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.