Saturday, September 24, 2005


Hopelessly trapped somewhere between adolescence and the golden years, I was about to turn extreme. I wasn’t sure which avenue I should use to remove the excess testosterone that was coursing through my body like generic moist dog food does my neighbor’s wandering dog—but I was determined to find a course of action. One by one I ruled out mountain biking (too much work), in-line skating (too hard on my ankles), sky-diving (too expensive), and street luge (I’m already driving an Escort which is really nothing more than a luge without all the options.) I have tried bungee jumping and still have the rope burns around my neck to prove it, but I thought I’d like something new. After these eliminations what remained was a much smaller list of activities in which I could slake my thirst for excitement while at the same time eliminating many means of violent death and dismemberment.

It was with much trepidation and the gnashing of my remaining real teeth that I decided upon kayaking. What you ask was an afraid, non-athletic, overweight, non-swimming indoor type doing with a new kayak? Well, at that moment he was most likely making sure his Depends were pulled up tight.

Many people would scoff at kayaking and my inclusion of the sport into the extreme category. But the bathtub to me represents an extreme arena. I took two days of swimming lessons when I was about 8 years old. Most of that time I stood on the bank of Smith Lake shivering while the rest of my pals were splashing each other and effortlessly swimming around. Every attempt I’ve made at swimming since that time has been a failure. I have found three subsequent ways to keep my head above water. The first method is to stay on shore. The second method is to wade. The third way is to swim about 30 yards all the while screaming for help.

The kayak purchase represented for me a first salvo in my desire to live life on the edge of something other than poverty. I have done many dangerous things in the past but this was perhaps the most adventurous since using the bloated remains of a dead cow as a trampoline. But the kayak was somehow different. At least in my youth I could use my age as an excuse. Now, I had come to realize, the only excuse I had was that I was just stupid. (I do have to admit that cow had some real bounce to it.)

I spent many minutes in the sporting goods store grilling the sales staff with what I was sure to be pointed and intelligent questions. Longer crafts I learned were for more open water excursions. Shorter crafts were easier to maneuver but were at much greater risk of tipping over. I immediately tried to order a 45’ but they didn’t come that big. I examined many crafts before finally deciding on the pretty green one.

However, one does not purchase a kayak by itself. There are many accessories for a kayak that are designed to help the owner in safety, paddling, storage and transport. Perhaps the most important of these is the floatation vest. It is a tight fitting, adjustable sleeveless vest that is to assist the boater in staying afloat after a mishap. I modified the vest in a few small ways in an attempt to eliminate some of my misgivings. On its back I taped several inflated birthday balloons. On the collar I strapped an attachment that I fashioned out of a block of Styrofoam. Finally, with a power nailer, I attached around the bottom flap of the vest an inflated bike’s inner tube. Note: try to attach the tube with the power nailer before putting on the vest.

The vest attaches to the boater by zipping up the front after these two steps; 1) Place your right arm in the right armhole; 2) place your left arm in the left armhole. It is seriously recommend not putting your head through either sleeve holes, however. In doing so one exposes him self to potentially serious zipper lacerations and wedged head complications. The former is most easily treated with a few stitches and black salve. The latter can be corrected without much injury by either using a child’s scissors or through the use of a self assembled Head Dewedger Kit. This kit should include tongue depressors, petroleum jelly (or 10W 30 Motor Oil), aspirin, a bowling ball, duct tape, chop sticks, Velcro, rubber mallet, saw, tape measure, gum remover and a picture of Pope Benedict. Neither the scissors nor the kit is actually necessary if you kayak with three or more burly outdoorsmen. However, you might want to carry extra salve in the kayak to help soothe any boot marks left on your forehead. In addition to the paddle I also purchased a kayak rack to transport the craft and a cockpit cover.

The paddle can be broken down, according to the manufacturer, for ease of storage and transport. The shaft of the paddle disconnects and leaves you with two, almost identical halves. While the break down feature of the paddle is ballyhooed as a wonderful innovation, I believe it is overrated. A paddle can thusly be reassembled in the wrong fashion. With out going into too many details I was able to re-assemble the paddle upside down and at the wrong angle. This particular assemblage created a paddle that would have been very efficient for a kayaker that could stand on his head and use coordinated strokes in reverse.

