I am not what you would call, “the outdoor type.” As a matter of fact, I just got back from two weeks in California… San Francisco, Napa, Sonoma, Los Angeles, Malibu, Carmel… and my husband agrees, the only time I was unnecessarily bitchy was in Yosemite National Park.
I mean, Yosemite is awesome, but good God, you’ve seen one gigantic prehistoric rock, you’ve seen them all… how long am I expected to stare blankly into space appreciating how beautiful it all is? “Great. That’s beautiful. Now I need a warm fire and a glass of red wine.”
All my life I’ve said my idea of roughing it was a hotel without room service. I mean having to leave the hotel to walk next door to a Waffle House is pretty rough.
Ironic then, isn’t it that I would become a Girl Scout Troop Leader? I say there are two kinds of Girl Scouts… the outdoor ones and the crafty ones… and you know which one I am.
Not only am I a troop leader, I was also certified by the Red Cross in Small Craft Water Safety which means I am deemed expert and reliable enough on teeny, tiny wobbly water craft to be responsible for the actual LIVES of young girls. If you are the parent of a young girl, this should terrify you.
There are many things for me to despise about the outdoors: I do not ever want to be too hot or too cold… or sleep on an uncomfortable bed… or contract a brain eating amoeba from swimming in a lake… I also pretty much dislike every living thing that is not a mammal… spiders, hard shell bugs, roaches, those giant flying monster roaches which I am told are not really roaches and the mother of all fears: snakes.
I am TERRIFIED of snakes. It doesn’t matter size or breed… venomous or not… When I see one, I go into this spastic, hysterical, evangelical sort of fit.
Fifteen years ago, when my husband and I were just dating, and I was still pretending to be interested in the same things he was interested in… You know, when girls pretend to like watching sports on Saturday, and boys gladly hold shopping bags for hours? - well, he suggested a trip to the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee.
So, naturally my answer was, “heck yeah, no one loves to go hiking in the woods more than me!” So, I went out and bought a pair of $80 hiking boots, which were never worn again, and that I recently sold at a yard sale for $2, and off we went.
It was something like a 6 mile hike. 3 miles to a waterfall and 3 miles back on stony, winding paths. By the time we were headed back out, I could barely walk. My hiking boots now weighed about 10 pounds on each foot. I was literally stumbling on rocks that I did not have the strength to lift my feet over.
So my then-boyfriend is ahead of me and I am stumbling along several feet behind him, whining like a toddler, when I hear this rustling sound on the side of the trail. The path was built into a mountain so that there was elevated ground to my left and a deep slope to my right.
In the blink of an eye, a RATTLESNAKE flew 6 feet into the air and landed 2 feet in front of me on the trail. She had apparently been scaling down the mountain, lost her “footing” … or whatever she has… and fell out onto the path.
If this had happened 30 seconds later, the damn thing would have landed on my head, in which case, I would not be telling you this story right now, because I would have been life-flighted off the mountain and lived the last decade catatonic in a state mental institution.
So, Miss “I’m-too-tired-to-lift-my-feet” seconds earlier, now turns and runs in cartoon fashion as fast as possible in the opposite direction. I am sure I looked like someone with severe mental issues and probably some sort of physical disorder as well. Let me point out again, that this was one way in and one way out. I had to come back eventually.
Through the roar of panic in my ears, I heard my boyfriend scream “Renea”! And for some reason, I imagined that this was because the snake was chasing me. So I started running faster. He screams my name again and enough reason seeps through my panic, that I dare to slow down and turn around.
The snake was long gone. As soon as she hit the ground, she kept right on going off the trail in the direction she had originally been headed and all my Will E Coyote stumble-running had not been necessary.
Thankfully, a few minutes after that, I made it off that godforsaken mountain and have never been hiking again.
Rather sad then, that a dozen years later, I sign up for water craft safety training.
Okay, I TOTALLY had no idea what I was getting into. Sure, I’ll learn how to paddle a canoe. How hard can it be? Well, let me tell you that I have permanent nerve damage to prove how hard it can be.
I am the girl who went to 4-H Camp as a child and the only two patches that I earned were the ones solely awarded by taking a paper and pencil test: First Aid and Conservation.
Sure, I aced the written portion of my small water craft safety tests. I mean, I’m not a dummy. I can watch a video and answer multiple choice questions as well as anybody can but then came the practical tests.
