Reflections From The Cockpit January 2009
USK's 2008 Best Of Times & Worst Of Times

“It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times…” is the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities written by Charles dickens. I wish I could say I read this entire classic when in school, but I have to admit that this book was how my classmates and me learned about Cliff Notes. Now that I am retired I do have the book on my must read list. Even though I did not read this book as assigned, the opening line has always intrigued me.  I am using this great opening for the theme of my January reflection, which is traditionally saved for reviewing my past year. My regular readers know my strong belief that greater learning takes place when one takes the time to reflect so this year will not be any different.  See USK article, “Time For Reflection.”

Discussing the positive first is my usual teaching style. However I will break from my standard this month because I would prefer to finish my reflection on a positive note so here are the worst of times for 2008 in our little world. Just as a side note, since I am very optimistic I know that my worst of times cannot hold a candle to the hardships and tragedies experienced by many others in this world.

Separating our personal lives from our kayaking life is impossible. Even if I could, anything that happens to us affects all elements in our lives. This year ended with a number of losses. Hadley lost a cousin and I lost my mom. I say lost because we cannot make any new memories with these loved ones even though they are always alive in our minds.  Those who are pet lovers will understand when I say we are devastated by the loss of our boy dog Elton who is was the closest being we have had to a son since Hadley & I do not have children. These losses only accentuate our belief that we should always tell the ones we love that we love them. In addition, since life can be gone in an instant it is important not to wait too long to get to take those adventures while you can enjoy them.

I say, “While you can enjoy them,” because my body is letting me know I am no longer a spry young pup. My visits to my orthopedist confirmed I need a left knee and right hip replacement. Since there is no good time to do it the surgery will be decided by pain tolerance. My doctor said, “We will schedule it when you cry uncle.”  I am still active, but aches do affect the adventures.

At the beginning of December I decided to enter a race that I had no possibility of winning or even finishing with a respectable time.  Heck, I am a teacher not a racer.  I decided to participate for the social aspect and to enjoy the conditions and the scenery. The conditions would be classified as challenging to a novice with the winds, swells, currents and waves that were on the six-mile course that went through Deception Pass and around a few islands. I will discuss the best aspects of the race later in the article. There were two aspects of the race that annoyed me. One was how old I felt by not being in better condition for a six-mile race. It reminds me that I am not paddling as much as I used to paddle. Secondly, I was very angry by the lack of preparedness of some of the races with respect to equipment and skill level. I ended up spending over 15 minutes with a racer who needed a rescue and transport back to the launching area via a jet ski. Poor clothing for cold water, lack of skill for the conditions, no grab loops or deck lines on the racing kayak was all to blame for my ire.  I am glad that I could help, but it virtually ended the race for me.

We had a lot of snow in the Seattle area in the last few weeks. There was over two feet of great powder around our neighborhood for a number of days due to the very cold temperatures. The snow reminded me of when I used to snow camp with my buddies and tele-ski (Telemark Skiing) in the backcountry.  Heck I remember scaling peaks with climbing skins under my skis and peeling them off to run down very steep virgin slopes. I mention this because I thought of putting my skis on to ski out of my driveway and around the neighborhood. I stopped because I was concerned about my knee, hip and back. Did neglect to mention I have four herniated discs? Since Hadley was traveling I decided not to take this minimal risk since I was home alone.

To sum up the 2008 worst of times, I am feeling older and my risk taking level is declining. The positive spin is, I am becoming wiser. The loss of friends, family and performance has hit us hard this year. It causes re-evaluation of what is reasonable to do and what can no longer be done or even attempted.  The wisdom of aging tells me that these challenges are part of the cycle. Do the best you can and enjoy what you can still do.

The best of times…

It sounds like we have had a bad year, but I must say, “Overall it has been a good year.” Aside from joint breakdowns, we are fairly healthy. Even though were couldn’t do our annual travel abroad or take a long kayak adventure, due to lots of happy events, Hadley has taken a number of trips to Santa Barbara to be with family. She adores her new niece “Holiday.”  She enjoyed reading at her sister Courtney’s wedding. Recently surprising her mom for her birthday was a joy for the whole family. We are realizing there are many great adventures that do not include paddling, believe it or not.

A good deal of our paddling energy for this year went into producing two new videos under the USK banner. “Kaua’i Day Tours” our first video guidebook brought back great memories of all the paddling trips we have done in Hawaii. We look forward to doing more video guidebooks highlighting special places.

We added a 5th volume to our “In Depth Instructional Videos Series” called USK’s Bracing Clinic. It has been very well received.  It is very flattering to get orders from repeat customers. As a video producer and instructor you want your product to be of value to others. It is so nice to hear “Your other videos are great so I have to get this one.” Even better when they e-mail back and say, “You have done it again.”  I mentioned above that I felt out of condition for that six-mile race. I was a little sore the next day, but it didn’t compare to the soreness I felt after being filmed all day performing braces for the video.

This year was a time to upgrade our equipment. We love our new dry suits, kayaks, and PFD’s. I just love new stuff.  However, it is hard to toss out my old gear. Even though my old PFD is shredded I still feel there is some life left in it. Hadley says it’s a guy thing. Maybe so, I have a lot of great memories with that PFD.

Since teaching is my passion, I still love presenting and instructing at different events around the country. The Seattle area is surrounded by water so there are many events locally throughout the year that keeps me busy. It is rewarding to see many new presenters at these events that have risen through the ranks and have great things to contribute to the sport.  Having so many good instructors now available tells me that the hard work done by many of us over the past twenty years has paid off by raising the number of quality instructors and paddlers around the world.  Education is a key factor to improving safety and promoting adventures.

As I drove to Montana to teach a three day clinic I was able to enjoy one of my old past times. When I used to do a lot of river paddling needless to say you would find yourself in very secluded areas. When I found deep pools after a drop in the river I used to get out of my kayak, peel off my clothes and skinny dip in the great outdoors. When I drove over a small bridge and saw the inviting water below me I pulled off of the road. I figured if I took a quick dip under the bridge I would be out of view by the few passing cars. It was a wonderful break that brought back a flood of fond memories.

The Deception pass race did have a number of positive elements to it. I had a chance to catch up with local paddling friends. I was able to get out on the water is some fun conditions and enjoy the great scenery.  Even though it ruined the race for me, performing real recovery techniques that were successful lets me know I can still do it.

Losing so much time in the first part of the race put me into the pass as the very last paddler.  The race was timed so the faster paddlers would get to the pass during slack current. When I got there the current was moving against me. The current was moving too fast for me to make headway in the main current. I decided to try to see if I could still eddy hop my way through the pass. I am proud to say I did it. Even though so much of this year is making feel older I was glad to see my fast water skills are still with me.

The best part of the race was at the end when I asked for donations from the racers for the “Make A Difference” Program we sponsor through USK for feeding the homeless. We gave out free antenna toppers for any donation.  I am happy to announce we raised $183.45, which will provide about 166 meals. Thank you to all who gave. This is another reason why I love paddlers they are so generous.

2008 was a year of loss and a realization that our bodies are letting us know we cannot perform as we have in the past. Instead of brooding at these challenges as problems I have to look at them as gifts. I am reminded of the great times I have had and the memories I have had with those who are gone. It is also a message to me that one should appreciate what they do have and make the best use of your time. Hadley and I can still paddle, we have wonderful supportive families, our girl dog Carlie is still with us and we look forward to many fantastic adventures to come.

To all of you who visit our web site we wish you a healthy, happy and adventurous 2009.

Wayne, Hadley, Elton & Carlie


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