Monday, September 10, 2012

Graduation Day!

Ah, there we are, a fledgling group of kayakers having made it to our last day relatively unscathed. Vineyard gets to be the princess on the raft today, since she hurt her foot, but the rest of us are as gung-ho as a bunch of newbie kayakers can be when told we’ll be facing CLASS FIVE RAPIDS! Okay, that’s a lie. Maybe Class 3. Maybe.

As usual, I get helpful tips from our kayaking instructors as they attempt to make me less of a spaz. Special Sauce is especially patient, teaching me how to turn the kayak around as I keep spinning and spinning. She also suggests that instead of overthinking as we hit the rapids (which of course I do, every time), I try talking or singing. Hey, great idea! I immediately start belting out the song “I Hate My Life” – assuring everyone that it’s an ironic singing.

“So sick of the people….
Who can’t drive their cars…
Well you better get outta my way before I start falling apart….”

I also take to telling Angie to stop tipping me over. “Cut it out, Angie!” And hey, it works! I am a kayaking superstar! No swimming! None at al….oops, I go over. Damn.

Though once I get that first swim out of the way – and it would have been a beautiful T-rescue as well if my spray skirt hadn’t gotten loose – I’m much more relaxed. Unfazed. Leading to conversations like this one with Cougar, one of our most awesome FD volunteer/helpers:

Me: What the heck is that up ahead, Niagara Falls? Listen to the rushing rapids!
Cougar: Oh, that’s just the Death Sieve.


Me: Okay then, the Death Sieve it is!
Cougar: I’m just kidding – the rapids always sound so much worse than they are.
Me: Bummer, I was kind of looking forward to traversing something called the Death Sieve.
Cougar: Well then, that’s what it is – let’s go!

We cruise down unscathed through these Class 5 rapids (3, maybe) and just as I’ve been all week, I’m as happy as a person can possibly be.

We all then eddy out so that we can get instructions from Spanky, who explains to us that the next rapid coming up in a little while is the Challenge by Choice rapid, called Macdonalds. Which we can choose to do or not, because it’s pretty hard – but of course all of us badasses decide to do it. No question.

This is how Spanky instructs us to handle this rapid: “go careening wildly across the water, sharply edging over to the right so that you potentially catch as many waves as possible. Then slam into the huge boulder, rebound, and try to get your bearings before you segue into the eddy, where you’re also likely to go over.”

Okay, so I’m paraphrasing slightly, but that was the gist of it, or at least as I apparently heard it. But first we have a little ways to go, so we all get back on the river, and of course I forget everything I’ve learned thus far, including the singing and chastising Angie, and so I manage to go over in some rapids with – ouch! – tons of rocks. Ouch!


That was me getting my arm temporarily caught by a rock, anchoring it while I was still moving forward, and basically pulling a muscle.

Me: Ah! ACK!

That was me again after hitting my hip on a couple more sharp rocks, as I’m being towed to the shore by Cougar.

I’m laying by the shore like a beached carp, keeping my hip in the cold water as instructed by Cougar so it doesn’t hurt as much (which actually helps!), noting that my right arm, the cancer arm, is kind of non-functional at the moment. I then hear Twinkletoes muttering, and it sounds to me like he’s trying to figure out how to get me down the river SANS kayak!

TT: I’m not sure where Babe is with the raft, or how we could get him back up here….

No no no no nononononono! I interrupt his musings right away.

Me: Oh, I’m okay to go on, at least for a while!
TT: But the next rapid is Macdonalds.
Me: That’s fine, I’m good with that. If I swim, I swim – I’ve had plenty of practice.

And it’s true. And the water, the rapids, the kayaking – I fear nothing. Back when people would marvel at how fearless I was? (Which was usually in the context of hockey, as I’d go after guys twice my size.) Yeah, that’s me again. Finally.

Plus I mention to TT that I want to end on a high note, since this will probably be my last stretch seeing as how my right arm isn’t very useful at the moment, which could make getting in and out of a kayak a little difficult. So Macdonalds it is.

