Friday, July 19, 2013

Paddling into the Storm

It's hard to believe it's been more than month since I finished my “Crossing the Inland Sea Adventure”. I feel so far removed from it now that it's hard to know what to share about the experience. Do I tell you about the easy days when the sky and water seemed to hold me like a mobile and cradle? Or do I tell you about the two days of storms in the northern half of the lake that nearly killed me.

You may wonder, “Why didn't you write it all down sooner, when the chronology and experience were easier to recall?” Well, I did write a daily journal, but why I didn’t write a blog is a difficult question for me to answer.

When I got home, I had one day to recover before going back to work. I was exhausted: 20 miles a day, for eight days took their toll. I got back on a Saturday, and the next day, I slept in until 2:00 p.m.

For two days after the trip, I suffered from something known as “landsickness”. I know that sounds like a fake term, but it’s completely legitimate. I felt as though my body were still rocking and rolling, even though I wasn't out on the water anymore. It was bizarre and dizzying. I wasn't nauseated, per say, but I constantly felt like I needed to lie down, and that feeling gave me an awful headache.

For nearly a week after my return, I had PTSD nightmares about my traumatic days and nights: Days four and five.

On day four, I landed at the top and realized there was nowhere to camp. The “shoreline” of Spring Bay (upper most bay) was full of sharp chunks of salt (imagine every white glass bottle west of the Mississippi crushed to bits, mix with salt, sand, and water). The area was also completely exposed to the elements. A storm brought me in with four foot waves around 2:00 in the afternoon. I tried to launch at 4:00 p.m., in an effort to reach the southern half of the bay for a viable camping spot. Another storm caught me three miles out, this time with six foot waves. Every wave that hit me felt like being hit from behind by a small car. The water (27% salt) was so heavy, I thought a couple of times I would flip. The third time I tried launching, at 8:30 in the evening, I hit a sandbar. I struggled, in the dark, to get off the bar until around 11:00 p.m., when I finally abandoned my boat close to two miles off shore. I grabbed my phone, my sleeping bag, and my sleeping pad, and I walked inland, not sure if I would ever see my boat again.

I called my best friend Lindsay in the wee hours of the morning. She came, and we both hunkered down, trying to get some sleep until there was enough light to search for the boat.

At first light, on day five, we began our search. We realized, after an hour or two of walking around, it was going to be difficult to locate the boat in such a vast expanse of water. We found large rocks, rotted piers, and even an ancient saltwater logged car; but there was no sign of my “Salt Wolf”. We began to fear the worst. Thankfully, I remembered the wind had been blowing from the west the night before. I borrowed the binoculars Lindsay brought with her (what a Godsend they were). Close to three miles later, I found the boat as far east as I could possibly go on Spring Bay. It was perfectly situated, past the worst of the sandbars.

 I left Lindsay on shore, completely dehydrated, with her feet torn to bits by salt. It was 11:00 in the morning, and having read the weather report, I knew the wind and storms would be against me all day. I fought against three and four foot waves. It took me 8 hours to do 10 miles. I was gutted. By 8:30 p.m., I still had 7 miles to go. I knew I couldn’t fight the waves anymore. I started to look on shore for a place to stop for the night; I even got out for a few minutes. Then a miracle happened. The wind switched directions. I ran to my boat, hopped in, and held on for my life. I didn’t reach Spiral Jetty, my predetermined port for that night, until 12:30 in the morning. Much like the night before, it was a violent, stormy, dark ride into shore. When I landed I began to shake and weep. In total, I had paddled for nearly 14 hours straight.

Despite these days of horror, the whole incredible experience eventually led to triumph. If you haven’t seen it already, they even did a local news report on my journey.

It’s now been a month. My body is well recovered. But if I'm honest, my mind has struggled with the idle time. The planning, the training, the excitement of it all are over, and my depression has stolen in again like a thief in the night. This is the reason I couldn't write about my experience sooner.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Dog Days are Coming

In ancient times, the Greeks, followed by the Romans (those shameless thieves of culture), used to associate hot summer days with the "Dog Star", or Sirius from the constellation Canis Major. The light from this star shown brightest between July and August. Consequently, the Greeks began referring to the hottest days of summer as "Dog Days".

