As promised, here they are.
Age 3: We were at a hotel in Minnesota on some form of family trip. I promptly exit the beginner section of the pool, walk down to the 8 foot deep end, and jump in. I can’t swim. To this day, I remember sinking to the bottom, bouncing off and coming up part way. I kind of realize this is a poor situation (being underwater and out of air), yet I find no reason to get all wound up over it. My mother retrieves me by the hair. After extensive coughing and gagging to remove water from my lungs, my mother expresses her limitless affection that I am alive by beating the crap out of me by the side of the pool. When she gets done with working her emotions out over the whole thing, I run to the shallow end and jump in.
Age 5/6: On a summer day at “Terzian’s pond” in NY, a bunch of us are swimming. There is a dock. I walk to the end and jump in. I cannot swim. I sink to the bottom, bounce off and start coming up. Much like the Minnesota incident, my eyes are open. I realize that I am running out of air and under water. Like Minnesota, it doesn’t seem to merit much emotion. My brother retrieves me by the hair. My explanation for why I did this yet again is that “I should know how to swim. This isn’t convenient to be restricted to the kiddy pool section.”
At some point, I learn how to swim.
Age 11. I am at a friend’s place in NY. They have a 40 foot waterfall in the back woods for which I am utterly intrigued. I attempt to climb DOWN it on the one side. Nefarious algae throws a monkey wrench in. Down we go. Now, it wasn’t a 40 foot drop, per se, but it does result in considerable gravity-induced speed and all of it suddenly ending landing on a giant rock. That would have been fine, except there was a beer bottle on it. Completely impervious to the pain – as in, I didn’t know it was there – we climb out of the ravine and go home. My friend’s mother, an RN, is having trouble getting the wound to hold closed with giant butterfly bandages. I look at it in the mirror and nearly puke. There were many internal and external stitches. The physician at the ER was convinced we were at risk of a punctured lung – through ribs – and from behind. My reply “If I had a punctured lung, I wouldn’t be pulling wheelies in this ridiculous wheel chair you have me in.” No punctured lung. To this day, I routinely photo waterfalls. I love them.
Age 18 – I am in Salinas Ecuador. We are at the beach – near a rocky outcropping yet on some sand. The waves are enormous. We are in knee deep surf. A giant wave comes, and takes the sandals with it. I stabilize myself and land my foot on jagged volcanic rock – effectively taking almost all of the skin under the ball of my right big toe with it. I limp like an old man for 3 weeks while it grows back.
Age 19 – Montanita, Ecuador. We are in a renowned surfing town. The waves are enormous, like really big, and far out. Most of the time, it is not possible to swim to them or in them unless you are a surfer and know what you are doing. On one day, the waves get pretty calm – maybe 4 to 5 feet. So I convince a friend to swim out to chest deep water to play in the waves. We’re nursing ourselves closer, getting comfortable with the rhythm of the waves and then it goes quiet. And the water starts pulling out to sea – and fast. “This is not good!” We’re trying to plant our feet – and we’re skidding/bouncing along the sea floor. Pretty soon, we’re staring in the face of a 12+ foot tall face of a wave in neck deep water. If I was Greek, I would think this is Poseidon’s way of expressing displeasure with me somehow. The wave is getting bigger and we’re getting sucked right into it like a vacuum machine of death. I yell “DIVE!” and we both go under just in time. The darkness and trembling force is nothing like anything I have ever felt swimming in the ocean. We come up to complete disorientation, water over 10 feet deep and foam everywhere. Once we get our bearings, we get the hell out of dodge as the next monster is brewing. What we experienced was a “sneaker wave.” Not a fun way to learn.
Age 20 – Orlando, FL – It is evident that I am still alive from all of this stupidity because I can hold my breath for 3 full minutes underwater. Timed with a clock while fully submerged.
Age 21 – Tobermory, Canada. We’re on our honeymoon. The water in the Georgian Bay, while being ice ass cold, is also as pretty as the Caribbean. It “invites” you in jump into it. Seeing that such a thing is dumb, I decide we should rent a kayak. I did so for weeks in Florida – and it was lots of fun. “Let’s get a double sit on top Ocean Kayak.”
I decide that we should kayak to Flowerpot Island. “It’s only 5 miles each way.” At the kayak rental location, there are prominent signs indicating “Kayaking to Flowerpot island not recommended.” “They’re supposed to say that.” So, we load up, add a cooler and other weight-bearing physical mass, and set off to have a picnic on a wave lashed remote island.
