Rain had been falling for hours through the night and into the morning. The sky was barely a few shades brighter than when I left it the night before. Morning came with coffee and silence.
My morning meditation went like it sometimes does. I closed my eyes and didn’t find myself for the better part of an hour. When I opened my eyes I rubbed them with my palms. I gave thanks for the day and my family. Slowly I stood up, my mind turning to smoke and time.
My kids were upstairs asleep, for now. I lounged about the house fretting over my latest obsession: Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Manifesto. I spend days circling ideas. Sometimes those days stretch into years. It had been this way with Brisket since going to Austin, Texas for my first trip. This book has blown my mind. The brisket recipe is 14 pages long. There are several hundred pages and only 13-15 recipes. Most of the book is dedicated to the why of barbecue.
This morning’s obsession: short ribs, Texas style. You know those cute little short ribs they charge too much at fancy restaurants for? Well this is their big, bad brother. The monsters are almost a foot long and weigh several pounds. All they need is salt, pepper, smoke and time. I rubbed each rib and put them out on the smoker, breaking tradition I opt for apple wood, instead of post oak.
Kids were still asleep. I drank some more coffee.
My kids woke up. We shared a nice breakfast. My daughter’s latest love: gluten free dutch babies. My other can’t get enough of them stackers. Little pancakes layered in yogurt and berries. The stack is done when it falls over.
Another cup of coffee. My friend showed up and we packed up the canoe. It’s a beautiful thing. Full kevlar racing boat. We were training for the Ski To Sea Race. It’s the longest running multi-sport race in the United States. It starts with a cross country ski, then an uphill run/downhill ski, then a bicycle ride, then a canoe, then a mountain bike, then a kayak race. Bill is our runner, but like the snow (we are at less than 10% snow pack this year) had to sit this year out.
We put our canoe in the water. The rain had, for once, stopped. The sun was peeking out. Several boats were on the water. The Lummi tribe was racing their long boat. It’s a ten-person dugout. A gorgeous handmade wooden beauty. It’s fast and powerful on the water.
As we set off into the lake I started fixating on my stroke. I had been reading about the perfect stroke and after observing mine, admitted I had a long way to go. Oh well, in a race canoe, there are ample opportunities to get that perfect stroke down. One of the things I love about canoeing is the ability to make each stroke perfect. Just like Jiro and all of his dreams of Sushi.
A couple of things looking back. For some reason we didn’t head to our normal course. We always hug the far shore and stay close enough to shore that we can use markers on the shoreline for interval training (this is a terrible idea, maximum intensity paddling followed by a short rest and then maximum effort again).
We ended up in the middle of the lake. I wasn’t paying much attention to anything but my paddle. I was trying to time it so my power stroke would kick in only after the blade was well within the water.
My buddy and I chatter a lot when we paddle. We talk about everything. Most of the reason I am on the boat is to spend time together. We were talking when we noticed the water kick up.
Lake Whatcom is a ten mile long, one mile wide beautiful body of water nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. My wife and I spent our first two weeks in Bellingham lakeside, in a mother-in-law apartment that our friends were kind enough to let us stay in while we got situated. We love this lake, and canoeing puts me on it more often.
As the wind kicked up the sky darkened. Within minutes the wind started grabbing my paddle as I brought it forward in my stroke. I started grinning. This was turning into something more fun than torture training for the big race. Up ahead I saw a shelf of white caps coming.
Splash. Water all over my lap.
Hmm. That’s not how our other canoe acts in rough water. Another wave, this time I focused on what was happening. I am in the bow. From this vantage point I can see the bow rise up in a swell and then submerge as the whitecaps break over us. We are taking in water from both the front and sides. I know why they call it green water now, because it looks green coming over the bow.
No worries. We have a self bailer.
Guess what? The self bailer doesn’t bail unless you are going faster than the water. So here we were fighting against wind and waves. Definitely not going faster than the water. Most likely we are taking in water from the bailer as well.
Ahhh. So now we are struggling to even go straight into the waves. No worries. By default, we angle towards the far shore. It’s a very long way off. We are taking in water. There is no way we will get there.
The next best decision. Try to turn around and then head straight for the nearest shore. We knew it would be risky, but it was really the only chance we had.
OK buddy you ready. Yeah. Let’s do it. Let’s do it all night long (who doesn’t give the movie Waterboy a nod when you are up a creek without a paddle?).
We initiate the turn. It’s going well for about 30 degrees. I see them coming. There should have been Jaws music out there. More white caps. The first one took us just behind me, on the side. We shifted to the right.
I looked back, my buddy was off balance (he took the wave) and we looked at each other for a brief moment before the next set of waves took us in one great seismic shift, up over and under.
I am not a big fan of swimming.
I am even less a big fan of swimming in 51 degree water.
I like even less than swimming and 51 degrees, not being able to catch my breath.
There we were, boat upturned, far from shore. I can’t catch my breath. My buddy checks in. I laugh, say, I’m good I just need to catch my breath.
Waves are crashing over our head. The wind is whipping. The sky is dark.
End of Part 1. Part 2 will cover not only how we get out of the water, but how the body deals with thermal shock. Part 3 will talk about how the psyche reacts to coming close to the big, deep six holiday.
Photo Credit: getwhatcomplanning.blogspot.com