A Kayaking Story for the Hobie Blog

I wrote the following story about a kayaking trip on the Colorado River for the Hobie blog.


Exploring the Black Canyon of the Colorado: A Hobie Playground

“Isn’t that overkill?”

My friend, Phil, and I were discussing our upcoming weekend trip to Black Canyon, the stretch of the Colorado River below the Hoover Dam. He’d just listed off all the Hobie boats and boards he wanted to bring: three Mirage Tandem Islands, two Mirage Outback kayaks, two Mirage Eclipse pedalboards and one stand up paddleboard. With eight people in our group, we could dump at least two, or even three of those craft. Less is more, right?

“Nah,” said Phil. “We’ll be able to try all the different boats and boards, switch crafts back and forth, play on the river. It’ll be fun.”

The first night we arrived late to the boat launch at Willow Creek, which lies 12 miles downriver from the Hoover Dam. Our group included Phil and his wife, Hadley, our friends Jenny, Will, Julie, Javiera, my husband Kirk, and me. With no time to waste, we unloaded the boats from the trailer and proceeded to pack them full with three days of supplies. Drybags of clothes and food were stuffed in the hatches. Five-gallon jugs of water fit easily under the Bungee tie-downs. The Mirage Eclipses and paddleboard (that Phil said weren’t overkill) each found a home lying across the akas of a Tandem Island. All packed and geared up, we shoved off from the launch just before midnight.

Our destination, the campground at Arizona Hot Springs, was seven miles upriver.

The river’s surface was inky black, except the reflection of the moon, which occasionally showed its face between the shadowy canyon walls. The air was cool, the night still. We had the river to ourselves. All of our boats had MirageDrives, which meant two things: after a full day of work and travel before launching, we could tackle a 7-mile upriver journey with relative ease; and, we could eat snacks, keep hydrated and look up at the stars, all while pedaling onward.

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Photo: Javiera Olmedo

The first morning, we slept late and took it easy. Our resident chef, Hadley, fried bacon and eggs for the whole crew. Many of us relaxed in Hobie Vantage CT seats that we’d removed from our boats and set up around the campfire. After the previous night’s three-hour journey upriver, my body was happy to do nothing but sip coffee and take in the smells of breakfast.

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Photo: Lauren Schroeder

Later, we hiked up into the canyon to find hot springs. Rock walls towered on either side of the gravel trail. We scrambled up boulders and climbed rope ladders. Bubbling warm water periodically submerged the trail, hinting we were on the right path. The hike culminated at the top of a 20-foot ladder, which deposited us directly into the first of three successively warmer pools. I felt like Goldilocks in a swimsuit.

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Photo: Javiera Olmedo

That afternoon, we got back on the river. With our supplies and gear stowed at our campsite, our boats floated lighter and so did our spirits. Hadley and Will hopped on the Mirage Eclipses, Jenny took the paddleboard and the rest of us jumped in Tandem Islands.

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Photo: Javiera Olmedo

We headed upriver, straight into a swift section of current. “You ready for this?” I yelled to Kirk seated behind me in our Tandem Island. The strongest section, gurgling with rapids, was immediately ahead. “Full throttle!” he yelled back.

The boat hit the strong current and stalled. My feet still pumping, I looked over at the shore and saw we weren’t moving forward at all. “Give it all you’ve got!” yelled Kirk. I kicked my legs into overdrive.

Slowly, we inched past the shore, moving upriver. I whooped and hollered. “We got it, we got it!” After ten minutes of furious pedaling, we glided into a calm nook of the river fringed with sand. When our hulls hit the beach, Kirk and I grinned at each other, chests still heaving.

The next day, we headed upriver once more for the 4-mile trip to the Hoover Dam. It was my first time on a Mirage Eclipse. After sitting in kayaks, standing up was a new freedom. A few swift foot strokes sent me zipping along the surface of the river. From my elevated perspective, I could see deep into the clear water below. Underwater grasses waved in slow-motion with the current.

After rounding a large bend in the river, the bridge (built to reroute traffic off the dam) came into view, then finally, the Hoover Dam itself. It was awesome to see from water level.

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The dam marked our turnaround; from there on out we headed downriver. I pedaled an Outback kayak, and enjoyed skirting the edges of the river, running my hand along the rock, observing the story the water had carved into the canyon walls.

