The Life of a Kayaking Widow

No, he didn’t die.  He just goes away for large swaths of time as soon as the forsythias start their yellow bloom season up north here until the crimson leaves begin to fall into the local waterways.  Then he “comes back to life” again when I need him to keep me warm when the snow flies, that’s all.  Such is the life of a kayaking widow!

For those of you who have taken a break from reading your cereal box and picked up your beloved’s issue of Canoe News* instead, this one’s for you!  You may or may not be a paddler and that is o.k.  If you are not a RACER, however, and HE IS then you are invited to join me in this paper support group!  We are not alone!  (He does eventually come home to sleep and eat, right?)  I mean, I understand girlfriend.

So we must stick together, you and me, and figure out alternatives to dreamy picnics in the park with our men.  It probably won’t happen.  Our guys are either out fulfilling the requirements of their United States Canoe Association (USCA) membership or too tired and sore from the workout the day before to take a walk on the local Prairie Path on a Sunday afternoon.   “Would you massage my back?” is more likely heard than, “the moonlight sure is lovely reflected in your hair tonight.”  But I digress.  Just focus on the other scenic benefits of being married to an athlete if ya know what I mean?  J

And try these tips to get past the USCA Nationals in August at least!

  • Go shopping.  Spend wisely and no more than the amount he has invested in paddling gear.
  • Try a recreational race if you can paddle some; offer to take pictures of the event or help out if you prefer not.  Kids can come too if desired.  He will love you for taking an interest in his sport.
  • Leave a note of encouragement in plain view for your man to find as he makes his way out the door on race day before the rooster crows.  Add food.  Lots of food.
  • Plan regular events of your own either alone or with like-minded “widows.”  There a lot of us out there, left behind from various endeavors requiring testosterone.  Pick ones that require lots of estrogen to enjoy.
  • Eat chocolate and don’t share with anyone.
  • Look busy when he comes home yet be sure to greet him from upwind.

Surely there are a virtual bevvy of strategies for us land-lovers as I am only getting started here.  Actually I was a fan of boating under power when I met my River Bear.  What happened?  Who knows but her name might be “Stella(r)” or something like that!  I would love to hear from you ladies (and possibly widowers?) with your best tips on making the most of the paddling season.

Until then, gardening anyone?  JJ

*Published in the Summer 2017 issue of Canoe News

Fort Wayne, canoe, wife, husband, paddling, high knee, marriage, partners

This wifey-poo gets it right at an Indiana race on the St. Joe River in 2012!

River Bear Racing is here!

Good news:  River Bear Racing officially launched this week and I am quite proud of my beloved Steve aka “River Bear.”

Well known to the racers of the United States Canoe Association, Steve has accepted an invitation to represent Stellar Kayaks in the Midwest.  Since 2009, Stellar has been delivering innovative kayaks, surf skis, paddles, and accessories across North America.  Steve always liked the cockpit and foot plate design of Stellar Kayaks as he advanced from a recreational kayaker when I met him in 2007 to the reigning State Champion in the Men’s K-1 Open Class in Indiana.  We have been on many adventures together since then, usually with me cheering him on from the side of a river somewhere, “gooooooooo Steve!!!!”  And I have loved every minute of it too.

So I invite you, Gentle Reader, to check out and FOLLOW my husband’s new website:  River Bear Racing.  Steve is an amazing storyteller so expect to be treated to much adventure and humor as he navigates the rivers east of the Mississippi in carbon fiber boats narrow enough that the rest of the world would call them a man-sized tongue depressor!  These racers are amazing, fast, fit, and  . . . well I better stop here lest I get into some wifey-poo trouble!  I am grateful to have learned so much from Steve and his love for the sport of sea kayak and surf ski racing.  And I even have Steve to thank for my really neat paddling gear (that exceeds my abilities) as well.