Why am I giving this etymology lesson? 

It's May 15th, and it hit 87°F in Salt Lake City, today. Tomorrow it's gonna hit 91°F. I think I'm going to melt to death.

I know I won't receive much sympathy from those who hail from my former homeland of Florida. 87°F is laughable, especially when you consider Utah is arid, and virtually devoid of humidity. Nevertheless, in my defense, I did work the entire winter outside, in temperatures as low a -7°F, with several weeks that never went above 10°F. I will also be working outside during the entire summer. If you think about it, this constitutes a 94 degree span I experienced just today. That span will almost certainly increase beyond 100 degrees, once summer really hits. 

Which brings me to my real point of interest. 

I have set the dates for my Great Salt Lake Kayak Journey: June 8th-June 15th. 

In light of this recent but rapid change in climate, I've questioned this window several times. Be that as it may, there are other considerations to keep in mind. My elbow, though doing quite well considering the heavy training, is still tender. I want a bit more time. Also, my best friend, co-conspirator, videographer, and one man support crew, Lindsay Daniels, is in school until this launch window. She says it would be fine, but I'd hate to risk her grades for my pleasure (or torture, depending on how you look at this amazing act of physical exertion). 

It looks like these dates are gonna stick.

In the mean time, I am setting out a float plan, preparing gear, and training.  

Yesterday, I went out to Antelope for the first time since my injury. I felt great on the water, and I even took a 45 minute nap on the Island. Happily, thanks to my best good cousin Kira Holladay, I didn't experience one iota of sun burn on my face or neck, because I was wearing three different types of sunscreen. (Wasn't her gift basket incredibly thoughtful? She knows me too well.)

Unfortunately, I learned that my arms will require several applications due to the abrasive salt water stripping them of protection. Now that I have this dead sexy tan, I will have to keep that in mind and apply liberally a couple of times per paddle day. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Losing Battles

I'm sure by now you are all aware, April 4, 2013, Roger Ebert, the renowned film critic, lost his battle with cancer.  

I came home the afternoon he died and cried inconsolably. 

It might be difficult to understand why I loved him so much. Many people close to me have noted the contradiction of our philosophical viewpoints. I am Mormon. He was a non-committal, culturally catholic, atheist. I am extremely conservative, backing gun rights and opposing socialized healthcare. Roger was a proponent of gun control and felt it was our moral obligation to support Obamacare. Nevertheless, I forgave him his philosophies because I think he honestly believed in the system, however flawed it is. He felt compassion for his fellow man, noting how many people suffered from violent crime and a lack of proper healthcare options. It was out of love that he fought so hard for the "Left".

Political, religious, and philosophical ideologies aside, he was a brilliant and emotionally intriguing essayist. Many people will remember him for winning the first Pulitzer for film criticism and the only critic to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But I will remember him most as an influential teacher. His essays forced me to be analytical about film, but more importantly, they caused me to be analytical about life. 

After sixteen years of faithful readership, I have lost one of my most important teachers and friends. My heart aches.   

In other news…an update on my kayaking training. Sadly, three weeks ago, I injured my elbow at work, and I am now suffering from a form of tendonitis known commonly as "tennis elbow". It sounds pretty lame, but, let me just tell you right now, it hurts like a MOFO!!! I am forced to change the dates of my expedition, because I haven't been able to get in the water in weeks, and I'm still in recovery mode. I'm thinking mid june, but that will depend on how well I recover in the next few months. If I'm not better by then, I'll be forced to look at a later, hotter date. Oh, goody.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Crossing an Inland Sea

This year, beginning May 25th through June 1st, I’m going to attempt my most ambitious adventure to date: I will cross the Great Salt Lake (GSL). In a kayak. Solo.

