Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Day on the River

Week three of Maggie’s return to physical fitness began yesterday with a trip down to the River to go kayaking.

I KNOW! KAYAKING! Amazing, huh?

If you recall, I’m not an outdoorsy gal. I much prefer staying indoors, watching television, working on my computer, cleaning out closets…anything that prevents me from going out in the sun. (And no, I’m not a vampire and I feel I must offer that admission since I’m knee deep in “New Moon,” the second book from Stephenie Meyer on the topic of vampires and love.) You can do plenty of physical activity inside—if vacuuming were an Olympic sport, I’d be a gold medalist—but I’m finding that to get the true benefits of exercise, going outside helps.

So, I expressed an interest in kayaking to a friend. She immediately put the word out in the local, thriving kayak community in my town that she had a new potential member and I got an email from another friend who we’ll call R., inviting me to join she and another friend this past Sunday for a couple of hours on the River. I accepted readily, via email on Saturday morning, and then had twenty-four hours filled with regret and second thoughts. I approached R. after church on Sunday and said, “I have two things to tell you: one, I am a spaz. And two, I can’t swim.”

Bless R.’s heart because she didn’t bat an eye at the spaz part, nor the inability to swim part. And I was grateful because having admitted to a few other people that I can’t swim, I have found that their reaction is akin to my admitting that I can’t read. Or walk. “What!? You can’t swim? Why not?” I just can’t. There’s nothing to say. I didn’t have a near-drowning experience—though I did spend a few seconds too long underwater as a kid and that frightened the heck out of me—and I although I am spaz, I’m sure I could learn to move my arms and legs simultaneously while submerged. But I have had a few other things on my plate over the years and learning to swim has always taken a back seat.

And of course, because one has to swim in a bathing suit, that complicates things. Is there anything more unflattering or uncomfortable than a bathing suit? That alone contributes to my reluctance; I don’t see putting myself (willingly) in a position of being taught how to do something while not wearing jeans and a long-sleeved tee shirt with a hoodie tied around my waist.

But back to kayaking. R. and H.—who claims to be 110 years old but who is really an incredibly fit and gorgeous woman in her sixties—picked me up and we went down to the “put-in.” The put-in is at the end of the train station parking lot and prior to my engaging in my new favorite sport, I referred to it as “that place at the end of the train station parking lot.” The put-in was jammed with cars, people, kayaks, and other water sporting equipment. R. advised me, after we hoisted the three kayaks out of H.’s car, to crouch, get my center of gravity, and leap as quickly as possible into the kayak and onto the seat. Easy, right? For R. She, too, is incredibly fit, graceful and athletic.

I stumbled on my first attempt to locate my center of gravity but after that, I managed to throw myself into the kayak’s small seating area without capsizing, although I did almost violate the town’s “NO WAKE” admonishment, sitting just a few hundred feet away. Fortunately, we were in two inches of water, so even if I had, I hopefully wouldn’t have drowned. R. was kind enough to bring a life jacket for me anyway, so even if I did overturn—my greatest fear—and I didn’t knock myself unconscious, I would have been okay. And oh, did I mention that R. is a nurse practitioner! Who can swim! We had every emergency covered.

R. put my oars together and we set out. I went in a circle a few hundred times but then found my rhythm and we took off down the River and under the highway and into an area of my town I didn’t even know existed until this past Sunday. It is a place of overhanging trees, mild rapids, beautiful birds, and tranquility. I’ve been here twenty years and had no idea that this three-mile offshoot of the River existed. We cruised along, R. staying by my side, making sure that I had gotten the hang of it. I had. I was kayaking and immensely proud of myself.

I looked to my left and saw a cluster of kayakers returning to the put-in, already having finished the three-mile loop. One of the kayakers—about fifty feet away from me—put his paddle across his kayak and even with the distance between us and the sun in my eyes, I could tell he was squinting at me and trying to figure out if I was indeed who he thought I was, his shut-in of a neighbor. He turned to his wife, a few feet behind him and muttered something. She, too, stopped and put her oars across her kayak, shielding her eyes from the sun.

Finally, he called out across the water, “Maggie? Is that you?” he asked, still unsure.

I waved back. “It’s me!”

His wife, still shielding her eyes, her face screwed in a mask of disbelief kept her eyes on me. “That’s not Maggie. Is it?”

Now I was starting to get indignant. Ok, I don’t leave the house very often but a girl can kayak if she wants to, right? And is capable of doing so with the proper instruction and safety precautions, correct? I called out that indeed, it was Maggie, I was outside, on the water, in a kayak and doing it with aplomb. (So said R., so I have a witness. Or just a very kind friend who wouldn’t hurt my feelings.) My friends passed by, still waving, still not completely sure it was me and floated back to the put-in where they stood for a few minutes trying to ascertain why Maggie—someone who has been outside a total of thirty-seven minutes this whole summer—was in a kayak in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

I came home wet and exhausted and told Jim about what great time we had. Like the aftermath of one of my training sessions with S., I can’t lift my arms, but I figure that with enough practice, that will gradually become a thing of the past and I might just end up with the upper arms of Michelle Obama, my upper-arm icon.

The only thing I have to figure out is how to transport a kayak—which I’m determined to buy before the summer’s out—on top of a Mini Cooper. That might be a problem.

Maggie Barbieri

No comments:

Post a Comment