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.
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.
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.
Love your pictures and love your adventures and stories!
Thanks much, Tammy, for reading and for your encouraging comments! We’ve both come a long way from sitting in those grey cubes at Intel, huh? 🙂
Great story! It would not be an adventure without a few mishaps…glad all worked out in the end.
Thanks, Cheryl! Fortunately I had few issues, besides this craziness and a broken tent pole on day 8 from wind, on this trip. It was mostly calm paddling the rest of the time… “Life has a way of testing a persons will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen at once.” ~Paulo Coelho
Thank God you were wearing a PFD!!
Always around water, Phil!
You’re a tough broad. And we love you for it.
Thanks Tim! Gotta keep up with you!
You are brave and independent. I so admire those qualities.
Thanks Jennifer! I have my parents to thank for raising me in this vein! Took almost 40 years to figure out what it all meant, but I get it now! Be fearless!
Wow! Just WOW! Crazy adventure, great quotes and interesting synchronicity — That dinner landing upside down just when you needed a little boost. Awesome.
How perfectly timed was that dinner falling over, Mary?! I’d like to believe then that my SUP falling over was perfectly timed in the eyes of the universe as well. 🙂
As “they” say, and as I know all too well, shit happens. Great story.
LOL, it sure does, Barry! You know this as well as I, we have a choice in how we look at things when they don’t go quite the way we hoped…be grateful for what we have or disappointed for what we lack. I’m grateful for shit happening. Keeps life interesting (and the stories flowing…). 🙂
I am half-heartedly laughing at your escapades, yet knowing at the same time the curves life has thrown at you recently. There are better days ahead.
The Coloardo and other rivers have taught me how laugh through the rapids, Tony. No matter what happens, gotta enjoy the ride, it’s the only one we get.
No laughter coming from me, but no pity either. You do need or want pity for these unfortunate mishaps. I webnt snorkeling last Tuesday and lost my camera (brand new for the trip to Key West) in the weeds (of course, it couldn’t have slipped off my wrist over a sandy patch). The boat crew and I looked for it for 20+minutes,but no luck. I got a good snootful of seawater as an extra and was still blowing it out of my sinuses for a few days after. BUT it was a beautiful afternoon on a calm sea in crystal-clear water. That same afternoon I went kayaking with one of the crew to a mangrove island that is within the National Bird Sanctuary and saw the wonders of nature Brown Pelicans, Cormorants, a huge and beautiful Osprey, a mammoth Blue Heron, a Night Heron Egrets, Ibises, sea stars, a Yellow Ray, jellyfish, untold numbers of nameless fish and a small Nurse Shark. To top it off, the crew member said I handled the kayaking better than 90% of the tourists that take the trip. That felt good! I have not kayaked much in the past and six years ago had some struggles on a similar excursion. As the sailboat hauled-up anchor and sailed back teh few miles to Key West we witnessed a beautiful sunset. So, I call it all good, depite the seawater in my sinuses and the loss of a brand new camera It is all good, isn’t it? Yes. Yes it is.
Oh wow, Lee! Sorry to hear about your camera, but it can be replaced. Your beautiful experiences and now memories of such an exciting outing cannot. Kudos to you for making the most of a bummer of a situation. Indeed, it’s all good!
Colleen, I would not, will not, could not ever doubt your ability to overcome such trivial hurdles as an overturned SUP, a broken paddle and/or buoyant dinners. Hey, two paddles are better than one, right? You were going to add water to the food anyway, right? You learned to tie in the food bag, right? It’s all good…and so are you. And now you have a better story to tell. It would have been kind of boring, in terms of your usual adventures, if it had all been calm water and sunshine. Walk on, my friend, walk on.
And THAT is why we get along. Love your positive “can do” attitude, Cathy! You’re exactly right, make the best of the situation. And keep paddling! 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement and support. Big hugs!
You are turning into an accomplished author. Interesting read! Can’t wait for your whole story
Thanks so much, Sue! Stay tuned…this story will likely end up in some form in my “You Can Sleep When Your Dead Chronicles” (volume II, the paddling edition) and I’m rewriting the Epilogue for my “Going with the Flow” book (about my 2015 Lake Powell adventure and the life lessons learned since) to include the lessons Mead reinforced for me. Lots and lots of writing to do…
You are ONE AMAZING PERSON!!!! I love reading about your adventures and really appreciate your candor and honesty. I’m not a swimmer and when I’m IN the water (ever!), I have to be able to touch bottom.
Enjoy your journey!
Kathe and Al
Thanks so much for your wonderful comments, Kathe and Al! I love reading about YOUR adventures and seeing your photos from your travels. So keep enjoying the journey too–and stay dry, LOL! Big hugs!
Fantastic story Colleen, I am glad it all worked out, more guts than I have. Keep on keeping on.
Thank you David! You’re stronger and gutsier than you know… 😉