Usually I refer to myself as a “kayaking widow,” as soon as the weather warms up in the great State of Indiana. My beloved Steve races kayaks and now an outrigger canoe (OC-1) on the United States Canoe Association circuit. This requires practice and travel to river or lake events at least twice per week during the warmer months, in addition to work and church commitments. Since I am largely homebound I send him happily on his merry way . . . with snacks and a kiss, of course!
But it wasn’t always this way. Just 3 years ago I joined him on Tuesday nights for the paddles of our local kayaking group. (See the About Julie blog for details on the day that I got pulled from the water!) If the races were local I would join him on Saturday mornings to cheer him on from the start and possibly the railing of a bridge along the course. “Goooooooo Steeeeeeve” was my mantra and I loved it. I am so proud of Steve, having watched him progress over these past 7 years of our marriage from a recreational paddler to a National competitor in surf ski racing. And this year he added the OC-1. Oh yeah!
For the first time in THREE YEARS, I would be joining Steve at the USCA Nationals scheduled this year in Warren, Pennsylvania. The last time I was in PA was when I had purchased my first sea kayak (Think Fit) as I was progressing from a tandem, pedal-driven, plastic Hobie Oasis to a real fiberglass boat suitable for racing. I had a near-drowning experience as I was testing out that boat which only served to reinforce that I had what it took to face the worst of perils when paddling in open water. Dozens of paddling experiences followed over the next few years including upgrading to an introductory surf ski myself: the Stellar SR. That is the kayak in the photo of the article referenced above.
Flash forward FOUR YEARS and we now are grateful to have a travel trailer aka as a “mold avoidance clean room” that affords me the opportunity to travel with Steve and stay overnight. The plan for this trip was to stay at a local KOA Kampground while shuttling to and from the stages of the two racing events in which Steve was registered to compete. Miraculously and despite convulsive episodes each day and night, I was able to join him at the side of the Allegheny River on Friday for a full day of events. We were bushed by nightfall: Steve having paddled 15+ miles at breakneck speed and me having participated in over 12 hours of outdoor activities for the first time in a very long time. It was a win-win for both of us!
Then came Saturday morning. The night was a rough one for me but not as bad as they could be for sure. Steve overslept 45 minutes and scurried about to get himself, his special nourishments, breakfast, and doggie duties covered before leaving for a second day of racing. Adrenaline was pushing him beyond the fatigue he too was battling. As for me, the morning seizure attacks died down as I pulled myself out of bed just as he was leaving! It was clear that I was NOT going anywhere and would be a kayaking widow in the woods of the campground that day. Swell. Sadly I heard my truck pull away along the dirt road with my beloved therein, headed past the Kinzua Dam and beyond to the water’s edge without me. To see my River Bear in action WAS WHY I CAME! I was crushed.
And then my brain cleared. A few crumbs of achiness remained yet I was upright and thinking straight. “I should stay home and rest,” I reasoned, “maybe take the dog for a walk later and be, well bored out of my mind for the rest of the day thereafter for sure! Who wants to read Suzanne Summer’s book, Tox-Sick, when there’s an exciting USCA race going on out there?! Not me. I AM GOING TO THE RACES!!!”
There was one BIG problem with this: how the heck would I get there? I had no vehicle and the race start was a 17-minute ride away by car. I had no car. I had no truck. I had a dog and that was it! Looking back I believe it was the Lord nudging me on to keep getting ready.
“Pack up your stuff, grab some food and get out to the office. See when it opens and maybe someone will be going into town this morning and can drop you off.”
Alright. “Shouldn’t I eat some breakfast? I mean, I get sick sometimes when I don’t eat breakfast?” And so I bemoaned some more as I continued in motion, getting dressed and figuring I would have to leave the pup behind in the locked travel trailer with the air conditioner running all day. “Keep moving,” was the leading of my heart. “You might have to leave on a moment’s notice if this works out so you need to be ready!” Out the door I scurried, hoping that most of me was covered with clothing and foot-coverings suitable for a campground!
