He Ain’t Got Drowned, Thank the Lord!

Warning:  Read this until the end!

He left before I woke up and long after I was up in the middle of the night baking him cookies for the race.  Another strange night it was.  I had crashed early in the evening, many hours before my bed time . . . not that there is a usual bed time, that is.  I am still up very late about 2 nights per week yet that is a huuuuge improvement from my years as a night owl.  But my tummy hurt and I just couldn’t stay asleep.  All I could think about was those cookies that I wasn’t able to bake as promised and the risk of my beloved River Bear collapsing in the river the next day.  So I got up and started mixing up the ingredients sometime after 2:00 a.m.  The story was unveiling vividly in my mind as the scent of baking chocolate chips and Irish butter filled the air . . .

My beloved would be paddling a new-to-him Wenonah J203 carbon-fiber marathon canoe, probably putting him at the back of the more accomplished river rats on Saturday.  They all would be pushing their limits in the cold and rainy weather, trying to get back into shape for the upcoming race season.  RB would be no different.  The only difference is that he would be competing with a sinus infection on top of some chronic breathing issues.  The  realization of the risks was just enough to drive the mind wild of a kayaking-turned-canoeing “widow.”  Yeah, I don’t see him much during the Spring-Summer-Fall racing season so temporary paddling “widow” I become!

Today was especially of concern.  If he got a coughing spell when on a remote part of the river, spread out for miles over the course with the other dozen-or-so racers, there’s a good chance that only a real bear in the woods would have heard him struggling.  His  brown, furry cousin probably would not have minded my beloved’s residual garlic breath as he munched on his serendipitous, soggy lunch feast.  But that was not the worst of my worries.  More likely another racer in an equally tippy performance kayak would see my beloved slumping forward, splash into the water to save him, and be unable to do much of anything about it.  I foresaw in my mind’s eye that probably would be LB, of course.

She in her 4-foot 10-inch frame would jump out of her boat, neither one wearing a life jacket despite the cooler water conditions, and wrestle with RB’s muscular/lifeless body as it flopped into the current of the Tippicanoe River:  he almost 70 pounds her senior and her struggling to keep both of them afloat.  The river would win and down he would go.  She would be traumatized and exhausted from the fight against the swirling water, the soaked mass of a man, the expensive boats and paddles flowing downstream, the desperate feeling of not being able to save him no matter how hard she tried.  I could see it all in my mind’s eye, of course, in an instant.  I had been in a similar situation myself just 8 years ago during my first encounter with a performance sea kayak on the Allegheny River.  I feared for my life!

Back at the boat launch or maybe when she could signal for help, LB would desperately reach out.  The fellow racers would leap into action, scouring the shoreline for signs of the man who teased them hours earlier with a craft beer for any seasoned canoeist who could beat him on his maiden voyage that day.  They may or may not find him or his gear.  The rescue boat would eventually arrive, find and take his body to a local hospital for the fateful pronouncement.  The paddlers would stand in a circle at the take-out speechless, none volunteering to call the wife over 100 miles away who had sent along home-baked cookies for the annual meeting afterwards.  No one would be brave enough to call her or maybe the Fire Department would at least leave a message?

Do they ever really tell you all of the news anyways that you need to know when you get a dire phone call at a time like this?  I would then be in my own racing seat as I made the 2-hour drive to the Lafayette area, wondering if I had the right name of the facility where my RB was being held under refrigeration.  Perhaps I would drive from facility to facility searching for my loved one?  And what would they tell me when I found him?  Would anyone be there to tell me the story of what happened?  Would the racers have taken a luscious cookie but gone on home anyways, themselves suffering from the trauma of the friendly competition gone wrong?

And what would I do next?  What about the pup at home, the phone calls that needed to be made?  I would probably have to stay over a few nights to release my hubby’s body to return to our home town on Monday morning and begin preparations for the worst event of my life:  a funeral!  I have done this in the past a few times and it is exceedingly and painfully difficult.  Oh dear, what would become of my elderly family member out of state for whom I have become a measure of a caregiver?  Where would my beloved’s children stay, what would I say when they arrived grieved beyond belief from all over the country and 2 foreign countries?  Holy cow.  Maybe I would just sink and die myself right then and there rather than deal with it all.

Or maybe not.

