing to remember is to NOT look at what you’re headed towards but rather where you want to go, down the river. I repeat, don’t look at the rock or tree, but down the river.

Of course I take these words to heart, and after I bypass the rock, go straight towards the tree, locking it in with a laser beam focus.

As I hone in on it, pulled in seemingly by tractor beam, I’m thinking, hmm, a tree. Should I try to grab its branches and brace myself so that I can then push myself away? In the back of my head the laws of physics seem to dictate that that would be a really stupid idea (rapidly moving object + static object = sheer stupidity), so I then wonder if I can duck under it. As I’m pondering this existential dilemma, holding my paddle delicately in front of me, I hit the branches and bloop go under.

Two minutes in and I’m already going swimming.

Story of my life.

I panic slightly as I find myself in some tree branches and bumping up against some rocks, then attempt a feeble t-rescue, then start yanking at the spray skirt pretty much right away. Of course, the key to kayaking, as with life, is to surround yourself with people who can help you navigate the rapids. And so, once I stop flailing about, I realize that plenty of help is at hand, and just like that I’m okay again. I got this. And I do. I pop up, grab onto someone’s kayak, and get towed into an eddy so that we can drain my own kayak.

And now that I’ve gone under for the first time, I’m a pro at this swimming stuff. Swim Team Captain, that’s me! Oh sure, Navigator tries to usurp my exalted status, but to no avail – she only goes under two times to my three. Nice try Navigator!

At one point later in the day we pull over by a bridge, and I hear Twinkletoes saying something about “so you can walk to the top and then get up and jump off the bridge…”, and I figure he’s joking. That’s before I see GI Jane up there, getting read to jump off. Well okay then, why not? There’s something about FD that makes the seemingly crazy or impossible seem totally doable and logical. Like bridge-jumping. Makes perfect sense to me!

I head to the top, clamber up onto the bridge rail, and after I look at the distant swirling water down below for way too long, I jump, and immediately realize why people jumping off really tall bridges usually die. Because you feel how quickly you pick up speed, and hitting the water is kind of like hitting cement, or at least soft cement. But it’s awesome, and I’m grinning as I swim to shore, just as I’ve been smiling like a fool all day long. This is the BEST!

That day’s award truly goes to Vineyard though, who wasn’t going to jump, as she noted “I can’t swim very well” – but then decides what the fuck, and jumps anyway. I think that’s the motto for the week – saying fuck it, and doing things anyway. Life’s too short to do otherwise.

That evening I realize my true purpose in being at FD: to serve as a warning to others. Because there we are talking about other FD camps and activities, and we’re talking about surfing, when I pipe up: “Oh yeah, I tried surfing in Costa Rica – it was great – at least until I clotheslined myself with the surfboad.”

Mrs. Robinson: That reminds me of something –I’ll be right back.

She comes back with the waiver form from Wet Planet for all of us to sign, stating that if we’re foolish enough to drown or maim ourselves, we won’t hold Wet Planet responsible. See, never let it be said that my stupidity doesn’t come in handy.

We have another amazing meal that evening prepared by our chef Molle, who is making healthy foods that taste wonderful. That’s another thing – it’s weird to be so spoiled and pampered, as I’m just not used to this. Sure, I have friends and family who’ll help me out when things are dire, but on a day-to-day basis, I’m used to fending for myself with pretty much everything: cleaning, fixing, cooking, getting shit done, figuring things out, etc. Here anything we need we’ll get help with. It’s almost bizarre, but hey, who am I to argue with it?

Monday, August 27, 2012

I am Goddess, hear me roar

The next morning, we head over to the little inlet where we’ll be learning some kayaking skills, and I quickly rack up my first major triumph of the day, which allowed me to call upon all my skills as a triathlete: I got my wetsuit on. Yep, pulled that sucker on like it was nothing, and raised my hands in victory. Rock$tar!

Of course, this was before I realized that that was the easy part, and that in kayaking the real pain in the ass is getting the little jacket thingie on. It’s sealed with, I don’t know, cement or something, so you’re basically vacuum sealed in there for the duration. And let’s not even talk about the spray skirt, shall we?

We then get in the water, and of course the first lesson involves being dumped over into the water so that we’re dangling upside down. This is just for a quick second, but then we dump ourselves for real so that we can practice doing a wet exit, or getting out of the kayak by releasing the spray skirt. In kayaking parlance, this is called “swimming,” and I will just say that it’s a good thing I mastered the wet exit with speed and aplomb (in writing circles this is called “foreshadowing”).

