After a quick lunch stop on the fifth day, my second alone, on my Lake Mead trip, I started paddling around the tip of the unnamed island in Bonelli Bay. I knew as soon as I rounded the corner, I’d be out of the headwind. I looked down at the ribbons of water streaming from the nose of my stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and noticed my tripod head, which was resting on its side near the front of my board, was dragging in the water.
I didn’t want anything slowing me down. I kneeled down and leaned over my knee-high pile of dry bags to straighten it out. In doing so, I shifted all of my board’s weight to the front. It was a rookie mistake. I was tired and obviously not thinking straight.
In a split second, my heavy food bag rolled into the lake with a “THUNK,” my board tilted to the left, and I grabbed the right edge of the board in a desperate attempt to stay on. (I’m terrified of water when I can’t see the bottom.) “Fuck!”
I fell butt-first into the lake. My SUP flipped upside-down. Everything went underwater. Everything, that is, except my paddle and food bag, which wasn’t strapped in like everything else for some reason. Both started floating away in the rolling waves. I started treading water, bobbing in my life jacket and clinging to my board. I pushed as hard as I could to get my board to flip, but with the heavy load attached to it now submerged, it barely moved. “Fuck!”
I took a deep breath and tried again. My board teetered on its side at a 45-degree angle while my gear dragged on the water’s surface. I quickly shoved a couple of my bags against the board, which turned it right-side up. One-by-one, I repositioned the rest of my gear into their original position. With the board stabilized, I swam a few yards away to chase down my food and paddle. Although I had packed an extra one, I didn’t want to be up shit creek (lake?) without a paddle. Or dinner for that matter.
PHOTO: The beach I swam to after my capsize. My camp for the evening is in the distance just to the left of center.
When I attempted to reach across my board to get back on, the weight of the gear tipped and the board rocked onto its side again. I quickly let go and fell back into the water to keep my SUP from overturning again. Instead of wasting energy trying to self-rescue, I decided to swim to shore, which was only about 50 yards away.
After pulling my SUP onto the graveled beach, I waded back into the shallow water and washed my hair. I mean, I was already wet, why not? I repacked and steadied my gear, turning my tripod head so it would no longer drag. Then I stripped off all my clothes, laid back into my skirt, and started sobbing. Everything—the emotional weight of my unexpected capsize and recent life struggles—went underwater.
After drying out and regaining my composure, I started paddling across Bonelli Bay as if the event never happened. I didn’t have any room on my board to carry fear with me. Or self-pity. And no one was coming by to listen to me whine. I hadn’t seen a boat in 24 hours. There was no escaping it, I was completely alone.
No more than a half-hour later, my brand new two-bladed paddle snapped in half without warning. I almost fell in again, but in the open waters of Virgin Basin. Up shit creek (lake?) with a broken paddle now, I decided to sit down in my “loveseat” for the remainder of the crossing, about two miles.
PHOTO: The only “whine” I got that night came from this box. And you see how well it survived it’s time in the water during my capsize.
I eventually hobbled into a spacious camp in an east-facing wash close to the mouth of the Narrows. I set up my tent, changed into PJs, and taped the ends of my broken paddle to avoid more carbon fiber splinters. (I had three already.) As I boiled water for dinner, I sat back into my camp chair and reflected on the day’s unexpected events. Now safe and relaxed, I fell apart again. I asked aloud, “Why in the hell do you do things like this? Why do you need to paddle across Lake Mead? Why can’t you just be content sitting at home in a bathtub eating bonbons?” I didn’t have an answer, let alone a good one.
I fumbled to open my freeze-dried dinner, and it slipped out of my chilled hands. My knees caught it upside down. I noticed typing on the bottom of the Mountain House® package, something I had never seen before in my almost twenty-one years of outdoor experiences eating freeze-dried food.
But the universe’s had an answer. Its response was printed on the bottom of my Chicken and Mashed Potatoes dinner: “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us. ~Anonymous”
The Outdoor Writers Association of America awarded this blog Third Place in the “Outdoor Fun & Adventure” category in the 2019 Excellence in Craft awards.
PHOTO: The glorious view from my tent as the setting sun cast the Earth’s shadow above Bonelli Peak across the Virgin Basin on Lake Mead.