*************

Twelve hours and 2 naps later, I heard the side door open.  My River Bear was home!!!  I was in shock.  Where did I just go in my mind and my heart for way too many hours?  In what or where have I placed my trust?  And why the heck am I so very needy, so weak, such a worry-wart when the Lord has been faithful to lead me through horrible tragedy dozens of times before.  Is this mental exercise really helpful at any level?  The answer:  NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

I have come to realize that there are a couple of coping mechanisms that come with enduring serious illness for many years that don’t work very well at all in a fit brain.  One of them is living each day with a sense of impending doom.  When virtually every night and every morning for the past 6 years was met with violent convulsive episodes, I lived every day with a sense that bad things were always going to happen.  It was just a matter of time before they did.  Well guess what?  The convulsive episodes don’t happen every night or every morning anymore!  I have got to let go of this “stinking thinking” as we used to say in my 12-step group days.  Husbands virtually  always come home.  And if they don’t right way, they usually have an amazing story to tell that makes you fall in love with them even more!

Another coping mechanism that got exercised in writing this story was that of always needing a contingency plan.  More recently, every time I would plan to do an activity at home or elsewhere I set up alternatives in my mind of what I would do in case I got sick.  I told RB my plans for the day, I had every “rescue remedy” I could think of in a lunch bag with me, and kept running errands until I was exhausted — just in case I was too sick the next few days to leave the house.  As you can see from the bit of paddling fiction above, I listed a few of the questions running through my mind but in my head, many more options and scenarios were playing out in my mental tool box.  What a colossal waste of physical and emotional energy!   While a “scarcity” mindset may work in times of famine or flood, I really don’t need it with me anymore.  Me and the Lord will figure out whatever may come my way.  Geez!

Of course an obvious failed coping mechanism is last on my list today:  a false sense of control.  I cannot predict anything that will happen, good or bad, and neither can you.  If I truly trusted the Lord with my life in times of tragedy and triumph then I would not need these fantasy games to cope with the fact that I have a REAL MAN who LOVES ADVENTURE no matter if he is sick or well.  That makes him who he is!  And his passion for life makes him the man in whom I fell in love over 10 years ago.  No wimpy dude over here!  He pushes the limits to the admiration of his peers and sweat of his competitors because that is just how he is wired.  I guess I am still understanding how different we are, how different the Lord wired each of us.  It is a beautiful thing really.  And, Lord willing, my beloved will always be home at night in pretty darn good shape too, I will add!  :J

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

So the next time my man goes out to do that which he is called to do, I will pray for him and for me both!  I will not respond with fear but anticipation of some great stories in which I may one day join in, Lord willing, as I get stronger each day.  The day is coming soon when I will want to venture myself out into newer, uncharted waters, so-to-speak knowing that my Lord and King is already there, cheering for both me and my River Bear.  This could really be a fun summer after all.  I often cheer, “Goooooo Steeeeeve” from the side of various rivers when my beloved’s paddle hits the water at the sound of the starting gun.  Maybe it’s time for a little, “Gooooooo Julie” too?

Stay tuned.  There’s always another story waiting to be told around here for you Gentle Reader.  The water awaits!  JJ

Stellar, SR, paddling, woman, kayak, kayaking, wing paddle, carbon fiber

Me in my Stellar SR surf ski in 2011

Scorpius, outrigger canoe, OC1, Hawaiian, boat, man, paddling, life jacket, racing, buoy, turn, marathon, River Bear

My River Bear leading the pack at the bouy turn on the St Joe River, Fort Wayne, Indiana in July of 2015

Anticipation

One could say that the days before a cross-country trip are usually filled with a multitude of tasks and anticipation of the good times to come.  I’ll give a “yes” to both accounts and now we are back from coastal Alabama with pictures to share.

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Paddling the Stellar S16S felt good in Perdido Bay off Alabama/Florida waters

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Steve and I congratulated Elizabeth and her husband Daniel as she earned her wings to become an Army Blackhawk helicopter pilot

 

 

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Our happy travelling companion Elle

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Elizabeth piloted a helicopter ride for each of us after graduation. Awesome!

I did a lot better travelling this past week than our last trip in November of 2015, that is for sure.  I was able to attend all but one planned activity by pacing myself, meticulous planning, and some improvement in my overall health.  The convulsive episodes that still accompany the serious illness I am battling kept themselves largely to the overnight hours and travelling in my truck.  And they were much less!  Yeah God!  It’s amazing how much life can fit in between the setbacks these days . . .

