crane heron while paddling on Saturday and was lucky enough to capture him just taking off (most likely my fault–my boat is nearly 20 ft long and the strong current was carrying me a wee bit close when I snapped this).
The past few days have been the most extreme tides of the year–the water so high that it’s barely possible to paddle under some bridges, then the water so low that the Back Bay is mostly mudflats. This has also resulted in HUGE amounts of debris being pulled into the water–some chunks of it are large tangled island masses of branches and trash that are 4 or 5 times the size of my boat. Much of it is just random floating crap–so paddling through the channel is a bit like a slalom race. Yesterday I veered around something that looked like a tree branch, only to learn seconds later that it was a huge log (most of it submersed under water) and it made a loud thwack it collided with my outrigger. I was afraid that I’d cracked something and might even be taking on water. But the next few minutes went smoothly and I forgot about it until I brought my boat up to the deck for cleaning. I found an ugly gash on the ama (the outrigger float), exposing the carbon fiber shell under the gelcoat finish. Fortunately, it seems that the damage is purely superficial. It was still discouraging, though.
The scratch on the ama was on my mind when I went out again this morning. I work pretty hard to keep my boat in good condition–taking good care of her so she’ll do her best for me. I hate to see her get dings and scratches. And then I had this ‘aha’ moment: the best way to keep my boat in ‘pristine’ condtion would be to keep her stored away safely. She can’t help but show some wear if I keep taking her out on the water. And it was right then that I decided to wear out my boat–by paddling regularly and hard. Of course, I’ll still be on the watch for floating tree trunks…but I won’t stop getting out on the water just because I’d like to keep the pretty paintjob.
The other thing that was foremost in my thoughts as I paddled this weekend, was the news that I got on Friday: our division was canceled at the World Champs because too few teams could afford the trip to New Caledonia. I knew this might be a possibility because several teams had already pulled out. But the final news was pretty disheartening. I’ve used that upcoming race as a “carrot” to keep up my practicing and cross-training all winter long. And I was so looking forward to paddling the waters in the South Pacific in May. But of course I still aim to do so…someday.
So now I need a new carrot, a new goal to work towards. It might be a special race or reward for reducing my per-mile speed by a specific amount. I’m not sure yet. But if you have any good ideas, I’m all ears. (oh, and I’m also looking for a new way to ring in my biggest birthday yet now that I’m no longer planning to win me a shiny medal that week).
And just like the inevitable scratches on my boat, I’m sure I’ll continue to encounter a variety of bumps as I continue paddling–canceled races, bad weather, damaged boats, etc. But if I was gonna let the challenges stop me, I’d never have gotten back in the canoe on that memorable first race…
The picture above is what the harbor mouth looked like a week ago, when I was headed out solo in my one-man canoe. Since then, two canoes have been destroyed on those rocks ahead (though, fortunately, all the paddlers were safe) during our recent storms. Here’s what the harbor mouth looked like two days ago (via daily hotshot):
just hear it. Let it splash inside my chest!
I can’t even express how deeply it thrills me to realize that these creatures are swimming below and around me when I paddle on the ocean–thus, I need poetry (and photography)! The ocean itself seems a kind of creature, its cycles and rhythms are at both completely regular and completely unpredictable. Added to that is the beauty of all that finds home within its depths…
On Saturday, for the first time, I tested out a waterproof camera setup to take out with me on my outrigger canoe. I snapped pics of pelicans and shorebirds, and the various landmarks that are part of the Newport channel. And here’s me, on my boat*:
I wish the ocean was as clear and blue in the Newport area as it is in the Japanese aquarium captured above. I rarely ever actually “see” anything swimming in the water except for the trash floating on the surface. So that’s one reason I’m really thrilled to be headed to the South Pacific in a few months–to see some really clear blue water. Of course the other reason for my excitement is that I’ll be competing in my first international outrigger competition. And that, my friends, is as amazing and unbelievable as life can be…
*We rigged up a sweet steering system for my canoe so I can maneuver with just one foot pedal.
A few years ago I dreamed that someday I would start each day with paddling on the ocean. But I thought to myself how ridiculous that was given my physical limitations, the difficulty of actually getting to the beach on a daily basis, the expense of procuring a boat, etc. It seemed…impossible, implausible, impractical. Undo-able.
