October 4th, 2011

Kayak

Happiness through mind control (kayaking)

Recently I saw a news story in which it said they'd "scientifically determined" that the difference between happy and depressed people wasn't that happy people had better lives; instead, about the same amount of good and bad things happened to both types of people, but happy people were able to focus more on the good things.

So, me. I had a nice weekend but Monday was the return of reality: going into a job I don't want, turned down for a really career enhancing move, and recently failed in the competition to win a free spot to go to the Eurostar test conference in Manchester. Deee-pressing. And just to get the day off to the right start, the ceiling in my kitchen started raining: fast warm drop of water that quickly covered the china cabinet and the floor. It started tapering off as I was getting the towels down, but, seriously, I've rarely had a more Monday moment.

Work. What happened, really? It was another in a long series of days in which I felt like I didn't accomplish much, although I did go to the gym for a 20 minute cardio workout on the stationary bike which was greatly enhanced by reading the 3rd in the Stacia Kane "Ghosts of Downside" series. I did see a job that looked interesting on the BBC website and I called a recruiter ("Any jobs yet?" "Nope, looks like we're heading into the slowdown.") but otherwise just nada.

Then I left pretty much promptly at 5 (almost everyone else was gone) and dashed to the Westminster Boating Base, the place where I got my one star BCU kayaking certification this summer, nearly missing the 5:45 arrival time due to changing to the northbound Northern line instead of the Victoria line at Kennington (I had to do a little Tube circle and for the record the signs overhead said Victoria line, but they meant "keep walking this way and you'll get to the Victoria line"). I paid $12 to the man at the door, then changed into my kayaking clothes and went to the equipment area to get a liefejacket and a spray skirt. Most of the people gathered were 8-10 year old boys and only one other woman (though three joined us later from the newbies group). I picked out a boat (after being told off a newbie friendly one), waited almost 20 minutes for everyone else to get their boats sorted, then we were in the river as the sun set over the Thames.

Things started out a bit of a struggle as the boat I'd been pushed to take had NO RUDDER and the damned thing was pretty much steering like an innner tube: left, right, spin, pretty much everything but straight forward. Eventually I adjusted my grip on my paddle (more centered, outside the spray guards) and it evened up. And suddenly, wow, we were paddling past the Battersea power station and heading into the Catherine docks and has anyone noticed how beautiful London is by water, when it's golden mild outside (about 70) and a breeze is blowing over the river?

We headed into the docks (an enclosed area that used to connect to a different river and is now fronted by luxury apartments) and started off with a game of ball tag, in which you needed to hit someone's boat on the front with a soccer ball. I got splashed a few times but never hit; it was warm enough that the water on my skin felt good. I also got a lot of water in my lap, despite the spray guard, but I wasn't too bothered by it (though by the end of the night I could tell I was wet from the hips down).

Then it was "lesson" time. The guide for the "older" folks was working us through the two star certification, and we practiced quick stops, entrance and exit into narrow channels (to be honest parsingphase did something MUCH more challenging in the sea caves of Vulcano), rear paddle quick stop, and two different kinds of sideways paddling ("slice" and "sculling"). The sculling side paddle was something I'd sucked at back in Seattle, but for some reason tonight the muscle non-memory came back and I was gliding back and forth between the wooden banks of the dock as if I'd spent my life as a gondolier. (Well, actually it was "forth" as my right side appeared to be much more stupid than my left side, but the confidence of doing it easily kept me at the other side until it was going nicely, too.) It was actually really fun and I saw that I was able to be teased about what I failed at while generally feeling quite awesome about what I was succeeding at.

We then had a round of hot drinks (peppermint tea for me), and the group rejoined for a game of "bulldog" (kind of like dodgeball). The games were really fun and when I banged a young boy's boat with my paddle he screamed like I'd dropped a spider down his back. This was, actually, amusing, and I went after him again the next time to see if I could get a repeat. :-)

Finally we were done, and we all headed out, scooting underneath the bridge overhead (with Grosvenor road traffic on top, I believe). And opening up in front of me was the most beautiful vista: the Battersea power station's towers yearning toward the sky, with the green lights of Victoria trains gliding in front of it; to my right, the moon hanging over the Chelsea Bridge, which was covered with balls of light. I'll be damned if I didn't feel like Roy Batty and his"I've watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate" speech. It was just beautiful. I found myself singing a bit as we paddled back to the base (Elton John for some reason), and I managed to execute a perfect 180 to get myself up against the dock in a rather strong current.

As I walked away (freshly showered and in dry clothes), I found I could no longer remember my day at work, and wasn't really thinking about my disappointments. Instead, I felt euphoric. All things considered, I couldn't have picked a better night to skip Pilates or a better activity to replace it with.