Lord willing, I am looking forward to getting back to our water adventures really soon.  Maybe I’ll just have to try out that S18S to see if it’s as cool as my old Stellar SR?  Hmmm, guess I’ve become a bit of a paddling geek to, eh?  JJ

Steve in his Stellar SE

Steve in his Stellar SE

 

Like a River Glorious

In his first solo CD, Huntley Brown clinked the keys of a grand piano with such magnificent flow that it sounded like  the rushing waters of a mighty river.  Check it out yourself on You Tube at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up1ygB0ZYes  I first heard this amazing piece when he was first performing in churches across the United States about 20 years ago.  This native born Jamaican had surely witnessed the glory of majestic waters crashing upon the sandy beaches of his homeland.  Yes!  I can picture it.  How about you?

The imagery of a river is meaningful to me.  When I was a child I fell into a river when helping groom a trail along the Clinton River in Michigan.  It was part of a day camp experience and I was scared then upset because I had to stay in my muddy, wet clothes for the rest of the day!  Oh the trials of childhood!

Trials indeed.  When I would break down into tears as a young girl my brother, Mike, would taunt me mercilessly.  He stood in front of me with the palms of his hands facing upwards and sneered, “cry me a river!!!”  I burned with anger.  He had no idea the pain underneath those tears that finally spilled down onto my face after holding so much hurt inside:  hurt with no safe place to go.  I had endured two of three sexual abusers by this age:  the damage was done.  No river could contain my tears, or at least that is how it felt, should the “dam ever break open.”

Flash forward 40 years.  The abusers are now deceased and forgiven; my heavenly Father has filled the hurt with His amazing grace and love.  I married my intended beloved and he introduced me to kayaking on the rivers of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  We began on the water together in a Hobie Oasis (i.e. a pedal-driven kayak) until I progressed to a solo Think Fit Sea Kayak.  By October of 2011, I was in the best physical shape of my life despite an underlying chronic pain condition and had upgraded to a beginner surf ski kayak:  the Stellar SR.  For almost three years my husband and I had enjoyed  kayaking with a local recreational group on Tuesday nights all summer through the early Fall.  The wonder of the rivers and waterways we explored together eventually changed my perception of them; after all I had grown up by the polluted Detroit River, downriver from the steel mills!  Rivers?  Yuck!  Boating on the water back then for me meant exploring the Five Great Lakes and clear blue inland lakes of Michigan by speedboat not human-powered slo-mo vessels!

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Me in my Stellar SR

Well who knew that Indiana was so beautiful?  We witnessed young deer up close, sneaking to the edge of the water for a drink and Great Blue Herons feeding their young in the tops of trees.  Paddling with a gaggle of 20 or more colorful kayaks with double-bladed paddles gently sliding through the water was a really cool sight to see.  For the first time in my life I felt “cool!”  The evening excursions were sweetened by the chocolate chip and peanut butter monster cookies from a fellow kayaker as the sun was setting over the boat launch at the end of the day.  The sunset is simply glorious on the waters of a river winding through the woodland . . .

It sure is a curious thing that the most significant episode of illness in my life would begin after kayaking in a local reservoir and river.  The complicated course of events that followed prevented me from all but limited excursions on the water for the next two and one-half years.  I’ve now sold both kayaks mentioned here and we have replaced them with  solo and tandem outrigger canoes.  My balance skills have suffered of late so the Hawaiian-style outrigger provides stability with maximum performance.   After all, Steve is a competitive kayak racer so we are grateful to have fast and great gear along with really cool looking boats!  Lord willing, I look forward to getting on the water again sometime this year.

And so I was praying, crying out to the Lord recently when the most difficult parts of this illness had led to feelings of despair.  Perhaps you read the previous blog entitled, “Psalm 71?”  Yeah, I hit rock bottom a couple of nights ago.  Within a day the Lord led me through His Holy Spirit to an understanding of where I am and where all of this might be going.  This did not come with exacting answers of time or place initially.  I came to understand that the process of searching a new treatment option was like that of waters moving from one place to the next.  The Lord placed me in the middle of the stream of new research and methodically led me through the steps of discovery to a new treatment modality.  I will write more about what it is another time.  What I will say here is that I am in awe that there were no barriers along the way just an open current, if you will, of information even when I could not see where the research was leading me.  When I finally landed at a decision, like putting-in or taking-out at a boat launch that both sends you on an adventure or returns you home, He showed me the symbolism of a river, glorious.  The image of a river made sense to me.  The residual pain from my brother’s comments so many years ago finally faded.  The Lord gathered my cries for help like a gentle stream at the mouth of a river leading to His heart.  I believe there will be a significant measure of healing this time.

