Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘diabetes’

104-0397_01-mailchimp

I have a confession to make. I’ve not always enjoyed canoeing. There have been times I was shaking so badly I thought my adrenaline would never kick in. Those were the mornings when my partner Tom Kazo and I had clients for a “You Point We Paddle” tour, and the early morning seas, instead of being flat calm as they usually were in the summer, were more than a bit choppy for human-paddled canoes. I began to call them “slappy” because of the sound they make when the waves smack our hulls.

I am thinking specifically of trips when I was learning to paddle solo, and he had one, two or even three people in his canoe (he was a powerful paddler!). I’m remembering how he taught me how to cut into the waves at a certain angle for both speed and safety; you’d never want to get caught in the dip between waves and broached; meaning the canoe would roll over and be swamped.

After all Tom Kazo had raced powerboats at frightening speeds from the tender age of thirteen, over the same Biscayne Bay where we were now paddling our Wildlife Research Team canoes at about 97 miles slower per hour. He knew how to handle any type of water, could read the waves like a menu in a Chinese restaurant.

I never thought to ask him if on those slappy days he wore his fluorescent yellow shirt with the words NO FEAR across his broad back to encourage me. That man of mine was a risk-taker par excellence! But he was never foolish. Our canoes were carefully packed and in top condition. After starting WRT in 1993, we quickly adopted nine-inch-bladed double paddles from Mohawk Canoes for the power we needed when he and I, as guides, were the “engines” of our canoes. This way, our passengers could enjoy the delights of nature without paddling, gliding magically over the clear water, feeling the stress melt away.

On those choppy morning excursions, we could not paddle parallel to the shore, or risk the above-mentioned fate. Nope: Tom’s methodology was to head out at an angle, southeast, triangulating our route according to where we intended to go down the coast. Which meant that the waves would get bigger the further from shore. Wonderful.

While navigating my fourteen foot canoe through these obstacles, feeling the twist and tug of the currents and tides beneath me, my mind flashed on certain things— such as the opening credits of the WWII documentary Victory at Sea, where the foredeck of the battleship crashes into an immense wave and is completely submerged. The most comforting thought was of my dad, Captain Don McVicar, awarded the King’s Commendation and Order of the British Empire for his World War II Arctic explorations piloting a ski-plane in the service of the Royal Air Force Ferry Command, and also for his courage and flying skill in the development of the Crimson Route across the most northerly reaches of the globe, so as to deliver warplanes from North America to Europe. Along with the other brave men of the RAFFC, Dad flew many deliveries across both the North and South Atlantic. The 10,000 bombers delivered were vital to the defeat of Hitler.

To feel my father’s bravery burning in me, to give it a reason to catch fire, even in a far less dramatic way, turned my fear into fuel. As Daddy had navigated over uncharted, mountainous, frozen territory where magnetic North played havoc with compasses, and weather reports were only guesses, in my much smaller way, I navigated between the ever-changing aqueous topography. I concentrated on where to place each stroke of my paddle, that the blade would bite water and not air. Every stroke mattered. I learned that a double paddle could act as an outrigger, to brace myself!

The most terrifying moment came when we had to turn towards the shore, momentarily exposing the hull of our canoes to the cresting waves. Which, were, I have to repeat, much larger out there. How far were we out? I’d like to say, Scotland was nigh, but I could be exaggerating. Let’s just say, the curve of the Earth revealed tall buildings well inland. Like maybe, Naples on the west coast.

After about a century of floundering in the trough between a couple of tsunamis, and finally turning my bow to the correct angle, Tom would exclaim, “Let Mother Nature help us out!” and we’d basically surf back to land! With my double paddle positioned behind me to keep me steady, yes, I have to admit: it was fun! The waves actually sizzled around me. Who needs a roller coaster?

After twenty years, I’ve never (touch wood!) tipped or dumped. I’ll give Tom credit for teaching me well, and my dad for genetically passing down his courage and skill. But I’m proud of myself, as Tom was proud of me. Yet I really did it for love; there is no more powerful fuel. When I became his canoeing partner, it was to help him control his diabetes; continual foot ulcers kept him in a wheelchair for many months of the last sixteen years of his wildly challenging life. Paddling burned off his excess blood sugar, so I can state with certainty that canoeing saved his life.

Now when I paddle a solo canoe off the coast like that, I eagerly seek the slappy waves. In those early days, we’d rig up ballast in the bow so my canoe wouldn’t blow around, but as my experience grew, the day came when I preferred the bow to be light, because with enough speed, my canoe can be mostly airborne as I skip across the wavetops. Exhilarating!

Tom and I later enjoyed several strenuous canoe-camping expeditions in the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge with dear friends; in my solo canoe I again challenged myself and was rewarded with wonderful memories. (Photo taken by Tom, above)

Not everyone has an Arctic-exploring pilot in their genes. But all of us have times we need courage, when our bones and muscles feel like water as we wait for the adrenaline to power up. We may never know when we’ll be called upon to overcome fear, save a life of a loved one, even to be a hero because we were strong enough. Canoeing empowered me. Not that I wish to put anyone into jeopardy! But one reason Wildlife Research Team has value is that our people have the opportunity to challenge themselves in a small way, to prepare themselves for The Big Scary Stuff that WILL come to get you when you least expect it. It’s because of experiences like this, I began to say, “Canoeing is a metaphor for Life.”

So when you pick up a paddle, and launch a canoe, you are about to experience a great combination: fresh air, restorative water, improved mood, stronger muscles, endorphins by the truckload, challenges met, fear overcome, courage and self-knowledge increased, exponentially.

Such a deal!

Hoping to see YOU in a black canoe,

Donna

www.wildlife-research-team.org

Advertisements

Read Full Post »