Now that 11 loads of laundry are done, the travel trailer and vehicles are cleaned, and even some garden chores completed I am ready.  A nasty new treatment begins later this week.  Resuming the infusions of IV antibiotics, a few scheduled appointments, grocery shopping, and making sure our support systems are in place come first before the darkness falls.  It really could be that bad.  Or maybe not?

They say that breaking up stealth biofilm and killing protomyxzoa rheumatica (formerly known as FL1953) can render a person useless.  Or bedridden.  Or really, really sick.  Then after around 4 weeks, there can be miraculous improvement.  My trial run 2 weeks ago of 1 capsule of the anti-fungal brought dizziness, light-headedness, and cognitive slowing.  My Lyme Literate Medical Doctor was thrilled when I told him.  (He is kind of kooky that way!)  “It’s affecting your brain!  That is good!” he exclaimed in a way that only a master diagnostician can.  Oh boy.  “I wonder what the full dosing will be like?” was all I could think about.  And how will I eat?  Get to the bathroom?  Keep up with all of the treatments while home alone when Steve is at work?  So many questions remain unanswered at this point.

This is what I know for sure.  In a way, the break in treatment for a week of vacation came too soon.  I was not ready to go without the IV antibiotics and daily routine that has facilitated this turnaround without some extra struggle.  There was a lot of stress amidst the good times.  In another way, the break fed my soul!  I got to see what living was like for everyone else while being with everyone else.  I got to kayak with my beloved River Bear . . . . TWICE!  I did more than one thing each day and did alright trying to do so.  When we got back home I got to work in our garden two days in a row.  Wow, Lord.  Then I read an adventure novel in 2 days!  How lovely it was to immerse myself in a bit of life again.

So for the unknown treatment coming in a few days I will say this:  bring it.  I have faced worse than lumbrokinase and prescription Lamisil.  I will go slow if I can and employ every herxheimer (aka die off) remedy I have in my arsenal if needed.  The Lord has brought me through near-death experiences, daily hell on earth, despair beyond belief.  I have been given a taste of life again to encourage me and those around me as well.  It is time to dig a little deeper, literally.  We have found The Beast in the recesses of my brain tissue.  This is war.  Lord willing, I am going to get well.

If we don’t chat for awhile, please pray for me and Steve, k?  Thanks a bunch Gentle Reader.  I am grateful for you.  With love, JJ

Julie BH Crop

He really cares: Part 1

The initial blog title rattling around in my brain for the last 24+ hours was, “You are THE ONE who really cares.”  After all, when each of us is alone in the midst of a trial (particularly when it is medical), it is only you that bears the greatest burden of the suffering.  Others offer comfort, prayer, helps of various levels, and if you are lucky will actually stick around for more than a few moments.  But it is you, one and only, who must bear the pain . . .  And that can be frightening to say the least!

Rather than rant about what to do with fear, give platitudes and verses with which to train your mind, and otherwise avoid ministering to the weeping heart, I will simply offer this:

Just lay your head on the lap of Jesus.

More than anyone, Jesus Christ knows what it is like to be killed, pained, abandoned, betrayed, falsely accused.  He is the only one Who can be with you as the Holy Spirit, in your time of sorrow from its beginning until its end.  He will never leave us or forsake us and always be there if we but call upon His name.  He is worthy of our

praise

tears

anger

weakness

alms

thanksgiving.  I was reminded of all of this just yesterday!

About 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon I was abandoned in a treatment room of my doctor’s office.  The nurse practitioner (NP) had left the room after writing an order for me to get IV fluids and after “catching” me collapse during a short convulsive episode during the appointment.  After all, that’s why I was there:  to document the crisis, get the orders, and head over to the hospital for treatment thereafter.  I was sitting there kind of dazed.  Soon after she left the room (and after another nurse came into the room to revise the scheduling of some other appointments), I began to list to one side.  There was a chair next to me with my purse and water bottle resting on it.  The weakness increased and a few inches at a time, I began falling to my right side, coming closer to the purse on the chair.  I could not speak.  I could not brace myself.  I could not do anything but be glad there was a chair next to the one upon which I was sitting so as to break my fall.