Psalm 98:7-8 

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;

Song of Songs 8:7

Many waters cannot quench love;
    rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
    all the wealth of one’s house for love,
    it would be utterly scorned.

Isaiah 43:2

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

Lamentations 2:18

The hearts of the people cry out to the Lord. You walls of Daughter Zion, let your tears flow like a river day and night; give yourself no relief, your eyes no rest.

Amos 5:24

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

John 7:38

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

Revelation 22

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Tonight I rest along the banks of my Heavenly Father’s river of life.

Thank you, Lord, for carrying me downstream as far and as long as was needed to bring me to this new place of hope. Oh my Lord, forgive me for my desperation, for not trusting You.  Help me to trust you, to continue to abide in your streams of righteousness, wisdom and grace. Renew my faith, strengthen my sea legs if You will, until it’s time for me to come home.  I love you.  Julie

river at sunrise

Counting on Muscle Memory!

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Completing 30 minutes of the Metabolic Effects hybrid workout DVD with repetitively lifting 5 pound weights, reflected the highest level of fitness I had achieved in my life.  The increased upper body strength provided a great foundation for hitting the kayaking season with my River Bear husband just 2 months later.  We would go out with the local, recreational kayaking group virtually every Tuesday night from summer through the Fall.  I even sampled one member’s cookies after a night of paddling:  a sweet treat, in a peanut butter version for health reasons of course!

While everything was not perfect at that time, I mean I still had chronic pain and needed a couple of days to recover afterwards, life was as good as it had gotten.  I was working part time, enjoying gardening in a real home (not a condo or townhouse), and blessed beyond measure with a loving husband and church family.  My father had died earlier in 2011; that was bittersweet.  My dad died  2 months after I got to see him in person for the first time in 30 years!  So while  I was grateful for the reunion, the healing, and the new relationship with him, I was also very grieved for his passing.  And near the end of that year I had begun the Master Gardener classes at our local County Extension Office.   To become a Master Gardener was a new goal borne out of my mother’s love for gardening passed onto me.  All in all, it was a good and important year in my life.

What I did not count on was contracting viral hepatitis after kayaking in a local reservoir October 11, 2011.  I was deathly sick.  I never fully recovered.  After the holidays, my doctor when looking for other reasons for my illness and backed into a clinical diagnosis of Lyme Disease.  Within a year mold illness would also be discovered and a need to completely remediate our home.  The year and one-half of stress, illness, extraordinary expense, inability to work, and social isolation would take their toll.  My body became severely deconditioned as physical activity generally exacerbated most noxious symptoms.  To complete my basic self care, prepare my special diet, and to keep the house clean became my focus in addition to all of the activities related to managing my healthcare:  16 to 18 hours per day!  The remaining hours were crochity at best.  Dialing a phone and pressing 18,000 times the “1” key is not too far from the truth when you have to call so many health care providers, insurance companies and so on!

Today I am counting on muscle memory.  You’ve heard of that before, right?  Wikipedia defines it as follows:

Muscle memory has been used synonymously with motor learning, which is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems.

I am hoping that when I am able to work out consistently, the memory pathways will still be there to get me stronger a little more quickly than if I was starting from scratch.  Certainly I have experienced this, for example, when getting back into my kayak 2 weeks ago, for the first time in a year.  I do remember how to hold the carbon fiber winged racing paddle after all!  And I didn’t fall out of my 19 foot Kevlar Stellar SR surf ski.  Wow.  There sure are sweet benefits to being married to a kayak racer, by the way!  My equipment is very cool and exceeds my abilities for sure.  (With the chronic pain, the lighter, more efficient equipment helped me to participate in a demanding sport.)  Thank you Lord for this cool history and the hope I have in You.  It’s all good.  🙂

One week before this journey began