After years of dreaming about it, I finally bought an inflatable kayak. It came with two deluxe seats, two paddles, a carrying case and a repair kit, big enough for two for when Marika wants to join me. We inflated the kayak on the asphalt next to the RV to try it out. It was easy to inflate and comfortable to get into. But it had a small tear in the skirt of the bow (front of the boat).
I called the manufacturer and they said they would send a replacement skirt. Meanwhile, I was anxious to try the kayak out, even without the skirt fully inflated. So we folded it into a manageable 2’x5’ bundle, and hoisted it across the backseat of the RAV4.
I chose to take my maiden voyage in a small lake at a city park, instead of the river or slough where I’d have to deal with the tides. And this way, Marika could walk the trails and look for birds, while I was on the water. I cried on the drive over, just so full of joy and readiness. We parked near the official boat launch beach and inflated the kayak near the car, then carried it thirty feet down to the lake. I got in, she gave me a good push, and I was on the water.
I paddled toward the middle of the lake, gulls frolicking in the water beside me, Marika, waving to me from the shore. I felt stable, relaxed, and my stroke was light, yet strong. I practiced stopping and circling, paddling slow and fast. And then I lifted my paddles out of the water to feel the slight current in the water move me oh, so slowly, into the center of the lake. Coils of underwater plants, thick as a bottlebrush, but soft and floaty, surrounded my boat. The air was still and quiet beyond the noise of the gulls, and I heard myself thinking, “I am in my very own kayak in the middle of a lake on the coast of Oregon!”
I paddled around a tree island, out of Marika’s view, and watched three men fishing off of a twenty foot wooden pier. I turned toward the opposite shore and paddled to within ten feet of the bank and I floated, scanning the shoreline for movement.
A great blue heron stood as still as the driftwood next to it, and I almost didn’t see it. We watched each other for a good long time, neither one of us moving. Then it spread its wings, lifted up, skrawking as it flew to an upper bough on a nearby tree.
I moved along too, toward a couple in matching orange kayaks near the center of the lake. “Nice day to be on the water,” he said. “Yes it is!” I said. “It’s my first time in my new boat and I’m loving it!” The woman took one hand off her paddle and gave me a thumbs up. “You’re gonna love it!”
I made one more long pass to the opposite shore, then headed toward the put-in beach where Marika was sitting on a bench, talking on her phone. I fast-paddled up the incline and onto the wet sand and the boat skidded to a stop. I leaned back against my seat, grinning, and handed her my paddle. “That was amazing!”
I went out again two days later, to the bigger lake in the park. There were tall green trees and coves and tree islands, and gulls and an egret and a man fishing from a rubber boat. I paddled to the furthest shore and around a line of dead tree snags jutting from the water. I enjoyed the paddle, but not the solitude. And so Marika said that the next time, she would join me.
We went to the bigger lake and she paddled solo first. I was glad she was able to get into the kayak easily, and she felt comfortable on the inflatable seat. She pushed the seat back a bit and settled her legs in. I handed her a paddle, gave the kayak a long push and she moved out into the water.
Her paddling stroke is so different than mine. It is slower, shallower, and there is a pause between left and right. I paddle with more effort, a faster rhythm, and the ends of my paddle go deeper in the water.
I watched her glide on the lake, surprised how far she had gone for paddling so slow. After a few minutes, she turned back toward the beach and I pulled the boat’s bow onto the sand. She rolled herself over the side of the boat to a standing position. “OK, I’m ready to try it with you.”
We pulled the boat fully onto the sand and moved her seat more forward so that I could put mine in the back. We both got in, right there on the sand, to make sure there was enough room for our feet.
After a little rearranging, she said OK, and we carried the boat back to the water. She got in, and I pushed the boat further into the water and stepped in. We kept our paddles out of the water and just floated. The boat wasn’t folding or crinkling with our weight. We were steady on the water, and we were both comfortable.
As the back person, my job was to steer, and follow the paddling rhythm of the front person. I was conscious that this was her first time in the kayak, and five years since she’d been on the water, so I just followed her tentative movements, focusing on the joy that we were in the boat together. We had moments of paddling in sync, and then we were moving across the water toward the farthest shore, and I was overflowing with thank you’s for this dream come true.
We paddled across the water from one shore to the other, scanning the trees, enjoying the sun and slight breeze. Sometimes she paddled solo, because I couldn’t follow her movements and sometimes I asked her to just relax and let me take over. After almost an hour, we headed back to the beach. I couldn’t wait to do it again. She said, “We’ll see.”
A few days later the replacement arrived, except it wasn’t a spray skirt, it was a whole new kayak! I offered the first boat up for sale, but had no takers, so now we had the option to paddle together, or on our own, and we both really liked that.
On Monday we took both kayaks to the lake so we could go together, but in our own boats. She pumped up the new boat and I took the original. We dropped the car keys in the dry bag and carried both boats to the water. She got in and I pushed her into the water. When I got into my kayak, the bottom of the boat was partially deflated. I pumped it back up to full and closed the valve, but when I applied pressure, it got soft again. I dragged the kayak against the tree and called to Marika to come back to get me.
She paddled onto the beach, not thrilled about the change, but we arranged our seats and moved into the water. I settled into my steering position and tried to follow her rhythm.
I was expecting her to paddle left, right, left right. But she was doing left, left, right, right with pauses in between, so I couldn’t find anything to follow. And the boat kept veering to the right because we weren’t in sync.
I was still feeling cranky that I wasn’t in my own boat, so I didn’t have the patience for her erratic rhythm. I tried to give her a quick paddling lesson, and that was not the thing to do, because then she got cranky too.
We moved in silence toward the middle of the lake. I thought about calling it a day, but that didn’t feel good either, so I focused on the greens of the trees along the banks. I pointed out an egret along the shore. She said how perfect the weather was. We both agreed that this really was pretty nice, even if we had to be in the same boat, together.
She wanted to stop on the far shore to practice getting out and in again. We paddled over a small clearing of sand and she got herself up and out of the boat. I stayed in my seat with my legs draped over the sides of the kayak while she took a short walk around to stretch her ankles.
We got the kayak back into the water and paddled parallel to the shore, looking for the egret. Every time Marika changed her rhythm, I just took my paddle out of the water and breathed, and remembered to appreciate that she was, indeed, moving us along.
The wind kicked up and we headed toward where the car was parked, paddling and floating, allowing the breeze to turn us around so we’d have to paddle harder to straighten out. She paddled a few strokes. I paddled a few strokes. She said we were in training for bad weather and extreme conditions. When we got closer to the put-out, we paddled together, making an easy landing onto the beach.
We deflated and folded up both kayaks and hauled them to the car and agreed that next time, we’d go in our own boats.
We have since fixed both leaks on the original boat and now have two fully functioning kayaks. Yes, we wear life vests, have a whistle, a hand pump and a repair kit. I’m really glad we didn’t sell the first kayak, because two boats don’t take up that much more room, and it sure gives us more freedom and choice. And fun!