A friend’s 50th birthday led us to a quiet waterway where a dock lined with long, narrow, hard plastic boats greeted us. Her husband had invited our family on a surprise guided kayaking trip to celebrate the occasion. I resisted the panic starting to rise, as I wondered how one stayed afloat in such a wobbly looking piece of equipment. I had never seen such a thing before – this was over 15 years ago, long before every other car on the highway carried a pair on the rooftop. I had never learned how to swim properly, could barely keep my head above water with an awkward doggie paddle. The only boat I had ever been in was a sturdy flat bottomed row boat – always close to shore. The guide demonstrated how to get into the boat and make it move with a two sided paddle. I listened with eager ears as he cited the safety rules, hoping I would live to celebrate 50 years myself. My husband was a good swimmer and, hopefully, could rescue me. The kids were also competent swimmers. I had insisted they take lessons early on to insure their safety around water, knowing I would be of no use in rescue attempts. I couldn’t remain onshore and ruin the celebration, so I tightly zipped and strapped a life jacket around my body, certain of the inevitable need for its use. Then I hesitantly let the guide’s confidence and reassurance convince my feet to slip into the boat. We paddled around in shallow water for a few minutes, then off we went – into water deep enough to occlude the view of the bottom with a shoreline that moved well beyond my doggie paddle range.
My body stiffened in an attempt to avoid tipping as I moved the paddle from side to side. The boat moved more easily than I had expected, gliding along without much effort. The guide stayed close at first, talked about the water, pointed out sights along the shore, and gave additional hints to improve technique. I had never moved so smoothly and with such ease – in or out of the water. The rhythmic dipping of the paddle soon took on a strangely natural feel. The peacefulness of the surroundings soaked through my fear. A sigh escaped as my breath slowed and deepened. My death grip on the paddle softened, and the rest of my body slowly followed my fingers’ lead. I started to fall in love with it all. We all laughed and talked some, but also paddled quietly for long stretches. It was a sunny day, not too hot, not too many bugs. I have no idea how long we were on the water – but I felt like I could keep going forever. As we headed for the shore I knew this was just the beginning. Me – the girl that grew up in the woods, could barely swim, had rarely spent time in or on the water – called to explore this new experience further. I soon purchased my own boat, not realizing how important kayaking would become on my path towards finding personal peace.