Malena Goes Kayaking

“Do you know where you’re going?”

The young, twenty-something-year-old boy stared down at me from the dock as I settled into the kayak.


He walked back into the open shack that housed all of the rental equipment and pulled a laminated map from behind the desk.

“Are you looking for some peace and quiet or do you want to go to where all the boats are and see the action?”

“Peace and quiet,” I said immediately.

“Alright,” he crouched down next to me. “This is where we are. You’re going to go south.” He traced the river on the map with his finger then pointed in the direction behind the shack. “And when you’re coming back, if you pass the first boat launch, you’ve gone too far.”

Sticking the map under the bungee cords at the front of the kayak along with a handheld pump and a sponge, he turned to me with the paddle in his hand.

“Oh,” he paused. “And make sure you’re back by 8 when we close. Because if you’re not…bad things happen.”

I squinted at him. “So I’ll be charged extra.”

He frowned, his dramatic finish being spoiled. “Yeah,” he muttered as I took the paddle. Then he gently pushed the kayak backwards with his foot and left me to begin my adventure.

On the opposite side of the river was a marsh with thorn bushes hanging over the water. And despite the fact that I had only been paddling for thirty seconds, I was already heading in the wrong direction.

“Nooooo,” I whined as I tried turning to the left and away from the thorns. Water splashed into the kayak as I frantically dipped the paddle into the river on my right side, over and over again, and yet….

The nose of the kayak bounced against the edge of the land as the thorns tried to capture me in their devilish embrace. They scraped my arms and face as I used the paddle to push against the embankment and away from my first tangle with kayaking failure.

I turned around and stuck my tongue out at the thorns, mainly because there was no one around to see me do it, but also because I’m not a very gracious winner, even when the battle is against inanimate objects.

But then karma came back to bite me in the butt.

I was now pointed back towards the rental shack.

“Oh, come on!”

I had been kayaking before, believe it or not. Three summers ago, my friend and I went tandem kayaking. I thought that was difficult, trying to coordinate your paddle strokes with another person. This should have been much easier, right? Paddle on the right to turn left, paddle on the left to turn right, paddle on each side equally to move forward. But as my kayak now bounced against a boat dock, I was realizing that the lack of manpower on that second paddle really made a difference.

Yet again, I used my paddle to push back towards the middle of the river. Was I able to point the kayak in the right direction?

Of course not.

“That’s fine, I’ll just spend half an hour going around in a damn circle. Why not waste my time being shredded by thorns every other minute?”  Less than five minutes on the water and I was already going crazy, a common side effect when I’m not good at something.

As my kayak sped forward towards the thorns, my paddle constantly pushing the water back on the right side, I realized that if this wasn’t working, I needed to do something different. Something that would have the exact opposite effect.

Immediately, I stuck my paddle on the left side of my kayak, but without rowing. I let the force of the rushing water push against the paddle, which not only slowed the kayak to a halt, but also quickly spun the nose to the left.

The kayak was now facing south. I grinned. Time for that peace and quiet.

There was a row of house boats on this side of the river, so I smiled at the dog lounging in the sun on one of the decks, gave a small nod to the old man on his porch grilling his supper, and giggled to myself as a couple argued through open windows about where Harry had put the damn jar of peanut butter. A couple of other kayakers were going in the opposite direction, but after passing all of the houseboats, it was just me and the sun and the river (and a small voice in the back of my head that told me it was a completely appropriate time to sing “Just Around the Riverbend” from Pocahontas…I resisted).

I paddled consistently for an hour before my arms started to feel sore. It didn’t help that I was rowing against both the wind and the flow of the river.

“Hmmmm,” I sighed and set the paddle on my lap.

My favorite part of a hike is always the summit, and my favorite part of skydiving was the freefall. But there is no big this-is-it moment in kayaking. Every adrenaline rush is an adventure to me, but not every adventure requires adrenaline.

The breeze was gentle enough to not cause the river to run wild, but strong enough to push me without help from my biceps. So as soon as I stopped rowing, it turned my kayak around in the direction I had come from. I wasn’t quite ready to go back, but I let the wind carry me as far as it wanted to go.

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