40 before 40: Be a hamster

A few months ago, I realized that I wanted my 40th 40 before 40 adventure to be accomplished on my actual 40th birthday. A few weeks of research — and admittedly a little stress — ensued, as I tried to figure out what that would mean.

There seemed to be two routes to take:

  1. Find something epic — something that trumped all other previous 40 before 40 adventures. This presented some challenges — I’ve already jumped out of an airplane, gone on a hot air balloon, gotten scuba certified, learned how to trapeze, gone indoor skydiving… it’s getting harder and harder for me to find truly new and epic adventures that are accessible without significant travel.
  2. Embrace a moment, and be okay with #40 not being the most amazing, daring, or scary adventure ever.

In the end, I went with #2. It’s what this was all about, after all. And I have a lot of peace with the fact that #40 stays true to everything I wanted when I started this project a year and a half ago.

So… with all that said, here’s #40:

I found a website advertising a “Zorb” experience. It’s basically a giant inflatable ball that you climb inside with several gallons of water, and then you get pushed down a hill.

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It’s totally legit. Just look at the entrance signs!

Not scary at all… not redneck-y at all. Not at all unsafe. (Best part? It’s run by a super nice guy named (I am not making this up) Kentuckyana Jones.)

We were lead into a makeshift changing room with foam board dividers and a shower curtain door. At this point, Scott really, really wanted to bail. And I’ll admit, the whole experience was sketchy as all get out.

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But I was committed! We were DOING THIS.

And here we are… rolling down a hill in rural Kentucky. Because why not?! (If you’re reading this post via email, you’ll need to click into the actual blog to see the video. Trust me, it’s worth it just for Scott’s facial expressions alone.)

There’s so much more to reflect on about this whole project, what I’ve learned, and what I’ll take with me into my 40s. But for now, I’m signing off to enjoy the final few hours of my special day. Thanks to you all for the emails, phone calls, messages and Facebook posts… you’re awesome, and made me feel very loved!

Here’s to 40 — it’s off to a great start!

40 before 40: the sacred water hose

If you’ve never planned a road trip without a visit to http://www.roadsideamerica.com/, then I daresay you have never truly planned a road trip.

I love me some roadside attractions. From South of the Border on the east coast to the endless redwoods-themed sideshows in California, there are just so many wonderful (often brilliantly awful) places to stop that I can stretch a 5 hour drive into a multiple days-long adventure if you’re not careful to set boundaries.with me.

The best roadside attractions can be destinations unto themselves — and at their very worst, they at least break up a long day on the road.

Enter Euclid, Ohio’s National Shrine and Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Here’s how Roadside America describes it“Pilgrims from all over the world come here to collect water that runs out of a garden hose over the feet of a statue of the Blessed Virgin.”

Let me stop here, and mention that in visiting this roadside attraction, I offer zero disrespect to Catholics. I grew up in the church, and while I have mixed feelings about many aspects of organized religion, I have a deep appreciation for the different roles faith can play in our lives.

All caveats in place, let’s talk about this…. this… this blessed garden hose?!?! Even the most devout Catholics have to admit that sounds a little… odd.

We arrived. We were one of three cars in a phenomenally large parking lot. Clearly, this is not something that people flock to see, although there is a gift shop open daily (run by nuns) so we assumed there must be enough traffic to warrant that.

We had no idea what we were looking for, so I took photos of what I thought could be the blessed hose.

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As we wandered, we found a little display inside a shed that contains the testimonials of blessings received — mostly by children in the 1950s, 60s and 70s — who had come to drink from the hose.

IMG_2559We found the world’s largest rosary. We visited the gift store. We saw the stations of the cross. We went through a blessed door that I still don’t quite understand (the nice Sisters in the gift shop explained that it had to do with earning “indulgences” from the church leadership, but that concept is foreign to me — and I went to Catholic school for K-6 grades! and Sunday School for much longer — so I’m not sure really what that was all about).

