Thursday, May 5, 2011

What I've Learned To Date

There’s general agreement between Mark Twain and several that have given suggestions about doing a blog that what most people find interesting is not great moments and accomplishments, but what people are thinking, feeling, and enduring at the moment.  So, at kind of a turning point, here’s what I’ve learned so far.  Caution: you may want young children to leave the room.

First, you’ve heard the expression that ‘age is just a number’.  What a crock!  That’s right up there with sixty is the new forty, pedophiles are most experienced with children and make the best babysitters, there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and so on.  It’s a number that can be ignored just as the IRS will condone you ignoring April 15th.  It’s true that you can still do most things, but paddling 20 miles a day is one thing, doing it again the next day is fine, but getting up and doing it every morning, day after day, is where reality catches up.   The body takes time to recover, and at near 70, it doesn’t recover like it used to.  A good night’s sleep is no longer the cure-all.  Even a good night’s sleep is elusive. (To be read---darned near impossible.) The body goes into a state of decline, and not all that gradually.  Aches don’t go away; wounds don’t heal; you awake in the morning to find you can’t make a fist or grip the paddle, a problem I hear others share; and the wrench in the right lower back keeps giving you a shot of pain.  While I’ve personally seen octogenarians running marathons, they are rare and usually come from a long history of experience and training.  That brings up another truth.

I entered this ill prepared.  Unless one can find a gym with a paddling machine, there’s no similar physical activity to prepare one for endurance paddling except a lot of paddling, and I’ve shown you pictures of what are labeled ‘rivers’ in Western Oklahoma.  I was honest with everyone about my training level, and said it would be an on-the-job training opportunity.  Where I was most ill-prepared was in facing the unending, inescapable, demon wind.  By all accounts, this has been an exceptionally windy spring.  Even the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge, where you’ll find some of the most hardcore paddling athletes, found much of their fleet blown away this year.  There has not been a single day that I was not paddling head-long into winds in the mid-teens or more.  Even when I was in the ditch, the

winds funneled through at about 10 mph.  I have almost no pictures from the trip, because pausing to take a picture was of the lowest priority.  Even stopping to eat and drink was costly.  The bow would immediately blow off of the wind and I’d go sliding downwind like I was on ice.  Scenery I had worked hard to gain would blow past, and there was no cure but to drop what I was doing, pick up the paddle, and slog it out again.  It was unrelenting and demoralizing, not to mention often painful.  Except for the times I had the pleasure of company from Jim Parker and Fred Borg, I can honestly say I’ve not enjoyed a single day of it to date.  Most of the time I didn’t even see the passing landscape; my sights were only on the next point, or house on the opposite shore I was paddling toward in hopes of finding a lee.  It was a constant game of meeting the elements, watching for approaching breaking waves, watching the size of the bow wave to make sure I kept the pace up, and trying to blink the salt and sunscreen out of my eyes. But, I can tell you unequivocally what I have gained.  While I started with the deepest respect and admiration for the accomplishments of Jake, Verlen and the Kruger Team, and the WaterTribe athletes, after trying to paddle even these few miles in their wake, my admiration has grown exponentially beyond all bounds.

What does this all mean?  Well, it means I still have a lot to learn.  Am I giving up?  No, but it means my chances at being a long-distance endurance paddler are probably somewhere behind me. It means I will keep paddling, building miles, and working to generate some funds for the good work of Save The Children, but I won’t obsess over skipping one area that is dangerous or grueling in search of one a few miles further along that I may find some pleasure in.  I found it interesting that after discussing these revelations openly, I found responses from experienced paddlers with local knowledge that went like this, “We didn’t want to say anything, but that’s the right decision.  This is a dangerous and deadly coast.  Single paddlers, especially canoeists, have no business out there alone.  Two experienced kayakers were lost on that coast last year”.

Jean has done a great job of keeping you up-to-date, but I can add a few notes.  One, the total so far is 167.6 miles.  The fact that I go right to the mileage total reveals my obsessive-compulsive nature.  I’ve  had no personal encounters, and don’t seek one, but have had two exposures to gators.  When I camped just east of Four Mile Point, Choctawhatchee  Bay, two gaters lay on the beach where I had just taken out as they quarreled most of the night, and while camped in the ICW just east of West Bay Creek, one dove off the bank in front of my tent while running raised on all fours in pursuit of something.  He gave the water quite a thrashing.  Lastly, I spent most of the day in Choctawhatchee in two feet of water.  The bottom was golden brown with large patches of sea grass.  There were skates, schools of fish, and one blue crab large enough to fill a dinner plate.  It would be a great place to just drift with a glass-bottomed bucket, but I was unfortunately intent on making miles. Lastly, my deepest appreciation to Fred Borg for his hospitality while in Panama City.  I got a chance to meet a few of his paddling group, and joined them for dinner at The Place.  I was to paddle the next morning with one of the group, but got no sleep from spending the night listening to the wind howling outside.  When they posted Small Craft Advisories the next morning, and with me having no sleep, I threw in the towel for the day.  Eric, a determined racer, went anyhow, so my apologies to him.  My thanks to everyone who has been such a great part of the cohesive and supportive paddling community, and to the crew at Beck’s Fish Camp.  I offer no appreciation to the cowardly curs that stole Jean’s credit card off the wi-fi when she ordered flowers for her mother.  The charges were refused and the card cancelled, but just a warning that any information placed through wi-fi generally exposes it to the world and the minority of scum that infest our society like a plague of roaches.  Jim

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