Phil, who carries a map of Black Canyon in his head (the National Park Service map is here), took us to several interesting spots on our way back to camp. We sat in the steamy darkness of Sauna Cave, stood under warm waterfalls in Boy Scout Canyon, and jumped off cliffs into the river.

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Photo: Javiera Olmedo

Our last day, we packed up camp, and made the 7-mile return trip to Willow Beach. We floated lazily with the current and played on the water. Tour boat riders swiveled their heads to get a better look at the Hobie water carnival. Hadley dove off her Outback and Jenny attempted inverted yoga poses on her Mirage Eclipse. We raced each other, pedaled at full speed on collision courses, and played musical chairs with our Hobie craft. I traded from a Tandem Island to an Outback, to a Mirage Eclipse, then back to a Tandem Island.

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Photo: Kirk Berryman

A few miles before the boat launch, an intermittent breeze funneled up through the canyon. Kirk, Hadley and I each solo-sailed a Tandem Island; back and forth our sails crisscrossed the river. When my boat slowed after a tack, I punched the MirageDrive pedals and was back up to speed in a matter of seconds. We raced each other all the way to the finish line.

Many thanks to our trip coordinator, Phil, for taking my ‘less is more’ theory and blowing it out of the water. More Hobie toys always equal more fun.

Our Wedding

Kirk and I got married this past April in Oceanside, California. It was sunny and hot, probably the warmest weekend we had all spring. The ceremony was held at a park across the Strand from the beach, and the reception on a hotel rooftop with a view of the pier.

Weddings. They’re so hyped in our culture, yet just one day of your entire life will be spent experiencing your own. When planning ours, Kirk and I went back and forth trying to decide where and when, what and how. Should we have it in Wisconsin, where my family is from, or Michigan where his is from? Or Chicago, a meet-in-the-middle, of sorts? Or California, where we live now? How large or small should our guest list be? Should we involve just immediate family? How much money do we want to spend? Wedding cakes are how much? Should we just screw the whole idea and elope?

Despite the simplicity and economical appeal of eloping, getting married wasn’t just about us. We wanted our moms and dads and sisters (both Kirk and I each have one sister) to experience their daughter and son and sibling get married. We wanted our friends and family who’ve never been to San Diego to see where we live. We wanted to celebrate us, because we rarely, if ever, did that sort of thing.

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I have to thank Kirk for all of the work he did to plan the wedding. We gave ourselves (unintentionally) less than four months from the time we set the date until the big day. After deciding in late 2015 we wanted to have a wedding — and have it in San Diego — we started coming up on a time crunch. We wanted nice weather. December, January and February are too cold, November can be iffy, too. May and June are afflicted by “May gray, June gloom,” and July can be cloudy as well. August, September, October are all great, but it would be nice if we gave our Midwest guests some respite from their annual 7-8 months of crappy weather.

That left March and April. To better our odds of warmer spring weather, we settled on April. It was a quick turnaround. We could have pushed it to October of 2016, or April of 2017. But from our perspective back in December of 2015, that would mean we’d lock ourselves into our current living situation for the next year or longer. Since recently becoming debt-free, Kirk and I have been planning some moves. Literally.

We hit the ground running in January, with Kirk designing our wedding website and me starting yoga teacher training. (!?) Taking a 200-hour yoga teacher training course while planning a wedding on top of a regular workload isn’t something I’d recommend, but thanks to Kirk’s efforts we made it work. Why the training, why then? It was my last opportunity to do the training with the incredible teachers I’d been practicing with for the last 4 years, as they were leaving San Diego to open another studio across the country.

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There are a million little details that go into this wedding planning thing. Even though ours would be relatively small and our reception was planned almost completely by the hotel (food, decorations, seating, lighting, etc.), it’s still a circus. A few things made ours more complicated than not: hosting several friends and family members at our house leading up to and after the wedding, having separate locations for the ceremony and reception, and throwing a cocktail party at our house for all our guests the night before the wedding.

The Saturday before the wedding was my graduation from teacher training. After leading a class of fellow trainees through my own 30-minute yoga flow, I exhaled three months of intense physical and emotional effort from my body and mind. The feeling of relief was too quickly replaced with nervous anticipation of the wedding — less than 7 days away. Something else was gnawing at me, too. Kirk and I had decided to write our own vows, and I hadn’t finished mine yet.