After nearly an hour of exploring the grounds, I still didn’t know if one of the hoses we’d seen was the hose, or if we had missed it.

There’s an outdoor area where mass is held in the summer, which contains a rather impressive baptism pool.

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I wandered around the pool, sat for a few minutes, and finally looked carefully towards the altar.

And there it was!

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So I have to say, this was not quite the coiled-rubber-holy-water-hose I had envisioned. It was actually quite serene and lovely!

We purchased a small plastic bottle for $1 so we could take some of the water with us.

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All in all, this wasn’t the kind of cheesy roadside attraction that one expects in America, and it certainly was not what we thought we would see when we pulled up on our way to visit a sacred water hose.

But it was definitely a beautiful, peaceful spot in which to take a break in the midst of a 12+ hour road trip. And who knows, maybe the blessed water helped create a safe passage for the remainder of the trip — I’m okay with that.

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Let me take this opportunity to mention that this is experience #39! Tomorrow is the big day… and I hope #40 in my 40 Before 40 project will be as ridiculous and awesome as I have planned. Stay tuned…

40 before 40: the final countdown

Day 6: Dance in the rain!

It’s been dry in the Finger Lakes this summer. Like drier than dry. So when it sprinkled for a few hours last weekend, offering a beautiful break from the heat and humidity, I decided to do a backyard dance over the same patch of the grass you have watched not grow for the past 5 weeks. (We also can add this to a growing collection of videos I shall compile and call “Jen looking idiotic on the World Wide Web.”)

Day 5: Give myself permission to break my own rules.

It was a bad day at work, I fell behind on packing for vacation, I accidentally put a hole in a wall, and I was just generally wigged out. At 11:30pm, I realized that I still hadn’t done something new for the day.

I started reaching, and things got ridiculous. I tried to think through my day and pick out something, anything new. Maybe I’d unlocked my office door with my left hand, or had a conversation with a new barista at the coffee shop?

The minutes ticked by; midnight was fast approaching. The day would soon be over and I still hadn’t identified something. Did I eat something new? Did I wear a new item of clothing? Can I do a silly move in the living room right now?

And then I took a deep breath and told myself to idle down.

This is supposed to be fun. And in the past year and a half, I have done a lot of new things. These are my rules, and that means I can break them.

So I broke them. Nothing new today. Except the inner peace I gained by realizing it’s all okay.

I commemorated the moment with a photo of my favorite black cat, who is an expert in taking chill pills.

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Day 4: Join Charlie in a suitcase.

Like most cats, Charlie likes boxes. But he also likes anything new that we put down on the ground. He will investigate it, and then he will lay on it, as though he wants to test it out to see if it’s a bed. He does this with plastic bags from the grocery story, clothing we’re folding, and random things like books and the TV remote… I’ve seen him do it with a toothbrush, an electric screwdriver, and a photograph I was trying to hang on the wall.

In Charlie’s mind, you can’t know something isn’t a bed until you try it out.

So while he was testing out a suitcase this day, I decided to join him.

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Day 3: Find “question” hill.

We took family road trips to visit my grandparents in the midwest every summer. One year, just after my brother learned to read, we passed a hillside where someone had placed letters that spelled out “Christ is the Answer.” About another half mile down the road, Steve (who has obviously been lost in deep reflection) said, “So what’s the question?”

I had no idea where “question” hill was, so I was delighted to discover it… and shocked that it is a) still there, and b) just a couple hours from our house!

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Day 2: Visit the world’s largest rosary.

In keeping with the roadtrip/Jesus theme, Scott and I stopped in Ohio at the world’s largest rosary. Because of course there exists a world’s largest rosary. (It’s within a few miles of the RNC next week, so I hope a few delegates also visit to reflect on their choice of presidential candidate.)

We didn’t actually pray the rosary — even if I remembered it all, it would have taken hours to get all the way around it. But we did enjoy the very beautiful and quiet walk.

