Drowning! Death! Killing Machines!
And that was only the first hour of class!
Tonight was the first session of my weekend whitewater kayaking course. It started out with pretty basic stuff...here's a kayak paddle; here's a life jacket; here's a $400 Neoprene jacket; here are some super spiffy shorts; here's a $200 Kevlar helmet. I love paddlesports, but I can't see getting too serious about them because of the cost of all the gear. Even buying used stuff, it could cost a few thousand dollars to get totally outfitted. I could probably do it for $1000, but if I had $1000 lying around, I'd be sticking it in the bank towards a down payment on a house. Besides, since MB can't swim, he can't kayak. Even if he was willing to give it a shot, I would not let him. (Refer, if you will, to the title of this post.) He'll canoe with me--which I really, really appreciate. So. If any large sums of cash are leaving our bank account and heading in the direction of watersports, they're going directly toward procuring a sturdy canoe with paddles and life jackets, not a zippy sexy kayak and Kevlar helmet.
After the basic equipment segment, we watched a video about how cool it is to learn to kayak. The video was informative, even though it was recorded sometime in the mid-80s. The narrator was this jolly dude with a serious mountain-man beard. Then, we were given a handout with a bunch of dangerous situations outlined. There were sketches of little cartoon men suffering through these dangers. We talked about strainers, which is what you call it when a tree is fully or partially submerged, allowing water to pass through the branches but straining out debris (and people).
If you get into one of these underwater, it's like a jail. You're stuck. You're probably dead. Avoid them at all costs. We talked about foot entrapment (which I've heard is the top cause of boating-related drownings). If you're walking around in water above your knees and your foot gets trapped, you're most likely dead if no one can get to you in time.
Then we talked about low-head dams. Low-head dams are seriously scary. I understand why they told us all of these things, because only by being informed can we understand what to avoid on the river...but damn. It was a bit unnerving to be sitting in this class and hear, "These things are killing machines. If you go into one of these, you are not coming out."
Oh, and then there was the vertical pin, where the kayak gets wedged nose-down beneath a rock, and then the force of the current breaks the boat AND the kayaker's legs. That water has no respect for your bones.
But don't worry! Kayaks are built with bigger cockpits now, to prevent this sort of thing. But here are some really easy ways to dislocate your shoulder!
We watched a second mid-80s video. This one involved untrained, unprepared people going canoeing and rafting on some rapids. "Nah, I don't think it's dangerous." "Those five guys are doing it, and not one of 'em can swim!" "Getting stuck is fun!" Then they showed people dumping their boats, getting tossed around in the water, and showed one very convincing fake-drowning. It was creepy, even knowing it wasn't real.
After that, it got much better. The instructors were actually really cool and fun, and badasses all. The guy has been kayaking since 1978, one woman has been paddling since 1983, and the other woman has been kayaking for 16 years and is the best roller the guy has ever seen, which is saying something. Apparently it took the older female instructor 6 years to learn to roll, and took the other 20 minutes. She also demonstrated how to do a "head dink." This involves rolling your weight onto one hip, while sort of dipping your head to that side in a slinky move that reminds me of doing a grapevine in the middle of the Electric Slide. During the first non-scary video, the badass kayakers were doing some slick head dinks. They made it look kind of sexy and brassy, like, "Yeeeah, I whooped that rapid's ASS."
We learned the hand and paddle signals. Paddle straight across means stop; paddle pointing left means go left; paddle pointing right really fast means go right really fast; paddle straight up means come on ahead; patting the top of your helmet three times means, "I'm okay"; patting your helmet while waving with the other hand means, "I'm in the eddy and you're fucked!"
To wrap up, we watched a video about Eskimo Rolls, the coolest and (for me, at least) most intimidating of all kayaking manuevers. The video was pretty good, despite being hosted by three people with honest-to-God Bill and Ted surfer accents and lines like, "Heinous! That dude totally should've learned how to roll!" They also demonstrated, much to our dismay, what happens when you assume one of the positions that leads to shoulder dislocation. Whee! Let's hope that was either synthetic or an animal bone you just snapped for our benefit! The crunching, splintering, squelchy tissue noise was a nice touch!
All in all, I am looking forward to the rest of the course. I'm a strong swimmer, pretty confident on the water, and a highly decent canoeist (canoer? canoedler?). Nothing spectacular, but I hold my own pretty well. I have never flipped a canoe by mistake, only on purpose at summer camp. I'm trying to find a place between confidence and cautious optimism. I want to do well...honestly, I want to be totally awesome and impress the hell out of everyone. But I'll be thrilled if I am competent and don't embarrass myself. Tomorrow is pool practice, then lake practice. On Sunday we're going to a very small, relatively calm stream to try out our mad skillz. Next Sunday we're going to a class 1/class 2 river in Missouri or Kentucky, depending on water levels. Where we will avoid trees, traps, and dams. Dude. Heinous.
I am such a guy sometimes
I went by the record store to pick up a CD I ordered for a friend's birthday, and saw one of the assistant managers who I haven't talked to since I got my new job and dropped down to working only one night a week. I asked him how his life was going, and he told me that his wife is pregnant. They've been trying for awhile. I congratulated him...by saying, "You brought the thunder!" and slapping him high five.
Maybe I'll further my ladylike reputation by buying stuff like this for the future child:
Reading: Sightings: The Gray Whales' Mysterious Journey by Brenda Peterson & Linda Hogan
Playing: Lay It Down by the Cowboy Junkies. The same CD I picked up at the record store today. Oh, how I adore them. Apparently they will be near Chicago on July 15th. I wonder if there's any way to get myself up there for the night...
Quoting Obsessively: the Universal Remonster episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Most of the time, I find this show dumb. This episode, however, cracks my shit up:
Frylock: He's dead.
Oglethorpe: Impossible! The Remonster can only be killed by stabbing him in the heart with the ancient bone saber of Zumakalis!
Emory: Or probably his head or lungs too, just stab him wherever, really.
Oglethorpe: And the saber probably doesn't have to be bone.
Emory: Yeah, really just like anything sharp just lying around the house.
Oglethorpe: You could poke him with a pillow and kill him…