Saturday, December 29, 2012

2012 recap and reflections

No one can predict with any sort of certainty at all how a year will unfold.  Some years plod along in relative predictability while others veer off in directions that are completely unexpected.  This year seemed to have a bit more veering than most.

2012 was by far the worst winter that I can remember.  Those who should emigrate to Arizona, Florida, or California thought it the best winter in memory but our group of friends was disheartened and disappointed by the complete and utter lack of snow.  Races were cancelled and people were forced to come up with other more unattractive options to stay sane.  The silver lining this year was that with the lack of skiing we made  time to take a harder look at retirement home options up in the Bayfield peninsula.  Almost before we knew it, we were the proud owners of what we feel is the perfect house in Washburn, WI.  It features plenty of land, miniscule yard to mow, it’s energy efficient, and almost 100% compliant with my friend Woody’s real estate requirement, a riff on ‘location, location, location’, the PWS Doctrine. This postulates that the only true test of whether or not you have enough privacy is whether you can ‘pee where you stand’ when out working in the yard.  We got the place in time for our beloved mutt Rookie to hang out in for a couple of months before he headed to that big dog park in the sky and he enjoyed it greatly. Bicycling is excellent right out the back door and the hiking is pretty good as well.  The house and its accompanying activity prevented bow hunting for deer this year but there is always next year.  Gun season threw me a curve with no venison in the freezer  but the BearWhisperer and I recovered nicely during the late muzzleloading season.  Even with home owning the VOR and I did get out to New York to visit my son and his wife and enjoy St Patricks Day at St Patricks.  The annual pre Christmas trip was to Maine this year and came off quite nicely once again.

Even with all the other things going on it was a pretty good kayak season.  The first Lake Superior paddle was earlier than in past years and other than sleeping in the bed at the new joint rather than in a tent on some island, it was a pretty good year.  I wasn’t able to put the miles on that occur in a ‘normal’ year but the opportunity to drive three and a half minutes to launch at Thompson West End Park or the coal dock in Washburn certainly made things simpler.  Pod and I visited the ore dock before it is completely torn down and marveled at this piece of early 20th century technology.  It will be missed in Ashland.  This year resulted in fishing two friends out of the drink in some 3’ to 5’ stuff in locations 150 miles apart on the south shore of Gitchee Gumee.  Both swimmers and rescuer performed quite well in the big water, thank you.  It’s great to paddle with trained and competent companions.  Like skiing, if you don’t go over now and then you just ain’t trying hard enough.  We even got to paddle in a bit of salt water this year when our intrepid trio headed up to Homer, AK to visit RonO.  The ocean was indeed the boss and a tidal paddling seminar we had planned to attend got cancelled but the BadHatter and I still got to play in some nasty stuff with Tom Pogson from the Alaska Kayak School.  This was one of his last events in the Homer area before he moved to Kodiak Island.  We were honored to paddle and enjoy adult beverages with Tom. I also did some instruction this summer, both with our SKOAC group and also at the GLSKS up in Grand Marais, MI.  While I am still at the junior assistant instructor level I keep learning and often wonder if the students or me are learning more.  When it comes to Lake Superior kayaking this season however, I keep coming back to the untimely demise of Bob Weitzel, ‘one of us’, a man that perished off Pigeon Point on the US/Canadian border in June.  It was a sobering dose of reality to those of us who begin to get a bit cocky about our skill level every time we go out in bigger or nastier water and emerge unscathed.  It also underscores the old sailors adage, centuries old, “When at sea, the number is three”.  Bob was remembered at the GLSKS in a Sunday morning eulogy delivered by Bonnie Perry at that mornings service and Blessing of the Boats.  I figured that would be an appropriate way to end this post and the year. Thanks to Bill Thompson at Downwind Sports in Marquette for forwarding the transcript.

Have you noticed that the world is crazy? Have you noticed that the world is amazing? Have you noticed that there are things, events that happen that inspire and enliven us? And that there are things that take place that terrify us? Bob Weitzal’s death while paddling on this great lake, this inland sea was, for me, an intersection of those two things: paddling solo on this liquid goddess and dying alone on this irascible sea. I heard news of a paddler’s death on Lake Superior and I was saddened. A couple of days later I did some reading about the person who had died and by the second paragraph of the article I had realized the man who had died had been a student of mine. A student of mine at a four day joint Paddle Canada/BCU class I had co-taught the summer before. For four days I’d hung out with him: morning, noon and night in what is the crucible of an intense class for both students and coaches alike. In those four days I came to know something of Bob’s passion, desire and determination. Suddenly, his death became personal. As many of you know, I’m an Episcopal priest (All Saints’ Chicago). I have some thoughts, beliefs and ultimately hopes on what happens to us when we die. Regardless of what I may believe happens to us after death–if I’m honest–death scares me. What I know is that one out of one of us dies. Death scares me. But what I know is that I do not want to live my life afraid of death. Because that’s not living that is dying day by day, bit by bit. When I paddle ( I suspect this was true for Bob and perhaps for many of us) –when I paddle I am more alive then any other place in my life. Every time our paddles dip into the water, as I breathe in and out and I know that I am alive, its then that I am aware of being closest to the transcendent and holy. The ancient celts talk about thin places–where it is possible to move through from the secular to the sacred, from the profane to the profound–well paddling is one of those “thin places” it is one such portal. I think Bob knew that and on good days I do too. My hope for us, in this crazy world, is that we too, all of us, will know it. Rest in Peace Bob.

Whether your 2013 plods or veers, have fun, keep your eyes open, and paddle and play safely.

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