First, the canoe. We went out on the lake and I had to swim a few hundred feet. Okay. I’m not an elegant swimmer; I’m more of a head’s up, flopping around kind of swimmer but I did it. Then we launched canoes and learned some paddle strokes. Okay, so far, so good.
Then we were required to deliberately capsize the boat for the sole purpose of throwing ourselves back in. First, I don’t like dark lake water, I’m more a 5’ pool kinda girl, , and second, I was freakin’ terrified of that canoe coming down on top of me and not being able to surface… but I did it, and then I was supposed to throw myself back in the flippin’ boat. At this point, I’m thinking “we’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Imagine this; you are supposed to projectile your manatee-like bulk from deep water, with no traction for your feet, over the side of your canoe which is floating several feet above your head. Granted, the shorter you are and the less you weigh, the easier this is to do, but you take a woman of my proportions and require that I heft it from deep water over and into a canoe… well, I’m still not sure how that is a reasonable expectation.
I tried. Over and over again. Hurling myself like a crazed, wounded sea cow onto the lip of the canoe. I couldn’t get enough upward lift and on the few times I landed above the boat’s edge, I dangled on the metal rim, which buried itself deep in the tissues of my stomach, with the bulk of my weight still toward the water and not enough strength to fling myself on into the boat… but also, not enough strength to throw myself back into the water either. I would hang there for seconds, which seemed like hours, a hideous fulcrum in which I could go neither forward nor back, feeling as if I was being cut in two like a magician’s assistant… only for real.
I truly thought I was going to fail the test. And why should I have to dolphin flip my bulk back into a boat? By all safety regulations, me, and any girls in my charge, would always be wearing life jackets. We can’t drown. Even I can tow in a bobbing cork. I can assure you that I, and no one I am responsible for, will ever be further than 100 yards from shore and will always be wrapped tightly in a life vest. If we capsize for God Sake’s, I’ll tow us all in bobbing on the surface in our life vests and to hell with the canoe. It can come with us or not.
Well, I thought the canoe was bad. I looked like I’d been in a bar fight for weeks after that. Deep brusies across my stomach, calves and thighs in varying shades of four different colors. Even the skinny girl in our class look like she had gotten the crap beat out of her, but then came the kayak certification. And again, thankfully, I was oblivious, so innocent and trusting as to what would occur, or I can assure you it would have never happened.
We met at The Coosa River some place in Wetumpka. I expected the training to last a couple of hours. I wore some brand new shorts, brought a beach towel and debated whether to bring my cell phone and electronic car keys on the trip, which thankfully I didn’t because they would now be crammed underneath some river rock in the Coosa along with my beach towel.
Six hours later, multiple capsizings – which were unintentional this time, swift water rescues – of me, over and over again – which are quite a production, when you capsize in fast water, you have to be caught like a fish as you are rushing downriver against your will. There is a specific posture you assume, and if the water is shallow enough, it means your ass is bouncing up and down against boulders on the river bottom at the speed of a family-friendly roller coaster.
So now my new shorts are ruined AND I’ve lost my beach towel.
At one point, a fellow team was attempting to rescue me after capsizing for about the fourteenth time, by towing me in on their line, and as I bobbed on the water, being towed by their canoe, the current was too strong and I had to let go of the rope. Thankfully, rather than call out to them to turn around and come get me, I stupidly believed that I could swim the few remaining yards to shore, which I could not in that current, and the next thing you know, I was bobbing back down the river like a buoy needing rescue yet again, but this is how I was lucky… the strip of land that my comrades were towing me to, had a water moccasin trying to climb ashore from the river, and my friends who were already on land had to literally beat it back with a stick to make it swim away rather than crawl up there on the rocks with them.
This means the snake was in the same water I was in, and in approximately the same place if I had made it on the tow line to shore. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this already, but I am terrified of snakes.
In retrospect, I would have considered drowning a blessing. Worse than the mountain, was the thought that my two greatest fears, deep water and snakes, would conspire together to kill me.
I was somehow and against all odds certified for two years in Red Cross Small Watercraft Safety. That certification has now ended and guess who will never be certified again?
Let me be clear, I will NEVER be on moving water again, unless I fall overboard on a cruise ship and parents of girls in my care can be comforted by the fact that their children will never be sitting in a boat without a snug-fitting life vest, and I will never be so far from shore than I can’t swim us in.