But I was so wrong. Life continues to teach me that my impossible dreams are my tomorrow’s realities. It’s not to say that it doesn’t take a wicked amount of effort to make it so (and that there will be many disappointments along the way–I can tell you that this past year had so many of those moments when I was so ready to throw in the towel)…But this is just one more example to me of the importance of dreaming, of hoping, and of working hard to accomplish a goal.
I’ll never be the world’s best outrigger paddler, but I am getting better every day and having so much fun as I get stronger. What an amazing feeling it is to see the improvement and the increase in my confidence on the water.
Picture of Robin & I just after our La Jolla race–our first ever in a 2-man outrigger canoe. It was hard work, but what a great feeling when it was over and we knew what we’d accomplished!!
John captured this picture of the full moon over the Back Bay last night. I went out paddling by the light of this moon, which worked well until my rudder got stuck (the tide being so very low that I couldn’t navigate through a familiar route). I had to hop out of my boat and walk it back to deeper waters (brrr…it was a bit chilly to be soaked up to my waist!).
I feel so fortunate to have such beauty around me…and so many opportunities to enjoy it.
From Mary Oliver, “How Would You Live Then?”
…What if you saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day–who knows how?, but they do it–were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?
As soon as I get my paddling gear together and start heading out the front door, I begin salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. The reason why? As I drive down to the outrigger launch site in Newport Beach I munch on sport blocks, gels or goo. It’s one of the only times I eat refined sugar and my body loves it (craves it, is addicted to it) so much.
Some random delights from my longest, toughest, outrigger race ever:
–My teammates were amazing! We had a coed crew of 6 girls and 3 guys. We sync-ed together far better than we’d expected, with everyone’s timing being excellent. I paddled the race rather than steering. It was a huge change for me to slip into a different role, but I wanted to just paddle hard and not have to think (so much of steering is in your head), which ended up working well.
–I flubbed one seat change (where you’re dropped into the water by the support boat and then ‘leap’ into the canoe to fill the seat of someone who jumps out just seconds before). It was near the end of the race and I was exhausted, not to mention that the bruising on my leg under my knee was so gnarly that I couldn’t keep using it as a fulcrum point (typically, you hook one leg over the side to help get you in). Next time, I will be stronger & more ready. :)
–My novice coach’s canoe was close to ours for much of the race (she was racing with a Masters Womens team). Everytime she passed by in the chase boat I felt such a thrill. This journey that we started together in February–back when I thought getting to the PCH bridge was an accomplishment (that’s like 1/4 mi of paddling)–I can’t believe how far I’ve come in these past few months!
–The day was overcast–a thick marine layer–and temps were in the mid-70s. The ocean water was in the mid-70s, too. It felt so remarkable to be out there in that huge expanse of blue. Each time I was rotated out of the canoe and had to swim back to the support boat I would ask for a bit of extra time to swim and float. It felt so good to my aching muscles and just felt cosmically right to be carried by the swells.
–The island wasn’t visible until the last 8 miles, when the edge of the cliff started appearing out of the mist. It was ethereal–the stuff of fairy-tales. I won’t forget the beauty of that. Ever. By that point I didn’t care what our place was in the race anymore, I just wanted to get there!
–After we landed and retrieved our belongings, I realized that I needed some help figuring out how to make my connections–to get into Avalon and to get to the airport that sits up on a high cliff in the center of the island. A teammate flagged down a nice guy driving a golf cart and he ever-so-willingly gave me a lift to town (it was one of those moments where the kindness of strangers absolutely bowls me over). Then I got to the shuttle stop and had about 30 min to change into dry clothes and find some food (both relatively easily accomplished and I should also say how grateful I am for the extremely large & clean disabled bathroom stall that I found. I had to completely remove my beach leg to dump the inches of ocean water that I was carrying in my socket. And there’s nothing nicer than having a nice space with grab bars for accomplishing the relatively complicated task of peeling off layers of wet clothes, removing pegleg, and then putting everything back on again!)
–As I’d been told, the ride up to airport was as precarious as one could imagine–a one lane road climbing high. We saw the island bison, survived some hairpin turns with oncoming vehicles, and every minute I kept looking out at the big blue ocean and knew that I’d just paddled that. What an amazing feeling!
–Originally I’d planned to ride the ferry home from the race, but Laura & Graham told me that they’d love to pick me up by plane(!). I’ve never been in a plane that small, but how could I turn down such an offer(!). Even though the clouds were rolling in in a rather dramatic way by the time they landed, all went well (Graham’s landing skills are excellent, I must say!). And, the views!! Laura let me borrow her digital camera during the flight so hopefully I’ll be sharing a bit of that with you soon!