The next 20-30 minutes were very ugly.  My body collapsed fully onto the chair next to me.  My face smashed into the zipper of the purse while my glasses and cover-style sunglasses pressed into my face.  I looked straight ahead with my head rotated completely to my left, straining my neck most uncomfortably.   The front of my right ear was crushed underneath me on the purse whilst the back was free-falling unsupported; the back of my head pressed into the vinyl backrest of the metal chair.  Not exactly pillow material!  My right hip was twisted and pushed into the thinly padded, vinyl seat of the chair upon which I was sitting.  The ringing in my ears had already increased with the headache that had been working its way into action over the past hour.  Legs cramping, toe tips burning as much as my finger tips, and feet struggling to keep contact with the floor to stabilize my position . . . herein I would remain for the next 90 minutes.

I thought about many things.  First, I prayed.  I prayed again and again and talked to God about many things.  Will they be coming soon?  Do I hear them coming?  Was I expected to go out to the nurse’s desk after the NP left the room or was she coming back with more instructions?  I really could not remember since I was already in the brain fog of recovering from the earlier episode that she had witnessed before she left the room.  Surely the staff would notice that I had not left the room yet?  Or maybe not.  I waited in that same treatment room (#4) TWO HOURS the last time I saw the NP before I stepped out to mention that I was in there waiting.  “I didn’t know you were in there waiting for me,” she explained with her soft, sweet voice that I would learn never changes even in the midst of an emergency . . .

Time passed.  It was hard to ignore the searing pain of the two pairs of glasses being pressed with my full upper body weight into the side of my nose.  I could not move to get more comfortable.  I still couldn’t speak.  I tested this out and nothing happened.  In a while when I tested it again, my arm would start shaking; if I tried my leg, my leg would start shaking.  This is what I call, “neurological collapse” at it’s finest.  I learned on in a Catamenial Epilepsy Facebook page that in true epilepsy (which I do not have) has a name for this phenomenon called, “Todd’s paralysis.”  It can go on for up to 48 hours and mimic the signs/symptoms of a stroke.  Todd’s paresis usually resolves on its own without any residual effects.  I have experienced this complication at least once per week for the last 3 years.  Gratefully, most of the time the residual effects for me resolve within 2 hours, at home, in the evening, and within reach of my beloved husband!

There is nothing I can do to quicken the process of recovery from an episode.  It takes what it takes.  Knowing this I tried to calm myself down and focus on my breathing despite my twisted posture.  My rib cage was constricted so I did what I could to at least slow down each inhale, each exhale.  I did what I could to keep my neck and shoulder muscles tensed a bit so as not to twist my upper torso any more extremely than it already was.  I tried to relax the crushed tissues on my face so the pain would subside.  This worked poorly.  Suddenly the voices beyond the closed door seemed louder.  Then I heard the doctor’s voice.  This would be the time to try and vocalize something for help.  My voice was weak.  help.  Help.  I tried many times.  Probably no one in the same room with me would have heard those first cries.

I redoubled my efforts.  I took a deeper breath and vocalized a little louder, “Help!”  Then I rested and made more attempts, “HELP!”  Surely the door cannot be that thick!  I can see a crack at the bottom between the wood of the door and the low pile carpeting.  “HEEEEEEELP!!!”  I cried again.  My nose was running from the first time I had started to cry, dripping onto my purse.  Fortunately it is made of an outdoorsy, washable fabric.  Your mind thinks of all kinds of things when you are trapped.

To be continued in Part 2

When there’s no where else to go

the crossSometimes I am not quite sure why I am crying, this late in the game.  I’ve been here before, I know my Heavenly Husband is in charge, and I haven’t died no matter how severe the symptoms have gotten.  My husband and I have seen the Lord work amazingly through this illness.  New skills have come, I am grateful to have met you Gentle Reader, and by the grace of God we have overcome tremendous trials together.  Healing is on the horizon with a new treatment direction  .  .  .  I even have my own company on the drawing board to fulfill my entrepreneurial dreams.  So how can I possibly be sad?

I am sad because it is normal to be sad when suffering.  I am sad, grieving if you will, for all of the losses even if it was good to let some people, places and things leave my life once again.  I am sad that Steve and I had to lose so much to gain so much goodness.  We almost missed “it” so many times!  I am glad that we are more in love now than ever before and it came though an extremely difficult path.  No longer do I ask the questions “why” and “what if?”  More often my question is “when?”  When will this hell be over?

