I was raised in a boating family, taught to love the water at a young age.When I was small, our family had various small speedboats, the kind designed for young families and outdoor play. I remember well our metal canoe, painted a distressed white to look like Birchwood. My dad loved that thing. One summer, they sent me to a camp that featured archery, sailing, horseback riding and other outdoor adventures. I really took to the sailing. I have memories of dozens of canoe trips with my dad, riding the rapids, being reprimanded for splashing when I got lazy with the paddle, learning about birds and fish as he pointed out the splendor around us. My dad loved playing tricks on us when we were out on the water, giving us a fright by pretending a log was an alligator, forcing our boat into a rocky area to see how we would handle the dilemma, tipping us over when we were smart alecky, or hanging a coke on an overhead branch because we were trailing ten minutes behind and he wanted to tease us about it.
I’ve logged countless hours with a fishing pole. One of our best family trips was to a fishing camp in Canada. You could only get there by seaplane. It was freezing in the morning, but everyday we battled sunburn and chapped lips from the blazing northern sun after spending the entire day out on a boat with the Indian guides. At night, we played cards, drank, gambled, and told fish stories (literally).
When my father was older and more established, he bought big cruisers, 35-foot powerboats. By then, I had left home and was living in New York, but whenever I visited Sarasota, we took daylong trips out on the water. He would anchor in a bay to barbeque off the side with a nifty boat barbeque, while we swam in the saltwater. Afterwards, he always offered me a chance to drive, but I preferred sitting up front with the wind in my hair, watching him drive in his white captain’s hat, a beer in one hand and a cigar hanging out of his mouth. This was his typical “I’m relaxed and feeling fine” sportsman persona. I always marveled at the space on his bigger boats with their small cabins and stately captain’s chairs. I liked how the gear tucked neatly into special compartments and the way each end of the boat offered a different motion experience. I was good at hoping onto docks to tie up lines, but lord, don’t ask me to steer an expensive vehicle like that. I was always intimidated – I couldn’t second-guess how the movement of the tide affected aim. I’m the sort to feel most at home in the smaller, self-propelled (quiet) boats. Those I could maneuver with some semblance of skill. Perhaps if the boat was mine, I wouldn’t feel so nervous.
Like my dad, I love a simple float down a quiet river. In Florida, we occasionally rented canoes and I would join him in overnight journeys down the river, where crocodiles and herrings filed the landscape. We’d camp overnight and recount memories of being outdoors together in younger days. Each time, Mark would stay home. He had to. Someone needed to “hold down the FLEX fort” if one of us wanted to take a day.
When my Mom and Dad had property up here in Georgia, they bought a used pontoon, a perfect boat for a retired couple who likes to float when entertaining family and friends. We enjoyed that a few times when we were visiting too. Pontoons are like floating docks. Mellow.
I was always disappointed that Mark and I never spent time on the water in Florida (unless it was the rare occasion when we went out with my dad). My sister had a terrific 23-foot speedboat (a party boat) with a small cabin. She graciously extended a “use it any time you want” offer. Did we use it? Not once. We were simply too busy running the dance empire to ever take any time for leisure. Even our vacations were built around dance events.
I was forever trying to carve out a small niche in our life where we could fit non-dance related living in. I craved nature. Quiet. I bought a used two man kayak, thinking it would be wonderful if some afternoon, Mark and I could sneak away to explore any of the huge bodies of water around our home. We had oceans, rivers and inland waterways in every direction, a mere fifteen minutes away. I imagined going kayaking with my teenage daughter or my sporty son, teaching them to love the outdoors the way my dad taught me. However, our family only took the kayak out once on a camping trip. Had a ball, but that didn’t inspire us to start using it. The fact is, when you work weekends, nights and a part of every holiday, and you find yourself packing costume-ordering catalogues in your suitcase when you go on a family trip, there simply isn’t room for boating pleasure in your life. When you do get a day for family, you find yourself working on the house or doing practical chores, or you plan something mundane like going to the movies because you are just too tired to play strenuously.
I suppose we could have just thought “heck with FLEX” and gone kayaking on occasion, but we didn’t. That mindset was difficult to embrace, because we had such a strong commitment to building that business that once it was established keeping it fiscally stable (and appeasing the insatiable demands of dance parents) required endless attention. And money was always tight. Our school was successful, but we always channeled the profits back into the business. We never paid ourselves enough to maintain even a small boat – or to take a vacation for that matter. I don’t think we would have ever had anything in our life had we not sold the school. We’d die channeling everything we had back into better programs and bigger facilities. We had so many things we wanted for the dancers and the school that it was so easy to justify our family sacrifices for “the greater good”. We could never justify a boat just for us. We always had a someday we’ll have “time”, or “money”, or “privacy” attitude. “Someday” never came, and we eventually recognized that it never would . . . until we left that world to create a new one.