I’m pleased to note that I handle it exactly as instructed, heading directly into the huge boulder – but this time, the whole “kiss the rock” thing works, and I start to slope away from it gently. Hallelujah! It works! OMG IT WOR…..bloop, over I go, as in my excitement I forget to paddle.

Oops. I’ve clearly forgotten the immortal words of Babe: “If you’re going to go down, go down paddling.”

Words to live by indeed.

So, I swim again. Big deal. As another wise person once said, we’re all just in between swims anyway.

* * * * *

I get relegated to the raft, and thus have a front-row seat when the rest of the campers get to Graduation Rapids. At first they’re around the bend getting final instructions from Wildflower, and then they’re supposed to come down the river one by one to tackle these last rapids.

Which is why we’re all so surprised when they ALL appear up above, like a little pod of ducklings clustered together. The reaction from the instructors is instantaneous.

Stepmom: What are they doing??
Spanky: Okay, obviously they didn’t get it at all.
Mrs. Robinson: Totally unclear on the concept.
Twinkletoes: Carnage. It’ll be carnage.

We all watch, fascinated, as they start coming towards the rapids as a unit. Then suddenly – Bloop! Bloop! – they’re all going under! After the first three, we figured out that they were doing it on purpose. All going swimming!

I’m not sure if the instructors were more stunned before or after, because to a person, they all said that in all their many years of kayaking they had never seen any other group do anything like that.

Nicely done, my fellow campers. Nicely done. The inaugural FD “You had me at 40” group, marching to the beat of its own drum. They embody the FD slogan – “Out living it!” –  and I know that this week I’d have rather been in my kayak - upside down or no – heading down the Klickitat than anywhere else in the world. And my heart overflows with love for these people, these gracious fellow travelers who have given me back to myself.

* * * * *

That evening we have campfire, and talk about our experience this week. And I have to say that this week was transcendent, life-affirming, life-changing in a fundamental way. I have to admit, I pretty much think I’m the bomb. I’m smart, funny, I write a mean blog – what’s not to love? But for all that, even I have my fears and doubts, things that hold me back or keep me from doing what I want or should be doing.

Now I feel like I can conquer the world.

The week also helped restore my faith in humanity, as I’ve never been surrounded by so many genuinely good and kind and wonderful people. The other campers, the FD staff, the Wet Planet instructors, all the FD former campers who came out as kayaking helpers all week to help keep us from drowning. I look at Wildflower and think how proud his parents must be, that they raised such an amazing human being. I feel this way about everyone here, which is balm to my cynical and battered soul.

And something else I discovered to be true this week is this:

I suck at kayaking. Truly.

But I’m pretty good at life.

Friday, September 7, 2012

On being a kayaking disaster


Wednesday was our “off” day, during which we went rafting on the White Salmon River. You’d think that this would be a disaster-free day, but then you underestimate my capacity for Schleprockedness. Because there I was on the raft up in front with Vineyard, and we were very smart in our strategizing: if there was a point where we were told to duck towards the middle of the raft, she would go forward and I would go backward. Problem solved.

Except I neglected to clear this plan with Stepmom, who was directly behind me.

So yes, the first time we did this Stepmom and I clunked heads so loudly I think the sound is still echoing among the canyons of the White Salmon. Of course, this made the rafting all the more exciting because now there would be TWO of every beautiful thing. Win-win!

Mrs. Robinson had told us the day before how beautiful the White Salmon is, and I of course had to have the smartass comeback: “Oh, because the Klickitat is such drudgery?” Because the Klickitat is indeed a gorgeous river to kayak on.

I was proven an idiot (what a surprise) because indeed, the White Salmon River is not just beautiful, it’s transcendent. Like a Disney ride! Okay, better than that. I still have this vision in my mind of how perfect it was - the cold clear water rushing over the rocks, the trees hanging overhead, the feeling of being miles away from civilization – and I say, I’ll be back, my White Salmon River, oh yes.

