Pull (left). Pull (right). Pull (left). Pull (right). This would become my new mantra for the next 3.5 days. Little did I know just how much “pulling” I would do during this kayaking trip and how my old crossfit days would come back to haunt me. I knew my body was capable of pushing harder than I could imagine, but, once again, I proved that theory to be true. Here’s where it all began…
I barely made it to the group dinner the night before our trip as my flight landed just as they were meeting for dinner. The girls were all gathered at Splash, which is a neat little restaurant on the Hideaways at Palm Bay property. The one with the swinging bar stools that are difficult to sit on even when not intoxicated. I spotted the group right away as they were the only ones in the joint at the time. We made our introductions, consumed our “last supper”, and Tamara, our fearless leader, covered the logistics, expectations, distributed our dry bags, and answered all of our ridiculous questions. She dropped me off at Rosemary’s and I spent the remainder of the night unpacking my suitcase so I could repack everything I brought for the trip into the drybags.
Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep overnight because of the excitement, the anxiety, and the unknown. I was about to embark on a new adventure with no expectations. Ok maybe a few, but still, it was all so unfamiliar. I knew camping would be a breeze as I have been doing that my entire life, albeit, with power. But I had no idea what to expect of my body’s response to long distance kayaking. And add to that 8-10 hours enveloped in sand, saltwater, and sun. I would soon find out if I was prepared for this.
At 9am, a taxi driver, Patrick, transported the group and our personal belongings to the dock at Barre Tarre, a quaint settlement at the northern tip of Great Exuma (really, its west). Most of the tour operators depart from this dock as well since it gets you closest to the Exuma Cays. Tamara and her husband Dallas, followed close behind with the kayaks and all of our gear. It was a nice 40 minute drive to get to know the other ladies before we launched into the deep blue abyss.
As we approached the dock, I could see right away that this wasn’t going to be a relaxing day of paddling. The ocean looked angry. Like a washing machine with choppy waves jumping every which way. And when the sun fell behind the clouds it even looked more evil. We were in for a beating. The wind was coming out of the N/NE and we were supposed to be heading N/NW. So the wind and waves would be coming right at us and from our left. Crap.
The kayaks were set up on the small beach next to the dock and we all helped unload the truck full of gear. Dallas and Tamara assigned us each personal and community gear, show us where to put it, how to pack it so it fit in our hatches, and what to strap on the deck. There was no way in hell I thought all that gear would fit into 6 kayaks. It was quite the load but miraculously it all fit just fine! We even got a “too big” square stove into and out of a round hatch hole. Winning! Tamara showed us the direction in which we should paddle, an overview of the maps she had, took a few pictures, and we were off.
I clearly remember Dallas’ last words. “Don’t stop paddling. A moving kayak is more stable than a stationary one.” This will soon play on repeat for the next several hours.
Right away, we were having trouble staying together as a group. The wind was relentless and the waves spitting in every direction. I’d estimate the wind was about 20mph or so but I could be way off. Whatever it was made paddling my new least favorite activity. Thank goodness I workout regularly because I couldn’t imagine what my shoulders would feel like after just a half hour of non-stop pull, pull, pull.
It took a while to get into a groove and just when I considered resting, I heard “Don’t stop paddling….”. Dammit. And Dallas was right. Just a 10 second rest and my kayak is already turning a different direction and I’m being pushed right back where I started. Well this is fun. So I engaged my go-go-gadget arms (my 80’s cartoon reference) and didn’t stop paddling. A few 3-5 second breaks here and there were required as well as check ups on the others behind me but I was on a mission. We were crossing the ocean to Children’s Bay Cay and all we needed to do was get on the southern side of the islands to stay out of the wind. Pull, pull, pull, pull. That’s all I could think, say, do. However, Tamara made it very clear during her instructions that one should NOT just pull, pull, pull. Pushing with the opposite hand while pulling with the other is, in fact, the correct form. Yeah I tried that several times throughout the trip but my body just couldn’t naturally pick up that habit. So pull, pull, pull was pretty much what I did the entire trip.
