I’ve seen the sign on many occasions. Going to a ballgame, jogging along the Embarcadero, on the way to get my haircut. City Kayak. Kayaking on the Bay. In theory, it sounded like the perfect day. A couple of months ago, when my girlfriends asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I suggested this. They initially agreed, but as the date got closer excuses were made. We never made it. It was conveniently never rescheduled. So I decided to go on my own.
After receiving waterproof pants, a jacket and a lifevest that fit snugly, I sat to wait. There were about 25 people all together, all there for the group excursion in the Bay. Few words were spoken, most people still coddling their first cup of morning coffee. One of the instructors called us to attention for a brief paddling lesson followed by a crash course in self-rescue techniques. He suggested that first-timers use a double kayak; it wouldn’t be as much work.
On the dock I watched as everyone got into boats, two by two. I was one of the last ones standing. One of the instructors, already in the water, called to me. “Grab your partner and a boat and get in.”
“I’m a single.”
“Oh. Are you experienced?”
“Not really. I mean, I’ve kayaked before, but it was years ago.”
“Then you can’t be in a single boat. Find a partner.”
“There isn’t anyone. Everyone else is paired up.” I looked around the empty dock to make my point.
“Who’d you come with?”
“I came by myself.”
He didn’t seem to understand this. “You came by yourself?” he snorted with disdain. “Don’t you have a boyfriend?”
“Actually, no I don’t. I’d prefer a single boat.”
“But you’re not experienced.”
I literally stood my ground.
“Oh, fine. Talk to Cameron,” he muttered as he paddled away.
I talked to Cameron, who was quite happy to provide me with a single boat. He helped me in the water and I paddled out to the rest of the group. The first few strokes were awkward. How were my knuckles supposed to line up? What position should my legs be in? As I reached open water I remembered. Twist with my torso, back straight, push the upper paddle, pull the lower through the water, reverse. I almost became hypnotized by the continuous motion, watching the bay water swirl from the motion of my paddle.
The clouds parted; the sun shone down on my bare arms. Water splashed from the paddle into my hair; drops dried on my arms leaving a residue of salt crusted on my skin. Most of the time I was alone, me and the Bay, eons away from the hustle and bustle of the city, watching the swirl of the water, relishing the lack of worries racing through my mind. At times I would paddle along fellow kayakers, making small talk, commenting on the skyline, the park, the crowd of baseball fans. For the most part, I cherished my solitude.
After 3 hours Mr. “Don’t you have a boyfriend?” commanded us to return. Our time was up. I lollygagged. I wasn’t ready to return. I was the last one back. Cameron helped me out of my boat. “Did you have a good time?”
I smiled. “I did. I really, really did.”