Push Past What You Think Is Possible for Mental and Physical Health
It was a dark and stormy morning, but we decided to go running and kayaking anyway, because we're special like that!
Have you ever looked at something and said, “no way would I ever be able to do that!” Maybe it was bake and decorate a wedding cake, or run a marathon or learn to swim, dive, fly a plane or even score a perfect score on a difficult test. We all want to do spectacular things in and with our lives, but most of us live in a world of mundane, repetitive chores and feel we are being held back by the very people who should be cheering us on to greatness. Still, a lot of motivation comes from within not from others and in that we can often be our own worst enemy. Here’s a little story of how I conquered the enemy, even just for one day and had one of the best weekends of my recent life.
Which would you choose: to get up and run in the rain or hit snooze and sleep in on Saturday?
Normally when I wake up on a rainy Saturday morning, I just roll over and go back to sleep. Our local running group, the Savannah Strider’s, does 6:30 a.m. runs from Lake Mayer to the Isle of Hope Marina and Dutch Island. In the summer, it is actually light out as early as 6:15 a.m., but this time of year; the end of August, it is barely light enough to see and when it is raining, it feels even darker, but I had been on a health kick and personal awareness trip lately, trying to overcome my own shortcomings that made me feel like a failure at anything I tried and I wasn’t about to let that “woe is me” attitude stop me from making strides forward, even if they were wet, sloppy, slow strides.
The rain seemed unending, but cleared a bit just minutes before we were to meet. There was another slight drizzle on the drive over, but it wasn’t so bad and about 14 of us showed up with half staying at the lake to run laps and the other half heading out for longer runs through Dutch Island and the Marina.
I debated over what to do. Our little group was running about five or six miles while nursing old injuries and preventing new ones from occurring. I had no races planned until September and one was a 5K and the other a relay, so was quite happy to stay with Becky and Karen and run a lap and walk/run a lap. We had all been having problems breathing and getting any speed and hoped it was due to the horrific high temperatures and even higher humidity. Humans were not designed to breath in water vapor in mid ninety-degree heat.
Becky decided she wanted to go faster and joined Marilyn who had arrived late, not sure what the weather was going to do either, so Karen and I ran from one light pole to the other and then walked a light pole. It was not as sophisticated a "walk-run" system as the one Jeff Galloway created, but it got the job done. Just as we were commenting on how lucky we were that the rain had not been any worse, we heard a loud woosh, that grew closer causing the still, calm waters of the smooth-as-glass lake to ripple as a band of rain and wind soaked us, but we kept going another lap and laughed about how crazy the Strider’s were to run in all kinds of weather. At the very least, if we were sweating, we didn’t know it and the rain helped to cool things down.
Arriving home, I was grateful I decided to go. There is something very rewarding about following through on your goals and getting chores done before the day begins so that you are free to do other things you want to do and can’t when you work five or more days a week.
One rainy adventure would lead to another much more strenuous one.
You would think that running four and a half miles in the pouring rain was achievement enough for the day, but I had signed up for a kayak paddle held by the Savannah River Keeper’s who help keep the local waterways clean. The weather still looked dreary and no one replied when I asked if the event was still on, so I slathered on sun screen and packed a light lunch and water and waited for some sort of sign that I was not crazy for pursuing something that would have been a lot more fun in the sun and calmer conditions.
The Big Float Kayak Paddle was to take place at 11:30 leaving from Bubba Gumbo’s on Old Tybee Road on Lazaretto Creek. The rain kept banding and dissipating and I couldn’t help wonder if we were receiving winds from Hurricane Harvey way over in the Gulf of Mexico as it headed for the coast of Texas or if it were some other system coming off the ocean to the east.
At 10 a.m. the sun poked through the clouds, so I threw all my gear into the truck, said a quick prayer for God to keep us all safe and headed out to Tybee as the rains pelted the truck, then cleared, fell again and cleared. I was not so sure about going out on the open water but it seemed to be rain only with no lightening, so it should be okay. I wondered if anyone else would be there.
