Waves Over the Bow

I was going to tell you why this place is called ‘Waves Over the Bow.’ Are you interested in hearing about that? The consensus, at the time of the naming, was that ‘hip deep muck’ was pretty good to. Nick liked ‘muck’ but Mike liked ‘waves.’ I was torn, but age prevailed and Mike won.

It’s a metaphor.

There was a trip that Mike and I took for which all I remember were the waves washing over the bow of the canoe. Some times are like that.

We were paddling on the Ross and Diablo Lake system. It was a stunning atmosphere, with our lakes lying low in a gorge. During the summer day, temperature differentials between one end and another causes a blast of wind. It can be calm at 11:00 in the morning and at 11:30, just thirty minutes later, whitecaps go airborne on one and a half foot waves. You throw in some vertical cliffsides with reflected waves instead of an easy shoreline and it can be a recipe for disaster.

Except that I didn’t know that. All I knew was the excitement of the moment. It was like running a challenging river, I thought. Mike knew better about the safety issues than I did. I was always a little ignorant that way. I imagine I still am, but I’ve seen enough river rescues by now to have a better understanding of how powerful that water can be.

There I sat, in the bow of our Old Town canoe, as water began to wash straight over the bow. We had traversed the dam, passed the lovely floating cabins where we would never stay because they didn’t allow dogs. We’d paddled into open water when the wind abruptly began. Mike was worried. I was elated.

The glacial water on the lakes stays at a fairly steady 47 degrees, or as Mike would say ‘butt-ass cold.’ I can’t remember if we were wearing our wet suits. It’s a pretty good bet we were, if Mike’s level of preparation was its usual. Still, we were out in the middle of a large lake, loaded for a long weekend of camping with a dog lying across our gear. Yes, Indiana was wearing her life jacket, albeit reluctantly. We wore ours as well. The wind was such that we were forced to aim the canoe into the breaking waves to keep from being swamped. Mike set the angle of the canoe against the wind so that we would ferry to our island campsite. I didn’t understand this concept until much later, but let me make it easy for you. In a high wind, the canoe is a sail, the paddle in the stern is the rudder and my only job, paddling from the bow of the boat, was to stabilize the boat, to brace.

It’s physics, folks. Do you like physics now? I only began to love physics once I saw it this way, forces on canoes, vectors toward islands. Personally, I think most of physics should be taught from the prow of a sail boat or better yet, in an amusement park, like from the top of the best roller coaster, preferably one with a loop. Now wouldn’t that be a school the kids would love?

So picture me in the bow of my canoe. I bought this canoe for Mike for Christmas in 1987 and by the time we were in this predicament, it was 1996 or so. See, I can’t even remember what year it was. Ice cold water washed over the front of the canoe with every wave. It was invigorating. My adrenaline was running high, but not so high as to create a true fear. I think I was too stupid for fear. Have you ever noticed that? In many dangerous situations, there are only a few smart people who really have a clue as to what might happen next. That person was Mike. I just screamed with happiness, paddling my ass off, laughing as the dog shifted the boat even further to one side or another in a futile attempt to keep dry.

No, we didn’t swamp. Mike was that good. We made it to the island camp, and I’m sure it was stunning the as is every site is along that waterway. Yet I don’t remember a thing except those waves freezing the heat off the summer sun.

You still might want to know why that’s important. See, it’s my life. Every moment of life is that way. I am one wave away from being washed overboard, and here I sit, laughing and screaming for the simple joy of it.

Thank you for listening, jules


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