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Confessions of a kayaking addict

I am a kayaking addict.  I admit it.  Any body of water is a potential opportunity for me to relax and connect with nature! Thanks to kayaking, I have been up-close and personal with moose, whales, dolphins, swans, loons, eagles, and many other animals that you wouldn’t be able to get close to on dry land.

Nothing on earth relaxes me like slipping into my kayak and paddling out onto a quiet, peaceful lake.

If you are afraid of the idea of kayaking, I will make a confession to comfort you:  I am terrified of water.  Let me clarify — I am terrified of bodies of water that are so deep that I can’t see the bottom.

Part of my fear comes from being raised in the deep south where water moccasins are a constant threat, vacationing during my formative years in Florida where alligators lurk, and also because at the tender age of 4, I was pushed into the deep end of the pool at the YMCA when I was there to take swimming lessons.  I have nightmares about struggling to get to the surface to this day!

I had actually kayaked twice before falling in love with it—not intentionally though!  My oldest son became enamored with the sport when he was 15. We drove through Tennessee on vacation where he saw the Olympic kayakers training in the Ocoee River and from that day forward, all he talked about was learning how to kayak.

We lived in Montgomery, Ala., and after buying him a long, black Perception kayak for Christmas, I drove my son 108 miles round trip to Auburn University so that he could take kayak lessons.  The lessons culminated with a practice trip down the Coosa River in Wetumpka, Ala.

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe

Upon our arrival, we found that he had the wrong launch time and his was already floating down the river.  He was so upset and begged me to let him go on his own.  Being the SuperMom that I am, I rented a sit-on-top kayak and off I went down the river with him, not knowing a thing about kayaking.  He got his confidence soon after we entered the water and took off, leaving me to figure out how to simply make it to an area where I could get out.

God and I got really close on that trip. I promised anything and everything if I could just get to the end of the line without tipping over.  All I could think about was, of course, water moccasins in the muddy river!

Two canoeists took pity on me and offered to assist me downriver to the takeout. They both capsized, but somehow I made it through.  I remember coming to one area that had kayakers on either side of the river, where there were mild “rapids” and I was floating through, in shock with my mouth hanging open in fear. The kayakers started yelling at me to paddle.  My response?  “I don’t know how!!”

I made it through, exited the kayak, and vowed never again.

A month later, my son and I kayaked the Black River in Florida.  I didn’t enjoy it because I was on the lookout for snakes and Alligators.  Thankfully, he soon found his tribe of fellow kayakers to paddle with so that I didn’t have to suffer through babysitting him as he paddled.

I was shocked to learn, later on in his life, that he had actually kayaked the Ocoee River, doing cartwheels and other dangerous maneuvers.

First kayaking experience in Bar Harbor, Maine
First kayaking experience in Bar Harbor, Maine

When I arrived in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 2009, the last thing on my mind was getting on the water in anything smaller than a fishing boat.  But then I saw all of the happy people paddling colorful kayaks.  As much as I wanted to try it, I couldn’t control the sheer terror at the thought of being on that little boat in the middle of that wide expanse of dark water.

I went to the various shops that offered kayak tours, browsed kayak shops, stopped to talk to kayakers on the beach or to anyone with a kayak on their roof, etc.  Finally my friend volunteered to go out with me on a tandem kayak — a kayak for two people — and I jumped at the opportunity.  There would be other kayakers and a guide. What could go wrong?

I called the most referred company and booked a tour with Coastal Kayaking Tours. http://acadiafun.com/tourspage.html

This two-and-a-half hour tour was held in the waters of Frenchman Bay off Bar Harbor, winding among the rugged Porcupine Islands.  We received basic instructions from a registered marine guide, learning the paddling strokes that would propel us through the water and turn us or stop us as needed.  Cost: $42 per person.

Hope, Alaska
Hope, Alaska

I was told that they would provide wet-suit bottoms because the water was still chilly, and everything else that I needed as far as the kayaking portion would go.  They suggested that I bring a bottle of water, a snack, sunscreen, hat, etc.  I went to bed that night with a mixture of apprehension and excitement and found it difficult to sleep.

The next morning, we arrived 30 minutes early so I could get all of my questions answered in order to hopefully quell any lingering fears that I might have.  The shop was a burst of color with rainbows of kayaks, paddles, t-shirts, posters, and photos of kayaks in every body of water imaginable — from icy Alaskan waters to the shimmering clear turquoise waters of Hawaii.

I felt my apprehension abate somewhat as I saw first time kayakers, a lot older than I was, anxiously awaiting to get started.  We went out back where we were issued wet-suit pants and a life vest.  The guide gave us a brief description of the day’s activities and then we climbed into the van to take us to our launch point.

Upon arrival at the launch point, we donned our pants, vest, were issued two paddles and a huge, long tandem kayak.  Since my friend is a tiny thing, she was given the front seat of the kayak where she would paddle and assist with steering and stopping, and I was given the back seat.

The back seat comes with extra responsibilities — namely I was in charge of steering the kayak with the pedals that operated the rudder.  We practiced for a little while, going in circles, learning how to turn the kayak and stop it if necessary.  Then we paddled along and followed our guide out into the deep, dark expanse of Frenchman Bay.

