Spontaneity and risk no longer excite me. Maybe it’s temporary; maybe it’s just because I haven’t slept past 7 a.m. in 2,373 days. But for now, adrenaline is the last thing I’m craving.
I spontaneously went white-water rafting in B.C. 10 years ago; the thought now gives me heart palpitations. And that’s just imagining the wet suit – have I mentioned my crippling, motherhood-induced claustrophobia? – never mind the sharp, jagged rocks and foamy, chaotic swells of raging river. I cannot imagine the size of the lorazepam-vodka-sativa smoothie I would need to throw down my gullet in order to partake in that kind of madness now.
That said, last weekend our dear friends hosted what they hailed the “First Annual Stratton’s Pond Dinghy Races”. I was immediately repelled, as that sounded nothing like wearing stretchy pants and binge-watching Outlander on Netflix. But our friends were pumped. They bought the dinghies, tiki torches, buoys, fireworks; they had invested in this thing. What kind of friend would I be to decline?
We arrived at their beautiful, backyard, pond-side beach around 8 p.m The tunes and the campfire were in full swing. The buoys were already set three-quarters of the way across the large pond and marked our starting point. I shuddered.
There were 10 adults, five dinghies. We drew names for partners and I drew my buddy R’s name. R immediately leaned in and whispered, “Okay, so there are big dinghies and there’s a little dinghy. Now it’s up to you, but I’ve got a feeling that we'd be better off taking the little dinghy. I think it would be more nimble."
“Nimble?” I asked, mostly just wanting to prolong the hilarity of two grown adults discussing “nimble dinghies”.
“Yeah, nimble. I think the smaller dinghy will glide through the water better. It just looks nimble.”
I was convinced. Not only do I have zero experience with water dinghies enough to determine their degree of nimbleness, but also I was apprehensive about the whole thing, so his pseudo-confidence was comforting.
Time to rip off the band-aid, I thought, dragging the nimblest dinghy to the water’s edge. As I climbed in, I couldn’t help but notice how squishy it felt. Again, no dinghy expert, but I anticipated some semblance of turgidity. I stared at the deep water ahead of us and suddenly felt unsure about the floppy plastic beneath me, nimble or not. But before I could protest, R pushed off and climbed in.
The water poured in slowly at first, then much quicker. As R is much heavier than me, the rear of the dinghy was pretty much submerged. Poor R was sitting to his waist in brown, murky water that looked not unlike the contents of a port-a-potty. Our dinghy was completely unstable at this point. I had fallen back into R’s lap and, as we were now operating a precious balancing act between flotation and certain death, I had to shift, ever so gingerly, back onto my knees at the bow of the dinghy.
Now, calling it the “bow” conveys some sense of separation between myself and R. But don’t be fooled; I was arse up about six-inches from poor R's face and clinging onto the flaccid vessel for dear life. R sat, helpless to move or assist, in frigid toilet water.
Did I mention the blindfolds? This was, specifically, to be the first, annual “Bird Box” dinghy race. While I loves me some Sandy Bullock, I didn’t watch Bird Box on Netflix because I tend to avoid terror followed by lingering-doom-and-perpetual-paranoia as a form of entertainment. But I hear blindfolds made notable appearances in the film.
So back to our deflating hope and X-rated seating arrangement: I drew the short straw, so I would be blindfolded and paddling. R would bark directions. We first had to make it to the buoys way over there across the pond. And only THEN would the race begin.
We paddled frantically to the starting point. My partner who, mere moments before, on shore, boasted “nimble” aspirations like a confident seafarer, was now repeatedly yelling, “We’re taking on water!”, as if, A. this was a 1980s war film; and, B. everyone, including me, wasn’t already aware of the fact that we were, indeed, sinking.
“I don’t want to die”, I whispered to R, hoping my fragility would spur back the valiant partner I knew on land.
“Me neither,” he replied.
“I don’t even care about the race anymore, I just don’t want to drown.” I waited. I was extending him yet another chance for redemption as the self-respecting captain of this vessel.
“Same”, he whispered.
We’re gonna die. I should be home in my sweatpants.
We finally made it, teetering and soaking to the buoys. There was a quick exchange of dialogue among the other teams; formalities we completely ignored, distracted by our imminent demise.
THREE. I perched myself, on my knees, as close to the front of the dinghy as I could, my every move threatening capsize.
TWO. I ditched one paddle. I would two-hand this solo sucker.
ONE. I may have peed a little.
Left! Right! Straight! Straight! Little left! Right right right! Straight! Left. Big left. Now straight!
I could never again replicate the total body endurance that I demonstrated over the next four to six minutes. I smashed and slashed at that water, single-paddled, with every contractile fiber in my body and every ounce of will I had to not drowned. I gulped in gallons of pond water. The makeup that I had applied so carefully that evening (hoping this was going to be more of a “lazy river” type deal with fun sleeping masks) streamed down my face. I was a blind, vicious, heroin-chic warrior. I was a woman possessed.
And just as my arms began to shake with fatigue and I could feel my body slowly collapse, exhausted, surrendering to the darkness and the cold and the fallacy of the nimble dinghy…
“We did it! We did it! We came in second!” R shouted. I tore off my mask just as I could feel the rocks of the shore scrape my butt (which was now, officially, at the bottom of the airless raft), welcoming us home.
The thrill of not dying AND coming in second, in that moment, was one of the highest highs of my year, hands down. And for the rest of the evening, we were soaring.
I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. I will not, soon, let R live down the “nimble dinghy” fiasco, or the futile “taking on water” screams. But we made one hell of a team.
It's good to say "yes" a little more, even if it means ditching comfort, fearing for your life and inhaling brown pond water with friends.
Here's to next year's race!
(Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger (www.heatheronarock.com), wine advocate and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, N.L. Her column appears biweekly.)