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Day 1: Take a (feet) dip in the Cumberland River, Kentucky.

This is it, the last day of my 30s!

We’re staying in a gorgeous location, right on a river which runs from Lake Cumberland to Dale Hollow Lake in the Cumberland Gap area of Kentucky. This is the view just outside our cabin’s back door:

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And a refreshing dip of the toes for me… (So far… I MAY work up the courage for a proper swim later today, but WHOA, this is some cold water!)

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40 before 40: one week to go

It’s official: I’m in the last week of my 30s! Typing that is both exciting and a little surreal.

Day 13: DIY with barn wood

Scott commented that our house entry way had become a cluttered mess because he didn’t have a place to put things like his wallet, keys, and other small items when he got home from work. I offered to use some reclaimed barn wood I had acquired for another project to make him this nifty little box. It works great!

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Day 12: Sparkler Fun

It’s always fun to play with my real camera, and I’ve always wanted to experiment with long exposure photos using sparklers to “write” in the air. It’s a LOT harder than you might think — I had to set up a tripod, focus the camera (very hard in the pitch dark), create a 10 second delay for the timer, and then run into place to start writing in the air when the shutter opened.

My first attempt:

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This one lead to me burning my foot when a tiny flaming piece of sparkler fell on it — totally worth it!:

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And a very ambitious grand finale:

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Day 11: Stand Up Paddleboarding

I had never tried stand up paddleboarding (also known as SUP). Elizabeth had done it twice. So we decided that it would be a brilliant idea to enter a race!

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We did not win the race (that’s me in the middle, and Elizabeth on the left). Perhaps you assumed that. But it was GREAT fun.

Here we are at the end, sweaty and happy:

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Day 10: Hung a big TV by myself!

I absolutely despise our TV stand — it is about 8 years old and from Target and I didn’t even like it much when we bought it in California. The fact that we moved it to New York, used it for another 5 years, and then moved it AGAIN to our house two years ago makes me cringe.

Scott was at work when the TV mount arrived, and I couldn’t wait one more second to get to work. So I hung our 42″ TV by myself — this was no small feat. It’s awkward and heavy! And to top it off, I embarked on this after a 60 minute circus conditioning class — looking back now, I’m quite lucky the project didn’t end in disaster.

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Remember the reclaimed wood from Day 13? My plan is to use it, along with some wrought iron antique brackets, to make some shelves for the DVD player, the DVR, and the Direct TV modem.

Day 9: Peppermint Bark.

Delightful!

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Day 8: Hill Cumorah Pageant

Every year, the Mormon church puts on a huge pageant in the Finger Lakes that retells the story of the founding of the Book of Mormon. More than 35,000 people come to watch one of the 8 shows that are put on each summer. Many of the spectators are Mormon, but many others (like me) are not. It’s a fascinating, fast-paced show that features Hollywood-worthy special effects, 650 (!) cast members, and a 10-level stage that’s built into the hill where Joseph Smith found the golden plates.

There are people who have been attending this pageant annually for decades. I doubt I’ll go again — 7,000 people in one area is not really my scene. But I’m glad I got to witness it once.

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Day 7: The Windmill

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The Windmill is a giant antique and craft market in the Finger Lakes. It’s only open on Saturdays in the summer. The more than 200 vendors sell Amish jams, t-shirts, wood furniture and pretty much anything else you can think of. It’s an impressive sight to behold– and I may have loaded up on enough gourmet mustard to last me until I’m 50.

40 before 40: Spook Hill

I love paranormal things.

I don’t know really what I believe. Are there ghosts? Is there an afterlife? I don’t know. And let’s be honest: you also don’t know. No one knows. That’s what makes the paranormal so fun.

There’s a place in the Finger Lakes — just a stone’s throw from Canandaigua Lake — known as Spook Hill. Legend is that Native Americans from a nearby burial ground come to Spook Hill, and — if you visit the bottom of the hill, put your car in neutral and wait — they will push it back up the hill.