The next several hours are spent learning a bunch of other skills, from turning and paddling to practicing the t-rescue, which is what you do when your kayak goes over but you don’t swim. Basically, the t-rescue involves waiting upside down in the water once you tip, after you’ve thunked the sides of the kayak to draw attention to the fact that you’re burbling about underwater, and then using another kayak as leverage to right yourself.

It’s pretty damn cool, and of course I master it right away. Piece of cake! In fact, everything we do is a piece of cake. I actually say at one point to Wildflower, after he’s explained one maneuver or another: “Yeah, that’s pretty intuitive.”

(pause for reader laughter to subside)

Let’s just say that a lot of things that seem intuitive when you’re on a very calm inlet in relatively deep water can seem a bit……NOT so when you’re in a rapidly rushing river with rocks a’plenty. Just sayin’.

But for now, we leave off for the day and I feel like a total rockstar. I will master the kayak! Be one with the river! Paddle along like the river goddess that I am! Yep, some of us are just born to certain sports, clearly, and this one is mine.

What can I say, it’s a gift.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"My god, we're torturing cancer patients!"

By the time I read that in this excellent series of articles about First Descents, it was too late to back out. Not that I would have, of course, as I like to embrace my motto whenever possible (read: “doing the stupid things, so you don’t have to”). But it was probably a good thing I was too busy getting my house ready to sell to google or read up about “whitewater kayaking” or I might have driven myself insane. Well, more insane than I already was with the house thing.

Anyway. The first order of business with First Descents is picking out or getting a nickname, which in my case is pretty obvious. Several of us are getting picked up by Wildflower at the Portland airport, so we start discussing this.

Wildflower: Do you have any nicknames?

Me: Well, I AM known far and wide as Tasha the Triathlon Goddess.
Wildflower: There we go. Goddess.
Me: That works.

What can I say, sometimes things just fall into place as they should.

* * * * * *

We all head over to the lodge, which is a wonderful place owned by an amazing woman who lives next door, and which is nestled in the woods and has a perfect view of Mt. Hood right off the deck. There are 9 of us campers at this retreat for First Descents, which puts together these adventure trips for cancer survivors. Other than conferences, this is the first cancer retreat of any kind I’ve gone to, so I have no idea what to expect. Lots of kumbayaing? Who knows. All I know is that some of us are sitting on the deck, chatting, and I make a stellar first impression by suddenly starting to yell: “AH! AH! AHH! AAAHHHHH! SHIT!!!!”

There’s an insane hornet that’s gotten between my toes and is stinging the crap out of me. As a group, however, we’re nothing less than completely prepared, as I have heavy-dosage painkillers, Navigator has lavender oil to put on it, and Mountain Goat instructs me to soak my foot in Epsom salts, which I do. In spite of the burning/stinging/shooting pain, I’m happy, because this is totally in keeping with my Schleprockian existence. Stung by a hornet on Day One? Of course! Bring it on!

* * * * * *

Another thing we do that afternoon is go over our medical history with Special Sauce. I’ve filled out the form and don’t have too much to add, but when she asks me if I have any concerns for the week, I ponder. If I think about it, I might have something like the following blurt out of my mouth:

“Well, I’m worried that I might not fit in the kayak, or be able to get out of it, or will in general look like a bug stuck on its back trying to do either of the above. You see, I used to be thin, pretty, athletic, capable, but cancer treatment and cancer drugs have put on all this weight which is almost impossible to take off, no matter how little I eat or how much I exercise. So now I’m fat and ungainly and I don’t even know who I am or how to deal with this me.”

But even though I know Special Sauce would understand perfectly every word I’m saying, I stay quiet – because I don’t even know where to start….or end.

* * * * * *

But then I’m over it, because that evening we go to get outfitted at Wet Planet, where we learn we’ll be kitted up like Staypuff Marshmallows in order to stay afloat. I sense that my biggest triumph may just be in getting this stuff on and off every day, because it’s like a wetsuit multiplied exponentially. In fact, there IS a wetsuit, which is just the bottom layer – but being the triathlon superstar that I am, that should be the easy part. The Wet Planet people are in the running with the FD folks for “nicest people on the planet,” so I’m starting to think there might be a possibility I won’t drown during the week.