When we sold the school, one of my “demands” was that we use some of our money for family toys. I was insistent that our life not be revised to be all about working on our home and (God forbid) building a new business. These are admirable things and I certainly am willing to make sacrifices to live in a beautiful home, but I didn’t want that to be all we have to show for a lifetime of effort. Experiences are so much more valuable than things. At least that is how I feel at my current stage in life.
Which is why, long before we moved to the land or were ready, I went out and bought horses. I had this uncomfortable feeling that if I waited, all our disposable money would be channeled into the new house and we would be right back in the drudgery cycle of sustaining a lovely lifestyle (without “fun” as a priority) again. Like marrying a second abusive spouse after you finally get brave enough to escape the first one. I pushed for the four wheelers for the same reason. We also looked at a pontoon boat last season and came close to purchasing it. But with our energies so wrapped up in building the house, and with funds reliant on things out of our control (Flex’s adjustment period was nerve-wracking on that level) we decided to wait. Instead, we rented kayaks last season and explored the Ocoee River a few times. And we spent a few afternoons doing the inner tube float trip thing. Fun.
Now, our house is finished. We are settling into routine at long last. It’s spring. I’ve begun thinking about how much I long for leisure to be a part of our world again. I am thinking of boats.
We live five minutes from the <ST1Ocoee River, where they had the whitewater Olympics a few years ago. We live ten minutes from <ST1Blue Ridge Lake, a huge sprawling lake that winds through the mountains and is the attraction for so much tourism in the area. There are dozens of other rivers a short drive in our state parks, and other lakes as well. We could spend years going out every weekend and hardly make a dent in exploring these areas.
We have the double kayak and I am cleaning it up, getting it ready. It is time we finally use this poor thing, dragged along for years like some kind of albatross symbol of the kind of living we didn’t have time for. The problem is, a single boat limits us, because we are a family of four. Five when you are counting Denver. Six when you count Dianne (and we usually do). So, for my upcoming birthday I made a request. While I would love a female llama. Or a pig. Or a trip somewhere (anywhere) I think what I really want this year is two single man, easily transportable kayaks, the light kind you see on the roof of cars all summer around here. I am always jealous when I see them speed by and I never fail to make a comment. I figure with two singles and a double kayak, we have many options. Kent and a friend can take out the singles alone, or we can all go and Neva can sit in the middle of the double kayak, and we can take turns in the different boats. We can even pull one of our huge inner tubes along and take turns with who is paddling and who is floating. Or maybe if we actually use the damn things, we’ll later buy another canoe to go with it so everyone fits in one big expedition. With different size boats you have the mix and match option to fit all kinds of groups.
I’ve wanted these easy to manage kayaks for years, so I think Mark will comply.
I even said, “If we can’t afford them now, I’ll take an IOU. I just want to know we will get them eventually when we can swing it.”
He said, “We’ll see what we can do”.
Like I said yesterday, I don’t have to have everything I want. I just like knowing I can have it, without guilt, when and if circumstances make it feasible.
But it looks as if Kayaks are not going to be the highlight of our future boating journeys. Because I think we’ve just bought a big boat! My sister called to tell me she is selling her 23 foot party boat. Do I want it? She will find out what it is worth, and sell it to us for half. This way, the family can use it when they visit us up here. It is a few years old, but in perfect condition. She has no kids and only uses it occasionally for casual boating with Dad. She keeps it in a covered lift at the marina. She had the benches recovered last year. The motor is older but is working perfectly. This boat is perfect for cruising, skiing, fishing, and it will pull an inner tube at death-defying speeds. It would be just the thing for our family on the <ST1Blue Ridge Lake.
It didn’t take two seconds to consider the offer.
Yes, we want it, but can you wait for us to sell the cabin before we pay? Yes? Yipee!
Unfortunately, the dang thing has no trailer, so we will have to buy one. But in a few weeks, we will go to Florida to visit family, handle some business, and we will pick up the boat. I wish I could keep it in the water in the marina here, because that makes using it so easy. It is easy to make excuses not to spend your weekends boating if you see setting up and returning home as some huge chore. But they have a huge waiting list for slips here, so we will probably have to store it at home and put it in and out of the water ourselves. Nevertheless, we’ll do what we must, until a slip opens up. Or maybe we’ll discover we don’t really need that kind of luxery. Just having the boat represents something very special – it’s proof that life is no longer on hold – That it can be filled with rich, inspirational moments today.
Slowly but surely, I feel like we are living again. It’s a bit like when your foot falls asleep. You know that numb feeling? We had that all over – and leaving FLEX was like standing up. Sitting so long in one position, you don’t realize what’s happening. Only when you move do you notice you lost all sensation in your leg. At first, you almost fall over, because you can’t even support yourself with this numb limb where once you had a foot. Then, you experience pain, a tingling sensation that seems weird and unnatural. Scary. Just when you are wondering if you are paralyzed for life, slowly, the blood returns, and normalcy eases back, and you can walk. Then run. And the awkward, unnatural sensation of being numb all over fades away as you think, “Gee, I hope I don’t sit that way again so my foot falls asleep anytime soon. That sucked.”
It is good to be awake.
It will be even better to be awake and floating.