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Thursday, 17 February 2011


One of the big benefits of living in Oregon is the opportunity to get into some outdoor sports. Beth is keen on skiing and rock climbing, while my wish was to get into kayaking. I had a taste of kayaking many years ago through school expeditions, and have been thinking about trying it again since we arrived.

Seeing a kayak on sale at Costco was the tipping point. I'd been eyeing kayaks at the various sports shops in town, Dick's Sporting Goods, Sports Authority and others, but the Costco one offered several advantages to the beginner. Yesterday I bought a wetsuit ($100 Bodyglove) and lifevest ($40 Stearns), and looked again at the kayaks on offer, but nothing offered better features than the Costco option, so in the evening Beth and I went and picked one up.

For those into kayaking, it is an Equinox 10.4. This offers good tracking (the ability to go in a straight line) and stability (the ability not to tip over), and the package included a decent paddle and a roof mounting system into the bargain (total $330). The kayak weights about 50 lbs, just enough for me to be able to get it on the car roof alone, but not something I'd want to hump around all day.

We had to secure it to the roof of Beth's car in the dark, but the straps and padding worked and we got home safely. Another big benefit of living in Oregon is having a two-car garage where the canoe can be stored and still fit a car alongside. Beth usually parks outside unless it's likely to frost and I have a late start, in which case I park outside and she gets the garage. Thus we unstrapped the canoe and left it in the garage alongside Beth's Mercury.

In the morning after Beth had gone to work the kayak was calling to me, so I sprang into action. Another big benefit of living in our house is that we have a creek running right past our garden. We actually own the creek for about thirty yards, until it passes our property line and becomes our neighbor's creek.

I rapidly donned my wetsuit. I only put it on backwards once (in a test yesterday) before realising that the zip goes in the back. I haven't worn a wetsuit since cave diving in the Mendip Hills, so I think my mistake was forgiveable. Cave diving, by the way, is not something I intend to repeat, as being soaking wet, freezing cold, claustrophobic (it's hard not to think of the thousands of tons of rock waiting to fall on you from above) and in imminent danger of being plunged into utter darkness if your lamp fails is not my cup of tea.

I also have special wetsuit socks, and sacrificed a $5 pair of deckshops to the water gods as my footwear for kayaking. Wetsuits should really be called sweatsuits, at least when worn indoors. They are snug as a second skin, so any thought of wearing underclothes more bulky than y-fronts can be abandoned. With a lifevest on top it gets even warmer, so I was happy to get outside into the cool February air.

Passing out of the garage, across the driveway and lawn and out onto the creek bank, it was a bit of a scramble getting the kayak down into the creek but eventually I was sitting in it, wondering how to adjust the footrests. I probably should have done this on dry land. I got one about right and couldn't even feel the other, so off I paddled anyway. Sort of. The creek is certainly deep enough at present for kayaking, but tufts of grass, fallen branches and overhanging trees and bushes all reduce the navigable width, so while I was afloat and paddling I could rarely get in more than a couple of strokes before changing direction.

Nevertheless this proved a good initial test. I hadn't forgotten how to paddle, steer and even go backwards when necessary, and I paddled up and down happily for about half an hour. My progress downstream was arrested two houses down by overgrown weeds, and two houses upstream there was a fallen tree blocking the creek, but I had about 150 yards to play with, and I justified my technical trespass by collecting lost balls, plastic bottles, and other floating debris.

Eventually I got tired and backed my kayak as close as I could to my initial embarcation point. I couldn't get ashore without putting at least one foot in the water so my deck shoes got a soaking, but that was expected. Scrambling up the bank dragging the kayak was even more fun than scrambling down, especially with a cargo of jetsam and flotsam and a couple of pints of creekwater that had dribbled off the paddles and into the bilge via my legs.

Half an hour later I had showered and dressed, emailed Beth to let her know I hadn't drowned myself, and was able to admire my haul as I fetched bottle after ball out of the kayak. One bit struck me as odd, and then it was that I discovered a problem. The footrest I couldn't feel had broken off and turned itself into debris. the footrest slid in a track, and once beyond the end of the track (and there was no stop) it had snapped off completely.

I rang Costco, and after some discussion (and three different calls) I decided to take the kayak back and exchange it. To wait for a replacement part would stop me using the kayak in the meantime. I emailed Beth to let her know, as I firmly believe that a problem shared is a problem two people have got, strapped the kayak to my car roof and set off.

At Costco a couple of staff helped me bring in the old kayak and I got a shop card refund. Then immediately I got another kayak off the stack and wheeled that one out. This time nobody helped me, but having humped various kayaks around all day I was man enough for the task and got it to the car and out of the box. Then it started to rain. Then it started to hail. I secured all the padding and straps (getting quite good at this) and got in, just as the sun came out.

Back home the sun was still shining, and I was quite tempted to go straight off to the river and have another paddle, but decided I was probably more tired than I realised and it would be better to save that for another day.

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