Sometimes Easy Isn't the Right Decision
It would have been easy to cancel our first paddle of 2019. Actually, we did cancel our first paddle of 2019. We had scheduled a New Year’s Day paddle, but gusting winds of over 40mph forced us to ring in the New Year on dry land. Instead, we looked to our second scheduled paddle of the New Year, a favorite trip out to Misery Island, with the optimism that only the hanging of a new calendar can bring.
However, the long range forecast looked bad. Several days out from the paddle, the wind forecast was oscillating between marginal and heavy, and a near certainty of rain. Rain in and of itself isn’t so bad, especially when we’re already wearing wetsuits, but it definitely puts a damper on people’s enthusiasm to sign up.
Two days before the paddle, we only had one person registered, and I resigned myself to the near certainty of having to cancel. It was disheartening. Though we had winter paddles scheduled every weekend, we hadn’t been able to run one since our Ugly Sweater Paddle in early December due to unreasonably cold temps and high winds. Once you’ve committed to running paddles throughout the winter, a month away from the water feels like an eternity. But that afternoon, we got two more signups. My spirits lifted, but the forecasts were anchored firmly in the grim category. Swiping left and right on my phone, I switched back and forth between weather apps, searching for the most optimistic outlook for the day’s weather. But with winter paddling, you can only afford a small amount of optimism. Safety, which is already the number one concern in the summer, takes on an even higher priority in the winter, and the margin for error is significantly smaller.
We decided we’d wait until the night before to make a final determination. That night, all of the forecasts showed rain, but the projected winds were trending lighter and the temperatures were seasonably moderate. It was a go.
A selfie from the next morning shows four of us standing on the beach, our brightly colored life jackets standing in sharp relief to the black neoprene covering our bodies, and the gray sky and water beyond. It was a small crew, but given the fact that 48 hours prior I assumed there’d be zero paddlers, it felt amazing to be standing there with this rugged crew. And rugged they were. A light rain was falling, and a moderate offshore wind was set to blow us to our island destination. Two of the paddlers in our group had never paddled in the winter, one of whom had never kayaked on the ocean before. Another of our paddlers had plenty of experience winter paddling, but had always taken to a paddleboard; this would be her first time ever in a kayak. It’s no hyperbole to say that it takes a certain amount of courage to undertake these firsts in 45 degree water!
We launched one at a time through small shore break, then made our way to the island. As each paddler settled into the comfort of his or her kayak, nervous laughter morphed into smiles and easy conversation. By the time we landed on Great Misery, we were fully immersed in the conditions, and loving them! We finished a short hike around the island, then paddled back against a strengthening head wind. The growing bumps and gusts only served to heighten the sense of adventure, and by the time we landed back on the beach, we all agreed that it was well worth venturing out, and that saying yes to adventure was the best decision made that day.
It would have been easy if our first winter paddle of 2019 was sunny, warm (relatively) and no wind. At the time, it would have seemed a promising sign for the remaining paddles we had planned for the winter. But looking back, this paddle was one of the best ways we could have started the new year. It would have been easy to not go, to stay at the shop and catch up on the growing list of things to be done. It would have been easy to not risk having our paddlers turned off to winter paddling because of a cold and wet first experience. But had we canceled, we would have missed the opportunity to face the conditions for what they were, and find a way to enjoy the paddle despite them. What we found, was that in some not-so-odd way, we loved the paddle, not despite the conditions, but because of them.
Looking ahead, we have paddles scheduled through February. I hope some of them will be sunny, seasonably warm, and with light wind. They’re a rare treat and worth hoping for. But as for today’s paddle, our first of 2019, I wouldn’t have had it go any other way.