I hate kayaking. Such a description is not one of which my mother would approve. I would be hard pressed to deny that its benefits are innumerable and unassailable – arms, core, legs, upper body, lower body; there are few workouts quite so comprehensive. Meanwhile, coordination is otherwise a strong suit of mine. Topping the list of virtues I am pleased to possess is the capability of excelling at ping-pong, tennis and basketball, or anything for which hand-eye coordination is integral.
Push-ups, pull-ups, chin-ups and crossfit are vital components of my workout routine; persistence with these intensive activities perhaps the only reason I made it through prior attempts at the disfavored activity.
I love the beach, like many. The aromatic pleasures of sand, salt and sunscreen are facilitators of carefree days with a book in hand. Waves lap onto the shore, sending sandpipers scurrying from the whitewash. Not uncommonly, a cold drink in reach, beads of condensation cooling my hand, rounds out the enjoyment of a warm afternoon in the sun. Odd that the physical incarnation of a painless palindrome could spoil a sun-soaked day spent with a view of the blue waters flowing over the horizon.
I once hated pickles and olives. Again with such harsh acrimony for something beloved widely, but there was no contesting that they were bitter, and, as for the latter, required additional effort to manipulate around a pit. Effort I was unwilling to expend only to endure the unidentifiably irregular texture between the oily surface and the perilously hard center. Before kayaking, these were the targets of my ill will.
“Oh, how can you not like pickles!” others lamented, relentlessly. Looking back, my preference, or disdain, was not so usual for a child who preferred sweet over savory, the same basis for my scorn toward olives. I should add the caveat that olive oil was fine. Olives themselves befit the description of sour and rubbery.
Nevertheless, I could not resist a beckoning to expand my primitive views on such widely appreciated fruits of nature. Popular opinion compelled the belief that only the most uncivil palates lack appreciation, or understanding, of these savory delicacies. Add moldy cheeses to the list of apparently misunderstood delights. No child transitions from marshmallow cereal to stilton. Maybe French children, but I grew up to the west, across an ocean, where partiality to such refined tastes is more constrained.
To stand out is to be different, which is not always positive. I tried to stand out, once, at age eight, by making flatulent noises with my arm during quiet reading time. The unflinching lesson impressed upon me is that being ostracized by classmates for a banal presence pales to the wrath induced at the hand of a teacher.
Unrestrained compulsion, begat by fear of being shunned, kept me persistent in the battle against my disinclination toward savory foods. Puckered lips and displeased frowns resulted for years. With time came acceptance, slowly. First is eating, second is swallowing, next is maintenance of facial poise, followed only then, after time, by acceptance. Only with acceptance is there appreciation, and only with appreciation does the inclination to seek out arise.
Four, five, six years later, lunches and cocktail hours reached new frontiers. I could express contempt for those who refused to partake as I did, fueled by insecurities that companions might become aware of my past beguilement of such foods. A similar saga, years shorter in durations, marks the tale of my eventual acceptance of coffee and wine, their overt benefits precipitating receipt of my approval.
My introduction to the kayak began in the brackish waters of a lagoon abutting lush grassy fields playing host to summer camp. Aged ten, my boatmate and I lacked the requisite strength even to commence the activity, requiring momentum induced by a shameful push away from shore by elder counselors. Our budding propulsion into the body of water halted as my oar breached through the starboard water, contacting the shallow depth of the sandbar below. An abrupt change in direction propelled me, and my hapless friend, sideways into the foot of murky water.
The plastic yellow boat, deceptively light in appearance when over the water from afar, completed its downward trajectory upon its thudding contact with my head. Water aided in concealing the gush of blood from my wound, while the salt, the dilution of which with fresh water notwithstanding, trickled into the open wound, exacerbating the searing agony of exposed flesh. Pulling me from the water was simple given our proximity to shore, placing a period on my first kayaking experience in much less time that it took to prepare for it. My first vow never to repeat this experience was secure in this most brief chapter of my youth.
Initially, I accepted no blame for causing our boat to capsize, but subsequent experience demonstrated that my own ineptitude was a contributing, if not the only, factor. Between my first and second attempts at kayaking, my time on the earth doubled. Any growth in maturity or wisdom is unclear, but there was no denying that I had become stronger, taller, faster and leaner since the age of ten.
The occasion of this second foray befell a lakeside vacation with my peers between semesters of college. The motivation, unsurprisingly, an hour of solitude with a co-ed I hoped to convince should grant me the privilege of additional time in her presence. Breaking the ice with the story – details of tears withheld – of the prior kayaking occasion succeeded. This time without the assistance of a camp counselor, we propelled off the pier of our own accord, my initial dip of the oar into water successfully free of contact with the bottom of the lake.
Ten, twenty, thirty feet we glided, our strokes syncing rapidly and effortlessly. Our speed growing and her gratification apparent from enthusiastic cheers, I thought it appropriate to begin the process of erasing the first chapter in my internal account of kayaking. Prematurely it seemed.
We halted, a feeling familiar despite the passage of ten years, in this instance not from contact between my paddle and the lake bed, but with the back of her head. In the full throes of gaining pace, and my gratuitous showboating, I missed contact with the water. Without the counterbalancing resistance of the lake, my oar returned to front with a high, looping arc, returning back down further forward than intended, striking her with the sharp edge of the blade.
She could not see the blood slithering out of her tightly pulled hair and down the back of her neck, but from her shriek, I understood that she felt it. She reached back with her hand toward the wound, contacting the warm, viscous blood pooling in her palm. Unlike me, who had water to cleanse the blood ten years earlier, she was not so fortunate, the blood instead soaking into the shirt she wore beneath her life vest.