There is that moment when you wonder if you are the only crazy person pursuing an unrealistic goal, show up and discover you are truly not alone in your madness
I got there nearly an hour early, but my friend Maria had pulled up right behind me with her family so we unloaded kayaks and walked around the dock and restaurant. I had passed by this road many times, but never went down it. There was a marina, though not big and a few boats at the docks, one with a man, his wife and their dog who came down from Hilton Head, South Carolina because they were bored and preferred the company of laid back Georgian’s.
“It’s like Mayberry RFD out here,” said the jovial gentleman. “We solve all the world’s problems only on the water, not a tiny little town.” He said the food at Bubba Gumbo’s was as good as the company at the dock. His dog, a poodle-looking cross with blond/brown fur seemed just as pleased to greet us as the two turtles swimming in a tank inside the kayak rental place.
It took about an hour for everyone to arrive and get their kayaks to the dock and into the water. So far, the weather had held off from dumping more rain, but the skies were cloudy, which actually felt good and kept the heat of the sun from overpowering our trip. We were to head south on Lazeretto Creek toward the public boat landing, past Tybee Road, which was buzzing non-stop with traffic going both directions towards the beach and towards downtown Savannah. It was amazing how fast the cars were going and the noise they created.
We paddled past the dolphin tour boats that were sitting there with no tours. One group had gone out earlier, but our guide said the water was so warm that most of the dolphins and a few manatees they had seen a few weeks before had gone to find cooler waters. The water was fairly smooth as the faster paddlers broke free from the pack to keep the newbie paddlers from ramming their kayaks and splashing them with water from their backwards turned paddle blades. It was one of those things where you didn’t want to embarrass them by telling them they needed to turn the blades around or let them go and say nothing and hope they would figure it out by observing others around them. I guess in kindness you should tell someone when they have food on their face or a big piece of white something stuck to the back of their shoe, but there is a fine line between doing a good deed and making a potential small problem seem bigger and besides, half the time no one ever listens to what I say anyway, so it probably wouldn’t do any good. I think there was a prophetess named Cassandra that was given the gift to accurately predict future events, but then cursed in that no one would believe what she told them. I felt that way often.
When smooth sailing turns to rough waters, you keep on keeping on
The tide was moving out to sea so carried us out at a good clip until we turned down the next bend and met up with some choppy water and wind and pelting rain that stung when it hit bare skin. With the wind, the cold rain was chilly, but still felt better than the alternative stagnant air and heat. We dug our paddles deep and bowed our heads in part to keep the rain out our faces and in part to keep our hats from catching the wind and blowing off our heads.
Our friend Pam complained that the rain was hitting her in her right ear and dripping down her ear canal and our guide suggested she pull her hair over her ear to block it. It worked! A lot of the group seemed to drop off at this point and we worried but hoped that they were with another guide who was staying behind to make sure everyone was okay. About twenty kayaks and a few paddle boarders kept moving on and at the next bend the waters calmed and the rains ceased and an outgoing tide moved us effortlessly the next half mile or so with only mild corrections to keep from being pulled toward the marsh.
Once around the choppy bend we were all in better moods and moved closer together to chat and let others catch up when we heard a low roaring noise in the distance. Our guide thought it was a larger boat coming so moved us all closer to the marsh as a reddish looking flat boat seemed to head straight toward us at very high speeds, getting louder and sending plumes of water out on either side. As it got closer, we thought they would slow down, but they didn’t. It turned out to be one of the new air boat tours and it was loud and sent huge sprays of water out and created waves unending. Thankfully, everyone did okay and no one swamped or tipped over, but it was a unique experience and reiterated that air boats are not the most environmentally friendly ways to see the water. Take a big industrial fan and enlarge it by four and half times and immerse it in the water, and you will have some idea of what it looked like to those of us sitting less than five inches above the water!
The next bend we met with more rough water and decided we needed to head back against the outgoing tide. I did as my fishing relatives had taught me and hugged close to the marsh to the left of the outgoing water so there was less drag on the boat and the marsh kept the wind from interfering quite as much, but some paddled out in the center current where the water was swifter and when they stopped paddling to rest their muscles, the current pulled them back twenty feet in just a few seconds. By paddling near the marsh-line you can reach out and grab a piece of stalky spartina grass and anchor yourself in place, another trick I learned when out crabbing and drifting without an anchor!