The paddle is also made with a drip guard to keep you from dribbling water on yourself while paddling. I did appreciate this addition but would suggest one more. A muck shield could be an invaluable option. On many occasions I found myself slathered with mud, algae, and fish waste that I inadvertently slung while practicing my stroke. Fortunately I was only in two inches of water and the added weight of the sludge didn’t hamper my buoyancy. This proposed muck shield could be easily manufactured with windshield wipers; fish waste sensors, automated shoveling apparatus as well as other options. I envision it as a Plexiglas cone circling the boater. The kayaker’s arms and head would protrude from the shield through circular holes located in the proper areas. If the kayak becomes dangerously weighted with water and muck an easily added ejection seat could launch the kayaker safely to shore.

With all the accessories now purchased, assembled, reassembled properly, repaired (with the completely unusable ones replaced with sculpted duct tape figurines), I was ready to make my first venture forth like the Voyageurs of old.

To acclimate myself to the feel of a kayak I took several intermediate steps of increasing difficulty before heading to the lake. First I sat in the kayak in the middle of my living room and practiced paddling. If you attempt this yourself I would make certain that you place the kayak several feet from the nearest window, lamp or knickknack. My insurance claim was rejected posthaste. My second step was filling my tub with water and trying to get the kayak into it. I was able to get the craft in the tub but was forced to do so with a sledgehammer. The cockpit was completely hidden after I secured the kayak between the shower walls so I just sat on it for good measure. I used a car jack, sledge, rope and cooking oil to get it out of the tub. Then it was off to the lake.

Transporting the kayak to the water from home was easily accomplished with the use of the rack I’d purchased and attached to my vehicle. This item can be assembled in only a few short days and the resulting medical bills may be defrayed by your auto insurance. It was to my surprise (and the surprise of the driver in the car tailgating me) when I found the kayak could not ride on the carrier without being strapped to it. The racks have proven to be quite durable with very little damage resulting from any of the times I had to gather the pieces off the road on the way to the lake. I believe, however, that a rubberized coating should be placed on the steel rods used in the manufacture of the rack. I’ve discovered quite by accident that when wielded as a weapon, these rods can really hurt when an ambitious tailgater takes exception to the way that your load is secured.

Once I arrived at the lake I discovered the value of a cockpit cover as mine had blown out the window on the way home from the store. Apparently it is to keep badgers out of the kayak for I had to coax one out from the cockpit after arriving at the lake. I discovered during that occurrence that badgers have sharp teeth, can run really fast, and could chase off a whole pride of lions from a kill.

As for a cover replacement, I can suggest a substitution that has proven effective in lieu of the one I purchased. I was able to rip the elastic cord out of the bottom of my floatation vest and stretch it around the cockpit overtop a seat cover I tore out of some stranger’s car. I will write an article on vest and seat cover repairs after I finish my next project—“Home Dental Repair Made Easy.”

Sneaking up on a kayak is a difficult thing. It can be circled, crawled to, peeked at and perused from any angle or direction and it still looks impossible to safely occupy. I will discuss each of my attempted entrances one by one. The first such attempt proved ill fated. With the kayak resting atop two inches of water (and a hidden 16” layer of muck) I tried to slog my way into the cockpit from the beach. After I was able to wrest my left shoe from the mud and my left foot from an irritated snapper, I limped to shore having lost only the one shoe, my glasses, car keys, cell phone and a bit of my left foot. My foot would heal and since I figured most of the rest of the day would be spent underwater anyway I didn’t mourn the loss of my spectacles overmuch. I considered other options.

I would discourage the headfirst method that I tried second. Going headfirst did provide me with the advantage of being able to see the aggressive reptile prior to its biting me. However, in retrospect, I think I would prefer my foot being chewed on rather than my face. My second headfirst attempt included an ingenious (I think) method of distracting the carnivorous reptile by jabbing at it with a stick before I leaped. Had I not gotten stuck in the mud again I probably would have been able to escape the hard-shelled animal with minimal bleeding.