*******************

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.  (Galatians 5:1)

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  (Colossians 3:2)

For God has not given us a sprit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  (2 Timothy 1:7)

And let us not grow weary while doing good for in due season we shall reap if we do no lose heart.  (Galatians 6:9)

. . . but we also glory in tribulations knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  (Romans 5: 3b-4)

. . . being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.  (Philippians 1:6)

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.  (Philippians 1:12)

Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.  (Ephesians 3:13)

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  (Philippians 4:13)

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrews 4:16)

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:19)

For we walk by faith, not by sight.  (2 Corinthians 5:8)

*******************

I was hoping that somewhere between copying these lines of scripture and writing this blog that I would feel better.  Well, not yet!  When all else fails, I shall crawl up to the cross of my Jesus, place myself at the foot of His throne of grace, collapse in the shelter of His mighty wings, rest in the promise that He is always with me:  now and forever.  Yes, this is the best place to go after all.  Here is where I belong.  JJ

It can be a mixed bag for the wife of a racer: Part 1

I remember the day Steve first took me out kayaking.  He was careful to put me in the more stable of his two kayaks:  the white one with the yellow deck (Epic Endurance).  Or was it the yellow plastic one (Sirocco)?  Perhaps I was too nervous to recall the color!  All I remember was trying to trust my new boyfriend while fearing toppling into the water.  Becoming a drowned rat was not my intention during one of our early dates together!  Besides, he was an aspiring kayak racer and I had already shared with him my many other types of canoeing/boating experiences thoughout my lifetime.  Yes I can swim.  Oh the mixture of thoughts that ran through my head as I got in that tippy little thing . . .

With an unwelcomed nudge (shove?) on the stern from my teacher I was able to paddle out some from the park launching site he had so carefully selected, turn around then return to the shore a few times.  When it was time to go he carefully straddled the boat to stabilize it and instructed me on in the finer points of a gracious dismount.  That action requires straddling your legs wide apart to either side of the wide cockpit of an elongated diamond-shaped seafarer.  Ladies:  that’s not the view I had hoped to offer my intended beloved at this stage of our relationship if you know what I mean?  And my feet got wet and muddy to boot since this would be a couple of years before acquiring my own proper pair of water shoes from our local mega-grocery store.  (That was another rite of passage that came later!)  Steve expertly cleaned off the boats and attached them to the roof racks of his truck.  Oh, so that’s how those beastly black metal frames filling the bed of his periwinkle-striped truck work!  (I remember seeing them on our first date in the west suburbs of Chicago.  A rare sight in suburbia for sure!  Who is this guy?)

Steve rapidly progressed that summer as he shifted from a recreational to a competitive United States Canoe Association (USCA) racer.  I watched closely as he increasingly dedicated himself to all things paddling:  studying the equipment, kayak dimensions, paddling technique videos, and outings with both Indiana racers and the Fort Wayne kayaking group.  Hmmm.  I had an important decision to make.  Either I would master this paddling thing or spend lots of afternoons home alone as he perfected his craft away from home without me.  To insist that he stay home with me would get in the way of the paddling athlete he was becoming.  After all, I did enjoy the fruits of all that cycling and marathon racing.  🙂

Steve aka River Bear

Steve aka River Bear

Our first USCA Nationals was an amazing experience.  Cars, campers, trucks, wagons, and anything to which you could strap a boat (can you say Amish buggy?) were crammed along the shore of the St. Joe River in South Bend, Indiana.  There were young and middle aged men in either spandex or neoprene everywhere!  My training as an occupational therapist has often helped me appreciate the beauty of God’s human form just long enough to remember that I must bounce my eyes to other lovely things lest my heart go to dishonoring places!  Sish.  You would think that everyone was a competitor given the hundreds of colorful vessels sprinkling the shoreline that day.  Excitement and anticipation were in the air.  Steve competed in the sea kayaking class and finished respectfully for his first Nationals.  A former Olympian named Matt smoked the pack by minutes:  a dramatic sight to see.  I’d never seen a racing canoe (C-1) or an Olympic-class ICF kayak before:  narrower, tippier, and lighter than 2 bowling balls side-by-side and pushed effortlessly against the current of any river with carbon fiber, bent or winged paddles, respectively.  I didn’t see any that looked appealing to me just yet!  My learning curve would surely keep me beyond reach of these river rats in vessels as wide as a hewn log floating downstream to a lumber yard.