During a recent camping trip, my ever-adventurous friend Claudia and I decided to test it out ourselves. We didn’t know what to expect. This was the only video we’d seen:

Our experience was similar, in that we definitely moved up the hill. But unlike the woman in the above video, we got pushed ALL THE WAY back up the hill. And quickly — during one of our (many) runs, Claudia clocked us going 16 mph.

(Warning: there’s some swearing in this video: we were not prepared for what was about to happen.)

Maybe it’s electromagnetic fields. Maybe it’s an optical illusion.

Or maybe, just maybe, Spook Hill is haunted.

40 before 40: two weeks to go!

Day 19: Hand-balancing class.

The very first circus class I took was through a local arts nonprofit — there was no access to aerial apparatuses, so we did a lot of tumbling and acrobatics and handstands. I’ve also done a lot of upside-down things in the various classes I’ve taken since. But never have I done a class that was focused exclusively on the art of hand balancing. And I’m hooked. It’s hard, and I am terrible — but it’s wonderful to find a circus class that doesn’t hurt my bum knee at all. I’ll be going back for sure.

Here I am, after class, in my backyard, doing a handstand. In theory, I’ll be working up to the point where I can balance at the top of the handstand for many seconds — even minutes!  I am not there. Yet.

(Please ignore the dirt patches — we’re trying to re-seed an area of the lawn where we removed enormous rocks.)

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Day 18: Blue a room.

It’s a long story about why we did this to a colleague’s office, but let’s just say that I hope he learned his lesson: there are three of us who shouldn’t be messed with. (Not pictured: his car, which we graffitied with blue window paint.)

Day 17: Post an embarrassing video online.

A friend called me because he wanted to let me know how much fun he was having reading about my daily adventures. It was almost 7pm and I confessed I still hadn’t done my new thing for the day.

“Have you ever posted a truly embarrassing video online?” he asked.

“I’m not dancing naked, if that’s what you mean,” I said.

He laughed. “No, no! What’s a terrible song that you would be embarrassed to admit you knew all the words to?”

I didn’t hesitate. It was a song that had been stuck in my head for three days. “That Party in the USA song… I think Miley Cyrus sings it.”

“Perfect!” he yelled. “That’s AWFUL. Totally humiliating. Sing it! Post it online!”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I want to retain some semblance of dignity.”

“Isn’t this whole thing about stepping out of your comfort zone?”

Hmmmm. He got me there.

So I downloaded the song, and because singing in the car is the absolute best, I did that, too. (Don’t worry, I was parked.)

Here you go:

Day 16: Braid a tree.

I bought a money tree for my desk at work in California. I loved it so much. Unfortunately, the car ride for our mid-winter move to New York didn’t make my plants very happy, so I left the money tree (along with most of my other plants) with my mom in Colorado as we passed through. My mom has the greenest thumb of anyone I know, and in the 6.5 years since, that money tree has gone from a small desk plant to an enormous tree that could probably be planted outside in a warmer climate.

I took a couple cuttings from it when I was in Colorado two weeks ago, not knowing if they’d survive the plane ride. They did — and I kept them in a glass of water until they started to sprout roots. I planted them, and started the signature braid, which is really, really hard! I ended up stabilizing the stems with straws.

So far so good… my mom’s green thumb was not something I inherited (it took me a decade to grow a pumpkin!), so I have to hope for the best.

Day 15: Bye bye Bai.

I have a friend who swears by Bai, a fruity beverage infused with antioxidants. It’s vegan, and kosher, and soy free and non-GMO and probably listens to pan flutes while caressing your aura.

I gave it a try. And meh. It tastes like soda. Expensive soda.

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Day 14: Build a proper flower bed.