Getting back against the tide overpowered about one tenth of our remaining group who struggled with bigger bulky rental kayaks and plastic seat backs which made it hard on their already overtaxed bodies. The current was really swift and hard to fight even for experienced paddlers. It took us twice as long to get back as it did to go out. At one point in route back, the rain was pelting us in the face so hard that you could not breath through your nose without inhaling water and if you breathed through your mouth you had to keep your lips open and your teeth closed to keep from breathing in salty water droplets that stung so hard they made your teeth itch. It was kind of funny and paddling was a challenge, but most of us managed to keep moving forward and make the best of it.
There were several egrets and red-winged blackbirds. A rare fish would jump out the water and two seagulls and a pelican flew by, but other than that, we were the only wildlife on the water! After a while it became a game of seeing who could keep moving the fastest and longest without getting left behind, but everyone seemed to be in good spirits despite the challenges.
It's always darkest before the storm, but then there's that silver lining thing...
The worst part of the paddle was the crossing over to get back to the dock with water coming hard from two creeks creating a surge of water that would push you back out if you didn’t paddle continuously with as much force as you could muster. Even I had to talk to myself outload saying, “come on body, you can do this, don’t give out on me now, pull, paddle, row, keep moving, don’t stop. GO, go, Go!!!” I may have looked stupid, but hey, it got me back to the dock.
As we were going past the dock around the creek to come up along the backside where there were floating docks at kayak level, huge swells of water rolled like a man-made surf machine. I could not figure out where they were coming from. It was not the wake of a boat, but it came with three to four-foot swells, all smooth and rolling with about 15 feet of space between the dip and the swell. When we got back, our friend from Hilton Head said they were called rolls and appeared with an outgoing tide and an incoming wind. I learned something new!
A few people wisely pulled into the public boat ramp about a half mile back and caught a ride to the launch dock by car where those of us with pick-up trucks returned to haul the boats back to the restaurant. I almost wished I had done the same, but then I would have missed my own pep-talk and the rolling water, so guess it was worth it.
A few people felt the paddling event was mislabeled. It was presented as an easy beginner route and named the “Big Float”, though technically that part was right, they just left out the Herculean paddling skills necessary to return home!!! I kind of liked the challenge, but if I were new to paddling, I might have been miffed or even worried that I would not make it back at all. Some suggested having a power boat to rescue stranded kayakers if such a trip was taken again or perhaps paddling out to one site and being driven back to the other to avoid returning through the strong current.
On route home, the rain still pelted the truck. When we pulled out of the parking lot, a huge wind blew the trash cans over and made the oleander trees bend to the ground. We had a few gusts like that when we were paddling that nearly pulled the paddles right out our hands even with the paddles feathered so that the raised paddle blade cut the air thin-side rather than flat-side into the wind. It was definitely an adventure we’ll remember for a while and no one will need to do biceps and chest exercises at the gym any time soon.
As if Saturday’s fun was not enough, we had another adventure planned for Sunday
I always feel a little guilty ditching church for outdoor adventures on Sunday, but this one was the annual pool party at Dr. Mark Manocha’s house on Wilmington Island. We first met Mark about five years ago when we were training for the first ever Rock N Roll Marathon coming to Savannah. I used to like to run with Mark and hear stories from his ER experiences with people getting nail gun nails stuck in their eyes. It was not talk for the squeamish but better than listening to women gossip or talk about the new drapes they bought for their renovated kitchens.
The day should have been simple. We arrived at seven. My plan was to walk with some friends and take it easy, but Holly, who was training to run faster and further paces wanted to try an easy pace for the full four plus miles. I agreed to go one mile with her and then planned to turn back and catch up with the walking group, but as we hit the half mile mark, I actually felt pretty good and we kept going until another cold rain dumped over us.
Holly let out a squeal and said, “run for the tree” as Maria and her friend took a short cut and ducked under an awning or some such for cover. I started laughing at Holly and told her, “did you never go to girl scouts as a child and learn that running under a tree in a rainstorm can get you killed by lightening?”
