She led me to them; my adrenaline starting to rise. And then...they instantly appeared before me. Steep. No railing, about 12 of them-- 8 inches deep, each maybe 10 inches wide. As if she sensed my mental pullback, "I've got you," she supported. "Tell me what you need."
I had tried to recruit some company (i.e. help), in the days leading up to my adventure to Nashoba Paddlers. I'd watched the forecast and it was lining up to be a perfect Fall day in New England-- cool in the morning, bright blue, cloudless skies, rising to 60 without any wind. Twice this week, the wind had put me in "ISO" (isolation, that is). Since it has pushed me flat on my face a few times over the past year, I've learned that avoidance is the best strategy with this bully. October 19, 2019 was shaping up to be ideal-- the way I imagine climbers wait for a window to summit Everest-- so I tried to line-up a few friends and my kids to join me. None of my friends were available (dah!!) and my kids-- ahhh, let's just say, were "busy." Not to be discouraged, I took it as an opportunity see if-- how, I could do this on my own..."Free Solo" as we say...
[Note: I have learned to ALWAYS be ready to back out of situations if my gut tells me the risk is too high. It doesn't matter if I am 99% complete with something or the amount of travel and effort I've spent getting to a certain point, I've learned to embrace the artful"backout" at any time. It's a fine line between, "You can do this" and "No, something's not right; bail." It's a good skill. It's a great skill! Thank you PLS.]
I had done my Instantaneous Situation Analysis ("ISA"). I had help I trusted. I was ready. I decided to cross the line and mentally commit.
"OK. Stand on my left. Give me your right bicep," I commanded. I'd met her minutes before. She was reassuring, confident, and strong. I didn't know her, but I knew enough. In minutes, she'd earned my trust. (She should be in Sales.)
We approached the steps.
"Go a step ahead of me," I instructed. This was no time for "please."
"One step at a time...slowly," I processed aloud. (Did I really think she thought I'd pirouette down 2 at-a-time?)
"Ok, let's go." First step, second step--Katie. First step...me...success.
Third step, Katie. Second step, me...clear.
Fourth step, Katie. Third step, me...good.
My focus was laser-like, each movement of my leg broken, unsteady, and unpredictable-- like a swing that used to float through the air in a perfect arc, but now struggles to move in a series of tangents of different lengths at different speeds; each tangent unique in its velocity, length, momentum and direction. Each movement of my leg was like corralling an unbroken, wild and beautiful horse...
Fifth step, Katie. Fourth step, me...my heal brushes the outer edge of the third step; a brief but quickly dismissed moment of panic. I awkwardly compensate to the outside, intensify the focus and grip on Katie's right bicep, which she contracts as I pull myself back to center...a deep breath. "OK. Stay in it."
Sixth step, Katie. Fifth step, me...yes.
Seventh, eighth, ninth steps, Katie. Sixth, Seventh, eighth, steps, me...in the zone.
"Focus more," I think to myself.
Nine, ten, eleven, twelve...I make it. We make it.
Pause. Small mental celebration. (I've learned to celebrate a lot more; ok, basically everything. I recommend it!)
We're on the dock...now to get into the kayak. (Oh yea, that part.)
I sat on the dock. (That's a whole different El Cap post!) Katie held the kayak. I swung my legs in.
I strategized to place my arms on both sides of the kayak, then lift myself off the dock and into the seat..."You got the kayak," I told and her. "You ready? One, two, three," and I went for it. I launch myself from the dock into a free-fall and hope for the best...
"Yeh! I'm in." She propped my backpack in front of me and handed me the paddle.
"You look good," she continued to encourage. "Yeh," I celebrated, affording myself the view and another deep breath.
She pushed me away from the dock. I broke the still water's surface with the face of my paddle...
I was on the Squannacook River.