Last summer we embarked on a serious effort to tuck point mortar into our stone foundation wall. It was one of the hardest home improvement projects we’ve done, and we have done a lot of projects! Once the mortar work was complete, I planted a few things along the side of the house. Oddly, it was the one area of our yard that the previous owners hadn’t done anything with.

Because of everything that transpired last summer, I didn’t have a chance to put landscaping lumber down along the edges of the bed — we have this style of bed in numerous other areas, and I wanted my new bed to fit in with everything else. I put down some plastic edging as a temporary solution.

This is before:

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And this is after:

Our yard obviously slopes significantly, and besides watching a couple of youtube videos, I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started. So to have it come out level, and similar looking to our other beds, makes me really happy!

40 before 40: halfway there!

Just 20 days until I hit the big four-oh. I’m halfway through my 40 new things in 40 days.

At least twice a week for the past few months, someone — usually with a grimace affixed to their face — asks me how I feel about turning 40.

My answer is always the same: it’s nothing compared to 25. For whatever reason, that birthday was the hardest for me. And 9 times out of 10, the person responds quickly with their own quarter-life horror story. It seems many of us are united by memories of spending that day curled up in the fetal position wondering how it is that we’re not already crushed by a combination of student loan debt and the realization that adult life was not what we imagined.

But 40? Whatever. As I remember my dad saying when he reached this age, turning 40 as an adult is the equivalent of turning 18 as a child. You’ve finally made it. And if you make it such, it can be the beginning of a new exciting chapter.

And, at the very least, consider that turning 40 is a whole lot better than the alternative.

(Read a report on days 40-29 here.)

Day 28: Garden of the Gods.

It’s appalling that I never made the trip here when I was a Colorado resident. It’s beautiful!

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Day 27: Bundaberg Ginger Ale.

I was introduced to Bundaberg rum while I was studying abroad in Australia. I don’t even know if it’s considered good rum — it might be bottom shelf and nasty. But I was 20 (of legal age in Australia), it was summer, and Bundaberg and Ginger Ale was my go-to beverage. To me, just the name “Bundaberg” represents youth, freedom, exploration, and fun. SO IMAGINE MY EXCITEMENT to find Bundaberg Ginger Ale at the grocery store in Colorado!

Verdict? Meh. I like my ginger ales to burn going down, and this was a little mild for me. But the taste wasn’t the point anyway — just as it wasn’t in 1997.

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Day 26: Seaweed Snacks.

This was a travel day, and it’s hard to find something new to do in airports. So I went with these absolutely disgusting seaweed snacks. (For the record, roasted seaweed can be delightful — maybe it was the teriyaki flavor that didn’t work for me here.)

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Day 25: Paint my toes different colors.

This little ridiculousness also allowed me the opportunity to test some polishes I haven’t used in years. Some were so clumpy I could finally dispose of them. So a win-win.

Interestingly enough, as I’ve been walking around with my multi-colored toes, I notice that people my age give me weird looks, while kids under 15 stop to tell me they look awesome.

Depending on how you view that, I’m either a loser or a winner.

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Day 24: Ice cream for dinner.

I consider the decision to eat ice cream for dinner one of the greatest perks of being an adult. I do it at least two or three times a year, and I never regret it.

After a circus class last Wednesday, I stopped at a little ice cream stand that opened in our tiny town for a few weeks last fall, and then for real this summer. They sell generic, mass-produced hard ice cream, so I went with the soft serve (which is probably also mass-produced, but at least is something I can’t buy at the local gas station) and was not disappointed.

Day 23: Made a gift to help fund Parkinson’s research.

My grandfather passed away 8 years ago after a battle with Parkinson’s, and I made a gift in his memory to the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

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Day 22: Paint a sunset scene.

My department celebrated the end of a difficult fiscal year by spending the afternoon at one of those painting studios where you drink wine and try to create something that you’re not too embarrassed to hang on a wall. I think we did ok!

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Day 21: Civil War Re-enactment.