Steve could give you more details on how he progressed to lighter and faster sea kayaks, trading up or buying-and-selling with guys throughout the Midwest.  For the two of us we had settled on a Hobie Oasis when the Lord provided the needed resources:  a tandem bright blue pedal-driven barge-by-comparison, complete with cup-holders and 100 pounds of stability.  We had fun taking the Hobie out on local lakes many Sundays that summer after Steve had raced all day somewhere in northern Indiana on most Saturdays.  We could use it as a swim platform or explore native shorelines and never fear the wakes of ski boats zooming by.  The only drawback was the slow peddling speed.  With both of us peddling we still maxed out at around 4 MPH.  Adding power from the wimpy plastic kayak paddles didn’t make much of a difference.  It takes a long time to get anywhere at that speed!  We were always struggling to keep up with the recreational paddlers of the FW Kayaking group and getting water lilies or seaweed caught in the drive system under the boat (think bicycle crank shaft above and swim fins below).  Sure we could trade up for the shorter fins.  Somehow I had a feeling that I was going to learn to paddle eventually.  Could I become strong enough to power my own vessel?  I started looking around at kayak designs when at races.  I looked over Steve’s shoulder many times as he was watching frightful ocean-going surf ski racing You Tube videos.  Good golly!  So where is the middle ground?

Julie and a friend's son Ty in a recreational race with the Hobie Oasis

Julie and a friend’s son Ty in a recreational race with the Hobie Oasis

In many sports you are only as good as your gear.  You can’t blame your gear for poor performance most of the time (or at least your spouse will remind you of the financial cost of trying to get it right!) but you can spend less energy where it doesn’t need to go when your equipment is lighter and your technique is streamlined to match.  This is where it is beneficial to be married to an athlete of the sport in which you are choosing to dabble!  With my own better gear I was about to start looking a bit more accomplished than my ability!  The next stage began in Warren, Pennsylvania.

I knew it when I saw it.  We were pulling into the parking lot of the beautiful park that would be the home base for the Warren USCA Nationals.  She was bright orange and gray, strapped to the roof of a racer from New Jersey, and wearing a big red-and-white “For Sale” sign.  The boat, not the guy!  My dad had just sent me an unexpected financial gift that happened to be idling in my checkbook.  I had seen the fiberglass lay up of the Think Fit on display at our first trip to Nationals the previous summer.  Something about it resonated with me:  a sea kayak that wasn’t too narrow, was significantly lighter than the plastic beasts like the Hobie that the recreational paddlers tended to favor, and yet was respectable even by the racing crowd.  Very few Think Fits were available in the Midwest.  It looked intimidating and skill-building all the same.  She was going home with me.  I was sure of it long before I said anything to Steve.

The bonding experience would change my view of kayaking forever.  Think about it:  what’s the worst fear a person might have when getting into a tiny vessel on unknown waters?  Drowning?  Even if you know how to swim there are variables on open water that can kill you.  A jet boat can run you over, a swirling eddy can entrap you under a log, the current can take you where you don’t want to go, and a spider can tether down from a tree branch from above and frightfully let you know that you are not paddling alone . . . It’s the stuff waking nightmares are made of.  You know, that twilight time just before you fall asleep?  I would have many recollections of my first time in the Think Fit after that maiden voyage.  It’s the stuff you tell stories about when out to dinner after a day of racing or touring.

Steve stabilized the Think Fit in the midst of the current of the Alleghany River to help me get a feel for it.  This is a bit misleading for many reasons including these top two:  1)  a boat (like a bicycle) is more stable as you move forward instead of sitting stationary and 2)  the rate of the current (or the overpowering wind on a bicycle) can challenge the skill level of all of us.  The Core of Army Engineers had released a bit too much water from the dam earlier that day to correct the water levels for the race competitors.  So instead of a gentle 2-3 MPH current, we’re talking 5-6 MPH!  The last time I stood in current like that was as a kid when helping groom a trail at day camp.  I had slid off the trail into the swirling waters of the Clinton River, feeling the rush pull me away from the shore as I struggled to get back onto dry land.  Where were the other kids?  Who knows.  All I knew is that I was scared and I had to spend the rest of the day in soggy shoes and shorts!  Bummer.  Or there were the times as a kid that we created a current walking around the periphery of our 24-foot backyard pool.   After about a dozen times pool-walking around the circle we had created an awesome current for crazy fun, sweeping us away unless we hung onto the sides!  The feel of rushing water returned few decades later when I felt the undertow when swimming in the ocean along the Gulf of Mexico . . .  Now there’s a real sense of danger right there.

