I’ve always wanted to try kayaking. It wasn’t necessarily a bucket list item but the thought of paddling peacefully down a country creek with the sights and sounds of nature abounding around me certainly had great appeal. So when my good friend Larry asked me to take his newly purchased tandem kayak out onto nearby Elkhorn Creek for a test run, I jumped at the invitation. Larry is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet but he can be a bit unfocused at times. That combined with my own general lack of common sense opened a doorway for potential disaster. The following description, therefore, serves as my water-safety public service announcement for the year. In summary, DON’T DO WHAT WE DID.
As I mentioned earlier, I had never been kayaking before but I felt confident that a couple of glances on the internet would easily get me up to speed. Plus, Larry claimed he was a virtual pro–having been out on Elkhorn all of ONE other time previously by himself. Sure, kayaking down a kiddie creek doesn’t require a PhD, but in hindsight the reality was neither one of us knew what we were doing. Contrary to the Viagra commercials, 50-something-year-old guys are still testosterone laden–always anxious to demonstrate they still have what it takes to conquer the challenges of youth.
With the creek waters running high and our incessant desire to always take the most challenging and least traveled path downstream, we ended up experiencing the baptismal waters of the Elkhorn–not once, but twice. You really don’t have any choice but to roll your kayak when you’re about to be impaled by fast approaching shiv-like tree roots. I lost my hat and shoes (rookie mistake) during the initial capsizing, learning quickly that it’s nearly impossible to walk barefoot across the slimy crag-like rocks lining the bottom of the creek. It wasn’t much fun either having the spiky projections scrape against your backside as you tumbled helplessly downstream with the deceptively forceful current. The creek water itself wasn’t icy cold, but still chilly enough to shrink up your fingertips and other nether body parts.
Hat and shoes were minor inconveniences when compared to Larry’s loss–his car keys. Why someone would think to loosely secure such a critical item in only the webbing of his swim trunks still puzzles me to this day. Regardless, we were screwed and we knew it. Somehow in our disoriented state, we also managed to miss our take-out point and ended up at an isolated campground near the intersection with the Kentucky River. Our cell phones were securely locked in Larry’s car and the only people around were a group of burly fishermen with heavy beards, tattoos, and NRA hats. Fortunately for us, they didn’t kill us but unfortunately, they weren’t much help either. I borrowed Larry’s sandals and hiked a mile up the road where a little old lady with no teeth hesitantly allowed me inside her trailer to use her rotary-dial phone to call for a pickup back to the kayaking outfitter’s home base.
Once there, a couple of kayaking angels (Cyrus from Brooklyn and Diane from Maine) graciously offered us a ride back to Lexington so that we could retrieve Larry’s spare key and my car for the extended return trip back to Elkhorn. It’s reassuring to know there are still good people in the world today eager to help out the clueless. We’ll definitely need to pay this act of kindness forward in the near future.
On the final leg home, Larry discovered that one of the ropes securing the kayak to the roof of his Lexus had pulled his front bumper loose–a fitting end to our 12-hour ordeal. Just add the bumper to the casualty list. Hey, the important thing is that we made it back to Lexington, tired and hungry, 5 hours late–our pride wounded, but with our bodies intact. We had a few scrapes and sore muscles but miraculously no broken bones, unscheduled trips to the hospital emergency room, or frantic calls for search and rescue.
Despite our misfortunes, the truth is that I actually enjoyed the time on the water. I discovered that paddling a kayak can be as strenuous or as leisurely as you make it. It’s an activity easily shared by both families and thrill seekers alike. Hats, shoes, and car keys can always be replaced, but new experiences such as this are priceless. The important thing is to be safe–to become knowledgeable in what you’re doing, to know your limitations, and to return with all your limbs and friendships solidly intact. Hey Larry, let’s go kayaking again!