The office didn’t open until 9:00 a.m. It was around 8:15 a.m. I had seen what I deduced was the owners shaking out their rugs out the front door of the adjacent mobile home so I could maybe knock on their door . . . No that would not be nice. But look! There’s the car leaving their campsite that left yesterday morning around this time. Maybe they are long-termers who are leaving for work or something and can take me? So I stood near the middle of the dirt road in between the office and campsite Number 2, waiting for the car to drive by. Surely the driver would see me and stop? Nope. She never even looked up from her steering wheel as she drove straight by me. Sish! Surely I could not have looked that threatening, no?
What to do now? “Stay put,” was the leading in my heart. Maybe I could go back to our CampLite and wait for the office to open? Someone would drive me to the Visitor Center and I would get our truck and just catch up with Steve somewhere along the race course. He would be shocked to hear, “Goooooo Steeeeeve” from the side of the river like the day before. Our reunion at the finish line would be sweet. Well, no. Then I saw around the corner of the dirt road in front of some other campsites a car with its lights on! In front of it was a large motor home that I soon discovered was travelling with the small SUV behind it that had its lights on. They were leaving too!
The driver of the motorhome stopped when I motioned from practically the middle of the dirt road as he approached. My heart was beating fast and my voice trembled as I poured out a quick version of my dilemma then waited for his response. The man got out and talked with his wife who was driving the vehicle behind him as I stood shaking like a schoolgirl waiting for permission to go to the bathroom from the headmaster who had seen enough already. The man got back into the motorhome.
“I’ll take you,” was all he said through the window he opened. Oh wow! He said yes! She said yes! I REALLY AM GOING TO THE RACES!!! So I quickly gathered my things; said goodbye to the big brown puppy-dog eyes that were ready for another day of fabulous sniffs, hugs from cute little girls, and wide open spaces; locked the door and did not look back. I hopped into the passenger side of a stranger’s large motor home and hitched a ride to my second day at the 2015 USCA Nationals. I was going to be with my River Bear!
The gentleman was in town with his wife to visit their daughter at a local Mennonite college. They owned a large dairy farm in southeastern Pennsylvania and had just opened a restaurant with a storefront too: September Farm. They were headed to Bradford for the day which is over 12 miles in the other direction from where I was headed. His low-fuel light had just turned on and he did not know where to find a local gas station. Later I realized that it is possible that he might not have made it all the way to Bradford if he had not backtracked to Warren (5 minutes of travel beyond where he had dropped me off) without running out of gas. Dave talked about him and his wife, Roberta, meeting a sweet couple through Farm and Ranch magazine that were like angels to them. I said to Dave that he was my angel that day. Yes, I do believe in angels!
Steve was shocked to say the least, when I came up behind him with a gentle, “Goooooo Steeeeeve!” to let him know that I had made it and in time for the starting gun. He was still getting ready after the 8:30 a.m. race meeting, leaning over his Stellar SEL when I kinda snuck up behind him. I had made it in time to see him launch in what would become a great day of racing. We embraced with tears. Steve said he felt a magnificent boost carry him down the river, through the Plume Rapids, and passing paddlers with greater ease than he had ever noticed before.
Later Steve was awarded a first-place medal in K-1 Unlimited for his age group and finished in the first group of a large field of athletes. We laughed the rest of the weekend about me hitchhiking just to see him. Steve said he had never felt so loved! I laughed then shuddered to think of the dangers that I had not experienced in the fearlessness I experienced when following the leading of the Holy Spirit in my heart that day.
I made it to the races despite the odds against me and learned some new things on Saturday: Dairy farmers can be angels. Love transcends the greatest of heartaches then brings us back to what or who matters most. Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit! And life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.
In the end I got a taste of what it means to live again. And that is a good thing my Gentle Reader! JJ