The Memorial Day holiday weekend unofficially marks the beginning of summer boating for many of us. Did you get out on the water?
My holiday weekend included a trip aboard our local Water Taxi, a relatively new state-of-the-art passenger ferry. I took it enroute to my favorite live music event, the NW Regional Folklife Festival. I hadn’t been there in some years, so this venture brought back great memories as well as new experiences.
As the boat departed, I, along with most other passengers, tuned out or talked over the passenger safety instructions. Most of us were outdoors on the upper deck, visiting, laughing and snapping lots of photos. At departure, we had become an impromptu community. I found myself talking with strangers, especially a 4-year old and his parents who were sitting next to me. Soon, I found myself taking family photos for them. Many of the passengers on the ferry were heading to the baseball game, dressed in colorful team gear. I don’t think any of us could visualize those safety instructions being relevant to us personally, especially on such a calm, beautiful, sunny day.
Fortunately, that proved true for us. But, my realization that we had all dismissed the safety precautions brought to mind crossings in other places that were not smooth, where it was imperative that we know the location of life preservers and exits, not to mention, seasickness provisions. Often, weather-related situations can be anticipated. However, I’ve also experienced surprising situations on lakes and on rivers on similarly beautiful days.
One of these was my first, and last, water skiing experience. As a 20-something in my first willing-to-admit-it-on-a-résumé job, I had looked forward to our company party on a lake outside the city for weeks. One of my (also young) colleagues brought his parents’ boat and began taking people out to water ski. It looked fun and exciting.
I watched, tried to carefully listen to instructions when my turn came, and got ready to ski. For some reason, I had more trouble getting up out of the water than the others. I kept sinking low in the water. Then, we had several false starts; I would start to get up on the skis, the engine would falter or go too slow, and I’d sink.
Finally, all of that seemed to be resolved. The boat took off, fast, me in tow. I was thrilled and it was exciting! Then, the unexpected happened. I hit the water with a force that nearly knocked me unconscious; it even tore my (expensive-to-me) stud earrings out. I neglected to let go of the line, as I’d been instructed to do, so the boat jerked me abruptly when I fell, then dragged me along until it could come to a stop.
I’m still amazed by how quickly this all took place, and how my wipe-out apparently did not seem like a big deal to those watching. I followed that cue, “I’m okay, it’s nothing that a couple of Aspirin won’t cure.” I even stayed until the end of the party and afterwards drove home alone. This 50+ mile drive proved a challenge. I felt searing pain whenever I would extend my leg to shift gears or use the brake. I also discovered I could no longer turn my neck or use my right arm. Most surprising to me was that it took such a long time to heal from this experience. I had full-body bruises for many weeks after, which prompted stares and questions. I remember wearing long skirts or jeans and long-sleeves for the rest of that very hot summer when out in public.
In the years since, I’ve navigated some other panic-worthy situations on the water. Finding myself suddenly upside-down in a sea kayak, I managed to remain calm and focus on how to extricate myself. Another time, I lost my footing, slipped and fell 6 to 8 feet down into a fast-moving river. I was instantly underwater, instantly weighed down by my clothes and gear. The river water, icy from the mountains, was quite literally chilling. The current carried me many yards down river before I managed to make it safely to shore.
Why do so many of us seem to live our lives as though safety warnings and the laws of science don’t apply to us?
I’m not sure, but now I view that ability to enjoy the present moment as a good thing, especially in light of those earlier experiences. Looking back, I’m happy that my younger self was so stoic, resilient, had such a can-do attitude, and was unafraid to try new things. I’m glad too, and was a little surprised, that I did ignore the cautionary notes coming over the loudspeaker… but then, truly nothing beats a sunny day on the water or a new adventure!
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