I finally had the chance to go out again after being locked in my house for 8 weeks. We escaped quarantine to our lake-house and I was now able to launch the boat from my backyard. The perfect isolated path to the isolated waters. I was thoroughly prepared for a 15k trip. At least so I thought.
It wasn't my first trip. 4 Days earlier I had taken a few small paddles through the narrow streams and canals surrounding our lake house. The weather was beautiful all week, we had been swimming and Supping the days before because of the perfect conditions.
Still I was running into a problem; My boat didn't feel quit right. The big downside my boat always had was also it's biggest upside, a very large cockpit. This however means I cannot brace my thighs and knees. I played it off to the fact I hadn't paddled my own kayak since January 12th (well over 3 months ago). And I had gotten used to the creek-boat I had been paddling every week since.
Still I set out to make my 15k. I would be crossing "big" open water so I packed my boat with everything needed for a good solo trip. From a spare paddle to a paddle float and bilge pump. I checked the weather, wind, route and set out to paddle! I was prepared. At least I thought so...
As soon as I hit the water something felt off. In comparison to the previous days, the wind was way more harsh then I expected. It was kicking up waves and the water was very choppy. The first few kilometres where fine until I had to navigate the open water. Then things started turning south.
Things Turning South
As soon as I hit the open water the waves started throwing my boat around. I knew I had to follow the left shore of the lake but the wind and waves were pushing me further and further out in the open. The waves kept hitting me parallel, making my boat more and more unstable. In a split second I decided to go with the flow and follow the path the wind was pushing me down. I would alter my route and paddle along the right shore.
As I was crossing the lake I started feeling more and more uncomfortable. As my boat got thrown around I started to feel unsafe and scared. Was I really prepared to go about this alone? I started thinking about what would happen if I'd flip. A day earlier I had found a hole in the back of my boat where my rudder is attached. If I flipped I could be making serious water. And then? Could I get back into my boat with these waves? And what if I couldn't? At this point it would be a hell of a swim back to shore.
In what felt like forever I managed to get to the other side of the lake. However now the waves were pushing me into the shore, bouncing back, creating even choppier water. I pushed through and I was finally paddling towards where I needed to exit the lake. As soon as I hit the lull I felt my heart rate slow and I could think again. I was calming down right until I took a good look around.
My heart sank as I looked at my map and realized I wasn't even close to where I needed to exit the lake. In my blind focus to make it through the waves, I had completely forgot to check my bearing. I had ended up in the wrong spot.
I turned around and made my way along the shore to the open water again. As I turned the corner, I could feel the waves and wind swell. The feeling of unease, fear and restlessness came right back, and there and then I made the decision to turn back.
I decided to try and follow my original route back. But as I paddled with the waves to get here, I now had to paddle against them to get back. That wouldn't have to be much of a problem if they hadn't been hitting my kayak parallel. I wouldn't say panic hit, but I surely wasn't feeling fly either.
When I first took a wrong turn I had noticed a nice takeout. I fought my way back AGAIN (through reeds and slick) and paddled back to the lull and that now o-so-sweet takeout.
Never to cool to Quit
And there I was sitting on shore, waiting to get picked up. After the call home to ask if they could pick me up I was left pondering all that went wrong. I am apparently not yet ready to take on bigger trips alone. It was a big learning experience, and I figured my trips together with experienced paddlers made me a little overconfident.
At the end of the day I think I made the right call to call it quits. Reality is though the waves probably weren't that high, the wind probably wasn't that hard, and the instability of my boat probably wasn't that bad. However that doesn't really matter. I was feeling uneasy, scared and uncomfortable. And when you feel that way, you are not on your best and you are prone to make mistakes, possibly costly mistakes.
Always remember it's OK to have limits and stop whenever you feel you should. Yes, pushing yourself is needed to grow. But knowing when it is the time and place to push yourself is also a valuable skill. And alone, out on open water, in a leaky boat, without help nearby, and not feeling comfortable, probably isn't the best time.
Now you can't have an experience like this and not have a few takeaways.
If you don't feel comfortable, or scared. It's OK to sometimes stop. Your safety and above all pleasure in the sport are more important then "showing off" or looking cool.
Always bring an communication device, certainly if your going out alone.
If you plan on crossing big open water alone, practice getting back into your boat on open water.
Bring a boat suited for the type of water you are paddling. Choppy water and waves are best traversed with a (non-leaking) boat where you can properly brace yourself.
Check the weather and the wind directions. And how they affect your route.
Bring a proper map, where you can reference where you are at all time.
What would you have done?
I am very curious to know what you would have done in my situation and how you would have reacted? Let me know in the comments!