If you've never kayaked, the first thing you should know is that your butt will be wet for however long you're out. As will be, most likely for a good chunk of time, your hands, your arms, your feet and your legs.
For that reason, the second thing you should know is that applying sunscreen regularly will save you the pain and peeling that I had for weeks. (And the weird ankle tan the burn has now turned into.)
But getting the full experience, even if it's the hard way, is part of the fun of trying new things. Right?
I didn't know when I developed my #41before42 list this year, and included kayaking on it, that I'd not only get to head out once so soon, but twice — and that I'd get to try two different types within weeks of one another.
Thanks to Visit Santa Barbara's #BrightenYourDay Twitter contest (yes, I won a trip through Twitter!), my first foray earlier this month was part of a three-day, two-night vacation that included a stay at the Fess Parker, whale watching with the Condor Express, a Funk Zone food and photo tour with Eat This Shoot That, dinner at Olio e Limone, and a half-day sea kayaking trip with Santa Barbara Adventure Company. [Note: Yes, everything we did was comped, but I would recommend any of these companies and excursions if you're traveling to Santa Barbara. My husband and I had a ton of fun throughout the weekend, and no complaints whatsoever. Except for having to leave. Neither of us had ever been to the city and we'll definitely return. He wants to try mountain biking in the area, and I'm now antsy to kayak the Channel Islands sea caves.]
The only other person signed up for our half-day Santa Barbara kayaking adventure hadn't ever done this either, so as we each received our individual boat and water gear, our guides gave us some basic information about how to wield our paddles, and how to get into the kayak — always butt first, especially if you happen to tip over into the ocean. (Because if you fling your leg over first, you might just end up flipping over again. And no one wants two mouthfuls of salt water.)
And then we were off.
I spent most of my time for the first two hours way behind the group — until one of our guides told me to push the paddle as I pulled the other side back. Leverage, duh. It got easier ... and then harder as we caught a headwind and had to fight our way back in.
’Twas pretty fascinating though to navigate about farther than I anticipated from the shore. And to see sea lions and harbor seals and turtles and lots and lots of pelicans up close and personal. (Makes me super sad though about the oil spill that just happened in the area.)
We even kayaked under a catamaran boat. Reportedly the largest in the world. I was happy to just get through it without banging into the side. It was obviously a very expensive catamaran.
All in all, a fun excursion. We were both tired after. I'd wished I'd spent a little more time at the climbing gym beforehand, but really the worst bit was that nasty burn I got.
Two weeks later, I found myself once again in a kayak. This time thanks to a press trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, courtesy of the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau — I was there on assignment for Adventure Girl (when my full trip post goes live there, I'll let you know).
Kayaking the Lower Salt River with Arizona Outback Adventures was a very different experience. The paddles and the life vests were the same, but beyond that, not much.
We shared kayaks. My partner, Brooke from World of Wanderlust, and I had to learn to maneuver our inflatable boat together. She, in front, did the lion's share of the paddling, while I, in back, was responsible for steering.
Of course, our excursion here was more of a float than the workout of Santa Barbara. We had to keep ourselves out of the occasional weeds and rocks, but mostly we got to chat and watch the stunning Sonoran desert landscape go by — which included herons and eagles and redbirds, and (the coolest thing ever) a herd of wild horses.
Our guide told us that one side of the river was the Tonto National Forest, and the other, where the horses were, was reservation land. I could have sat and watched those horses for hours. It's just not something you see everyday, or even once in a lifetime.
So as I check kayaking off my birthday list, I ponder why I put it on there in the first place.
I think it's because I've always felt drawn to large bodies of water. I'm not sure why, but there's something about them that's both powerful and serene. Cool and salty. Comforting and cleansing. Being able to sit upon the sea or float along the river ... it's magical.
When it came to these two trips, the emphasis during my time at sea was primarily physical, which I have started to crave more and more as I age. And I certainly slept well that night.
My time on the river though? Being able to mostly let go of a physical focus allowed me to connect deeper with myself, with a new friend, and with the landscape and larger world around me — the types of connections that I believe are the true work of my heart these days, whether though writing or teaching yoga or just daily living.
It also brought to mind a passage from Terry Tempest Williams' book Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert:
Inside this erosional landscape where all colors eventually bleed into the river, it is hard to desire anything but time and space. Time and space. In the desert there is space. Space is the twin sister of time. If we have open space then we have open time to breath, to dream, to dare, to play, to pray to move freely, so freely, in a world our minds have forgotten but our bodies remember. Time and space. This partnership is holy. In these redrock canyons, time creates space — an arch, an eye, this blue eye of sky. We remember why we love the desert; it is our tactile response to light, to silence, and to stillness.
The time and space partnership is holy. And so too, I think, is time spent in a small boat, atop a mighty water.
I have a feeling if the opportunity calls again, I'll be back.