Sunday, September 23, 2007

Zen and Smuttynose

I started the day in a funk. In fact, the week had ended with me in a funk. Too much going on at work, a lot of projects to complete at home, and a drastic reduction of sunlit hours put me off my game.
Fortunately, I had pre-packed the egg and installed my new kayak attachment--a 4" wide, 8.5' long piece of PVC pipe designed to keep the mighty stick out of the passenger compartment. All that we needed to do before heading north to meet the rest of the gang was make some PB&Js and put the Q-Boat on the egg. Still, these were daunting tasks simply because they existed.
H was happy that she didn't need to do the conga to sit in the egg. Her hand had not healed enough for paddling, so she was also looking forward to spending a pleasant day in Portsmouth. It helped her mood that the forecast was windy. For as much as she enjoyed the paddle last year, she didn't relish the thought of paddling back against a steady head wind.
The forecast had me excited and concerned. The wind meant that the water wouldn't be flat and make for a potentially boring paddle. It also meant that there was more potential for things to go wrong. Wind has a way of wearing a paddler out faster than expected, of spreading a group out on the water, and of flipping up rouge waves when least expected.
A good group showed up for the paddle: CMc, JS, CC, MK, BH, PH (no relation), RB, and Scott from JP. From the put-in the weather seemed perfect. There was plenty of sun and a light breeze. I should have been in a great mood. Instead, I was slightly annoyed at everything.
I considered staying on shore since my mood could detract from the group, but decided against staying. Long stretches of open water generally perk me up and they also provide plenty of opportunity to be alone if I didn't turn my mood around. I wasn't going to do anything stupid or risky. I was definitely physically up for the paddle.
We paddled out of Rye Harbor and into the North Atlantic Ocean. The sea state lived up to the weather predictions. We had a nice tail wind and fun, but manageable, following seas. It was possible to catch a ride every now and then. You could paddle close enough to another paddler to have a conversation, but it was difficult.
I was glad for the space. It allowed me to find my groove and unwind. The world didn't slip away or blend into the background or melt into one seamless essence. I didn't become one with my paddle and my kayak. I just let the rhythm of the stick in the water rise to the fore. I concentrated on how the stick slipped into the water and how it felt as it swept through its arced stroke. For the first time this season, I felt like I had found my stroke.
The movement of the kayak on the water and the sounds of the other paddlers added context and texture to the experience. Every now and then my balance would require focus. At regular intervals I would shift focus to ensuring the group was OK.
At every moment, I was fully aware of each of these thing: the stroke, the kayak, the weather, the group, the individuals in the group. However, I only focused on one thing at a time. The others floated at the periphery. They were shadows and whispers.
By the time we reached Star Island my mood had cleared. The world was good again. I was thrilled to be in a beautiful place on a sunny day with great companions.
We poked around the back of Star Island and headed straight for the landing at Smuttynose. Star Island looked busy and we were all famished. To JS's chagrin, we did take the opportunities for rock play that were presented. CC & RB even did some rolling practice.
Lunch was a restful affair. I scarffed down my sandwiches, snapped a few photos, and discovered that Scott from JP was a fellow caffeine addict. He even knows the secret ingredient that makes Red Bull more potent than just plain caffeinated sugar water. Then many of us settled into the sun warmed grass for a spot of napping. I'm uncertain what the others did, but I'm told it was fun. I doubt that it was as rewarding as a nap.
Once we returned to the water, I appreciated the nap even more. The winds had picked up and were in our faces. We faced seven miles of paddling into a head wind with no place to hide.
The wind exaggerated the speed differences between the members of the group. The faster paddlers pulled ahead and the slower paddlers fell behind. We resorted to making frequent regrouping stops. This helped keep the group together. However, it also allowed us to see how slowly the Isles were shrinking and the mainland was growing.
In between regroups, I enjoyed the feel of my mighty stick as it sliced through wind and water. Since finding my stroke on the way out to the Isles, I was paddling with renewed efficiency and vigor. Paddling into a steady head wind was still tiring, but it was not a death march.
To help lighten the mood, MK and PH repeatedly checked in with JS to make sure we were on course. They were convinced that we needed to make a course correction so we would not pass wide of the mouth of the harbor. JS, equipped with a GPS, calmly listened to their recommendations and held his course. We were paddling on a bearing that would, in the absence of wind and current, would take us wide of the harbor. With wind and current added to the mix, our bearing was a good estimate. As we closed in on the harbor we did need to make a small correction, but JS put us inside the bulls-eye. (When in doubt, I trust the guy with a working GPS.)
I returned to the beach a changed man. Paddling long distances is rejuvenating.

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