Of course, I’m thinking this as I’m hobbling around with a pack of ice on my foot thanks to the hornet sting, so clearly, all bets are off.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Where you been, Miss Tasha?

I know my legions of fans, aka the twenties of readers I have, have all been silently seething wondering where the expected tales of one debacle or another are. Where are the RAGBRAI chronicles, whereupon this year was EVEN HOTTER than last year and 4 people died just from the heat? Where’s the synopsis of the hellaciously hilly Dairyland Dare? Where is the impending sense of doom from hearing about Miss Tasha’s soon-to-be trek to Oregon for some insanely crazy whitewater kayaking?

Well. Now that you ask the question, I will answer. This is where I’ve been. In other words, getting my home of 12 years, which had degenerated into one pile of crap after another, ready to put on the market.

This was not easy.

Did I mention the piles of crap? The stacks of papers, the magazines, the tchotchkes, the random shit that eventually went into boxes labeled “RS,” aka Random Shit?

Yeah. It was ugly.

But that’s where I’ve been, getting my damn house that I never want to see again but that I don’t want to move from because it looks so pretty now ready to sell. And because I like to impart bits of wisdom where I can, here are some observations or things I’ve learned along the way:

  • You know you’re getting a little batty with the whole “staging”: concept when you find yourself staging your dog’s toybox. Yes, I was pulling some things out, arranging others just so, so that it would look appropriately sophisticated. This is batshit crazy.

  • These days you have to make your house look like no one lives there – or in my case, as if the place belongs to a jaunty jet-setting couple who went to (ahem) Wharton and have so many exciting hobbies (triathlon/Ironman, hanging out in places like Tibet, heirloom gardening) that they don’t need furniture or other worldly possessions because they’re never home.

  • It pays to have the best friends in the world. Because there I was, feeling quite like the Little Red Hen, as I was slogging through another pile of crap and wondering how I’d get everything done, when who should come to save the day? Yes, SuperCori! Who came over with her Bagsters and her cleaning supplies and her iron will, and while I looked the other way got my kitchen cleaner than it’s EVER been, even when I first moved in. Not to mention the hall closet and part of the basement. I remain in awe, and forever grateful.

  • That is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. It is exhausting and back-breaking. Trust me on this, NEVER let your house descend into such a state  - it will be better for all involved. The only time I was a bit sad when I was cleaning was when I got to one of the rooms in the basement, that used to be my seedling room, where I’d pot up plants and the like. I had decorated it and made it homey, and then kept shuffling more crap into there until it just descended into squalor. It is a slippery slope between having too much junk that you won’t get rid of, and Hoarders.
  • My place looks fake, a cross between Pottery Barn and odd staging. Between the umbrella from Burma, the rice paddy hat from Vietnam, the Tibetan prayer wheels, the snazzy tri bike, the heirloom tomato stuff everywhere – it looks like someone is trying WAY too hard.

  • Most of my Facebook updates over the last 2 months have been in some way related to the house prep/cleaning. This has probably kept me somewhat sane, as I’ve given away, junked, packed, or freecycled 90% of what I own. At one point I sent out a plea to my friends: “Don’t ever let me buy ANYTHING ever again! Ever! Again!” Okay, maybe I need to revisit that “sane” concept.

  • Speaking of, I have now become somewhat of a virulent anti-Hoarder. I went out to dinner the other night with Stephanie, and as we were leaving, I saw the wrapped mints and contemplated, then recoiled. “NO, no mints, then they’ll just stay in my pocket and poof, next thing you know, a basement full of crap.” I did the same thing to the Streetwise guy after I gave him a buck and he asked me if I wanted a paper. “NO! NO PAPERS!” Unleashing my inner Joan Crawford there.
  • I am resentful at having to get rid of some furniture to make the place look more “open” and “spacious” – because HRH The Kone is NOT pleased. He has to squish himself into chairs and on the wee couch, and this is just not comfums for him. So please, someone buy my place quickly so that I can make my first planned purchase: a new couch for The Kone.

