some lessons from the sea

Just returned from a family adventure to the Santa Barbara coast.  Catgirl & I had races launching off of Leadbetter Beach on Saturday morning, so it seemed a great excuse for the family to “get away” for a couple of days.  [Note: Why does “getting away” in LA necessarily mean hours of time spent fighting traffic (sigh). Next year we will plan better so we can take the train instead of driving…]

Our campground was one of those where there is more space for cars and RVs than for tents (hello, SoCal), and our campfire was only about 10 feet away from that of our neighboring site.  But the location was incomparable.  On the other side of that campfire was a chainlink fence and on the other side of the fence: traintracks! (oh, how I do love me a train!).  Periodically the Surfliner and freight trains would come crashing through–so loud that the ground shook and it felt like they would soon come barreling into our campsite.  Perfect!  Oh, and on the other side of a row of RV campsites was the water–the waves crashing loudly against cliffs of natural bitumen.  Scrambling along those cliffs was quite the adventure for us!  Amazing shells, rocks and other wonders.  Because we arrived at dusk we mostly explored the cliffs (at high-ish tide) in the dark that first night.  As I sat on an outcropping with my legs dangling down far enough to catch the spray of the waves crashing beneath me, all was right in my world.

Saturday morning we arose before dawn to prep for our race.  Catgirl launched with her canoe into the ocean around 8am. It was their first surf entry and their first paddle in the open ocean.  When we could see that about a mile out a boat huli’d, we quickly asked some race officials whether it was the Keiki girls.  But it wasn’t and they were quite safe and invigorated by their 4mi paddle! They hardly even look weary in this post-race photo!

Just after they returned, I set out for my own race, a 13mi triangle out on the open ocean.  I was slated in an “Open Coed” boat with a new-to-me crew.  I’d only paddled with the other two gals a few times and the three boys I met for the first time as we hopped in the canoe. My past experience with new-to-each-other crews is not so good–often it means that you don’t blend well or know how to support each other.  I had resigned myself to having a tough (meaning: long and frustrating) race.  On top of that, I’d been asked to sit in seat #1, which I’d only done a few times at practice, and never for such a lengthy race.  Seat one is particularly tough because you set the pace for the entire boat.  And every time you set your blade, you’re putting it into ‘dead water’ because you’re out in front.  It’s hard to sit up there and keep a good rhythm for any length of time–especially out on the open ocean where you’re often taking the full force of the wind and waves and having to “keep time.”  Adding  to the difficulty is that you often can’t hear what’s happening in the boat behind you, because you’re sitting so far forward of the rest of the crew.

The race started and we were dead last.  Last.  In a sea of 50+ boats, that is pretty discouraging news, indeed. I tried to remind myself that I was paddling for the fun and experience and not just for medals.  I was looking at the scenery.  I was trying not to focus on all of those other boats out there in front of us, getting smaller by the second…

And then somewhere between mile three and five, something changed.  Other crews that had started out fast were starting to fatigue.  But I could feel that my boat was just getting warmed up.  We’d figured out each other’s rhythms.  Things were starting to gel (and, especially, the guys in seat 2 and 3 were keeping us all motivated).  And then we started passing other boats.  Two, then three, then four.  More than I could keep track of.  Seat #2 kept pointing out to me how tired those crews looked and how strong we were.  We kept going.  We neared one of the oil rigs off the coast–our first turning point.  Kathy, our steerer, took that turn beautifully and we gained more ground.  By the second turn at about mile 8, we were gaining on the other crew from our own team.  I whooped as we passed, knowing that we weren’t supposed to be passing them.  But…wow!  In those last few miles the wind picked up and we started to get catch some bump.  We were surfing the swells and then we saw off the left hand side of the boat a group of about 40-50 seals, all frolicking around us–undoubtedly curious about this odd group of canoes crossing their kelp beds.  That sight alone was enough to give a second wind, but then I also heard the train off in the distance.  It whistled as it sped by us on the coast (or was this just my dazed imagination? I’m not even sure now).  I let myself feel that sound–the sound of an engine on its tracks–and kept my arms going, even though I realized that the paddle was feeling so heavy I wasn’t sure that I keep hold of it!

Heading into the finish line we were neck-and-neck with another coed crew–so close that I’m not even sure which one of us crossed first.  We didn’t place in the top three boats of our division, but  I do believe we were 4th or 5th–a huge change from dead last!  After we crossed the line and slowly turned the boat around, one of my teammates pointed out the dozens and dozens of other boats still crossing the line behind us.  We had passed all of those.  It was more than I could wrap my head around.

I was so sore, I needed help getting out of the boat and walking thru the surf to the shore.

In a daze I wandered back to our team’s camp and ate and drank and curled up on the grass for a nap.  I can’t even express just how great it feels to have worked so hard, and especially to have worked so hard as a team. I’m glad that they all believed in me, and that we kept powering through the race even though we had such a rough beginning.  And I’m learning that that’s exactly what it means to wear the IMUA jersey.

Later that night we returned to the beach near our campsite and I had lots of time to think about what I’d learned. 

Note: all of these gorgeous pictures were taken by John Nakamura Remy.  How fortunate I am to be tied to a man with such vision. A full set of pictures from the race day are here.

3 thoughts on “some lessons from the sea

  1. Bored in Vernal

    What a day!! This was wonderful, inspiring reading. Thanks for sharing this triumph.

  2. littlemissattitude

    Sounds like you had a wonderful and inspiring time.

    I think it is appropriate to have races there, where the Chumash took to the sea in canoes long ago. It seems like continuing a tradition in some ways.


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