Sunny day in a kayak on bay, has price

HOMESTEAD, Fla. — I was watching the hours go by on my digital clock as if they were minutes. Two, three, four. Now five, five in the morning and I still couldn’t manage to stay asleep as I fought nausea and a pounding headache so intense it was as though someone was sitting on the left side of my skull.

My hands felt dry and scratchy, but I couldn’t tell if that was because I was dehydrated or because the skin was peeling off my hands. No, I didn’t just return home from an epic battle. Rather, I had just completed by first kayaking trip. And now I was paying the price for it.

At right, writer Nina Markowitz poses for a picture during her first-ever kayak adventure (Photo by Kat Maher). Below, Markowitz paddles while kayakmate Claire Phillips takes this photo. Last, three solo kayakers paddle away (Photograph by Nina Markowitz).

I loaded up my car with a towel, a snack and four friends and drove to Biscayne National Park near Homestead and Florida City as soon as the morning rush hour traffic subsided. I was never very athletic, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Just to be sure, I wore a pair of heavy-duty denim overalls and ditched my fancy footwear for a pair of no-frills, rubber-soled sandals. I wanted to be ready for anything.

I read the directions off the half-envelope I had scribbled them on, following a manic U.S. 1 south before turning off to the side on a practically unmarked road. Clusters of housing developments amongst open fields gave way to tree farms which gave way to (surprisingly) an old air force base and a race track. But then, at the end of it all, was Biscayne National Park.

We walked past the proper park office, staffed with respectable looking rangers guarding a mini-museum, into a gift shop right next door. Before we knew it, two salesmen were upon us. And asking for a kayak rental became a dodging game of hovercraft excursions, boat charter offers and even after-work drinks. No, no, no. Just kayaks, thanks.

But, of course, a problem. By this point, many of the kayaks had been rented out. There were only three single kayaks left, and then one double. But I was secretly relieved: other than one time, on a summer camp lake years ago,

I had zero experience kayaking. Or boating of any kind, to be honest. I volunteered myself for the double right away, and was paired with my friend Claire.

She didn’t seem as excited about the double kayak as I was: she had been before, and seemed to prefer a single. But she could tell I was nervous about going at it solo, and she offered up her company.

One by one, we lowered our kayaks into the water. The singles were easy: they were light, and bounced into the sea with little more than a plop. But the double kayak Claire and I had was so heavy it required several people to slide into the water. Then, it needed to be turned over so that water could be taken out of it. There had just been a rainstorm, the kayak rental man said. And this kayak had filled with water.

With most of the water out, I was ready to go. Although nervous, of course, as I struggled to understand why a boat would be waterlogged from rain. I didn’t have much time to think, however. The other three single kayaks were far ahead of us, and they were only getting farther. I had to paddle- and hard. But no matter how much I tried, how deep I dug, how much Claire and I tried to synchronize our paddling, we only managed to go in circles. To the right. Circles.

I became very frustrated, as every time we picked up speed we would only head off into an unwanted direction. The measures we took to correct this meant losing all speed. Add to this the pressure of three impatient kayakers far in front, and the guilt that I was the most inexperienced one of all of us, and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

We rented the kayaks for two hours. And for the duration of that time, I paddled as hard as I could. In mangroves, around islands, out to sea just far enough to spot a manatee (we did not see any, however). But not once did I truly get to enjoy the experience, as half the time I had my head down and my focus on the paddling at hand, and the other half of the time I feared a gator or snake would jump out at me from the mangroves and that would be the end of me (haven’t you seen the film “Anaconda”?).

It was the final stretch: back to shore. The three kayaks zoomed past Claire and I, as I shouted back words of encouragement to Claire as we did what we knew best: paddle, paddle, paddle, turn to the left, paddle, paddle, paddle, turn to the right a bit…

Finally, we were back on shore. Only now, I had to run. Back to campus, got to get to class. Must be on time, must hurry. Definitely do not have time for water. Forget about food. And, oh well, it looked like I’d have to wear those ridiculous (and, ultimately, unnecessary) denim overalls to class too. I just hoped I’d be able to explain that it was only because I spent the morning on a mangrove mission.

I entered class feeling exhilarated and brave. I was one with nature. I had overcome a fear, I had kayaked for two hours and I could already feel the burn of a good workout. But by class end, I began to have a headache. A small headache, but one nonetheless. Since I had spent my morning vacationing down south, I didn’t have time to stop and think about it. I had to run to the airport, pick up a friend, write a paper, clean my room. Forget about water, forget about food.

And that’s how I got to where I was, laying in bed, watching the clock run like a stopwatch and feeling like I got run over by a 10-ton truck. I was right: the burns I was feeling in my arms, back and neck were the result of a good (albeit improper-postured) workout, but that was nothing compared to the havoc being wrecked in my head and the churning sea sickness brewing in my stomach.

I slept until 2 p.m. that day, and took it a bit easier than usual for the next few days out. The headache and all that faded, but I will always be left with the memory.

I’m glad I did it. I’m very brave. But do it again? I’ve got to think about that.

Nina Markowitz

University of Miami ’10

Comments are Closed