For months, our town has been advertising a Civil War Re-Enactment scheduled to be held in our little rural town. Here’s the description from the newsletter we got just a few days ago — keep in mind that this is just an except from what was a two page article:

“Step back in time on Saturday and Sunday, June 25 and 26, when a Civil War Encampment settles in to Dotson Park. A company street of tents, campfire smoke, period attire, and the unmistakable thunder of musket and cannon fire, will envelop you in the sights, the sounds, and the smells of the America’s Civil War. It will transport you back 150 years. The soldiers will be sleeping on straw in their tents and cooking Civil War fare over campfires. Musket tripods will adorn the fields. The clamor of black powder fired from musket and cannon will mark the hours.

The encampment will be open to the public. You’ll have the opportunity to observe the period dress of soldiers, cooks, chaplains, cavalrymen, and women. You can examine a variety of muskets and medals and learn what a gum blanket is—and which well-known company got its start making them.”

Now, you read that, and what do you imagine?  I assumed it would be a bustling scene — dozens of campsites and soldiers and whatnot. As the weekend drew closer, I decided to attend the “Drum and Fife” presentation, and the 21 gun salute. Of everything planned for the weekend, this sounded the most entertaining.

I arrived at Danby Town Hall, across from the park where the soldiers were camping for the weekend. And this is the entire cast of Civil War characters assembled for the drum and fife/21 gun salute presentation:

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That is it. That is everyone.

What’s more? There were no drummers. Just one fife. And only four men were there with guns. They reloaded three times, so the 21 gun salute became a 12 gun salute.

It was so unbelievably awesome, and so very “Danby.” I love it.

This was the “company street of tents”:

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It felt less like a Civil War Re-Enactment, and more like an excuse for 14 people to play dress up. That said, those 14 people were very knowledgable and entertaining. It made me sad that more people were not there to see it.

And here’s a video of my new thing for the day (if you’re reading this as an email, you’ll need to click into the actual website to see the video):

Day 20: Capsize a boat.

Steve, Elizabeth and I spent this hot Sunday at one of our favorite state parks, on the edge of Cayuga Lake. After a picnic and a bit of swimming, I mentioned that I needed to do something new for my list. I vetoed a few of the first suggestions (“How about you catch rocks in your mouth?”) before Elizabeth asked, “Have you ever jumped out of your kayak in the middle of the lake and then gotten back in?” I have never done that, I responded. And off we went.

After kayaking across the lake (about a mile) and then halfway back, we prepared ourselves for our dip in the lake. I zipped our sunglasses and a few other belongings into a pocket on my kayak seat, and then started to maneuver my legs to get out of the boat. And with that slight movement, I tipped over and was underwater.

It’s important to note here that I have a recreational racing kayak, so it’s designed for speed and therefore pretty tippy. So tippy, in fact, that my brother borrowed it once and then refuses to ever use it again. I don’t actually find it unstable or hard to maneuver when I’m in it — but getting in and out of it can be a little comical. And perhaps that would have been something to consider before ditching in the middle of the lake, half a mile from either shoreline. But no, it never even crossed my mind.

It took both Elizabeth and I (which meant no one was left to hold onto her boat, and it kept floating away, which required a few frantic swims to retrieve it) to stabilize my boat while I attempted to rocket myself onto it. I was able to get on top of the kayak fine, but when I would start to climb onto the seat, I would lose balance and flip back over. Then there would be a few minutes of uncontrollable laughter. We’d try again; I’d flip again. Repeat, repeat.

When I FINALLY got into the boat, the entire cockpit was full — and I mean full — of water. Totally swamped. Which meant two things: 1) the small amount of stability I had was completely gone, and 2) I had to haul an extra 100 pounds or so of water back to shore. My abs (for stabilty) and arms (for paddling) got a very intense workout.

In retrospect, it would have been easier to catch rocks in my mouth.

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A photo before the adventure began.

 

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