We’ve been gone from the blog for a little while because we had some back-to-back traveling to do, most recently to a state park in the southern part of our state. The camping-kayaking trip served a specific personal purpose.
My mother was once wheelchair bound and eventually with enough physical therapy has gotten to the point that she can walk with a walker. She decided over the summer that she wanted to try kayaking, and even wanted to drive five hours to my house so I could take her on the local river run. With her bad hips, I worried that sitting in a kayak with her legs in front of her could eventually start to hurt; after all, when you put in at one location and then have to take out at a farther point along the river or creek, you can’t just stop and say, “I’m done. This hurts!” You HAVE to finish it.
I suggested we camp at very large lake in her part of the state, and then we could paddle as much or as little as she wanted to. I’d stay out there all day if she liked, but if her hips couldn’t take it, then she would know that a river trip wasn’t feasible.
It took some effort, but after only a few minutes (and several fishermen offering to help, for which I thanked them profusely and replied, “If she’s gonna do this, she has to learn how to get in and out of the kayak!”) we were paddling! We’d used the state park’s concrete boat ramp, and that worked for her really well. I got my two-man kayak situated in the water and then helped her walk down the ramp. Basically, she just had to sit down and then put her legs in. The real trick was finding a sitting position that accommodated her hips since they no longer bend at the waist at a typical angle. The adjustable back rest helped, and she felt great.
We paddled close to the boat ramp until she got the hang of her paddle. Just to make things even more interesting, she’s had shoulder replacement surgery in the past couple of years, so I wanted to make sure her shoulder didn’t hurt from the repetitive motion involved in paddling. When she felt confident that she could do it pain-free, we left the little slough near the boat ramp and ventured out further.
“What’s that up ahead?” she asked when we’d made it a good distance away. I squinted, and said I thought it was a stick. She said, “Oh, it looks like a bird!”
We went to check it out, just to get close enough for her to see the aquatic bird take flight when we came too close for comfort. Oddly, the bird in question didn’t seem to feel threatened by our presence.
That’s because it wasn’t a bird. It was a twelve-foot alligator. He was just lying in the middle of the lake, getting some sun. The stick/bird was actually his head, and when we got too close the rest of his body floated to the surface.
You know how in cartoons when someone’s trying to run away the little character’s legs will spin in a circle while he goes nowhere? That was our paddling effort for a couple of seconds. I quickly got us turned around but finally told my mom, “Let me handle this! You’re making us go backwards, TOWARDS the alligator! I’ll paddle, you watch the alligator and tell me if he comes towards us!”
And he never budged. Once we turned around and started paddling away we were no longer a threat, so he eventually lowered his body back into the water and left his head sticking up, just like before. Even if we’d been stupid enough to try to get closer to him instead of leaving slowly, he probably would have just swam away. He most likely lifted his body in order to make his getaway, NOT to come eat us. It was actually over an hour later that I walked back around and took this from the opposite bank with my zoom lens.
I’m glad to say that after our “brush with toothy death” my mom and I paddled for another forty minutes or so. We took some kayak selfies to show my dad and her friends from church, we talked about good places to paddle and proper technique, and she was able to get herself back out of the kayak with a little help. We talked about a contingency plan if she couldn’t get herself out of it, which would be to paddle a little way out from the ramp, fall overboard, and swim to the ramp where she could stand up (she didn’t love that thought…after all, there was a gator out there somewhere and lake water isn’t exactly see-through). The only reason we cut our kayak trip short was some thunder clouds rolled in and we didn’t want to be caught in the rain.
Basically, the purpose of this entire blog is to help people who otherwise don’t have any experience with the outdoors–and therefore don’t have confidence in what to do in an unexpected situation–realize that they can do it, they can be self-sufficient, and they can have fun. They can do it… you can do it. Your kids can do it. Just don’t pet the gators.