With the presence of blood now inexorably tied to my attempts at kayaking, I turned the kayak, as gingerly as possible, in the direction of the dock. As consolation, I offered to power the remaining journey without her aid, maintaining our speed with slow, careful strokes of the paddle.
Our honeymoon, ten years later, offered the scourge of a third attempt. “Our” did not include my companion from the prior try, she having discontinued contact with me well before alighting from the kayak at the pier. Nine sun-soaked days on a secluded white sand beach in a remote corner of the world offered the venue. From the perspective of our lounge chairs, the edge of the infinity pool in the foreground blended seamlessly with the bay that surrounded the island on which our resort blended naturally.
Breaking the seam between the bay and the pool at its easternmost corner stood a palm-covered hut, which we understood to be the activities center. The premier activity we were implored to attempt by the hotel staff, and several other guests, was a special something that I had sworn twice to evade. Contrasting my prior experiences, in which yellow boats were the stage for my undoing, the resort’s boats were tactlessly vibrant, an ostentatious panoply of mixed red, yellow, green and blue stripes forming the pattern of a macabre rainbow.
Taken aback by the gaudy exterior, my attention was pleasantly, almost reassuringly, drawn to the interior fixtures, which far surpassed the quality of the solid-yellow boats of yesteryear. Most remarkable were the full seats that sported posterior grooves, full backs, footrests and slots for the oars, an abrupt contrast to the austere plastic slabs sufficing for seating in the yellow sort.
That I was in range to view the interior features portended doom for the pact with myself not to consider the possibility of a third calamity. The unbridled eagerness of my bride, whose curiosity was unimpeded by awareness of my history in this arena, could not be overcome by suggestions of alternatives.
Honesty had prevailed fairly well between us, though the miniscule facet of my combined minute of kayaking was beyond the scope of the entirety of our mutual confessions in the course of our relationship. Footrests in the sitting wells added no less than three feet of additional separation than the standard yellow kayak, resulting in an unlikely incidence of collision between front rider and paddle. The goal, then, was avoidance of an as of yet unearthed method of kayak-induced fiasco.
The confluence of equatorial sun, an absence of cloud cover, humidity broaching 90% and sunscreen from a spray bottle proved ill-fated. As before, it started well. Her head, sufficiently situated beyond the vulnerability of an oar strike, remained fully intact. A two-foot drop off within a short glide from the shore line ensured against a disastrous seafloor incursion. Reaching several hundred feet out of view of the resort hastened the conviction that perhaps my persistence, in spite of the past, may be rewarded with a pleasant ordeal.
My muscles, free of exertion for several days over vacation, regained consciousness through their engagement, staving off, temporarily, the commencement of atrophy. Perhaps this was this the thrill of which others spoke but that repeatedly evaded me. Featured atop the available activities in the guest guide included a challenge to circumnavigate the island by kayak, a feat of seven kilometers. Judging by the first kilometer, we would accomplish the act in well under the recommended two hours.
In my second kayaking mishap, I covered exponentially more distance than the first, which was simple given the brevity of the earlier occasion. Rounding the edge of the island, toward the point of no return, we reached the exponential factor on this, now my third, attempt.
It was at this time that my new wife decided that she, in fact, hated kayaking, but would sit out the ride through its conclusion. Left to power the extravagantly illustrated vessel without her admittedly perfunctory assistance, my assumption of full control wielded the hand of defeat. Beads of sunscreen traversed downward from my forehead into my eyes, burning the sensitive optical nerves while obscuring my view of the path forward.
Lacking a towel, or a shirt, or anything clean to wipe my head, I plunged my face off the side of the plastic boat into the crystal clear water. Salt water. Temporary relief from the ocular sting of the sunscreen quickly dissipated as the salt attacked every part of my face lacking resistance to its caustic bite. Acute thirst, which, for the same lack of fresh water remained wanting for relief, added to the blend of compromised stability.
Yet, in tandem with the fact that we had gone too far to shorten the voyage by turning around, preoccupation with prior failings compelled further attempts to complete the trek around the island. Shrill demands for help, met with superficial attempts to paddle from the helm, offered no assistance toward the finish. Surmounting the increasingly sharp cramping became necessary while nearly two kilometers remained between us and our starting point.
The slip jutting from the activities hut entered the horizon as we turned the final bend of the oval island. My strokes hastened by reason of a rapidly exhausted and now heavily pulsating heart.
Relief would not endure the passage of several hours, as returning to shore served as the onset of the latent aftermath of our misguided jaunt around the improbably long circular tour of what I earlier in the day considered paradise. Incapacity from sore muscles marred the following days, rendering me unable to participate in further offerings, or to accompany a not-so-oddly unaffected wife eager to venture.
Checking out of the hotel in several days’ time, the muscular aftermath nearing completion and sunburns shifting from red to hues of pink and white, with a copy of bill arrived a certificate evidencing completion of the kayak challenge. As documentation of poor choices is not a hobby, the shredded remnants of my certificate now rest in the landfill in closest proximity to the island.
Accusations that I refused to offer kayaking a fair shake are misplaced. Commitment to it would complement an intensive exercise regimen, and the path upward is rarely a simple one. Taking to other whims arrived only with persistence. Kayaking diverges from olives, pickles, coffee or wine; my consumption of them caused no harm to others and only fleeting inconvenience to me, which in time abated. On the other hand, the suffering attendant to kayaking followed an increasingly worse trajectory. For the sake of a greater good, I must at age forty understand the wisdom gained through painstaking experience and refuse to fall victim or to create one. Apologies to my mother for the callous adjective so fitting of my sentiment, but there is no description more appropriate for kayaking than hatred.