Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Putting On My Kayak for the First Time

So yesterday, I was trying to take you with me for a ride in my new kayak when I was waylaid by a dog who jumped into the back of my car. That was fun.

Finally, I did manage to blow up my brand new kayak without blowing it to bits. There were two small compartments that wouldn't hold air at all, but I was pretty sure they weren't critical and I probably wasn't doing it right, so I hauled the boat down to the water, avoiding the fishermen at the boat launch. I didn't imagine hooks and inflatable kayaks would go together very well and I didn't feel like going on display the first time I tried to wrangle into my boat. I've looked pretty dorky squeezing into the other kayaks and it seemed that I always had an audience.

I put my kayak into the water for the first time and it didn't shrivel or sink, so I tried to balance on one foot to put the other foot in. Okay, I really didn't want to scratch my beautiful green paddle the first time I used it, so I balanced it like a tightrope walker and tried to lift that left foot off the gravel.

It was as if my brain wouldn't let me lift my foot!

Okay, so I know I should have put on my wetsuit. It's March and this is glacial melt that I'm standing in. I wore my wetsuit booties and neoprene socks. I wore a fleece jacket under my life jacket. I had my neoprene paddling gloves at the ready in the webbing of my boat. I just wasn't in the mood to wrestle in a portapotty to get my old wetsuit up over my lumpy butt. Please don't try to picture that. Please.

Ah crap. Too late.

So, I'm standing there, imagining myself falling down into into that ice cold water.

There is a combination of air and water temperature at which it is safe to paddle a small boat. Beneath that safe point, people should be wearing a wet suit. I don't remember that number. Once, I jumped into Diablo Lake. It was ninety degrees out that day, but the water temperature was only 48 degrees. While the others waded in, I leaped off the end of the dock. I struggled to keep from gasping under water until I floated to the surface. The air temperature yesterday was closer to 50 degrees. The water temperature? I would guess about 45 or less, too cold for swimming, even accidentally. The charts for Rattlesnake Lake don't even include March, April, or the beginning of May. Now, I want to bring a thermometer for next time. I rationalized that I'd paddle close to shore, but thinking about it now, that gasp reflex should have pushed my lumpy butt straight into my wetsuit. It's that kind of thinking that can get a person into trouble, one small mistake after another small mistake, and they cascade and suddenly, you're struggling to survive.

Remember, I'm still standing there, in eight inches of water, trying to lift one foot into my boat. Finally, I balanced well enough, skipped over my common sense and got the courage to fall into the water in front of a half a dozen people who were smartly on the shore. I lifted my left boot.

A quart of water flooded from my boots and quick-dry pants into my boat as I shifted my weight to the boat. Then, I sat down in my puddle. Wet suit next time. Definitely a wet suit. I tried to shift the seat into position, tucked my left foot in front of me, and tried to get my right foot off the gravel and into the boat as more water came in  over the side that was pushed down by my leg. I leaned to the left and rather than an elegant move, my leg flopped onto the top of the kayak. I wobbled, but didn't spill. Good news. My new kayak is stable.

The next part was probably mildly amusing as I wrestled to hold onto my right leg, trying to get it to fold up, Indian-style, and tuck into the front of the boat. I'm fifty-five years old, people. I don't bend that way very well any more. I got a little cramp and had to let my leg rest on the top of the kayak and lean back while it went away. Second try, third try, and finally I tucked in.

My seat back was skewed and my life jacket pushed up around my ears. I wiggled some more, but then paddled away from the crowd at the beach so I could adjust in semi-private. Behind one of the old growth stumps, I tightened the seat straps so I could paddle more upright. I was stuck with the left side digging into my rib a little because I wasn't sitting squarely on the pad. It wasn't too bad, though, so I figured I'd iron out the details the next time I paddled.

My life jacket never did get pulled down properly and I found that, like an infant, I could mouth the bit that was up around my face. It wasn't all that uncomfortable and my arms were free to paddle.

I have a waddle kayak. It's lovely and it moves, but with every stroke, it waddles to and fro in the water. There isn't much tracking, so it's not going to be a distance boat, not that I expected that tiny rudder on the bottom to make it track.

But it will be great for these small lakes and there are a bunch of small lakes for me to explore - Rattlesnake, Beaver, Pine, Ames, Alice, all within twenty a minutes drive and Sammamish, Washington, and Union for when I get stronger and more courageous. I'm sure if I look at a map, I'll be able to come up with a dozen or so more places to paddle my little orange kayak. Plus, it will be great for float trips on the Snoqualmie when we have a group that goes, but I guarantee that I'll lose it to Nick on those trips.

I leaned back and looked up at Rattlesnake Ledge. I could stay out here all day. The sky was clear. I spun around in a quick motion. Clouds scuttled along Cedar Ridge to the South. Light clouds touched the horizon to the West. Boulders and old growth tree stumps lined the North edge of the water and I began to make my way around groups of geese to the right and paddle past the main beach.

The wind picked up, but as I hugged the shore, I didn't feel it as much. I felt stable in my kayak, even cozy, as if I were sitting in a brand new sleeping bag with extra loft. I could have slept in this thing. I leaned back and stopped paddling for a bit. I closed my eyes. This was heaven, absolute heaven.

I realized as I let the wind turn the kayak broadside so it could push me more effectively, that my main dilemma was that if I drifted to the far end of the lake, my damaged left shoulder might have trouble getting me back. Just about that time, when I was only half way down the length of the lake, a twinge told me I was right and I should head back to the launch.

Bummer. Out of time once again.

Thank you for listening, jb

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