Steve had me paddle towards him then drew me back along the shore for a repeat mini-paddle.  I could feel the rush of the water making the paddling easier.  No problem.  His presence boosted my confidence too.  Then I started venturing out a little more, requiring less help from him to turn around.  I barely had a handle on the rudder steering mechanism as I tried to make a turn before a large tree hanging over the river.  Before I knew it I was pushed into a horizontal branch and began rolling over in slow-motion.   I grabbed a branch within reach above me, nearly panicked, and somehow remembered to hang onto the very expensive boat that wasn’t mine.  Everything flashed before me in an instant:  I’m glad I am wearing a life jacket.  I can’t hold the boat and the paddle at the same time.  The boat isn’t paid for so I can’t let go.  I am horizontal and the current is stronger than I could ever imagine.  How long can I hold on?  If I let go will I be strewn down the river backwards for miles before anyone ever finds me?  I will be stranded somewhere with snakes, barbs or worse as it gets dark.  Why are the men watching right now and not doing anything?  I could die!  I don’t know what to do and I am panicking!

In a moment like that you must make a different decision:  will you become overwhelmed with fear and land in a worse outcome because of it or will you take a deep breath and try to figure something out.  Even Steve was standing knee-deep in water along the shore watching me, speechless!  Would he even be able to hear me over the roar of the rushing water anyways?  Yes, I have to try anyways.  First step, I yelled, “I need to be rescued.”  He quickly came out of shock, took off his glasses/watch/keys, and started towards me.  Second step, “I am letting go of the boat.”  That cued him to grab the boat, make an awesome deep water re-entry into it, grab the paddle and make his way towards me.  Third step and just as he got to me, I let go of the tree branch and my only security on earth in that moment.  I quickly drifted into the stern of the boat and grabbed hold.  He said something to me and I have no idea what it was.  I held on with whatever energy was left in my trembling body.  Did I mention that the waters were quite cool?

Even Steve was having trouble righting the boat to return to shore as I realized that I could help him do so.  I started kicking my legs as if I were hanging onto a kick board in a lap pool.  Yeah, more like a lap pool with a swim machine on steroids that is!  We readily got going in the right direction and Steve paddled us into shore.  When I could feel the sandy bottom of the shoreline I dragged myself out of the water.  Steve dismounted out of the boat, emptied it and laid it on the shore.  The two idiots that were watching the whole time and did nothing to help, said nothing, checked their phones, and walked over the hill back into the parking lot beyond.  In that park were hundreds of experienced canoe and kayak racers who had no idea of the crisis occurring for me at the take-out where all of them had ended their respective races within the previous hour.  I collapsed into Steve’s arms in horror, fear, grief, terror, and relief that I had not drowned.  It was my worst fear you know.  The second was drifting aimlessly backwards down the river forever.  Both landed me in a bucket full of tears that seemed like they would never end.

These days I understand that you can swim in waters with a stout current.  These days I know some navigational and survival skills should I ever be faced with that scenario again.  These days I know that I could have drifted downriver with the boat as a float and with the protection of my life vest to keep my head above water in most circumstances.  These days I know that Steve would have signaled for help and did whatever it would take to find me should I have become stranded along the river down from the take out.  And these days I know that I could have turned myself around almost instantly if I would have been swept away with the current.  I have learned a lot since that day five years ago.

When I got my wits about me I looked at that orange and gray Think Fit kayak and knew I had another decision to make.  We would be leaving town the next day and the boat that I thought would be right for me would also be leaving to make a cross-country trip in the opposite direction from where we live in Indiana.  This was the boat I had landed upon after investigating the options and it was about to go away.  The crisis that I experienced was a rite of passage in many ways.  Sure, it’s unlikely to find such perilous conditions in the waterways of Indiana so why worry about it ever happening again.  But that wasn’t the point.  The point was that I had faced my worst fear of what could go wrong in a human-powered craft.  I had faced it and survived.  I had faced it and gained some new skills.  And in the process I had bonded with my new Think Fit kayak.  I bought it and took her home with me.  It was the only possible outcome that I could imagine.  I became a kayaker that day!

Julie in her Think Fit sea kayak

Julie in her Think Fit sea kayak

There’s more.  See Part 2 for a little more of my paddling story.  Then get into your own boat somewhere on some friendly waters this summer and get going eh?  Oh the adventures that await you!  Did I tell you the one about the nest of great blue herons in the remote pond at the end of the Golden Lake chain o’ lakes?  :J