“Ninety six, ninety seven, ninety eight, ninety nine, one hundred” I gasped under my breath as I laid my paddle down horizontal on the tandem kayak, allowing myself a 30 second break before picking it back up again. Paddling a tandem kayak with an 87-year-old in the front who had never kayaked in his life before was not what I was expecting when I signed up for my guided kayak trip. I suppose it was my fault though, after all I was the one who had volunteered to switch places with a fellow kayaker who wanted a bit longer of a paddle. Showing up to meet my group it quickly became apparent to me that I was the youngest by at least 35 years. As I helped my fellow kayaker done his life jacket and skirt it occurred to me that I may just be getting a better workout on this paddle than I expected. Have I mentioned that I haven’t kayaked in about 20 years? Perhaps it would have been useful for me to take the Kayak 101 course that was offered in the morning, I thought to myself, as I saddled up to the dock and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. Magne had made it pretty clear that he wanted to the be in the front, and I was to be in the back, doing all the steering. I wondered aloud to the expedition team how I had gotten myself into this position as I sat down in the back with a clunk, trying to find my rudder pedals that apparently steered the boat. “Good luck” they shouted instead of answering my question as they pushed us off the easy dock and into the waters that surrounded Protection Island.
“Alright Magne, it’s really easy” I proclaimed in my loudest and most confident voice, after all he was 87 and I didn’t want to let on that I really had no idea how to kayak, “let’s paddle this thing together”. As Magne stuck his paddle in the water for the first time, two things occurred to me. First off I was going to get wet, really wet, as every time he lifted his paddle out of the water he managed to spray me in the face. Secondly it was probably going to be much easier to navigate this tandem kayak if only I paddled. As I held back my opinion and started power paddling (which I will let you know is much harder than it looks) it dawned on me that one day I would be 87 years old and hopefully by then karma will have come around and some young one would take pity on me, just like I had on Magne. As a harbor seal popped his head up 50 yards from us and a bald eagle took flight above us I heard Magne say, “well would you look at that” with an awe inspired tone of voice; enough to make me forget about the 300 pounds of dead weight I was trying to move across the channel, enough to make me forget that I was losing more water in sweat than I was taking in and enough to make me forget Magne was indeed not paddling. It was these moments I search for in my travels, the moments that make you forget the bad and make you remember the good. It was with great pride that I paddled Magne around Protection Island that morning, I listened to his stories from when he was a child growing up in Norway, learned about his wife who was living with Alzheimer’s and learned about the time he made his own kayak out of margarine tubs, some nails and fertilizer bags. As Magne stroked backwards and I stroked forwards, it occurred to me that it didn’t matter that we weren’t going anywhere, it didn’t matter that we couldn’t keep up with the group, that I was sweating buckets and that Magne had no clue that paddling backwards was the wrong way. The only thing that mattered in that moment was the joy I felt when Magne turned to me and said “thanks for being my captain”.