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Our families began arriving from the Midwest starting Tuesday, trickling in over the week, providing us with an incredible amount of preparation help. My Aunt Jayne made last-minute alterations to my dress. Kirk’s mom Val and Aunt Anita slaved away in our kitchen preparing all of the food for the Friday night party and post-ceremony refreshments. My sister Kelly and friend Hadley threw me a bachelorette party Thursday night. My mom sorted tiny details I would have forgotten including my jewelry, bobby pins and sanity.

Friday night at 6:30 pm, I was in a full-blown holy-shit-we’re-so-not-ready-for-this panic, when Andrea, my friend since kindergarten, fresh off her flight from Chicago, walked into the courtyard of our house with the biggest this-is-finally-happening! grin on her face. I was struggling through my bachelorette party hangover, trying to set out chairs, and had yet to set up the bar on the porch, or hang the lights. “You should put your dress on. Let me finish this,” she said, grabbing the lanterns.

~ ~ ~

The day of. From the minute I awoke, through all of the last-minute logistics — making sure all friends and family helping us pull this together knew what they needed to do, when, where and how; that the chairs, flowers, tables, refreshments, sound systems, musician, photographer, baker, their equipment and goods would arrive and depart, be set up and torn down when needed; that all the things flying around the ether only as theoretical plans until now, actually manifested in real life when we needed them to, oh shit! — through it all, I was still writing my vows.

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Five minutes before the ceremony was supposed to begin, I was sitting on the couch in my dress with my computer on my lap, my cursor blinking at me. My sister had driven my mom to the ceremony first and was coming back for me any second.

Kelly burst in the door. “You ready? It’s getting late.”

“Just one second here…” I frantically connected my computer to the printer.

“You haven’t printed out your vows.”

“Uhh…”

I took the paper from the printer. “Have now. But I still haven’t finished.” I wanted them to be perfect.

“Gimme that.” She grabbed the paper and scanned it. “What are you talking about…?” She scribbled the last word, and added a period. “Done.”

My sister at the wheel, we drove the dozen blocks from my house through town and down to the Strand. To get to our entrance point on the south side of the park and meet my florists waiting with our bouquets, we had to drive right past all of our guests gathered at the park. I crouched down in the backseat of the Passat. By now we were close to fifteen minutes late. Later, I found out Kirk grabbed the mic to explain to everyone that I was having a tough time getting out of my wetsuit and into my dress.

We parked the car, were handed bouquets, then rounded the corner to see my dad waiting at the edge of the park. The ring bearers (we had two: Kirk’s cousin, James, and his best man’s son, Levon) set off. Kelly, my maid of honor, went next. Then I took my dad’s arm, and together we walked down the aisle.

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Reception-ps

Just like everyone says, your wedding day is a blur. Near the end of the ceremony, after we read our vows, I breathed my first tiny sigh of relief. Even so, the rest of the day I was in a heightened state of reality, a million thoughts and none blazing through my mind and not at all times. My friend Hadley, who got married last year, told me there will be things you wished played out differently — you can’t help it. With so many things happening at once and only one shot at how they play out, mishaps are inescapable. The goal of course, was never a perfectly executed event. It was a gathering and celebration of friends, family, and love.

I’ll remember… Our ring bearer, James, surprising us by wearing the same outfit Kirk wore to his aunt and uncle’s wedding nearly 30 years ago when Kirk was their ring bearer; the joke our officiant (Kirk’s uncle Greg) made when he called out my thoughts that he was dragging on too long (he wasn’t); the whale spout our guests saw behind us during the ceremony; the cheers and clapping from people sitting on their decks and on the beach as we walked the Strand; our first impromptu dance on the pier to a Peter Frampton song played by O’side local, Issac; my sister’s heartfelt speech; Kirk’s best man TC’s speech, so long and so not PG; my dad’s speech, how he paced the floor and timed his punchlines like a stand-up comedian; Kirk directing the reception’s events with aplomb; reminiscing with my since-we-were-babies friend, Julie, while watching the slideshow Kirk’s dad, Kevin, put together; dancing with Kirk like crazy people to Queen; spotting my dad and Kirk’s dad taking pulls from a bottle of scotch; cruising back and forth through the lounge on longboards by the fireplace; watching Uncle Greg tear up the dancefloor in his Teva sandals.