After the failed headfirst attempts, I determined yet another tricky but theoretically possible way to inhabit the sea craft; the long jump method in which you vault from the beach, over the muck, and into the kayak in one acrobatic event. While theoretically possible there are several dynamics to consider. On my first attempt I pushed the kayak over the mud and out to sea but was unable to retreat up the lake’s bank quickly enough to allow for an adequate jump. This resulted in another assault by the snapper and my having to wait for a nearby boater to shove the kayak back my direction. My second attempt was much closer to successful. If it hadn’t been for my slipping on the hull and damaging my testicles I would be fully recovered already. The groin injury was only slight according to the attending surgeon and the cast can be removed once the bone chips mesh and set. I understand that the muck compact I inadvertently impacted tightly against my femur during the thrashing and flailing that followed may have actually done some good had not the crayfish been lodged there also.

A third method also proved unsuccessful. After carving two oval holes in the bottom of the kayak I was able to stand inside the craft, walk to the end of the dock, and jump in the water. While the craft proved no longer seaworthy (an oversight that I soon corrected with duct tape) I had managed to be in the cockpit of the craft while it actually touched the water. I was pretty pumped.

I finally managed to get the craft in the water with me inside it by using a few ingenious tools. A winch, pulley, and about 300 feet of steel cable provided all the means necessary for the successful craft launch. First I mounted the winch to the front of the dock. Then I detached it from the dock and put it on the shore. Finally I moved the winch to the front of the kayak. Next I placed the pulley on a neighbor’s dock some 100 feet down the shore. By stretching the cable from the winch and around the pulley I was actually able to sit in the kayak and crank that sucker out to sea. I should mention at this juncture that remembering your paddle prior to getting out to sea is key. Dog paddling is an inefficient method by which to ambulate a kayak especially when weighted down by the winch and cable.

Having now figured out how to get the kayak on the water, I was now ready to explore different methods of powering the craft. Paddling a kayak is a skill that can be perfected in only a few excursions according to the owner’s manual. I note that a “few” can be defined as any amount over two. While I am certain that paddling excellence is in my near future, for now I am typically content to get stuck in the mud, be pulled out to open water, get stuck in the mud, be pulled out to water, etc.

Once out in the water and in paddling territory I discovered several items that were unmentioned in the manual. The first of these was the import of knowing that the oars I received with my kayak were, in fact, one dismantled oar with two paddled ends. Before discovering this I went through the trouble of boring large holes through the side of the kayak for the oars to fit into. I then braced the openings with duct tape so that the shafts didn’t get unduly banged up during operation. After a few hours of going no where I mentioned to the several hundred onlookers that if they thought they knew of a better way to paddle the kayak around they were welcome to demonstrate this method to me. I’m not certain if they heard me or not over their riotous laughter. I did hear one clear voice mention to others something about a “crazy loon.” I have always loved loons; their beautiful early morning warble is breathtaking. Since I have never seen one live I waited quietly trying to pick up the bird’s song but was unable to.

Some other paddle pointers are as follows. The paddle can be very valuable in keeping off animals trying to attack your craft. But, the molded plastic ends that provide the rowing leverage cannot stand up to the bite of a bear. I would recommend paddling away from a bear rather than challenging it for the fish it has just captured in order to feed her offspring. The old axiom of never teasing a dog about its food dish can be literally transferred to any ursine mammal. This black bear apparently possessed no sense of humor.

It was shortly after this time that the duct tape on the bottom of the kayak began to leak. I asked for help but people were laughing at something so hard that they apparently did not hear me. I wish I knew what it was that they thought was so funny because I could have used a good laugh at the time.

The vest kept me afloat just as I was promised it would. The paddle also floated, as did the kayak. Some extremely helpful people, who were on the lake with me, assisted me by picking up all my stuff and placing it on the back of their pontoon boat I as swiftly paddled ashore with the bear in hot pursuit. The snapper tried to head me off at the dock—but for a dogpaddler I’m lightning quick. I proudly rested on the bank, truly content with the success of my adventure and with my ability to successfully avoid the foul tempered animals.

I enjoyed about thirty seconds of tranquility before the territorial badger attacked me from behind like the little coward he is. It was a bloody attack and it will suffice to say I cried like a woman. After the badger left me for dead I waited patiently for the boaters to bring back my kayak and gear, not moving a muscle out of sheer admiration for the badger’s temperament. After several hours of feigning death the sky began to blacken overhead. I set out on foot toward home sans my kayak and gear. Thankfully I still had my health.

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