The sound as the sea kayak hit the hard, sharp rocks of the shore.
Do I really want to do this?
I thought as I strapped on my life vest.
Am I sure?
I questioned myself as I listened to the guide go on and on about what to do with all these controls that had fancy names.
I gazed out into the blue, wishing we were back at our cabin by the bay… or back at home in Michigan, even…
“...And so you see when you turn this lever to the right, your kayak will go left, and when you turn this other gear to the left, your boat will veer to the right…”
I pulled back my hair, resting the paddle vertically on the rocks out in front of me. Out on the Atlantic off the coast of Maine in Frenchman Bay, the waves rolled into each other. Looking small now against the vast horizon, but gaining in strength. Mocking us.
Not too bad, right?
“...Now, if you could each get into your kayaks, we will begin.”
What?! I thought, forcing myself back to reality.
Because I was under the age 15, I had to share a double kayak with my mom. We each got into the plastic machine and, since these werefancy kayaks with more than just a paddle, we had to adjust our feet so we didn’t tip the boat just by pressing the wrong foot pedal. I was zipped into the kayak, feeling trapped, enclosed, unable to escape, like a prisoner.
And to think, we weren’t even on the water yet.
“Okay! So hold your paddles out in front of you like this, and practice hitting the rocks beside you like you would for a stroke on the water.”
I did, but all the while hoping we didn’t tip when we were kayaking. I was in front, staring right into the arena in which our competitors were the waves.
And we were off.
It took a while to get used to the motion of dipping your paddle into the water, still looking back at the shore, with each stroke seeming further and further away...
I stabbed at the waves, thinking of the nice, cool cabin environment, realizing it was at least 10 degrees cooler on the water, and the...
Suddenly thrown against the side of the kayak by none other than a wave itself, I pushed the paddle into the water on the opposite side of the kayak in frustration, praying we would regain balance. I looked back at my mom behind me, who was adjusting levers and pressing foot pedals in hopes to steady the boat.
I looked ahead.
At least 50 yards behind my brother, dad, and the guide, I sighed in defeat… no stranger to endurance sports, I had biked over 10 miles on Mt. Desert Island just two days before. I knew my legs could carry me how ever far I needed to go, but I had never been dependent on my arms before this moment. This was not like canoeing on the Huron River, knowing I could ride the current. This was insane. My arms burned, my wrists ached, the sea smiled as it whipped my face. My lucky Toledo Zoo baseball hat threatened to fly off, my hands were starting to blister.
How in the world will we do this?
“Let’s try to catch up,” advised my mom, dipping her own paddle into the water beside her on the same side of the boat as mine.
I took a deep breath, and put my paddle back into the water once more.
It only got worse.
Imagine sharp, powerful winds forming 2-3 feet above water waves, the water spraying back at you while trying to see where you’re going, and attempting to keep your kayak upright, all at the same time.
And, well, on the ocean.
I pictured myself back at the cabin, eagerly agreeing to a trip on the water, sounding easy at the time, but now I was regretting it more by the minute, as we paddled head first into the lion’s den of the ocean, the water roaring as waves multiplied all around us.
Why in the world did I agree to this?
Once again at the mercy of the waves, I put my paddle across my lap as water slammed against the side of our kayak like a roller derby race, thankful I knew how to swim. I stared into the water spraying back at us, wind pulling at my face and hair as my mom desperately adjusted controls behind me.
Please let us come back alive.
“Annie!” I heard my mom yell from behind me, her voice nearly swallowed up in the wind.
I turned my head, just as she shouted the next instruction, “...paddle on the left! I’ll try to steer us to the right!”
I tried to nod as the water lashed back at us, fiercely stabbing at the water with my paddle through the roaring waves, I closed my eyes in attempt to calm myself.
“Aaaagggghhhh!” I exclaimed, opening my eyes just as jagged rocks slammed the bottom of the boat, jerking us to the side.
We’re almost there… We’re so close… One more stroke… Oh wait. We still had another mile.
We paddled and paddled for over an hour and half before we heard..
“We’ll stop up here!” Called the guide back to us, nearly 60 yards ahead, cruising leisurely as we struggled to stay afloat.
“Wait!” We shouted back up to them, unsure if they heard us.
I looked ahead,
After circling the island for so called, ‘scoping out locations’ for a place to rest, not realizing my mom and I were nearly tipping every minute, I found myself flooded with relief, shaking as I tried to regain sure footing on the jagged boulders of a shore. Why we hadn’t chosen the nice, sandy beach on the side of the island? Who knows.
“Where are we going after this?” I panted like a dog as I sat down on a large rock, opening a sandwich, still hearing the lion of the ocean roaring on the horizon, not wanting to get in that kayak ever again… but I had no choice. We were on a nature reserve surrounded by blue water. Dangerous water. Only water. I envisioned a fictional character in my place, thinking how funny it would be when reading on the page what was happening… not living it. What strengths would the character have that I do not? This fictional escape in my head calmed me as I tried to accept what was happening.
“Well, we’re headed back, but we’re going to have a strong cross-wind , so-”
“Wait, I thought we did have‘cross-winds’ just now!” I protested, not accepting the reality of having to do exactly what we just did all over again... yet 10 TIMES harder.
I looked over at my mom, who was shaking her head, stressed, wide eyed at the thought of our next challenge.
“Oh of course not,” the guide said, smiling, “that was just the start, but we’re changing course due to the fact of winds picking up excessively.”
I watched the guide open a trash bag, looking up at a small forested area in the center of the island. I looked questioningly at him as I bit into my sandwich.
“There is a group of us who volunteer to pick up trash around Acadia National Park, and keep the islands cared for. There’s no roads here, quite an uninhabited area, to say the least.” He explained.
A few minutes later, I stood over our kayak, wanting to do anything else in the world except get in it. I looked out at the 50-80 feet deep water ahead, and sighed.
I hoped the lion had gone back into the cave, but no matter if it had, because...
I can do this.