Personal Challenges

I have not been pushing myself to write for many months and am feeling the need to challenge myself in some way.  I want to see how many days in a row I can find a meaningful thought or experience to write about, starting yesterday.

Several months ago I had the opportunity to buy a boat, a kayak, something that I had wished to do for years.  And even better, I had someone who also wanted to buy one, and go on outings with me.  We bought our used boats and excitedly brought them home.  Mark, my cousin, has gone out in his boat several times.  He’s fitted it with ropes for his anchor, so he can fish without drifting.  He’s renewed his fishing license.  He’s been out enough times that he’s “settled in” to how the boat feels and he’s comfortable.  Me?  I’ve lent my kayak out to a friend for a month.  That’s it.

So, last week we planned to go out on the water.  We decided to explore the north end of Longboat Key, Florida since my boat was already out there.  On the west of the key is the Gulf of Mexico.  On the east side is the Intercoastal Waterway with it’s bridges, bayous and mangrove hammocks, and that was the side we were most interested in.  It’s waters are calmer, more protected and have interesting features.

I have a lot of questions about my ability as a kayaker.  I know enough about paddling to impress someone who has never done it at all, but I really don’t know how far I can paddle or what challenges there might be when someone starts going out a lot.  I wonder if I could get lost (we didn’t).  I wonder if I could end up in the wrong place and get run over by a yacht (didn’t happen either).  I wonder if I could meet up with dangerous marine life (no).  I wonder if I could get stuck in the shallows, capsize, get tangled in brush ( um.. nearly happened).  For all these reasons, this first trip in my new (used) boat was a challenge, in it’s own way.

There was never a prettier day to be out in a boat!
There was never a prettier day to be out in a boat

Mark and I started from different points with a plan to meet up in the middle.  The first challenge was to time it right and not miss each other.  That was actually pretty easy.  Longboat Key has a lot of man made canals with houses along them, much like streets in a neighborhood.  We paddled south looking at houses and seawalls for a while but that got boring.  Boats were everywhere and the water didn’t look very clean, probably because the canals were deep and the bottom was dark.  I don’t think I saw anything alive in the water either.  I don’t blame the fish for not wanting to hang out there.

Mangroves grow right down into the water ... no beach here.
Mangroves grow right down into the water … no beach here.

We headed out across the boat channel to a more deserted looking island.  It was mildly challenging to avoid all the speedboats and yachts navigating the channel, but kind of fun to ride the waves in their wake.  The water started looking cleaner with a lot of sand bar area and beach with mangroves on the shore.  Very pretty but still not much life in the water or on the shore. We got around the northern point of this little island and had the most fun of our outing.

A wide spot in the inlet where we could turn around...
A wide spot in the inlet where we could turn around…

We spotted a part of the interior of the island that had no trees.  As we got closer we saw a narrow inlet – it looked like someone had swept a path about a yard wide through the foliage and mangrove roots.  It was calling my name.  The path had a current and it kept going further and further into the island.  Lots of birds and lots of minnows.  I would say it was like an estuary where fish go to be born and hide until they get big enough to make it on the outside.  I was a little surprised to see that Mark had been able to follow.  He weighs a bit more than I do and has a heavier kayak, and there were places where the water didn’t look more than eight to ten inches deep.  We were able to get turned around and back out without having to get out and drag our kayaks, but it was a place where you could imagine that happening. Very interesting.

He's fishing, but not catching.
He’s fishing, but not catching.

The second really nice place was a little farther down the shore on this same island.  The surface of the water was very calm in a small curved bay so it was easy to see  when a school of mullet arrived.  The water began to boil with ripples everywhere.  Mullet love to jump.  They are a very exuberant fish.  They are the kind that actually might jump into your boat if you are quiet and stick around long enough.  But you don’t catch them with a fishing pole – they don’t have eating on their little fish minds when they are like this.  We watched for a while and then started the trip back.

The last task we had set for ourselves was to see if my kayak could be safely carried on the roof of my Mazda 3 (a rather small car).  The answer is no, not without a roof rack.  We did get it up there and strapped it down before Mark noticed that the roof was denting a bit.  These are one person kayaks, but they are 13 feet long and hefty for one person to handle.  My goal is to be able to load and unload by myself and I think I’ll be able to do it after I get a rack for my car.  Now we know.

