Saturday, October 11, 2008

Learn to KAYAK

During the years that Gaila and I lived full time on the road in our Airstream, we stopped one fall in Connecticut to visit friends. They were a professional couple we had met on a hike through Mammoth Cave National Park. Nancy was a teacher and George a lawyer, but they really wanted to be professional kayakers. I had never been in a kayak, so George took me out on the Farmington River and tried to drown me.
He was a very good teacher; I was just a lousy student. I had my helmet on, got all tucked into this porthole with a boat under it, adjusted the spray skirt and told Gaila where to spread my ashes. George said it was very easy. He had tied a practice golfball on the spray skirt, then he told me to lean downstream and let the water run under the craft. If I rolled the kayak all I had to do was grab the golfball which would make me lean forward, pull the spray skirt off the boat and roll out. That sounded easy enough.
He pushed me out from behind my secure boulder and into the current. I immediately forgot everything he told me, leaned upstream and flipped over. As my helmet bumped along the bottom of the river, I tried desperately to climb out of the boat. A few rocks later, I finally remembered the golfball. I reached up for it and rolled right out. It wasn’t long before I was an expert at getting out of a kayak. I rolled that thing, without exaggeration, at least 40 times in the first hour. But finally I learned the body English for staying afloat in a boat with no bottom, and it was fantastic the rest of the day. George tried to teach me to roll. That way, when you go over, you don’t have to come out of the boat. You just roll back over. Heaven knows I could get a lot of benefit from a move like that, but no matter how great a teacher George was, I never did learn to roll, but I could really rock!
They were very gracious hosts. While they were working, we would explore; on weekends we traveled together. They have a cabin in Skowhegan, Maine, so over Labor Day weekend we headed north. Our first stop was L. L. Bean in Freeport, Maine, about midnight. Bean is open 24 hours a day, all year except Christmas. It’s even crowded at midnight. I love outdoor gear, and I could have dropped a bag of money there. Lucky for me I didn’t have any!
Every body of water in Maine is a pond and their cottage was situated on beautiful Oak Pond. From there we headed out to Acadia National Park. We love national parks and so do Nancy and George. Just ask their kids, Acacia and Bryce. We always figured that if they had a boy they would name him Smoky or Oly.
Acadia was a wonderful place. I met a seasonal ranger in the Everglades who spent his summers working there. He told us not to miss it in our travels and now we could see why. The reason I remember this particular ranger is that during his park transition, he had just a few days to travel from Acadia and report for duty in the Everglades. He and his wife had a pickup camper, and they were taking turns driving down the East Coast. His wife was driving late one night while he slept in the camper when, somewhere in North Carolina, she almost hit a deer. Slamming on the brakes, she rolled him right out of bed. By the time he got up and opened the backdoor to see what was going on, she had accelerated and he fell clean out of the camper—stark naked! He had to use every ranger trick he ever knew to convince the sheriff what happened. The highway patrol finally caught up with his wife in South Carolina, or she would have been in Florida without him.
And Gaila thinks we have all the pre-Dick-aments.
During our stay near Acadia, we stopped for a lobster dinner. It was one of those places along the Coast where you pick out your own lobster and they boil it up for you. We were all looking forward to a lobster dinner, but Gaila was not sure she wanted to have one sacrificed for her. So, she asked the owner if it hurt the lobster to be placed into the boiling water. He very patiently explained to her that the lobster would not feel a thing. He gave her a five-minute explanation that made her confident her meal would not squeal, and we picked out our lobsters. As we walked back toward the building, the guy dropped the lobster into the water and let out a bloodcurdling scream. I’m sure Gaila was not his first skeptic. His timing was too perfect!
--Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

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