If I could name one aspect of my personality that my husband truly admires, I think it would be my adventurous spirit. He knows that I love a challenge and can rarely back down on a dare. Whenever we watch female action flicks, most recently – Salt with Angelina Jolie, my husband has the habit of saying, rather boastfully, “I bet you could do that,” at a time when the heroine is either rolling on the floor evading bullets from her assailants, or kicking in the face of a villain, then gracefully jumping out of a window – only to land safely on top of a moving truck. Of course I wouldn’t dare dream of shattering the man’s fantasy. However, there is some truth to the man’s assertion about his wife.
When I was younger my adventurous tendencies didn’t always earn the admiration of friends and family. Too often did I ‘jump’ my car over California Street in San Francisco with a carload of screaming girlfriends, and climb the outer walls of the Palace of Fine Arts merely to sit on the rooftop and gaze at the stars. Most certainly, riding a motorcycle ranked low on my families list of accomplishments. So, I was labeled a loose canon, a wild child. Even my older sister called me Reb – short for rebel – she still does, although now it’s more out of habit than anything else. Perhaps being brought up in the 70’s taught me to take chances, or following around my older brother to no end made me tough. Whatever the case may be, if I were not the type of woman who thrives on adventure, I probably would’ve thrown in the towel the moment we curved around the last mountain – to a widening river that seemed bent on consuming us. Instead, I tucked in my chin, swallowed what little saliva I had in my mouth and paddled harder. Like the apostle Paul said, ‘I tell my body to do what I want it to do.’ Despite my exhaustion, I told myself we would parish on that river – food for the vultures, if I didn’t try my hardest. “We can do it buddy!” I yelled to my longsuffering husband, digging into the water with as much oomph as I could muster.
Hours on the Chetco River had taught me two types of paddling. There’s the shallow paddle, which is what you do when you want your partner to think you’re pulling your own weight, but really you’re only skimming the surface of the water. Then there’s the deep paddle, which is what you do when you want to show off your beautiful arm and back muscles. Shallow paddling is all right if the water is moving with you or if the water is, well, shallow. Deep paddling is required when you realize you’re not going anywhere. Due to the fact that the river current was now moving against us, we could no longer waste time with anything but the strongest paddling. The only downside to digging in deep is that you get tired very, very fast unless you’re in Crew or workout on Nautilus everyday, which we don’t.
When Tony noticed that my deep paddling wasn’t getting us anywhere, he stopped his respite, dutifully picked up his paddle and got to work. Together, we were able to move our kayak about an inch every two strokes – slow going, but it was better than moving backwards! As the mountains began to disappear behind us, all which lay ahead was the river. In the sky, balancing on both sides of the embankment was the slender, cement bridge that my husband crosses everyday to work. Beyond the bridge: the Pacific Ocean, Brookings Harbor, and my Ford Escape, which was waiting to take our weary bodies home. “I bet it’s nice and warm inside my car.” I thought, shivering uncontrollably from the cold. It was those darn holes at the bottom of the kayak. They once cooled us from the heat of the day, now they were mercilessly introducing ocean water to our shriveled little behinds.
It’s interesting, despite the fact that we were in more than a bit of trouble, I was still in awe of the beauty that surrounded us, and my trembling hands managed to take two more pictures, much to my husband’s chagrin. I couldn’t help it! I felt like a war correspondent, and we were two insignificant humans in some sort of nature battle with the mighty Checto – her beautiful, rolling current in cahoots with the bracing wind, both trying to keep us from our land goal. Paddling with all our might, we painfully drew closer and closer to the bridge. Suddenly, my husband exclaimed, “Look! There’s an abandoned boat up ahead!” Then panting for breath, “If we can’t make it….to the harbor…let’s go aboard her… and rest a little…or until…we can get help.” Thank God for my husband I thought to myself; he has the ability to make me laugh even in the direst circumstances. “No way!” I said, laughing. I could hear him laughing too, which somehow gave me the strength to keep paddling like a 20 year-old, my neck and shoulder muscles constricting painfully. “Let’s paddle closer to the shoreline.” He said next. “Alright.” I answered, not sure about his reasons, but humbled enough by my past actions not to argue.
When we finally reached the shoreline, I felt the force of the river pushing us back even more, so I attempted to paddle harder, but was seizing by a cramp in my shoulder and lost the paddle. Luckily, I was able to grab it before it got too far. As I turned my body around to reclaim it from the river, I spied Tony trying to grab for a large tree trunk that stuck out of the embankment. “What are you doing?” I yelled surprisedly. “Maybe we can find a place along the shoreline to pull up next to, and climb up the side of the mountain!” He said half laughing, half serious. “Honey!” I said, “It’s straight up all along the river! We won’t be able to climb up….with the kayak!” I couldn’t believe it. He was giving up!
The Great Depression in American history has always fascinated me, I’m constantly researching it: The Stock Market Crash of 1929, The Dust Bowl of 1930, FDR, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s “It’s Up to the Women” speech of 1933 in which she exhorted American women to help pull our country through the gravest economic crisis we’d ever known:
“The women know that life must go on and that the needs of life must be met and it is their courage and determination which, time and again, have pulled us through worse crises than the present one.”
