Despite appearances here, sporty stuff is not my jam. I read my way through childhood, and distant memories of dodgeball still make me feel a little sore. In my soul, I mean.
There are a few things that made my Mighty Life List because I’m afraid of them, and rolling a kayak is one of those. Bryan loves to go kayak camping, but the few times we’ve gone, all I can think about is the boat flipping. What if I can’t pull off the rubber skirt thingie and end up trapped? Upside down? Underwater?
I’ll tell you what happens, people. Death — with bona fide dying, and moving toward the light, and all the dead people you know slapping you on the back and offering you smokes.
This is Suki Waters, the patient and aptly named owner of WaterTreks Ecotours up in Jenner. She and her friend George met us at a little lodge in Guerneville that offered to let us use the pool for the day.
My goal was to learn how to roll so I could stop obsessing about tipping whenever I’m in a kayak — overcome my fears, spread my wings, today is the first day of the rest of your kayaking, and so forth. Suki told me it was possible I wouldn’t be able to flip in one lesson, but we’d give it a go.
As you might imagine, signing a contract with Intel has pushed me to do many things I otherwise could have put off perpetually. This, for example:
That’s me upside down in a kayak with no escape but my wits. Also the two people on either side of the boat waiting to flip me back over, but shut up. If that photo doesn’t make you anxious, your Xanax dosage is too high.
The first time I went over, I didn’t have a nose plug on, and the water went straight up into my brain. Lesson 1, if you want to flip a kayak, get an effing nose plug. It’s been a few days, and I can still feel water sloshing around when I think about anything complex.
The idea here is to avoid panicking when you go under so you can set up your paddle, sweep it across the top of the water, and use it to propel you back up. Naturally, every time I flipped over, my first order of business was panic. My brain stuck on Panic’s Greatest Hits — Claustrophobia! Aspirating Water! Drowning! And so much more!
We practiced for four hours, and I was feeling fairly grim for 3.5 of them. All I wanted to do was get my head out of the water, but if you sit up, your head drops you back down because it weighs about as much as a bowling ball. The human head makes an excellent kayak anchor.
I swept my paddle, swept it, swept it, and then thrashed around underwater, until Suki and George dragged me up. Rinse and repeat, literally.
Bryan and Hank played nearby in the pool while I moved from dread, to terror, to dismay, and eventually became familiar enough with my internal frenzy that it ceased to bother me.
We were about to call it a day, when suddenly everything came together. I swept my paddle and popped up so easily that I assumed a powerful outside force was at work. A wave, the hand of God, Oprah, something like that.
On our very last try, I did an entire roll. Over on one side, back up on the other. YES! Then I offered to bear Suki children if she would let me out of the boat.
As we left I was feeling profoundly accomplished, and I still do. That fear used to get in my way, and now it won’t anymore. My horizon just got a little bit wider because I took action on my anxiety. That’s a uniquely pleasant feeling, and one I don’t experience enough.
Bryan caught the whole thing on film and made a little movie of my previous attempts. So tune in tomorrow for the mildly agonizing but ultimately triumphant footage. Thanks to Suki Waters and George Zastrow for all the help and support. And as always, a huge thanks to the team at Intel for sponsoring my lifelist. I couldn’t (or rather, probably wouldn’t) have done it without you guys.