But in the meantime, there was kayaking to be had. Thursday we head to another put-in point, higher than we started out before so we’ll pass the same points and keep going. Mountain Goat and I decide to incentivize each other to NOT tip over in the same spots – for me, The Tree, and for her, Two Waters. I tell her that if I get dumped at The Tree, I’ll have to rummage through all my random shit already packed and find for her the Walkman that I know I have there somewhere, because I saw it in the first round of packing. This of course is powerful motivation, of not wanting to dig through tons of crap.

I’m happy to note that when I see the rock and tree that foiled me on Day One, I manage to bypass both, The Tree included, which I nickname “Walkman” for this purpose. “No Walkman!” I yell, as I go zipping on past. Yes!! Mountain Goat also manages to successfully traverse Two Waters, because she too is a kayaking goddess much as I am. (Even though she's scared of fuzzy fruit, like peaches and apricots - but hey, we all have our crosses to bear.)

Or at least I was for the first part of the day. Because you see, this is Miss Tasha’s problem. She gets a wee bit cocky. Wee. So there I was having handled the first part of the river with no problem, and immediately I start thinking how totally awesome I am, and how naturally all this kayaking stuff comes.

That was before I kayaked right into a huge boulder and went over. And before I got sucked into those DAMN EDDIES that are evil personified! Relaxing and calm my ass! They just ACT that way and then they suck you in! So now I’ve already gone swimming three times today, but much like a Ronco commercial, wait, there’s more!

Every time I’ve gone over I’ve attempted the T-rescue, and have been close, but there’s a fine decision line between trying the T-rescue and realizing you have to pull the spray skirt or you’ll start chugging water. This is bothering me to no end, this inability to do the T-rescue.
So when I get dumped in a 4th time, I try the T-rescue again, thinking dammit this time I’ll get it, and lo and behold, it works. IT WORKED! OH MY GOD I AM A ROCKSTAR! No seriously, that’s how excited I am – you’d think I had just discovered Higg’s Boson or something. No, it was better than that!

Umm yeah, I was a little excited.

Shortly thereafter I went over again, and this time it was in a shallow part of the river where I was getting hammered by the rocks, so Babe pulled me into the raft. And I suddenly found myself going down the river like the queen of the Nile. Hmm.

I stayed on the raft. There’s just so much humiliation one can handle per day.

Not that I really feel humiliated. Even if my campmates are wondering WTF is wrong with me and my total lack of kayaking skills, they do a good job of hiding it. It’s funny but one of them later mentions that an instructor was worried that I was getting frustrated and not having fun – which was kind of funny in and of itself because I was having a blast. WAY fun! My friends who saw my status posts on Facebook knew this – they know how my life works and that this was par for the course.

Stacey: “Have you EVER been on a trip where there’s not some kind of debacle?”

No indeed, and proud of it. Or at least used to it.

So no, no frustration – after all, if my life were just one halcyon day after another, what would I have to blog about? I only feel bad about being such a disaster because I feel like the yoke on the shoulders of my kayaking pod-mates. Because every time you go swimming, you need to somehow get your ass to shore and then drain the kayak. Which takes time, so I feel bad that I’m such a time-suck and keep slowing things down.

Otherwise, these are good times. Especially since I’ve figured out what the problem is: Angie is tipping me over. No seriously. What other explanation could there be? Especially since I’m going over in EDDIES, for god’s sake! I’m athletic, graceful, took dance/ballet for years, so this should not be a problem. Angie is clearly the reason I’m happily kayaking along and then bloop go over just as if someone is tipping me over, and then giggling about it as Angie would do.

She and I are going to discuss this on Friday, oh yes.

But in the meantime, we’re heading back to our amazing lodge, and there we are, cruising along in the van, belting out songs, the stunningly gorgeous Columbia river to the side, and I am with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Life is good. In spades.

That evening we have our usual campfire – complete with a campfire image on an iPod – and tonight we’ve picked names and are describing people in three words or phrases. Wildflower comes up with “determined, full of grace, and badass” – and almost before the words are out of his mouth, Mountain Goat has guessed me. And it is. Me? Really? I’m surprised, touched, pleased, humbled. Happy. Sometimes it takes someone else looking at you with fresh eyes before you can see yourself.

There aren’t even enough words to describe how badass I feel right now.