It always comes down to the women, doesn’t it? A man may be physically stronger, get better pay, but it’s the woman who pulls them through hard times. “We can do it Honey!” I yelled, fixing Rosie the Riveter in my mind. “Just keep paddling with me!” As we paddled, I felt my entire body loose all its strength, then regain it supernaturally. It was crazy. All smiles left my face – replaced with wincing pain and determination. I knew we could make it to shore, if we worked together.
After the bridge was behind us I thought we were home free; that the harbor would be an open door us weary travelers could paddle through. Nope. We forgot about the jetty, which went the entire length of the harbor, then opened up to anyone wanting to tie his or her boat up to the dock. The water grew choppy and merciless at this point. I half considered the possibility of clamoring over the jetty rocks, but what good would that do? I’d still have to swim to one of the boat docks. No, just a little farther and we can tie up the kayak and climb onto the dock like respectable folk.
Next thing I knew, Tony was grabbing for the dock, clinging onto an old rusty boat cleat with all his might. “Toss me the rope.” He ordered. We were successfully tied up now. “Get out of the boat.” He said, feigning a smile this time. I tried to get up, but my legs stiffened painfully, refusing to straighten – hours of sitting in the kayak. I tried again, this time using my arms to grab the dock, and then climbed up like a lizard on my belly until my feet were out of the boat and on the dock. I rolled over on my back panting. “Help me.” I heard my husband say, so I rolled back over, got on my knees and helped pull him up onto the dock with an agonizing grunt. For a minute we both laid there panting, then we started laughing uncontrollably and screaming, “We made it! We did it! Thank you God! We’re safe.”
When we finally sat up, Tony reached down and got the backpack, which was strapped tightly to the nose of our kayak. “Honey go. Get the car.” He said exhaustedly, as he threw me the bag. I opened it up and searched for the keys to my Ford Escape. They weren’t in there. I searched my pockets, Tony his pockets. Nada. “Did you leave them in the truck?” He asked me, with a most serious look on his face. “Wha? Uh…no way.” I dumped everything out of the bag, and then I remembered: At the top of the river, after we put the kayak into the water I did a ‘hasty’ checklist of what goes and what stays. I vaguely remember putting my car keys – which Tony kindly put into one of his Ziploc bags – in the glove box. Yikes. I was going to have to find a taxi. “I’ll be right back.” I said hastily. He just lay there on his back, eyes shut.
I should have marked the place where he lay with some sort of landmark, but I was so embarrassed about leaving the keys in his truck, that I went off running like a chicken. Ten minutes later I walked into Zola’s Pizza, our most frequented eatery on the harbor. When I opened the door and the heat from the brick oven hit my face, I closed my eyes and smiled. “Rachel!” Vanessa said, a bit shocked at my appearance. “What’s wrong?” She asked, her kind eyes searching my face. “Kayaking…stuck on dock…no keys…need taxi…may I…restroom?” Was all I could sputter. When I came back there was a taxi waiting outside. I love you Vanessa. I ordered a large pepperoni, mushroom and olive pizza, paid my girl then flew out the door.
The taxi ride was one of the most surreal moments of my life. The driver talked non-stop about his failing health, being homeless, his girlfriend who is addicted to meth, her daughter – who has emotional issues, and how much he hates tourists. He never noticed my withdrawn face, my bloody, blistered hands, my wet clothes or the watermark I was leaving on his velvety seat. I tried to listen sympathetically, and as it turned out we were both from the Bay Area. This switched the conversation to food. “The Bay Area has the best restaurants in the world!” He exclaimed, then he talked about how much he missed the produce, etc.. On and on he went, while I nodded deliriously, shivering.
After driving along the river for what seemed forever, I spotted the turn off and he skidded to a stop. “Can you pull up next to that truck?” I asked, pointing. “Um, it’s a bit rough, I may pop my tires.” He answered. “Oh, ok I’ll get out then.” I gave him a twenty, thanked him and slammed the door, unintentionally of course. As I walked, shaking to the truck, I noticed the sun worshipers were gone, the children too. All was quiet now as the sun slowly set in the horizon and the temperature dropped. There was only one other car parked close to the rocky shoreline, it was a couple making out passionately. I couldn’t help smiling, then I reached into my wet shorts pocket and pulled out the truck keys, which I don’t remember putting in there.
Next thing, I was thundering down the mountain to rescue my man. Driving through the harbor, I was trying to remember where I’d left him. Walking gives one a completely different vantage point. As I drove, I peered through piles upon piles of crab pots and between giant storage hangers, then I pulled into an abandoned lot with mounds of broken cement and gravel. Driving around the un-drivable lot I spied two feet propped up on the tip of a yellow kayak. “Honey!” I yelled out loud to myself. It was my sweet man; my man who would do anything for me, whose love humbles me on a daily basis. “Honey! I’m here!” I squealed, running towards him, and then hugging him tightly as I kissed his salty neck. “Wow, that was fast Darlin’.” He said, getting up slowly with my help. “I ordered you a pizza.” I said, seeing the pleasure in his face. “Yesssss.” He said through his teeth, smiling with his fist in the air. “You won’t believe what I just went through!” I said excitedly, driving towards Zola’s. As I told him all about my most recent adventure, he sat in the passenger seat, grinning, listening admiringly…