After what seemed like several hours in the most electric blue water you’ll ever lay eyes on, we finally got to the inside of Children’s Bay Cay. Tamara led us into a small cove with a white sandy beach and we practically fell out of our kayaks. I sprawled out on the sand like a starfish, relieved that my feet were on the ground. Holy hell that was hard. Just 3.5 miles into our trip and I was exhausted. Must refuel and take pictures. Although we were wearing “skirts” to prevent water from entering the center of the kayak, I could feel the swishing of a significant amount of water in mine. Everything I had in the hole, or whatever you call the center of the kayak, was drenched. Which was ok since it was all waterproof. OR SO I THOUGHT. I got my phone out to take some pictures and saw that water had seeped into my LifeProof case. After panicking for about 3 minutes, I took it out of the case, let it dry out for 5 minutes, and somehow miraculously it still worked. I certainly didn’t need my only means of communication and best camera to die on the first night of my trip. Close call. Lesson learned. Put the phone in a drybag in the hatch. Check.
We snacked on some of the food we brought, rested for a bit, and then headed off to our final destination on Norman’s Pond Cay. It’s possible we stopped one more time but I can’t even recall. Oops. Dory moment. For the most part, the rest of the paddle was manageable. Some of the crossings from island to island were still quite windy but nothing like the first crossing from Barre Tarre to Children’s Bay Cay.
Kayaking is an interesting activity. It can be peaceful and easy, allowing one to solve all the world’s problems (or at least your own). However, on the contrary, it can also be grueling and challenging, requiring grit, motivation, and repetitive self-talk to get through it. Given the nature of the sport, the experience largely depends on the weather. And on this trip we saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. During calmer times, I found myself analyzing Tamara’s paddle form, because who doesn’t want to be like the teacher. With a perfect upright posture (chin up shoulders back), and slow, steady strokes, Tamara made paddling look like a cake walk. I felt like I was paddling twice the speed she was yet she was always ahead of me. So I would slow down, paddle deeper, shallower, longer, wider, anything I could do to keep up with some of the others. It’s just something you have to experiment with and, even then, you might be doing it wrong. As long as I get there I’m winning.
After paddling another 5 miles or so, we round the corner to a long white beach on Norman’s Pond Cay. The sun was getting low but we still had plenty of time before sunset to set up camp. I was greeted by a juvenile lemon shark slowly cruising just 2 feet off the beach scavenging for food. Then a small burnt orange starfish. The same species as the one in all of my previous Exuma photos. Ahhhhh. My new home for the next two nights was going to be just spectacular.
Tamara instructed us to find a sandy flat spot above the high tide line (obviously) to set up our tents. There was plenty of space but I didn’t want to be too far from the kitchen and the bonfire. So I found a good little spot where we stumbled upon an enormous grand daddy of an iguana. The largest one I have ever seen. He looked to be 100 years old, or the equivalent of, in iguana years at least. He went about his way and we unpacked our kayaks and setup our tents. The setup process was quick and easy and I was then assigned to make a bonfire pit. Empty conch shells were sprinkled about the shore so we used those for the fire ring, dug a hole, and collected what little wood and palm fronds we could find.
Nothing else like it.
At dusk, the mosquitoes and noseeums are a bear. We quickly changed into long sleeves, pants, and then overdosed in bug spray. But once we got the fire started, they settled down a bit and then eventually after dusk, they were no longer. A cool island breeze blew all evening and we listened to the palm fronds clapping in the wind. There’s just something about sitting over a fire on a deserted island while watching the sunset that you just can’t explain in writing. Disconnected from the world, from the election, from social media, from the noise of life. I was thankful to just be. We had a lovely dinner and campfire chat before we headed for bed on our first night off the grid.