And speaking of buying, my listing went live on Friday afternoon at around 3PM. I fully expected that, given the beauty and wonder of my place now (go ahead, take a look at the link, see what I mean), it would sell within, ech, 3-4 hours. Tops. Sight unseen. People would be clogging up Henry’s voicemail trying to be the first ones to see the place and immediately put down a bid. I had visions of having one of the quickest sales in recent history – especially given that a house down the block from me went on the market last week and was under contract within 6 days. And while that place looks nice from the outside, inside it’s kind of dumpy based on the pictures – ugly carpeting, grandparent furniture, lace doilies, etc.

To say I had high hopes was not an understatement.

Behold, Day One.

Saturday morning

There are 2 showings today, one apparently to people who had been interested in the house down the street, so I get up at 6AM to head to the farmers’ market to get fresh flowers, to freshen up the place and all that garbage.  It’s a pain, but it’ll be worth it when my place sells in a day, whee!

As I’m walking around taking one last look, I spy the toilet paper roll, and think hmm, a bit of origami perhaps? I even touch the end, wondering if I could whip something up quickly. We then leave the house quickly, because clearly, this way madness lies, so we head out to Huntley, to be out of the way and because I’m leaving on my whitewater kayaking trip tomorrow. (As an aside, as I have noted to friends: if I drown on this damn trip after ALL the work I’ve put into the house over the last 2 months, I will be PISSED OFF!)

A couple of hours later, I get a call from Henry, my realtor.

Henry: “So the first couple was completely not interested and….”

WHAT??? What? How dare they?? Who do they think they are? I am completely outraged! No really, I am. How can they not love my beautiful gorgeous shiny huge house? Yet they were interested in the place down the street which is a total DUMP, one step up from a slum! Slumlords trying to pawn off a decrepit old dump on unsuspecting people! Yet this couple scoffs at MY gorgeous abode. Henry is still yammering on , something about how they felt it needed more “updating” (bah! Yuppie scum!), and I go to a happy place in my head, a land of bike rides on windless days and food on a stick.

Henry: “….and so Tash……Tasha? Are you still there?
Me: “Oh yeah, of course. You were saying something about these people with no taste whatsoever who are both blind?”
Henry: “Umm, yeah…..and then the other couple asked the right questions, like how quickly you’re looking to sell and so on, so we’ll see about that.”

We’ll see? What happened to my instantaneous offer, of people pulling out checkbooks and elbowing each other out of the way to put in a bid?

This is too upsetting to deal with. Even though at that point it's almost noon and I usually only go riding in the wee hours of the morning, an exception must be made. I head out for a fast ride, and regain some semblance of sanity, albeit still infused with outrage. WTH!

I will report back.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Surviving RAGBRAI

Remember last year when it was an insanely hot and humid RAGBRAI – the hottest one in the history of said RAGBRAI – and I very astutely noted the following: “Self, this sucks. Truly. But there’s no way it can ever be this hot again, so next year should be golden. Fucking golden, as we say in Illinois.”

Well. Hmm. Wasn’t it pretty to think so. Because THIS year? Yeah, it was even hotter – at least for the first part of the week until the cool front came in on Thursday and brought temps into the mere 90s. A veritable chill in the air, I tell you.

Oh, and did I mention that 4 people died this year during RAGBRAI solely because of the heat? Meaning, not because of the crazy crashes that always happen when idiot people careen in front of you and almost take you out causing your heart to jump out of your chest and go scampering across the cornfields. Not that that happened to me, of course. Well, not more than twice.

Anyway. Yes, the RAGBRAI chronicles you are eagerly awaiting from me will be coming forthwith, with the pathos! tears! hilarity! puffertjes! that you’ve come to expect. Right now, however, I am still in the throes of getting my house ready to put on the market to sell, and have a few more days of grunt work before I can get back to my real life, i.e. riding my bike, eating bonbons, and writing my blog. (I would add “doting on The Kone”, but let’s be real, that never falls by the wayside.)

Not to go off on a tangent here, but do you all know that just the act of getting your house ready to sell is as time-consuming (if not more so) than actually moving? Apparently these days one must have 90% of the shit in their house packed up, so that people who look at it only see a halcyon carefree existence of jaunty trips to the art gallery, as opposed to the dirty socks and zen of real life. It’s exhausting, quite frankly.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Basically because 2 more days of cleaning and I’m essentially saying “fuck it, this is as good as it gets.” So, bear with me, my 20s of readers, soon the miracle of how Miss Tasha survived RAGBRAI (and tips thereof) in the 110 degree temperatures will be revealed…..