It is first evident that this kayak is smaller than the last double sit on top that I rented. Secondly, between the cooler and reduced buoyancy of freshwater, it is a teetering watercraft. We paddle out along the shore where the water is a stunning blue. As we round the point and head into open water, it goes from blue to black. The kayak is ready to tip over at any moment. Stupidly, I advise my extremely nervous wife that we are now over 650ft deep water. In no soft manner, she demands that we return. We do. Forget Flowerpot Island. Maybe I am getting wise in my old age. Disaster averted.
Age 21 (Two Months Later) – Niagara Falls, USA. Yeah, this can’t be good if it involves Niagara Falls. I went with two friends – one who was visiting from Ireland – to the Falls for the day. I lived 40 minutes from there – so we frequented the location. After doing all of the touristy things I had never done (Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, etc), we decided to go to the lower rapids and the Whirlpool. There are a number of ways down the gorge (approx. 200ft). We opted for the cliff scramble down. The park down there is amazing – a must see for any visitors to the falls.
The rapids are Class VI – the highest classification in Eastern North America – considered deadly and “unrunnable.” In other words, people don’t white water them. Standing waves are 9 to 16 feet (this is true – it is amazing to stand next to the edge and see the water curl over your head in the middle of the river). Water in this section reaches 35mph.
Of course….. there was a rock that was near the edge that would provide a better view of the rapids. So, we collectively decided we needed to get on to it. The other two hopped over. I tried….and my foot landed on algae. Off she goes… and in I go. Fortunately, the water formed an eddy downstream of this rock – so it wasn’t moving fast. I bearhugged the rock while I could feel the intense pull on my feet (as the river, like a hungry monster, sought to pull me in). I was 15 feet from the monstrous standing wave and 35mph waters. I climbed on to the rock and successfully jumped to shore. Not doing that again……
Age 29 – St. Augustine FL. Kayaks. Again. I rented a kayak in the harbor area in St. Augustine and paddled out between Anastasia Island and Porpoise Point. The inlet isn’t very wide – enough for boats to go through and the tide to flow in and out. As I got out to Anastasia Island, I went to shore. Anastasia is uninhabited as it is a state park. To walk to this point is a few miles from the parking lot – so I was able to achieve my long-standing goal of getting away from the noise of humanity. After taking photos of the place and watching the rather amusing pelicans, the waves were calling. They were a bit out – not exactly right next to shore. Further – they were a manageable size. So I packed the camera in the waterproof bag and headed out.
Trying to time waves with a kayak can be like black magic. The goal is not to get the wave to crash on you – or to be tumbled and rolled. I failed at the first objective. A wave cleanly and perfectly set up to crash right on me and the boat. The only option (other than abandoning ship) is to build up some momentum to counter the force. So I went to full throttle paddling and the wave landed right on me in the boat. My plan worked – as opposed to being tumbled, we merely found ourselves under 3 feet of water. The boat slowly rose to the surface.
Upon my return to Anastasia island, I failed to account for the nefarious things that happen when one goes with the waves. It was a novel notion that sparked in my mind to ride the wave. Cute. As I paddled to catch it, the idea worked at first. What I failed to realize is that, by going the speed of the wave and not faster or slower, one is perfectly matched to be entirely controlled by the wave itself. As it curled, the boat commenced a hard left turn. This wouldn’t be good.
Effectively, the boat gets rolled into the wave and dumps the occupant. Then both the boat and occupant get put on the spin cycle and tumble together. The boat smashed my sunglasses into my face and we both had a few collisions. When I came up for air…. Smack! Under the capsized kayak with more waves. The thought [calmly] came to mind “If I recall correctly, people frequent the act of dying getting stuck under boats. This is cute.” Still underwater, I realized that escaping the clutches of the boat may simply result in surfacing into a crashing wave and starting all over again. So, still underwater, I timed the waves and came out in a lull. The camera survived.
So one would naturally assume that I am a dumbass devoid of any ability to learn or use common sense. I must counter such notions on a few fronts:
a) I have superior longevity under water.
b) I tend not to repeat the same kind of deadly instances.
c) I spend lots of time near water. I failed to mention the innumerable list of amazing things I have seen and photo’d and the extreme amounts of time I spend in the water. These are just the fallacies.
d) My weakness is “should.” I “should” be able to get to that rock. I “should” be able to kayak to that island……
e) I am not dead yet.
As I write, we have a friend that will be visiting that, despite my incident in Lake Dillon, wants to kayak there. She is more than welcome to go by herself.