I am not too sure she believed me and there was just rain, no signs of thunder or lightening, but by this time we were already wet so kept going another three or more miles though we had to take a few walk breaks toward the end as our shoes and clothing were waterlogged and even a few extra pounds when running can take a toll on your endurance.
When we got back, everyone was eating breakfast so we joined in, but hardly anyone was getting in the pool. Jesse took a fishing pole and went down to the dock so a few of us followed and talked and then a few adult rebels jumped in the pool and few more joined, but most everyone stayed dry and under shelter. What fun is that folks?
Later I tried to get someone to go out on the kayak with me. Maria said she was still having nightmares about our adventure yesterday, but Colm finally agreed to take the tandem out with me. I had never been on a tandem kayak and it took a while for both of us to get balanced and moving straight. We didn’t go far and came back and listened to fellow Strider’s sing karaoke. By this time the kids had taken over the pool, but I was on a roll and dove in anyway and enjoyed the DJ from the cool water of the pool.
When Holly and Jesse went back out in the kayak, I paddled a smaller sit-on-top out to greet them on return. I would not have minded going further, but the water was rough and the winds were strong and the last thing I wanted to do was ditch Mark’s kayak in the mud marsh and thumb a ride home, so some restraint was necessary.
It occurs to me upon writing this, that having fun in life often means taking risks and looking stupid or at least not looking your best. There are a lot of things I won’t do for fear of looking stupid or juvenile, but that’s when having friends to push you makes a difference. At the pool party, I watched as seven over 50 and some over 70 year old women lined up poolside to do a line dance and they looked good doing it! I watched a father dive in the pool with his kids and have a water gun fight and you know who was having the most fun? It wasn’t the people sitting at the tables discussing injuries and problems and worried about getting their hair wet or showing their belly fat in mixed company, it was the people pushing themselves to do things and not really caring if they looked silly doing it. I think from now on I am going to do a lot more things my body and society tell me are not prudent for me to do, within reason and ethics of course!
There is so much in this world I want to try and so much I want to see and do and I am always finding excuses for why I can’t do it. Certainly not having money or having too many obligations is a part of that equation, but there are still little things, like going to the park with a group of friends and swinging on the sing sets, running arm in arm down the sidewalk singing 60s TV show songs and giggling like fools or taking a flight over the ocean on a rental plane and searching for sea life on remote islands.
I think as we get older and more complacent about adult life, we forget all the adventures waiting for us if we only go outside our comfort zone and push ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of doing. I could have sat home like many other weekends cleaning the bathroom and rearranging the cupboards and feeling friendless and without fun, but I made myself get out there and do things with people I enjoyed doing things with and it turned out to be a really nice weekend, perhaps one of the best since the summer has begun.
I encourage anyone who is feeling down and out to join a group of like-minded people and get out and have some fun. Go for a walk, a bike ride; take a cooking class, attend a lecture, visit the art museum or go to an art store where the viewing is free! Do something silly or better yet, something constructive. If you live in an area where there are a lot of homeless people or people in need, get a group together to put together care packages with toilet paper, non-perishable food, personal hygiene items or even various pairs of reading glasses and a good book and drop them off anonymously or ring the doorbell of a person in need and leave a basket of healthy foods behind and run and hide and watch their surprise when they open the door.
You don’t have to be rich and famous to go on fun adventures. I spent a grand total of $20 on the kayak trip and maybe half that in gas. There are many organizations that offer free or reduced cost excursions including meet-up groups on Facebook which gather together to go bird watching or take tours to cemeteries and discuss the local history. There is an unending supply of adventures. It’s up to you to wake yourself up, get dressed and get out and if you have children, take them with you.
Put a jar by the door and let each member of your household put in a slip of someplace they want to go or something they want to do which is cheap and close to home and then go out and do it! It may not always go as planned, but if you keep a good attitude and find fun and see the positive things that come out of such outings you will not regret it and may even find yourself more grateful for the simple pleasures and longing less for the pleasures you could never afford.
As my paddling friend Dave used to sign his farewell letters, “keep that paddle wet” and as my runner friends remind each other, “happy trails to you, until we meet again”… keep putting one foot in front of the other and you may be surprised and delighted at the things you will find in route to your final destination!
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