The blog of the adventures (or mis-adventures) of an active mountain woman.

Hell is Frozen OR I’m Getting Old

pathfinderThe older I get, the more I realize that the word “old” is completely relative term and highly situationally dependent. Only during pregnancy can a 35-year-old woman be labeled with “advanced age” and 25 seems a little old to be drinking Boone’s Farm wine. But this little blog post is inspired by my birthday and that boring of boringest boats, the sea kayak.

I abhor sea kayaks because they are designed for paddling across flat lakes with nothing happening more than a slow windmill of your arms. If you just sit in a sea kayak, chances are you will just stay in one place. I personally prefer a little acceleration from mother nature in the form of gravity or flowing water. Consequently I find a white-water kayak exciting (and sometimes terrifying). It is designed for dynamic moving rivers and surfing and fun! If you just sit in a white-water kayak, you’re moving downstream and things are happening, for better or for worse. So what was up with my post-birthday fun in a (gasp) SEA KAYAK?

I wanted to take our new camper trailer out to the lake for my birthday. We chose Pathfinder Reservoir along the North Platte, just over 40 miles from our house with 21,000 acres of water. Since I grew up swimming all weekend every weekend in the various bodies of water in Michigan, a camper trailer was the cheapest way we could think of replicating that experience for our little guy (and to be honest, for ourselves). The baby slept on a bed improvised out of the drop-down dinette set and a bed rail, so I slept lightly and checked on the baby A LOT (who was fine, of course) and was consequently sleep-deprived the next morning. Enter the sea kayak.

The boat was already at the waters edge and our schedule was non-existent, so I jumped in expecting to return the boat to the shore in about 10 minutes. But I got into a weird, peaceful trance and kept telling myself that I would go just to the next little opening in the meandering reservoir and before I knew it, I had paddled for an hour and enjoyed it. Naturally, I blame this on the lack of sleep. Certainly an alert, awake Michelle would be bored to tears by this mindless activity. But since consistent quality sleep could be a summer or two away, this may be a looong experiment full of that weird, long and maybe not so boring kayak.

Cool-mason-jar-add-on-of-the-day: the recap for mason jars

Kayaking in the Snow

When I worked with the public, people were constantly mistaking me for a meteorologist. “We’re thinking about coming in Aprtober, what will the weather be like then?” was put on me several times a day. My steady answer was “it could be warm, it could be snowing. I would come prepared for anything.” If you want to get out regularly and live in the mountains, these are words to live by.

A few flakes in the sky turned to a full-on flurry

"Well, we're here. Who knew it would be snowing?"

When visiting Casper, my friend suggested we go sea kayaking on a cold October day and I thought “sure, that could be interesting”. After all, I’d kayaked class III in 20-30 degree weather, so a little fall chill on a peaceful lake didn’t seem like a bad idea. However, when it started snowing hard enough to prompt a last-minute purchase of hand and foot warmers at a gas station on the drive, I began to get slightly concerned. Our end destination was Lake Alcova, about 40 miles Southwest of Casper. We may have used four-wheel-drive to pull into the parking lot. By the time we ready to put the tandem kayak in the water, it was damn near approaching a blizzard.

I warned my friend that I’d spent too much time in cold water to put up with it for long. If things were just plain sucky (a technical term), I would want to get back in the warm car a lot sooner than later. He agreed, but I suspect he was secretly overjoyed that I didn’t call him nuts from the get-go. Donning a dry suit (previously known in my whitewater days as a “drowning bag” from their tendency to fill up with water when torn), brimmed hat, two pairs of gloves and sunglasses to stand in for goggles, we stupidly pushed away from shore.

I really began to think we were crazy when the ducks started giving me looks. However, the intense fog, snow and my unfamiliarity with the area made the lake magical and more than a little spooky. The excitement kept me going. We would silently paddle up to towering shadowy figures that would reveal themselves at the last second to be brilliantly red rock islands or looming canyon walls. Unsuspecting duck flocks scattered as they quacked, “just when we thought tourist season was over, these two dumb asses get a bright idea.” At least, that’s what I think they were saying.

I finally threw the towel in when the water dripping down the shaft of my paddle soaked my outer gloves and my hands were more involuntarily curled around the paddle than physically capable of independent movement. On the way back, my friend asked how the foot pegs were working out. “Foot pegs?” I said, “What foot pegs?”. A quick shuffle of my feet revealed conveniently located foot pegs that would allow me to get brace myself in the boat and get much more weight in every paddle stoke. We were 10 minutes from the take-out (river talk for the end of the trip), but boy did we fly. So the lesson is this: familiarize yourself with the gear before your adventure. Just because you’re a whitewater stud doesn’t mean you know jack about a tandem sea kayak.

Song of the day: Another Way to Die (click on song name to listen, then hit “back” in your browser to return to blog) by Jack White and Alicia Keys. It’s from Quantum of Solace and has some rockin’ piano.

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