–Flying in over the coast of California I saw various harbors & bays–from Marina del Rey, on down. It felt so satisfying to reflect on the races that’ve taken me all up and down the coast this past year.
—People. I did it. Or rather, we did it. Thank you to everyone who has aided, supported and been patient with me this past year. For teammates who’ve been so willing to jump into my boat, for the prosthetists who crafted my extra-special beach leg, for coaches who challenged me to work harder each practice, to friends who listened to me yammer on about paddling, and to Sharine for introducing me to the world of the outrigger(!). But most especially to John, who is right now cooking up a protein-heavy omelet breakfast for his uber-achy pilgrimgirl.
PS: As for the ginormous bruise behind my knee…I am naming her Catalina :)
Awhile ago I told a friend that my dream life would include paddling on the ocean every morning. It’s part of that fantasy-dream life that includes that two-room cottage in a hippie beach city, that we’ll buy after I’ve sold a few bestseller books or hit paydirt in some other manner. I remember as I told my friend this, thinking of all the logistical hurdles that kept me from paddling: a boat, the skills, the time, etc.
So it really was cooler-than-cool when a new friend invited me along to go outrigger canoeing on Newport’s Back Bay a few months ago. And it was hardly any wonder that when she told me about her paddling team that I was eager to try it out. So fast forward a few months–I’ve joined the “novice” women’s team and I’m having a blast learning how to paddle.
The irony of this wasn’t entirely evident until attended my first novice practice. Because we’re just learning the ropes, us newbies are practicing on Sunday mornings and not with the regular team yet. We push off from the beach at about 9 and return around noon. It’s three hours of various drills, sprints, and pointed advice on technique. We switch positions in the boat because each seat has different responsibilities. And most of all, we’re building up our endurance because the races are miles long and we’ve barely just gotten the feel of paddling through the waves (most of our practices are still held in the harbor as we toodle around Lido or Balboa islands).
What didn’t dawn on my until the first practice, was that the beach where we launch…it’s just across the street from the LDS Chapel where I first met John, where we held our wedding reception, where our son was blessed, where I taught early-morning seminary, where I worshiped for most of my adult life. And as I turn right to the beach, all those SUVs turning left are my LDS friends who are pulling into their Sunday meetings.
This really gave me pause on the first morning of practice. I reflected on how much I’ve changed in the past five years, how when I was even a lukewarm Mormon I never would have considered joining a sport team with practices on a Sunday morning, because of injunctions about keeping the Sabbath holy and because of my obligations to my ward.
This week my coach announced that she was teaching me how to steer the boat. The steerer sits in the back of the boat and is basically in charge of keeping the other team members on track–most literally because the steerer sets the course for the entire boat because they are the boat’s rudder. Using special strokes to keep the craft going in the appropriate direction, the steerer also calls the ‘start’ of the paddling and watches to make sure the other paddlers are in sync. My coach, during the time I was training gave me tips on how to keep a team together, how to help the boat move successfully toward a destination. I was amazed by the trust my teammates had in me, because the canoes are precarious and the ocean current is strong. A slight miscalculation on my part would result in all of us landing in frigid water, which was especially undesirable given the chilly winter temps on Sunday (and we all saw another team with a seasoned steersman tip a boatload into the bay last week, so we were well aware of the risks).
So we zig-zgged around the channel a bit until I figured out how not to ‘overshoot’ with my steering strokes. My boatmates were calm and never expressed concern about my efforts. As we pulled into shore and finished cleaning the canoe, my coach told the other team members (who were in other boats) of my success at steering and they congratulated me on my efforts–a few even offering applause. It was a kind and rather unnecessarily embarrassing gesture, but I loved how it made me feel part of the team.
As I drove away from the beach area and passed the LDS chapel I thought a lot about the way I used to feel a part of the Mormon team. I felt a thrill every time I entered that building and felt its echoes of memories and special occasions. It will never cease being a holy place for me. But when I get out of the canoe and feel the bone-deep satisfaction of having paddled hard, having felt the thrill of being on the open ocean and the rhythm of the waves, of seeing dolphins playing in the surf, of having dry lips and chapped cheeks from hours facing into the sea wind…I can’t help but feel joy that I’m steering my own boat these days. I don’t have the surety of the ‘final destination’ that I used to when I spent my Sundays on the other side of the street, but I’m okay with that. The open water offers me more now. And I’m up for the challenge.
