Monday, June 9, 2008

Pineapple Express Transports the Kinohi Loa from Anacortes to Friday Harbor

Paddling was something other people did. I’d see their kayaks on top of their cars and think, “How lucky.” When I read Native American Wives of San Juan Settlers, by Karen Jones-Lamb, it stuck in my mind how people who thrive on an island have the means to get off without waiting in line for the ferry. The inscription, “To my dear Etta,” led me to read Etta Egeland’s Powder Keg Island. Once again, the heroes in those stories all knew what to do on the water. I resolved to find out whatever I could. I wanted to learn how to travel to and from the mainland powered by human strength alone. (No gas.)

Turns out you still need plenty of gas, just not the fuel kind. Imagine Jose Domenech in seat two and Dan Seaton in seat four, launching insults at each other in the first, second, third, and fourth hour of paddling an outrigger. Our delts burn, our lats burn, but when we can’t stop laughing, our abs burn, too. Once the joking and charlie horses subside, we settle into another endless rhythm of strokes until we clear another outcropping, gliding past rocks that reveal yet another bay to cross. No worries, though, because we know everyone is still together, working as best they can. There will be another barb and round of laughter at just the right moment. If there aren’t any more endorphins left to be had, at least there is mirth.

How relieved we were, not to still be in that choppy water between Anacortes and James Island. A few days before the trip, the ladies at the beauty parlor had informed me that part is called “Hell’s Half Acre.” The wind whomps and sways even the ferry. At one point, every wave was cresting over my lap. We were all soaked from head to foot, with salt water shloshing up to our ankles. Our steersman, Kenny Askew, shouted as loud as he could, but I couldn’t hear from seat one. Dan relayed the message, “Seats five and three OUT.”

No, this doesn’t mean they jumped out, it means they are not stroking with us anymore because they have to bail the water out. I don’t have to turn around to know they are both bailing as fast as they can, because with just four of us stroking, the boat is not moving forward and the waves seem to be eating us alive. I do catch a glimpse of someone standing inside the cabin of their powerboat, watching us through binoculars. I think to myself, you can’t feel superior to the motorboats if you end up praying for your life that one will pick you up. All of us were glancing nervously over at David Halpern, who was paddling in his single outrigger tossing up and down like a red and white buoy. All of us applied our collective might toward the nearest coast in view. Once we got there, feeling victorious and ironically just a tad more invincible, David divulged that when he saw two of us bailing at the same time, he knew we were in trouble. And he wished he hadn’t have stowed his gorp with us, but he thought it would’ve been rude to paddle over and ask, “Can I have my trail mix back?”

The only observer we actually talked to during the journey was a man standing on the beach at Shaw County Park. His expression was of someone watching a mirage approach from a distance, becoming more and more real until it is actually alive and climbing out of what apparently wasn’t an imaginary canoe after all. To us, it was the prettiest, most blessed sand, driftwood, grass, and sunshine we had ever seen. We sprawled on the ground for as long as possible without actually going to sleep. Some of us begged to stay longer. John Pachuta even told a long story that extended (thank goodness) our rest. We lavished in the fraternity of it until we were shivering with cold and needed to get moving just to warm up.

In the last leg of the trip, I was so depleted I could feel pain in every movement. Setting the pace in seat one, I knew everyone could see that my stroke was wilting and falling apart. At this point, it became a mental ordeal. I remembered back at James Island, when I traded out with David into the single so he could sit in seat one. With all six men in the boat, it went considerably faster than with just five and me. Paddling as fast as I could, I still lagged further and further behind. Eventually, they’d stopped just off Lopez and had a little snack and water break while I caught up. Being so physically exhausted, I was at a mental fork in the road: whether to enumerate my weaknesses, or whether to bask in the empowering attitude of my team, being wholly oriented toward fun.

I thought of our sponsoring club, the Hui Wa’a O Puget Sound, and its president, Butch Calivo, who gave us this new boat. Just before launching us off the beach at Washington Park, he tearfully thanked us for bringing his culture to our island. Among other things, he meant the culture of sticking together, encouraging personal growth, and balance with Mother Earth. It was meeting these people that made my dream of someday paddling come true. My mind settled on what an honor it was to be on this crew. No way would I give up now, or beg for mercy, no matter what. I prayed for my ancestors to give me the strength I needed. I focused on the stories I’d read about the historical midwife Lucinda Boyce who paddled herself in a cedar canoe to the outer islands even in the middle of a night storm to deliver other people’s babies.

Another hilarious insult was slung, but I ducked and it boomeranged back to the joker. I laughed until I almost had to put my paddle down, then realized no one was laughing with me. In fact, Jose asked, “What’s so funny?” No one had actually said anything. Now that's called cracking up. Then we were clambering out onto the dock at Jackson Beach and hugging each other with relief. David pulled off the duct tape holding down the pineapple that rode the whole way on the bow. Ceremoniously, he cut it up for us to pass around. We hauled our new boat to its parking spot, and sorted through our drybags for each other’s clothes, left over sandwiches, water bottles, cameras and cell phones. Katie Askew and Liz Seaton drove us home to our front doors. I haven’t checked with the guys, but I bet they also grabbed an ice pack or two and collapsed onto the couch which rocked back and forth as their eyes drooped shut.

If you want to try paddling for the first time, or if you are a seasoned paddler and want to get on the water more often, visit our website, check out our calendar. Everybody is warmly invited to take a spin in the outrigger. Adults paddle every Tuesday and Thursday at 5pm. Kids 10 and under paddle at 4 on Tuesdays. Youth 11 and up paddle at 4 Thursdays. We meet at the net shed on Jackson Beach.

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