Grace is starting a new job this week and I had an extra day added to the three-day Labor Day weekend.
My goal was to try paddle boarding, and I did.
I made reservations for 9 a.m. Sunday. The paddle boarding was at a nearby state park on Cape Fear River rather than on the Atlantic Ocean. Judging from the waves on the ocean, that was a good thing.
I didn't ask, but I assumed the lesson was about an hour.
Throughout the night, lightning flashed outside our window and thunder rumbled. The weather app on my phone predicted thunderstorms throughout the day. I feared my paddle boarding lesson would be canceled.
Since Grace was awake, I asked her to come with me. She could take some pictures from the shore.
Three of us showed up for the lessons -- me and a couple from South Carolina who had tried paddle boarding before on a quarry.
We put on life jackets and attached the board to our ankles with a leash.
We started out kneeling on the boards as we pushed off from the shore. I had a wide yellow board with some black rubber padding in the center where I would stand.
I wobbled a bit on the board as everyone moved into the river. We waited until we were all together to try standing up.
I feared I wouldn't be able to stand up, but I followed instructions, laying my paddle perpendicular to the board, putting up one foot then the other and moving to stand from a crouching position. "And remember to look straight ahead, not down," the instructor said.
And it worked. I was standing and paddling, although unsteady. Plus I had a shoe problem.
We needed to wear shoes because the bottom of the river from where we set off had sharp oyster shells. I wore a pair of maryjane crocs, and when I brought my feet forward, they kind of slipped part way off my feet, so some of my toes were in the shoe and some were sticking out. It was quite uncomfortable.
Behind me, I heard a splash. The one man taking lessons fell in as he attempted to stand.
Throughout the lesson, he probably fell in half a dozen times.
As we paddled toward an alcove where the water and wind were calmer, the instructor, Bill, and I chatted. I told him I'd been afraid that I wouldn't be able to stand up.
"Was that your biggest fear?" he asked.
"No," I said. "I'm nervous about getting back on the board if I fall."My son Spencer, who has an impressive set of muscles and upper-body strength, told me that it's hard to get back on the board. If he had a hard time, I'd be doomed.
Just as I voiced these fears, I wobbled and fell.
"Fall away from the board," Bill called as I slammed straight onto the board and then rolled off the side into the murky river.
"Just throw your body over the center of the board," Bill said. And I tried, but something kept me from moving farther.
The life jacket had a clip on it, like a clothespin, caught on the handle of the board. It took me a few maneuvers to get that free before I could pull myself onto the board, then pivot so I lay flat on the board. Next I moved to kneel on the board. I removed my shoes this time and pinned them under some bungee cords at the front of the board.
Finally, I stood again.
I had done it. I'd fallen in and been able to get back up.Proudly, I can tell you that is the only time I fell.
The lesson continued as Bill showed us how to do turns. we ended up paddling to a cove off the river where the water is about 45-feet deep because they dredge sand from there. We paddled into shore and took a break.
Might feet were tired from standing on them for 50 minutes straight without shifting. It felt good to walk around on the sand, to stand on my tiptoes, then my heels.
That's when Bill told me the lesson lasted two hours. I felt bad thinking of Grace back in the parking lot waiting for me. But she had a magazine and a book and a coffee, plus I couldn't do anything about it.
At 9:50 a.m., we began the trip back to the marina.
The trip down the river had been effortless. The river ran that direction and the wind was at our back. The return trip was brutal. The wind picked up and whistled sharply past my ears as I paddled endlessly for an hour and a half.
Everyone else seemed to be able to move much more quickly than I did. My board was different, so maybe I had the equivalent of a mountain bike while everyone else had road bikes. Or maybe my paddling was as efficient as everyone else's. I soon fell behind. Bill would hang back occasionally to wait for me.
I tried to watch the others and keep up stroke wise, but my paddling didn't move me forward as quickly. The other guy fell off his board a couple of times and got back on but I still didn't catch up with him.
Here's a video Grace took. At the end, you can tell as she pans over to the marina, that she didn't have high hopes I would get there either.
At 11:30, I finally reached land. My feet felt numb and my palms were bright red with blisters forming along my pointer finger and thumb where I'd paddled.
Somewhere, during that two and a half hour jaunt, I felt a familiar sensation of wanting to be finished. I recognized it from the long runs I'd done, or even the overzealous bike rides.
Hot, sweaty, ready to be finished.
To add to the misery, I'd been on a juice fast and had eaten no solid food for two weeks. My body had no reserves to pull from. I made sure to eat some protein that day, trying to stock up on what had been depleted in the two and half hour exercise.
I'll definitely try paddleboarding again.
I can see how it can be a beautiful, contemplative experience, especially if I was by myself and could determine how far I went and how long I paddled. Being with a group and feeling like I held the group back made the experience not as fun.
And the trip itself was too much for the first time.
Alone though, I might have more fully appreciated the elegant white egret stalking its prey in the shallow waters; the gray waters flowing below me; the occasional fisherman throwing out a net to pull in bait fish; and the search for frolicking gray/black fins of dolphins that venture up the river.
I'll definitely try again, on my own time.