(from Aug 30 2010)
Ten slivers of rainbow push their pointy noses around the metal sea wall of Astoria’s East Mooring Basin. Their vista opens to include a broad waterscape hemmed by distant blue hills and dotted with black-hulled freighters. The Astoria Megler bridge, like a yoga pose, arches its green-spined back high over the shipping channel and stretches its arms long and low across the water to Washington, four miles distant.
A 14-mile journey lies ahead, some anxiety within. Destination, the Pacific, like Lewis & Clark. The empty kayak trailer waits at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.
Of our ten, four are BCU 4-star sea leader candidates being tested on their leadership, navigation and personal skills on an exposed journey. Four more are moderate to well skilled sea paddlers being led on the journey, and two are assessors charged with exposing the group to that turbulent and exciting current of challenge where learning happens and where the candidates can demonstrate their skills or reveal their weaknesses.
Winds are force 2 from the NW as the colorful arrows begin to glide across the channel in close formation. The water’s surface is lightly textured. A 2.4 knot ebb whisks them past green buoy 39 towards the bridge.
From the low vista of the kayakers’ eyes, the mid-river sand bars are not apparent at first except as a perforation of gulls along the horizon. Gulls a fraction taller than they would be if they were floating. Desdemona sands make a fine lunch break beside the bridge and the cross current of traffic, something I’ve long wanted to do. Drivers honk and wave.
Distance paddled: 3nm. Time: 1 hour. Speed made good: 3 knots. Three more hours till slack. Headwinds begin to touch force 3, cresting occasional wavelets.
It is apparent to two candidates that our remaining 11-mile journey is not likely to happen. Another says that we should push to make 4 knots.
Sometimes the drama comes from our own stubbornness. Sometimes one must experience to understand. It is the job of the assessor to let this experience happen without losing the larger safety net.
Bridge drivers look down now to see the smears of color getting washed by 2-3’ waves. They bounce in the spray but make little headway along the bridge or towards the destination. Does the candidate in the lead recognize this yet? Is he thinking of other options? The wind builds, the ebb slowly dies. The treadmill goes on, steepening wind waves to 4’.
Who is the paddler making many sweep strokes on the downwind side, working hard to maintain direction, and losing speed? How long can she keep this up? Who are the resources; the strong one trying to pull ahead? Who is strong and aware, able to pull ahead but staying back for group support? Do the candidates read this? How do they use their resources to meet the challenges?
When do we redefine the goal?
Kayaking is not just a scenic escape. It is a teacher of life lessons. I suppose this is why, for some, immersing in the natural world is a fundamental element of spirit.
A change of candidates in the lead, an inline tow, a small change of course. Finally, the exercising of some fine hitchhiking skills. The journey is behind us, and within, on our written or unwritten log books of life.