When Vacations Turn Hard Left: Kayaks and Snow

We hauled the boats up to our usual haunt…the family cabin next to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area…to paddle the various glacier carved lakes over Memorial Day weekend.  We woke up the first morning to a perfect day for kayaking.

Absurd, no?  We laughed and laughed at this joke on ourselves.  We later learned that out of the last twenty-five Memorial Days in Stanley, Idaho, only two have been warm and sunny.

The morning snowfall turned to spitting rain for most of the day and then, in early evening, we got a surprise window of clear skies.  The air temperature shot up into the low fifties and, after some nervous waffling over warm soup, our impulses got the better of us and we decided to go for it.  We learned we could strap the kayaks on the car, load all of our gear, and suit up in exactly twenty-three minutes.

This was our reward:

Not bad, eh?  That’s the view looking down to the very end of Redfish Lake which is about five miles long.  Here’s one more shot of it with the hubster and Tug:

That was as far as we dared go that day.  The sun had just set behind the mountains and we still had to paddle an hour back to our launch site.  Neither of us were excited about trying to load the boats in the dark.  Nevertheless, we both secretly dreamed of coming back and going all the way to the end of the lake, if for no other reason than to sit at the foot of those gorgeous peaks and gaze up in slack-jawed wonder.

But the next day was a total bust weather-wise.  Rain all day…ALL day…turning to another four inches of snow overnight.  No surprise windows for us, I’m afraid.

Our worry started to shift from a concern that we might not get to paddle again to a fear that we might not be able to drive from the cabin back out to the highway.  The winding, steep dirt road that connects the two can get irritable and uncooperative when saturated.

The last, full day of our vacation dawned to (wait for it…wait for it) more rain and spitting snow.  We watched as the heavy, gray squalls entered the long valley from the north then rolled on down, engulfing the mountain ranges on both sides and dumping everything on us as they passed.  This went on over and over and over again, all day long.

But then, in late afternoon, there was a…well, not a window exactly.  More like a brief pause.  A slightly longer gap.  Hardly noticeable in fact, but we decided to load everything up and go down to the lake to watch and wait anyway.  You know.  Just in case.  The hubster especially wanted to go and it seemed better than giving up for good.

The hubster later confided that he knew if he could just get me down onto the water, my own impulsive side would take over from there.  There’s a little dance we always do in situations like this…when he wants to jump in and take a risk, but I’m not convinced that it’s safe.  He’s really kind of brilliant about it.  Rather than trying to get me to “go for it,” his strategy is to nudge me along in incremental baby steps.

At home:  Come on, sweetheart.  We’ll just drive down to the lake and see.  We can always turn around and come back home.

At the lake:  Come on, sweetheart.  We can just sit here a little bit longer.  And by the way, I really don’t mind if you don’t want to do it.

Rolling down the window:  Look, sweetheart!  It stopped raining.  You want to just walk down to the beach and look around before we go home?  I promisewhatever happens, I’m fine with it.

He eventually got me down to the water’s edge but it was a young family staying at the lake lodge…also waiting hopefully for some kind of break in the weather…that tipped me into the boat.  They were on the dock near the rental station, the kids begging Mom and Dad to go out on the paddle boat…clutching, pulling, pleeeeeeasing…and finally, after three long, sodden days of whining, the battle-weary parents caved.  The current squall passed and the next one hadn’t arrived yet, so they all clambered aboard.

The children were beyond ecstatic and the parents were clearly relieved to give up the fight.  Their happy, joyous voices carried across the water to where we stood and, as I watched them paddle and splash around the small, buoyed area surrounding the dock, a kind of stealth, emotional transfer traveled along on the back of the noise.  It was like a computer virus downloading, installing, and rebooting inside me, without my ever realizing what was going on.  The first I knew of it’s presence was when I suddenly looked at the hubster, grinned, and heard the words coming out of my mouth:

“Okay!  Let’s do it.”

Totally irrational, I know.  The happy family never got farther than twenty feet away from the dock. We, on the other hand, paddled the whole five miles down.  (The hubster was right again…getting me into the yak was the real hurdle.)  We pushed through successive squalls of rain and…once…sleet, and…once…snow, all the way down to the pristine and secret, holy bay of bays that we stumbled upon at the very end of the lake.

It blew our minds.  It was that beautiful.  Even the hubster had never seen it before and he grew up on that lake.  (Evidently, ten miles round trip was just too damn far for his father to paddle a canoe full of wiggling boys.)  We had of course been down to the almost-end a hundred times over the years, to the lonely dock where the shuttle boat from the lodge drops off/picks up backpackers and day hikers every few hours during the summer.  But we’d never continued on around the small and innocuous promontory of land that separates the big lake from the tiny bay.  We couldn’t.  We didn’t have boats.

Until now.

Those far off mountains in the photos above towered over us…rising up from the water for thousands of feet through a layer of steep pine forest…while the melting snow coming off their peaks fell back down again in cascading, musical, multi-tiered waterfalls.  The clouds and mist shifted constantly across the rocky crags and sheer cliffs above, while the silence of the place was so heavy that it eventually stilled our tired arms completely.

We just floated for a while, staring around in wonder while slowly, slowly filling back up again.  We hadn’t known we were that empty.  I think it’s hard to tell sometimes, just how much has been drained out of you into the busy activities of regular life, until you get a chance to sit still in a place like that and feel the outgoing flow reverse again.

I don’t know.  Maybe we were stupid and impulsive to paddle that far in weather that unstable.  I honestly don’t know.  I’m not experienced enough yet.  It was certainly cold and wet but we were prepared for that…wetsuits, wool, and rain jackets…so really, that part was not a problem.

Wind is what can pose a real danger with kayaking but the day’s squalls, for all their blowing around up high, never reached down into the bowl of that lake, never generated more than an occasional mild breeze rippling the water.  In fact, a few times when it stopped raining, it was like we were paddling over crystal clear glass.

I guess all I can really say is this:

If we were stupid to go out in those conditions then, clearly, sometimes luck goes to the idiots.  There wasn’t another boat out on the lake the whole time we were there.  No raucous voices drifting across disturbed waters.  No motoring, crisscrossing wakes to block our wondering view of the submerged, ghostly boulders and tree trunks that litter the entire coastline.  Nothing to scare off the otter that stopped it’s gliding play among the rocks to watch us float past, curious and unafraid.

And neither was there anything to jar the profound and surprising reverence we felt back there in the bay for those rare moments…when all the bad news and angry voices and scary, unfolding events of the world grew small and still and far enough away that we could finally relax and remember again.  That we’re okay.  That we were always okay.  That we will always be…in some hard to define but deeply reassuring way…totally and truly okay.

Yesterday…the day we returned to Boise for a resumption of our other, busier lives…dawned sunny, warm, and clear.  Perfect, perfect, paddling weather.

Of course.

We laughed and laughed at the great joke of it all again, then waved good-bye to the mountains and drove away.  Only the difference was that, this time, we felt like we were in on it.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012