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Kayaking With Cacti

Island Life

For some reason we find ourselves this week somewhere outside of Phoenix, dodging wildfires and driving around looking at all the development, the already oversized freeways waiting to be clogged with newcomers, and wondering, with all the deserty appearing plants everywhere, what happens when the water ways that are currently feeding the water taps of the area are jeopardized, or maybe even trend toward looking like the part of the Salt River that just ends in the middle of town, as what remains of it there is shunted off for some other purpose than being a river. I was indeed thinking about writing about our own impending water crisis, what with the County of King threatening to rewrite the rules of zoning in town proper so that 1400 new places of dwelling would be permitted in, even though according to some, we only really need a tenth that many. There was a time when water on the Island was considered a limiting factor to growth, but as some have said, you get enough demand and a pipeline from the Kitsap would solve all of our sole source aquifer dilemmas, at which point, development on Vashon could seemingly be unrestrained. There was recently a town hall meeting where this and other things were to be discussed, but it seems that people are more concerned about the threat, or should I say THREAT, of a retail sales establishment for marijuana in the town proper because kids might be lured to the dark side. Seems that horse may be already out of the barn, whereas a land grab fueled by Kitsap crystal waters still has a chance to be curtailed. It’s a lot to think about- I guess that’s why sometimes I just go out of town.

In truth, I did not have a whole lot of choice in my leaving on a jet plane and going to a land of freeways and large pickup trucks and expanses of desert fairly nearby. As it is, there is this four day, forty mile swim event that someone in the house wanted to participate in. While I am not the one swimming, since that’s Wendy’s thing, I do have to tag along as kayak support because someone has to be there to chum the waters to keep energy and spirits up and running as the miles keep rolling along.

That is perhaps an oversimplification of things- there is a science to this in a time of no science. When one is swimming in relatively cold water over long distances there is a particular need for regular fueling. So beyond the basic need for someone to be there to fend off jet skis and inattentive or belligerent water ski boats, one needs to also be  paying attention to the clock on your wrist and on a regular basis (generally every half hour will do) you need to call a stop to forward motion and huck a plastic bottle on a long tether into the water so that the striving swimmer might stop and partake of a protein and electrolyte infused beverage (not necessarily locally curated) and be able to carry on with relative vigor as the hours tick away. As it was on this first day of the event, and as most of these longer swims go, the first half hour always seems the longest. For some reason, almost every half hour increment after that turns over much faster than the previous one, which for parties both in and out of the water,  this is always a welcome perception or illusion of a distortion of time.

Some might say that all time spent in these extreme sport endeavors should be enjoyable. In truth, I personally have never experienced the mythical endorphin high from a marathon run or an STP bike ride in a day or a three mile swim circuit of an alpine lake. For me these were tests of endurance rather than physical gateways to euphoria. For me it always seems to be that there is a certain requisite stress to perform that always unbalances other benefits that are supposed to come one’s way from all of this. On the other hand, there is a sense of purpose that one can relish in when tagging along as a support person in any of these events, while only momentarily dipping into any type of guilt one might conjure up about enabling someone’s masochistic sport fetish. While it is important and necessary for the support kayaker to be there for your swimmer, there are other reasons to spend hours in a small plastic boat with your butt soaking in an inch of lake water while the Arizona sun beats down for hours looking for the bits and pieces of one’s flesh that failed to get coated with sunscreen on this first day out into a full solar assault on skin that has only known northwest rain and cold for the last seven months.

First off, you have to appreciate the weirdness of paddling in close proximity to sheer rock faces and desert slopes populated with vast stands of Saguaro cactus. It just doesn’t make any sense to be floating along in a waterworld while mere feet away there are relative forests of these cactus giants standing tall in groves that run down to the water’s edge. It makes almost as little sense to see these plants perched on high cliffs up the sides of the sheer rock faces that rise up out of the watery depths we pass through, standing by as a knowing, obliging sentinel allowing us to pass without malice, or else simply existing as monolithic green mileposts for a journey for which only they know the outcome.
And secondly, one has to understand the crowd of people who are participating here in this event. In listening to conversations going about the prerace huddles, one hears talk of past conquests. There is the Catalina Island swim, 21 miles of cool ocean navigation, sometimes in the dark and often with the threat of sharks. There is also the somewhat less than mad dash across the clear and cold waters of Lake Tahoe, a distance event that also adds the challenge of swimming at altitude. I could go on, inducing sleep in some, but not before you hear that for a prerace inspirational speaker they invited a woman, Lynne Cox, who spoke of the challenge she set herself of swimming a mile in the thirty two degree waters off Antarctica and being rewarded for her efforts by being greeted and escorted ashore by legions of frolicking penguins. It is a different world, but right now I have to finish drying my butt out and get ready for another nine miles tomorrow, and having done the first 9 miles, Wendy is hungry and in need of fueling for the next day’s challenges. I will report next time on how the final three days of this particular aquatic challenge plays out. First though I probably should say that she finished today distance in a little over four hours- onward.