Kayaking Virginia’s James River

It was a sudden realization.

One that came with a shock, really . . . which was escalating towards panic.

“Andy!” I shouted to our bedroom as I sat on the sofa, struggling to remain calm.  “Don’t you think it wise that we — Well, shouldn’t we at least try it first?”

He stepped out from the bedroom as confused as you, dear reader, may be.  But my question was a valid one.

See, last year Andrew and I booked our summer holiday in Canada’s British Columbia.  At the time, we focused on finding a different type of trip — We wanted to venture to a country we had not yet visited, a country that is largely wild and therefore breathtaking.  We thought the idea of spending time whale watching in kayaks over calm ocean waters then relaxing in ancient forests was the ultimate definition of ‘tranquil vacation.’

So we booked the trip — without concern, without even a second thought.  That was nine months ago from this conversation.  Now we were set to leave in seven weeks — a mere seven weeks — and I had the sudden realization that we were naive idiots.

“Seriously, And.  Think about it — When was the last time you went kayaking?”  Then the better question: “Have you even ever been kayaking?!”

He hesitated.  I determined his silence answered my question.

“Andrew.  Want to know the last time I went kayaking?  Never.  I’ve never even touched a kayak before and — ”

“Okay, ‘old on.  I ‘ave touched a kayak before.”  He seemed to puff with pride.  I think he thought I was supposed to find comfort in the fact that his fingertips had stroked a kayak in the past.

I didn’t say anything.

He didn’t say anything.

“Andrew.  We are going to be inside of a kayak.  For six days.  Six full days.  We are expected to kayak from morning to night around remote islands in the Pacific Ocean with orcas and humpback whales under us and plunging up next to us.  So let me get this straight: You want me to be happy that you have touched a kayak before?  Was it even outside?!  Or was it in a store?”

“I was in a lake, you cheeky sod.”

This did bring some calm.  “Okay.  At least one of us has experience then — How many times have you kayaked?”

“I mean . . . ”  There was hesitation again.  “Once.”

I took a deep breath.  The next question would be my last: “Andrew.  How long did you kayak that one and only day?”

“A couple hours — Eh, maybe two hours.”  He paused again to think.  My breath was held as he continued with a final “Yea.”

That was his final answer, which allows you understand that full-scale panic I mentioned earlier: In seven weeks, Andrew and I were flying to British Columbia to kayak all-day — in a kayaking group of skilled kayakers for multiple days — above a very deep ocean with whales under us.

Clearly, we were vastly underprepared.  In fact, we were verging on helpless.

This is why we decided — in a frenzy of action — to rent kayaks to paddle up and down the James River.  Because somehow a moment in kayaks would prepare us for our massive kayak adventure.

Driving to the kayak company, we waited outside on the company’s porch while others in our group assembled.  Slowly, we met the about eight other people, all who wanted to know if we have kayaked before and why we were there.

“Oh, you know — ”  We tried to sound calm, as if we fit in.  “We are leaving for British Columbia soon for a week-long kayaking trip — Just kayaking around remote islands by day then camping in tents in forests by night.  Just thought we would hop in a kayak for the first time before we left.  You know — to test it out.  See if we survive.”

That was essentially what we said.  You can imagine the looks of horror we received.

Somehow though, we were still allowed to rent kayaks — and yes, two kayaks because in our brilliancy we told our Canada kayak company that we were strong enough kayakers to have individual kayaks.  No tandem for us!  We were better than that!

Moments later, we had followed our guide down river roads to a kayak-launch ramp.  “Alright, here are your paddles.  Here are your kayaks,” the guide said unamused, pointing to several colored ones as he drug them from his truck — red, yellow, orange, green — and next to the river.  Nervousness fluttered through my body.

“I thought we were supposed to be helped into our kayaks?” I whispered to Andy and heard others whisper to their companions.

“I’ll see you back in two hours,” the guide continued then disappeared.

This must be what baptism by fire meant.

Andrew hopped into his orange kayak smoothly — little rocking — so I took note on his procedure.  Gently easing myself in a yellow one, I realized the task required much more strength and stamina than I apparently had so that after several minutes of me floundering and the water splashing — our group slowly created a wide circle around me until they were gone.  It was clear they were silently said, “Stay away from that one.”  I now was the only person not in a kayak.

“Right.  I bet I’ve gotta get out of my kayak and get you get into yours, ‘aven’t I?”  Andrew slumped, paddling back to me then docking his kayak beside mine.

