So, we're rowing our canoe out in the bay, and I'm pretty jazzed because I am rowing a canoe (something that I have never done before, ever), and my partner and I are moving along pretty swiftly. There was a solid breeze at our backs, which helped move us with the slight waves. The part of the bay closest to the shore was extremely shallow, and there were parts of the water that were comprised mainly of grasses, which caused our canoe to slow down as we had to push off the shallow ground.
The sun was out, the breeze felt nice, and I was guiding a canoe in the Everglades. I could see it now, me telling him about how I rowed a canoe, and him thinking it was hot. (You know, men like when women do things that are slightly masculine, like watching a football game and actually being into it, and women like when men do things that are slightly feminine, like making conversation about things that aren't necessarily critical to life, like an opinion on a dress. Shrug.) I couldn't wait to call my family and tell them that I rowed a canoe. I just knew this was going to be the most victorious experience of my life.
(mind you, we were set to row THREE miles to dock at a key, and we'd probably traveled all of half of .1 of a mile at this point when victorious thoughts started settling in.)
We'd almost made it past this island of trees that was to the left of a canal, and as we were approaching the end of the tree island, we noticed the thickening clouds back toward the shore. The sun was gone, and the wind was whipping around. It looked and smelled like a storm, even though there was only a 20% chance of rain. The decision was made that we should all turn around and start heading back to the marina. At this point, a few thoughts ran through my mind:
- I thought of The Notebook. Yes, I was rowing with my coworker, not a frustrated love interest, but the way the sky clouded over, and the possibility that we could get rained on while in our canoe made me think of the movie. Don't ask.
- I remembered another member of our canoeing party saying that canoeing back would be harder because we would be going against the wind.
- Would we make it back before it stormed?
With these thoughts running through my mind, we turned around and started heading back toward the marina. The other two people we were canoeing with seemed to be making good ground, as we struggled in our canoe. My coworker and I were rowing as hard as we could, but with the wind and the waves, we were being pushed out into the open water away from the shore. Not only was it frightening as hell to be in the middle of a humongous bay, but there were extremely large sections of the water that were made up of the grasses floating under the water, which pretty much inhibit movement. As our canoeing partners seemed to get farther away from us, we were turned around by the wind, which left us facing the direction opposite of that which were trying to go. We kept rowing and ended up getting stuck in the other set of grasses, the one that came with shallow ground. The wind was kicking, and as my coworker said she didn't know what to do, the thought finally surfaced in my head that I had no clue as to what to do either, and that I had no experience whatsoever, besides watching Man v. Wild on the Discovery Channel. What would Bear Grylls do?
We sat there for a second in a bit of a silent panic. A few thoughts ran through my head:
- Slave ships. Might seem strange, or even flippant, but during my short-lived rowing victory, I thought of the oft-used cartoon image of a ship of slaves having to row to the drum beat. During the victory, I thought, hey, rowing's not so bad
clearly because I wasn't a slave rowing a boat, but a idealistic touristand during my moment of quiet panic, I thought, this shit is hard.
- What if we actually get stuck out here?
- Did the other two make it back to the marina? Will they send someone for us?
As we tried to row again, the wind continued to push us aside, so we allowed ourselves to be pushed toward some trees, and then we stopped and pondered our options. My coworker decided to try getting out and pulling the canoe through the muck we were sitting in. Unfortunately, the muck was like quicksand, and we didn't get very far with this idea. You know when you're at the beach, burying your feet in the sand, and the tide washes over your feet? You know how it feels when the water gets down in the sand, and your feet get buried further? I imagine that's what it felt like. I didn't dare step out of that canoe; I was so terrified of what could be lurking in the muck. My coworker fell over in the muck, and we decided that pulling the boat wasn't an option.
We sat there, both silently scared, until we tried heading back out into open water again. When we got out as far as we could, we saw that our other canoeing buddies hadn't made it anywhere either. Relief crashed within me as I realized that we weren't alone. We all decided to pull over and dock our canoes in the muck until the breeze slowed considerably. At this point, it decided to rain. I sat there, life jacket firmly strapped to me (even though the canoe was stationary), legs and knees stiff as a board (canoes are not made for tall people), being rained on in the Everglades.
We all started to laugh uncontrollably.
We talked about being stranded, about how we should collect rain water so we'd have something to drink on day 35; I joked that it was ridiculous that my last meal might just be the ham sandwich I packed for lunch. One of our canoe buddies tried to step out of the canoe and her leg promptly sank about a foot in the muck, and we erupted into giggles. I snapped pictures of her muck-covered leg; of my coworker in the back of the canoe. We joked about Gilligan's Island, and about why the lady at the desk didn't question our experience before renting a canoe to us.
The laughs poured forth, because I think we all realized that we were only probably .3 miles away from where we started (and that number is probably 3 times reality), and because so many things were going wrong, that there wasn't much else to do but laugh.
At some point during our laughter session, the sun came back out, and the wind tapered off a bit. We decided to head out again, this time determined that we would make it back. My coworker and I got into a good stride, and made great progress across the waves, now shining a murky, minty green from the sunlight above.
We made it past the island of trees when the wind picked up again, though the sun remained out. The wind grew too strong for us to combat, and when it pushed us against a shoreline of muck that smelled like boiled eggs and poop, we decided that we had had enough. Right near a campground, we got out of the boat and tied it to a picnic table and decided we would walk the rest of the way back. It was at this time that my shoe broke (it was already on its way out, but the fact that it decided to break right then was hilarious to both of us), and a wave of people emerged from a path, on a nature hike.
The fact that we had gone from panic and fear of being lost at sea under a stormy sky to seeing 30 or so people emerge on a nature hike not far from where we thought we'd be lost forever was too much for us, and we laughed, and laughed, and laughed, as we all left our canoes anchored and walked back to the marina, to let them know that they would have to get the canoes for us; we'd had enough.
So, as I sit here today, with a neck that feels like I have whiplash and hands that ache like someone punched my palms repeatedly, I know I will always have a special bond with the Everglades, even though it wasn't quite the place I imagined it to be.
Not everyone can say that they were almost lost at sea and live to tell the tale.