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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard

The First Time I Kayaked

Sometimes challenges are just the medicine we need.

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Somewhere around my 40th birthday, I got it into my head that I wanted to try kayaking. My infrequent attempts at rowing, whether in a rented kayak, canoe, or rowboat did not show off any hidden talent. Be that as it may, my daughter bought me a sit-on-top kayak for my birthday. It was a single-rider eight-foot craft that could easily fit in the back of my minivan with the seats folded down. I could not have been more surprised, delighted, or daunted.

Wishing for something is easy. Getting that wish poses a challenge. Sometimes challenges are just the medicine we need.

One summer morning I slipped the kayak into the back of the car. I had everything I needed- a kayak, a life jacket with a whistle attached, a dry bag stuffed with my phone, a water camera, a small first aid kit, water, and a granola bar. I drove to a park with a pond, all of a mile and a half from home. I left my little boat and my stuff on a slope next to the pond and parked my car a stone’s throw away.

As minor as this excursion was, I was excited to the point of giddiness and nervous. Yes, I was still in my own town in a park that I passed frequently in my travels. But I was alone and miles outside of my comfort zone. Neither as a kid nor as an adult did I have experience with anything outdoorsy. I summoned all the bravado I could drag out of my soul and pushed the kayak into the water.

Are there fish in here? What if there are snapping turtles or snakes? What if I fall into the water and find out there are snapping turtles, snakes, or whatever else might live in such a pond? I forced my mind to dispense with the foolishness. Paddle. Just start paddling. And there I was heading towards the center of the pond. I stopped and looked around. I made it this far. Where to now?

From my vantage point, I realized that the pond continued under Route 130, a four-line highway that passes through town. Or I could stay out in the open and cross the pond, which looked a lot bigger now than it did from the road. I choose to go under the highway. I couldn’t see where I was headed, but maybe that’s what made me decide. I arrived at the underside of the road. Despite the bright sunlight of the day, it was dark under there. The roar of the cars overhead echoed, and the trucks made a thunderous reverberation as they clanked the metal joints in the road. All that sound almost drowned out the vigorous beating of my overstimulated heart.

Then there was something else. I was far from alone. Up in the rafters on the underside of the road were pigeons. Hundreds of them! They cooed loudly, most likely warning each other of the lone invader by water. They flew around me and I could feel the wind made by their flapping wings. Paddle, I commanded myself. Head to the light at the other side of the bridge. Birds flew just over my head, behind, besides, and in front of me. Then I stopped and forced myself to watch and listen. I was afraid, but I was trying not to be. I made it to the other side and back into the light. The bird and traffic noise faded into the background.

Now I was in yet another world. I was in calm shallow water surrounded by blooming lily pads. Dragonflies skimmed the water all around me and landed on my kayak. Now the only noise was silence. The water was getting shallower and I got stuck a few times but was able to shimmy the kayak back to more navigable water. I pictured myself having to get out of my kayak in the oozy mud if I truly came to a halt. What creatures would be in the mud with me?

I came to the end of the stream and saw the edge of a building. Next to the building was a sign for the local garden center. I was in a stream looking up at the garden center that I shopped in every spring, just on the other side of my neighborhood. In all the times I’d been there, I never looked down to see the stream with its wild grasses and shrubs- and a blue heron nesting not twenty feet from where I sat.

Having reached the end, it was time to make my way back. The highway reappeared and the traffic noises came into focus. This time I paused to ready my water camera. I paddled back into the raucous darkness, again inciting the displeasure of the birds. I attempted to take pictures, but they came out too dark and too blurry. The birds were a moving target and so was I as my kayak ran into a highway support, jarring the kayak and threatening to tip me over. I abandoned my attempt to take pictures and focused on paddling in a straight line. I made it back and out of the water.

As I drove my four minutes home, I felt like I had accomplished something huge. I did something new, outside of any prior experience, conquered fear, ventured on, and saw part of my local world from a completely different perspective. I repeated the trip under the bridge several other times- not as a challenge to be mastered, but as an old friend.

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