Picture above not mine, but is of the same kind of canoe that I paddle in with my team.
This is the culmination of a long year of paddle, paddle, paddle. I’m so excited for this adventure and am already planning many more exciting races to come!
About a year ago, when I was on an adventure in Boston, I met up with my friend Sara. Or rather, she met up with me–waiting eagerly at the train station at 6am-ish as I arrived not-so-freshly from a cross-country red-eye flight.
We spent a magical day together, filled with good strong coffee & bundt cake, napping on the couch with the rascally Sam-kitty, visiting Author’s Ridge, and then the very best part: we spontaneously decided to go canoeing down the Concord River. Let me just say why this was kind of an odd idea. Me, I’d been seriously ill for the previous six months and had just had surgery three weeks earlier. Sara had also had a rough year herself(!), including surgery for a brain tumor and metastasized cancer in various places around her body. Oh, and we both happened to be missing our right legs, too (that damn cancer, taking both of our legs many years ago). But we did it anyways. It was a gorgeous autumn day on the river, straight out of a postcard. We paddled for an hour out and about as long back in. We talked and she joked about my awful steering (ha! the irony!). I hadn’t been canoeing in years and it meant so much to me to be out on the water with Sara, in that very special place.
Fast forward a few months…when I learned that Sara had died. Within hours of hearing the news, I was out on the water paddling with my outrigger canoe team. I wanted to tell my new teammates about how sad and empty I was feeling, but I knew I couldn’t hold it together to even speak the words. I just paddled and felt my gut wrench with every stroke. At one point we paused in the mouth to the harbor and I looked out over the waves and the rolling sea and connected with Sara one last time and said good-bye.
There’s something special about the space between the open sea and the calmer channel waters. The boat floats differently there, as if it’s eager to get out on the ocean. The anticipation picks up, along with the current and the cresting waves on the rocks. While there I find myself gazing out to the ocean, feeling its pulse and sensing my place in all of it.
I don’t pray anymore and I don’t believe in divine intervention in my life. But if there was a place where wishes could come true, where I could believe for a moment that I really was connected to something cosmically bigger than myself and my hopes could be made manifest, it would be right there in the harbor mouth. And that’s how I felt again tonite, too.
Sorry to burden you all with another paddling post, but….
Today’s race was in many ways my hardest one yet. I’ve been ill and struggling to keep in shape, I’ve been leery of the demands of the later summer races (where the course lengths jump from 6 miles to 16 or 26 or 36 miles), and I haven’t had much experience with 9-man steering. The steering is different because every 20 minutes or so, we switch out 2-3 paddlers to freshen up on a support boat. So I’ve got to maneuver to pick up paddlers bobbing along in the open ocean, all the while being mindful of calling the right moment to have the outgoing paddlers jump out of the boat, keep us all aright in the waves, and keep the boat away from all those dozens of other boats following the same course (oh, and this is even harder when the waves are so big that I can’t see much of anything, much less my teammates in the water ahead!).
But it’s not all me, doing all this work. It’s a team effort, and that was made incredibly clear to me today as I watched each and every person in our crew keep it together. From Captain Ron on our support boat who helped me sight the turn buoys that were miles away, to the change coach Mike who made sure that everyone was rotating in and out of the boat correctly, to each paddler who gave 100% on every stroke.
This race was challenging not only because of the added difficulties of the paddler changes, but also because of the huge storm headed straight to Oceanside. There were currents flowing in two different directions, causing huge swells (reportedly around 8 feet). We watched boat after boat tip over or swamp with water. And we just kept going. My team listened well and worked together beautifully. Due to safety concerns the race was cut short, and while I have to say that it was a bit of a relief to finally pull into the harbor after many miles of fighting such extreme conditions, I kept thinking “that was it???” :)
There were two moments out there when I had our boat a bit off course and my team helped me figure out which way to point again. I’m regretting those sidetracks now, and hoping that next race I can do an even better job of keeping us headed straight into the turns and finish line. Every race I learn new things and conquer new challenges. I love it.
Pictured here with me is Aimee, another awesome steers(wo)man. Like the other gals on the team, she makes me feel like an amazon because I look so tall standing next to them!