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Finding love on — and with — the water

Posted by Valerie Hein-Hamstra on 5/26/2015 to Kayak
Written by Robin Nelson.

When Chuck and I started kayaking, we fell in love. This was not lust or infatuation. It was committed, I-want-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-kayaking love.

We never experienced an empty nest. When our sons left for college, we left for adventure. Monday nights we paddled in Two Rivers. The weekends were reserved for distances and daylong adventures. During the week, if we had no appointments, we closed the office, sneaked out and returned full of as much exhilaration as an afternoon paddle tryst could provide.

In winter, we did open pools on Saturday and Sunday and instructed on Monday nights. Being members of NEWPaddlers, there were endless activities and events to attend. It also brought numerous friends, who have become intricate parts of our lives.

Our arguments focused on topics like the best boat designs, Greenland versus Euro paddles, and how to teach a roll. We didn’t argue about whether we were going to buy new gear; we argued brand or style. Money spent on paddling was money well spent.

We discovered it was best to assign responsibilities: Chuck checked final tie downs, I did a final sweep of the area. Most importantly, there could be no socializing before all gear was stowed.

The weather radio warned: 3- to 5-foot waves small craft advisory. My response would be, “They are suggesting we should paddle.”

Throughout this relationship, there were times I was terrified, struggled, and had my doubts, but, when you have that deep love, you don’t give up on it.

Then it happened. As with any relationship, things began to change. Responsibilities changed and they couldn’t be ignored. Kayaking was no longer a priority. We paddled and enjoyed it, but it was different.

Then Chuck became sick. Weekends came and went and we didn’t paddle at all.

Door County Sea Kayak Symposium was upon us and, although Chuck was recovering, he felt it was best to stay home and rest. DCSKS had always been the honeymoon of kayaking for us. A weekend spent focused on what we loved most: paddling, instructing, meeting new friends, and reconnecting with great friends.

We had paddled separately before, but this was different; this was spending a weekend of cherished memories and shared experiences on my own. To make matters worse, one of the guys we share our suite with had a death in the family. The dynamics for this event were dramatically different.

The weekend was fantastic. More new friends, special old friends, all were phenomenal and stepped up to help me because Chuck wasn’t there. My romance with kayaking had been rekindled, but I felt something missing. I didn’t see Chuck searching me out at dinner. He wasn’t in the room at night when we were too exhausted to move but too excited to sleep. The weekend came and went with its normal festive frenzy. As I drove home feeling the warm glow of contentment, I passed the ice cream place where Chuck and I always stopped. I couldn’t bring myself to stop; this was part of our ritual. I did stop to buy a pair of earrings, another part of our ritual. I could have lingered, but I rushed out of the store.

At the outskirts of Kewaunee, an ominous feeling overtook me. I had left Door County in such a hurry. I didn’t do my normal checks. Everything was out of balance because Chuck wasn’t there. I wondered, did I leave my gear bag? I called a friend who was still at Rowleys Bay. He said told me my bag was still there. Ugh, I was relieved but, now what? I called Chuck. His response, “Come home. We’ll get the boat off and drive right back up there together and get it.”

It was the best end to the best weekend. We talked and laughed all the way there as I recounted every detail. We stopped and got ice cream. In that moment, I realized I shared the greatest love affair with the love of my life.

This is what kayaking is for me. Maybe you can find love on the water, too.

Robin Nelson is an instructor for Rutabaga’s Door County Sea Kayak Symposium, and one of the best bundles of wisdom, peace, and happiness we know of.

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