Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Any day on the Lake is...

It's a bright blue Saturday,
and a question I never had
is about to be answered,
can you paddle backwards,
crash into another boat and ...
and still win a race?

It is early in the desert
clear, calm, crisp even
tents go up, real estate claimed,
team banners hung,
Santa Fe hangs a strawberry?
Whoops, sorry, that's a chili!
paddles hang, woven into a line,
flashing in the sunlight
in polite silence waiting to
be used...!

Smiles of anticipation
familiar and abundant,
greetings among teammates
and competitors
(this is Christmas morning
to paddlers.)
We are twenty five strong this year
from newbies to returnees,
the comaraderie solid
and sincere.
This 'paddle family,'
one to be proud of!

We show up with our usual crap
for a day at the beach,
some more than others,
my pile has less to do with paddling
and more about fun between races.
(the usual... hoops,
bobble bands, pinwheels and bubble wands
and my hand me down chair is even fun!)

The energy high and electric
for a day of paddles and playing.
Races of many divisions are assigned
novice, (newbies) Open, Co ed, 5k,
Senior masters, Masters and Golden
(50 and older)
which I and other long time paddlers
have finally earned the right to do...
(yaay, ...really!
this a great collection
of really cool strong women.)

Because of all the categories
the opportunity to race
many times is asked
and answered with resounding yes's...
Course this looks easy on paper...
then we get there and realize the only time
in between a race...
is the time it takes to walk
across the dock to get into
the next departing boat,
trying to catch our breath
and maybe...look for that missing lung
and then off the horn goes again!

We end up in so many races
that by the end of the day
when they hand out the medals
we look blankly
at one another and ask,
"was I in that race with you?"
Its a blur of a day with great stories
with water and competition
at its center.

The first race..
(and don't worry,
I won't write about all of them,
just the ones I remember)
is a Co-ed 5k, three miles,
I sit seat five
which I have discovered
is a pretty fun ride, going wild and fast
as opposed to the front
where I usually sit
with its seemingly
endless resistance and pull.

Out of the start
we are planing the water
three guys and three gals,
seasoned paddlers and friends
its clear right away, its going
to be good... and gold!
There is the magic
in the momentum of gliding,
hitting and swinging together
and flying to the finish line.
Feeling that "effortlessness"
that was long ago promised,
when we first started paddling.

Our feet never touch
the ground the rest of the day.

The next two are sort of sad tales,
a crash on the turn
gets first time novices a DQ,
(and that's not short for Dairy Queen either.)
another team, while in obvious gold contention
stops at the flag instead of continuing on,
the steers person not realizing
there were two more turns to make...
oh so painful!

But she finds redemption in
a later race
a win, that someone in the line of high fives
calls "the best example of canoe racing
they had ever seen!"

Sitting seat one
for this one,
(so much more responsibility than seat five)
It is my job is to set a pace
everyone can follow
and stay with,
one I can hopefully keep consistent
the entire way.
We are bow to bow
with four other crafts
into our first turn,
a flawless twist around the flag
shoots us out in the lead
and we stay there
thru two more perfect turns.

There really is nothing else like
the hard earned open water
the 'hut hos' fading from behind,
the encouragement of
teammates in the wind,
the rhythm of six paddles like one
in and out...
sometimes the win is in
the feeling of paddling well!

But the turns are a challenge this year
so many crashes and near misses
always the same lane,
always the same boat,
number 202 begins to look like a battleship
with its chunks and scrapes and dents.
Got to be the flags,
they must be too close together?
Can't be us!

In the last race
our earlier co ed team
comes together for a shorter version
of the first!
Like horses headed to the stable
we are out in a modest lead
until the first flag takes us into
the tail end of another turning boat
CRASH, Bang, Rip?
seat five looks wounded
and the steersman's paddle
is sailing thru the air
(pretty sure there are
NOT extra points for this)
oh no, this is bad!
As a good will gesture we try to retrieve
the floating paddle
which requires paddling in reverse!
There is lots of yelling and confusion
no one is paddling in the same direction
"go back, no, go forward,
forget it...JUST PADDLE"
unable to retrieve the floating paddle
and certain everyone's okay,
we return to forward motion
now in last place
trying to shake off the drama!

The sheer determination takes us
past all the other boats
to surprisingly finish in the lead,
the shoreline is stunned,
WE are stunned.
We wait for the other boat to limp in
minus a paddle and
they are actually smiling
seat five just laughs and says
"its all good, when we have a day on the lake"
now that's Ohana!
But we earn the name
of "Havasu Paddle rammers."

When my own arm is twisted later
into steering a "fun race"
I am appreciative of the skill
it requires,
and although I did not hit anyone,
I did take in two flags instead of the one
turning 40 feet of 400 pounds of boat
not an easy task!
And not alot of fun!

Leaving the beach,
Heavy with medals,
the fun factory at overload
the recounting of events get bigger
and more entertaining as the evening
did we really paddle backwards?
Knock a paddle out of someones hand,
finish a race too early
and win so many?
Seems so!
The magic is back
and it begins with a paddle in hand!

Pam Piper Rain
photo by Ed Earley

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