I would have said thank you if it weren’t for the profusion of sweat and energy I had just exerted.

But finally, I was in, and this proves it because no matter what happened after this, I wanted to remember that I did actually make it into my kayak.IMG_9509

The truth though is seconds after this was taken, a smiling Andrew was able to swiftly make one movement to turn his kayak around in the other direction and jet off to join our group that had near-disappeared.

Don’t believe me?  This is me on the open river-water and those barely visible orange dots ahead are two people that have fallen behind in our group.

Then there was me. IMG_9516

As Andrew became less and less of an orange dot in the distance, I struggled more and more to propel my kayak forward.  I paddled harder, yet somehow only seemed to be paddling backwards.  Something needed to change.  I was a strong swimmer, I thought and so I debated on getting out of my kayak to swim and push my kayak next to me.  I could easily catch the group then!  But catching the group like a crazy person was not the route I wanted to take.  I went back to brainstorming: I could —

It was then I felt the current pull my kayak backwards.  Moving rather swiftly, I plunged my paddle into the water to fight back but my kayak did not move forward.  Instead, I was pulled into some type of slow-swirling whirlpool.  The situation felt concerning as who knows how many minutes passed while I fought against the river.

“Hey L?  Are you okay?”  A voice floated through the air towards me.  It was not the voice of my fiancé — the man that should have been wondering over my safety and well-being.  No, this was from Sara — one woman in our group who Andy and I made a fast friend.  I determined in a second the source of the call didn’t matter — At least one person cared if I was about to go overboard.

“I seem — ” I struggled for breath.  And for thought.  How could I explain that there was cause for alarm when the waters appeared serene?  It was probably more likely that I would get clawed to death from river crabs that get stuck in a whirlpool.  “I seem to be stuck in a very strong current.”

Her gaze towards the water made me recognize there were zero currents.  Except, of course, where I was stuck.  She began to paddle closer, causing her wife to turn and offer assistance too.

“Do you want help?” they asked.  This was a kind offer but in that moment, feminism exploded out of me.

No! I thought.  Does it look like I need help?!  I can handle this vortex on my own! . . . and because of my response (or lack thereof), they slowly allowed their kayaks to drift further and further away until Andrew finally turned — surrounded by no one — to searched around him.  Here, he realized I was not even remotely close.  After over half an hour.

Within a couple paddle strokes, Mr. Athletic was by my side once more . . . and once more smiling.  “Hey!  Great, in’t it?  What you do’n o’r ‘ere?!”

I chose to ignore his question at the same time the whirlpool chose to release me.

“Let’s just go,” I answered, making a conscious decision not to dwell on the past.  He was here.  We were kayaking together.  I was out of the vortex.  I would survive.  We could move on together.

And so onward we paddled upriver, following our new friends . . .IMG_9493IMG_9500
In the end, Andrew and I realized we did not have to be Number One Kayak Leaders to have an enjoyable time.  Instead, we could meander by letting the river take the lead.

Before we realized it, time had vanished and we were set to return to our dock.IMG_9524

“Andrew?” I asked once we had closed our car doors.  “This was advertised as relaxing, right?”  I tried to keep my voice calm, level.

“Yea,” I heard him say.  He had an equally controlled voice.

“That is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

I heard an exhale.  From the corners of my eyes, I saw him slouch over the steering wheel.  “Oh thank God you thought that too.”

And that is our first kayaking day.  For only two hours.  Because that somehow prepared us for our British Columbia kayaking adventure . . .

Author: L

Hi there! I am the impulsive do-er, the jumper, the one tugging to move past comfort zones to embrace a life of sheer surprise. I am a writer -- a pursuer of stories -- because I believe in the destination over the journey. I am a chaser of sunrises and sunsets and cherisher of the moments between. I have an overwhelming curiosity, an insatiable desire travel, and an obsessive yearn to turn dreams into realities. For all of these reasons, the word that best summarizes who I am is "seeker" -- I am forever a seeker.

8 thoughts

  1. You two always make the best of it! Stiff upper lip it’s called L!
    This happened when my girl took me tubing down the river! Lol😂
    Love you guys🇬🇧🇺🇸

    1. Hi, Pam! Great to hear from you! I hope it is called that — I think others would say it is my clumsy ability to get myself caught in mischief haha
      Did you end up enjoying tubing? We haven’t done that yet together — Maybe that can be our next adventure haha
      Thank you so much for reading and writing!
      L (and Andy)

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