I’ll be taking eight days (traveling roughly 20 miles a day), to cross the world’s fourth largest terminal lake (which basically means it is the end of line for water coming into it). Roughly 5,000 square miles larger than the Dead Sea (25% larger), the GSL is a remnant of the ancient Lake Bonneville, which used to cover most of the state of Utah. It contains four times the salinity of the ocean; therefore, it has no fish population to speak of. However, it is one of the largest bird habitats in the country; so there is a trade off.

I’ve been told by Dave, the Dock Master of the Great Salt Lake Marina and Antelope State Park Marina, that I am possibly the only person on record to attempt it. To quote him, “A lot of people talk about doing it, but no one ever does.” This seems utterly ludicrous to me, but I’ve endeavored to find evidence of someone else’s crack at it and haven’t been too successful.

Shockingly, the Great Salt Lake, which is really more like an inland sea, is not a terribly popular spot for year-round kayakers. I rarely see others on my training days (every Saturday, 16-18 mile jaunts). It may have something to do with the strong smell of dead brine shrimp and water so laden with salt that it forms crystals all over your arms, legs, face, head, boat and paddle. But there is something magical about the GSL: it is a marvelous work and wonder.

Hopefully, over the next two months I will provide more information. Also, if anyone has some good advice about writing a Living Will, I’d love to hear it. (No. I’m not planning on dying. But I would like to be prepared.)

PS Please take the time to check out She'll be doing all the documentation for this adventure.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Into the Darkness

I would like to start this post with a simple admission: I suffer from depression.

For many folks, depression seems like a scary or taboo subject. That’s understandable, because it’s hard to watch a full grown person, who looks perfectly fine on the outside, suddenly, and for no apparent reason, completely lose it by becoming emotionally hysterical, emotionally or physically lethargic, or even, in some cases, emotionally or physically aggressive.

I sometimes think it would be easier if those who suffer from depression had physical marks to show: a scrape for every night’s sleep lost due to depression induced insomnia, a bruise for every morning woken in a funk, a black eye for every time they thought of hurting themselves, or a substantial broken limb for every time they thought about suicide. People would stop asking silly, idiotic questions like, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” They would just look and know.

Depression is a disease. Essentially, chemicals in the brain, specifically serotonin and dopamine, which usually tell a person “you’re okay, keep eating, keep sleeping, keep moving, keep going, we’re gonna make it” become imbalanced or turn up in very short supply. Everyone experiences emotional highs and lows based on life circumstances and events, but not everyone feels like those highs and lows are going to kill them, or worse, make them feel like they want to kill themselves.

See the distinction?

There are a lot of types of depression, with known and unknown causes, and there are even more proposed treatments for it, some of them more likely to work than others. There’s exercise, activity, diet, time spent under the sun or a UV heat lamp (for those that suffer from seasonal types of depression), one-on-one counseling or therapy, and lastly, chemical treatment, AKA drugs.

Now, there is much disputation over the subject of mental health drugs, and, admittedly, there are a lot of overmedicated people out there looking for a magic pill to them help whisk away their mundane and boring existences. However, I’m much more concerned about those who refuse this option because they’re afraid of the stigma attached to it. Why am I concerned? Because I used to be one of them, and I suffered for years, because I was too afraid to admit I could no longer talk myself out of my funk and no amount of discussion, love, reinforcement, or validation from others could either. For me, fighting depression without drugs was the equivalent of going into the ring with my hands tied behind my back. I was getting my ass kicked, and I couldn’t figure out why.

It seems ironic to me if a person suffers from diabetes, another chemical deficiency, there is no question whatever about giving the person insulin, a hormonal chemical, to help maintain control over it. However, some people talk about mental health drugs like they’re discussing meth or crack. They argue: “A person could become dependent. They might not be able to function without the chemicals.”

Well, duh. Of course not! Their brain isn’t making them!

Absurd arguments over drug treatment options aside, there are few things I know beyond a shadow of a doubt: Depression is real. Depression is scary, horrible, and debilitating. And depression can kill you. Without the help of family like Lindsay, Jaime, Sarah, and my Dad, and an understanding friend/experienced mental health professional, Lynn, I would be dead.

In closing, if you or anyone you know suffers from depression and they need a listening ear, send them my way (longwayround245 Gmail). No one should have to go through this alone.