Having made an investment in this form of recreation, and I absolutely love it, I am challenging myself to get out there and get some good experience.  And I love taking friends out with me if anyone wants to come – Mark and I agreed to share our kayaks if we had need for two.  And I need to pick a name for my boat…  what should it be?

 Help me name my blue Ocean Kayak.

A Day in which I Acquire a Boat

For some reason, I have had presents on my mind lately.  No, not because of the not so subtle Christmas marketing EVERYWHERE. It’s more because my parents’ birthdays are both this month, and I was making a gift or two to take to our family Thanksgiving next week.  I love presents.  It’s fun to make them, fun to give them, fun to get them.  I can plan the first two, the making and giving, but it’s hard to plan getting a present unless you are great at buying yourself gifts.  As I pretty much always do when thinking to myself, I ran that thought past God. ( He’s listening to my thoughts anyway so I might as well be conversant.) ” It would sure be nice to get a present God.  I know there’s really nothing I need, but if there is something you wouldn’t mind giving me, I’d just like the excitement of getting a present. ”

For years now I have been taking guests and friends out on the water in kayaks that I borrow from a good friend.  When I know someone wants to go I call my friend several days ahead to make sure he isn’t planning to use his kayaks, then I borrow the husband’s truck, drive 20 minutes and pick up the kayaks which are on a trailer.  I have to have the right size hitch on the truck, which means I’ve lost and bought at least two of them.  I have to hook up the lights on the trailer, which means I’ve lost, borrowed and bought at least two electrical adapters.  I have to lock and unlock the trailer hitch, which means I’ve had to buy and replace a couple of padlocks.  I’ve had to buy and borrow life vests for numerous people of varying sizes.  All this to say that there is a lot of work involved in having fun on the water.  But it is still just so interesting to float around on these beautiful rivers, surrounded by birds and tropical wonders that I’ve considered it well worth the trouble.

Last winter my cousin Mark, who loves to fish, decided we should look for used kayaks.  If we each had one, he and a buddy could go fishing in them, and I could take friends out for a paddle too. They would get more use if we shared them. So we spent most of the season looking on craigslist and at sales but nothing was quite right. I continued borrowing from my friend.

Last week my cousin arrived for the winter and decided to go buy his fishing kayak. There was a sale at a sports store and he wanted to get it done.  Back he came with a kayak in his Suburban.  His wife’s remark was “You know this means that tomorrow you’re going to see a great deal on a used kayak…” I was there, I heard her say that.  Unbelievably, fifteen minutes after I got home I got a text from another cousin in town, Kim, telling me that her neighbor was selling his two kayaks for less than half their value and they were in like new condition, with paddles, seats and life vests.

Something like that almost demands to be considered.  I’ve been a little financially stressed lately, making sure all my medical bills get paid, lots of house repair expenditures, etc… Even though I’ve managed to meet these demands I still feel insecure enough that it’s hard for me to shell out money for fun when so much serious stuff has to be paid for. I mean, I get nervous eating out, much less buying a boat.  I decided to ask the husband if he would be upset with me if this came to pass.  Would he tell me the garage was too full already?  Would he remind me that we’re trying to downsize, not accumulate more?  In what direction might he freak out?  What he said, “No, kayaks are always easy to sell again so if they’re a good deal, get them.”  Ha ha.

I still thought they might be terrible kayaks, ones that wouldn’t be sturdy enough to hold  Mark (who is a big man) or maybe they would smell like dead fish, or be some awful color.  All of those possibilities could keep me from having to make the decision… But they were beautiful, hardly used, top quality, and the friendly man from England who was selling them clearly wasn’t out to get his money back.  Oh my goodness, we bought them, picked them up an hour later and went immediately out to the river to test them out.  They floated very nicely.

Instead of spending the day at home like I had planned, I got to do this.

the water was still and almost black!  My boat is blue!
the water was still and almost black! My boat is blue!
Reflections!  Two of everything along the bank.
Reflections! Two of everything along the bank.
love to look at all this crazy Florida plant life!
love to look at all this crazy Florida plant life!
did you know pelicans roosted in trees?
did you know pelicans roosted in trees?
Cousin Mark in his new fishing kayak.
Cousin Mark in his new fishing kayak.
Our two beauties.
Our two beauties.
Me, enjoying a present.
Me, enjoying a present.

It’s not that my prayers for blessings always get answered in the affirmative or immediately.  But today I got a present and I really had no idea it was coming. I’m going to give God the credit.  It’s the kind of thing he would have fun doing. I’m just sayin’…