For a while, I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck with sheer terror.  But then something happened that I never expected. Even as a rank beginner, I found that there was something hypnotic about rhythmically paddling the kayak through the water, surrounded by that beautiful scenery.

I felt myself relaxing and getting into the rhythm of our strokes and soon, I didn’t even think about the fact that we were in a body of water that was probably thousands of feet deep, with who knows what kind of living things down there.  All I could think about was how relaxed I felt and how much fun I was having!  We paddled out around the Porcupine Islands for 2 hours.

Sailboats passed by, seagulls and other birds called out in their flight overhead, ducks and loons floated by the kayaks.  It was absolutely fantastic!

After we arrived back , I hopped in my car and headed out to a kayak shop that specialized in used kayaks, where I purchased a rental kayak with very little wear and tear.  I bought an orange 12-foot Perception Carolina with a rudder, vest, paddle and roof rack to carry it.

The first thing I did the next morning was to go out and start paddling the local lakes, starting with the smallest ones, followed by all of the harbors.  I had found my Zen!

Since that week in 2009, I have kayaked all over America:  Maine lakes and harbors;  the Outer Banks of South Carolina, the bays of Dauphin Island, Ala., various lakes in Alaska, Vermont, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Flaming Gorge, the fantastic Flathead Lake of Montana, the breathtaking Lake Tahoe, with its turquoise and emerald waters — the clearest I have ever seen!

I am a dedicated kayaker!  And it has brought such peace and joy to my life!

I highly advise anyone with any interest in boating of any kind to give it a try.  The kayaks are so stable, you have to intentionally roll yourself over if you are on flat water!  There are so many different types and sizes of kayaks, you are sure to find one to fit you comfortably.

Kayaking truly is for any body shape or any fitness level.  As long as you can get in or on the kayak and hold a paddle, it’s really an easy and fun “sport”.  There are different types of kayaking with different types of skill sets to do safely.  River kayaking, ocean kayaking, white-water kayaking, etc.

I will only kayak slow moving shallow rivers, lakes, bays and small harbors like the quaint ones in Maine.  I am not a risk taker and kayaking on these quiet waters is totally safe.

I prefer the sit-in kayaks, as it allows me to brace my legs against the sides of the kayak that gives me a feeling of more control.  You can get 9-foot kayaks to paddle around quite small lakes, or 14-foot kayaks with rudders for ocean kayaking or tackling large bodies of water like Flathead lake.  The rudders are fantastic for guiding the boat in high winds, which you will encounter on large bodies of water.

My ideal boat is a 14-foot Perception Carolina with a rudder.  It’s long enough to track well in wind and on rivers, but short enough for ease of transporting and loading. There are plastic models and composite models.  The composite models are more expensive, but also more lightweight.

My son Josh on the Ocoee River, Tenn.
My son Josh on the Ocoee River, Tenn.

My advice is to go to a kayak shop that has a body of water for you to actually try out the kayaks.  Make sure that you have a professional fit you with the right paddle and don’t skimp on your PFD.  Buy one specifically for kayaking with the large armholes so that your arms do not rub on the PFD.

Make sure you have a leash for your paddle so if you drop it, you can retrieve it.  Get wet bags for your camera gear or anything else you take with you, like cell phones, medication, etc. to keep them dry.  For safety, get an air horn and a whistle as well.

Pay specific attention to your seat so that you will be comfortable for hours of paddling.  Make sure it’s not cutting you across the back, or too short for you.  Sit in it for a while and make sure it has enough padding so that it stays comfortable over time.

The last issue is transportation. There are many racks that will fit on top of any vehicle. There are Kayak stands that go on the back bumper of RV’s so you can put one end of the kayak in the support rack and then secure the kayak to your RV ladder.

For those that have difficulty lifting heavy items, there is the Hullavator an electronic device that lowers the rack so that you can secure you kayak at waist height and then the Hullavator will lift the kayak to the top of your vehicle.

There are also gadgets that assist with maneuvering the bulk of the kayak, such as rollers that go on the rack, and also rollers that go on the back of your car’s roof or on the rear window, that will assist you in lifting the kayak on the roof. https://www.amazon.com/Thule-897XT-Hullavator-Kayak-Carrier/dp/B000QV1WSM

When I first fell in love with kayaking, I met two wonderful ladies in their late 70’s and 80’s that carried around little lightweight 9’ kayaks for paddling lakes and harbors.  It is a hobby that anyone can enjoy at any age, with proper planning and purchasing the best equipment for you.

Happy Paddling!

For more information about kayaks:  http://www.canoekayak.com/gear/basics-of-buying-a-kayak/#QYAs65SAQ6MQMooM.97

For fantastic kayak photography:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/lookatthefrontofmykayak/

About Beth Lanier

Beth Lanier has been a nomad -- a committed full-time RVer -- for the past 10 years. Traveling inspired her to spin romantic tales of strong women who travel and her first novel, One Good Man, is now on Kindle. A series of novellas based on single women who RV, Road to Romance, will launch in September. In her spare time, Beth rescues and re-homes dogs, is an avid photographer, singer, kayaker and artist. Always eager to learn something new, her latest project is learning the slide guitar. Beth is a member of RomVets, Romance Writers of America and Escapees. To contact her, visit www.bethlanier.com.

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