To all of our friends and family, who came to help celebrate us, thank you. ?

 

Photos: John Newsome Photography.

Chris & Kelly’s New House

In June, my sister and her boyfriend bought their first house. It’s a 20-minute drive outside the city of Eau Claire, situated amongst rye and corn fields, off a road that sees a half a dozen cars a day. Kelly says it’s in the country. I say it’s in the middle of nowhere.

To be fair, the house is relatively close to Chris’ parents and extended family, and to UW-Eau Claire, where Kelly will begin her master’s program in speech-language pathology this fall. The 3 bed 1 bath house sits on a lot just shy of an acre, along with a detached garage, garden shed, workshop and wood storage shelter/shady space for a hammock. There’s also a deer stand, two raspberry patches, an out-of-control Concord grapevine and a bunch of trees older than Kelly and my ages combined.

Kirk and I drove up with my parents to Eau Claire for the weekend to work on landscaping and painting projects. (And to drink beers, river float down the Chippewa and play Baggo.) Saturday we rolled up our sleeves–er, just put on t-shirts, cause it was the middle of July and freakin’ hot–and got to work. Kelly and I grabbed brushes and rollers, balanced ourselves on the kitchen countertops and painted the cabinets while singing to Motown music. Everyone else went to work in the yard. Kirk grabbed the weed whacker and my mom strategized where to plant flowers. My dad, who’s spent the last 30 years walking behind a push mower, ran and jumped onto Chris’ ridealong. Kelly and I watched him through the kitchen window. “See him careening around that turn?!” “That grin!”

After our lunch break, Kirk tackled the job no one else wanted: hacking through the raspberry patch. The 20×40′-ish plot, which apparently used to be two neat rows of bushes, had completely overgrown into one giant thorny jungle. Kirk dove in. By late afternoon, he’d completely reclaimed the center walking path. We were all quite impressed.

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Kelly and Chris, these are for you, in remembrance of your first summer in your new house. ☼

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Sailing in Cancun

Here’s part III of our Cancun trip taken last November (part I: wedding and part II: island).

Our last full day in Cancun was my mom’s 60th birthday. She wanted to go snorkeling; it’s her favorite thing to do. During our bareboat charter in Australia six years ago she went snorkeling five separate times in one day. (It’s not enough that California has beautiful weather and coastline, it needs coral reefs for my parents to visit me more than once every couple years ;).

We chartered a sailboat to get to the better reefs that lie in between mainland Cancun and Isla Mujeres, the island a few miles off the coast on which we were staying. Our boat’s captain told us the reefs were mere fractions of their former selves since hurricane Wilma hit in 2005, hammering Cancun with 95-130 mph winds for 36 hours. But even so, he knows a good spot, he said.

When planning our trip, I told my mom we’d love to do a bareboat charter — it’s more of an adventure when you’re in charge of your own boat. Finding a boat that didn’t already have a captain proved tough, especially a sailboat. Since we weren’t willing to give up sails just to be able to skipper our own vessel, we ended up chartering the 40′ monohull Xanadu, captained by Luis Alonso Nieto, who told us as we stepped aboard that his boat was our boat for the day.

Captain Luis’ knowledge of the area was invaluable. The reef he took us to spanned a few hundred feet in the middle of a 5-mile channel between Cancun and Isla Mujeres — needle in a haystack. Once we arrived at the reef, we jumped off the stern, hung onto lines behind the boat, donned snorkels, and dove to swim with the fish. (See the video at the end of this post!) My lungs felt new levels of exhaustion afterward.

Back on Xanadu, Captain Luis’ crew trimmed the sails, and we were off on a tack toward the southern end of Isla Mujeres. The wind was a bit touch and go, letting the boat bob more than my dad’s and sister’s stomachs cared for. Nausea is half in your head; the more you succumb to it the worse it gets. Occupy your mind otherwise and you can usually make it disappear. I told Kelly to get to the helm. “You want me to steer?” She thought I had water in between my ears. “Get yourself up there, you’ll feel better. Promise.” After ten minutes of steering, she was looking spritely.

At the southern tip of Isla Mujeres, we turned back north to sail along its coast. The afternoon melted into early evening, and by twilight Captain Luis dropped us back on the dock. Salty and sun-weary, we thanked him and his crew for the fun day, and wonderful 60th birthday for Mom. ☼

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