The Secrets of Staying on Course

When my parents bought this place, the previous owners left behind a couple of kayaks as well as a small sailboat known as a Laser. We were really stoked because Geoff has kayaked since high school and I’ve also enjoyed kayaking but never had access to one. Back in the day, Geoff was quite the “Solo Man” traversing those very same rapids at Cora Linn near Launceston, Tasmania where the ad was filmed back in 1986. He’s also played competitive canoe polo.

These kayaks have not only given Geoff the chance to get back out on the water but Mister goes out there as well…either with us or by himself.  The bay is very tidal and he can stand up out there even at high tide and at low tide the place resembles some kind of moonscape covered in crab holes and frequently beats to the sound of thousands upon thousands of marching soldier crabs. It’s a great place for him to just get out there and he can go wherever he likes in relative safety and have a freedom and independence we don’t want him having on the road quite yet. Independence which isn’t going to cost him his life.

This kayaking trip was about having some one-on-one time with Mister. I’d spent last Tuesday with Miss. Thursday was chemo and by Friday, I’d wanted to spend some time with him. Going out in the kayak is a great way of spending time together away from all the distractions of the house and we’re in our own little bubble paddling along together. That said, I must admit that I was a little circumspect about going kayaking. It was the morning after chemo and even though I was dosed up on prednisone and feeling pretty good, I still had to be sure we could get back. Even when you’re out there in shallow water, you still need to make sure that your kayak doesn’t become a beached whale and you can still get it home. But Mister is pretty good on the kayak and I thought we’d be right. Besides, Geoff was also home from work on holidays if we needed a Plan B.

We were off to the mangroves, which is a reasonable paddle away. While I was enjoying something of an Australian Huckleberry Finn experience with my boy, his gaze was fixed under the water looking for his big, elusive fish…the Mighty Mullet. He had his net in the back and he was prepared. These days I’m not too sure about catching fish with a hook but so far Mister hasn’t caught anything and I would at least like him to catch one fish. It doesn’t need to be a whopper but it does need to be legal.

As much as I love kayaking, exploring all the nooks and crannies  and getting out there on the water, this trip was so much more than that. It was about being with my son and getting to know him and exploring the channels of his heart, mind and soul and for him to get to know me as well. He was the captain perched at the back of the kayak steering, providing me with paddling advice and being the expert. He was chatting away to me about all sorts (especially the mullet) and it was just the two of us together in our own space without all the usual distractions of home. It was just the two of us out there “in our bubble” on the water. his felt incredibly peaceful and comfortable…lovely!

We were paddling along with the Careel Bay Marina in the distance as our goal. It didn’t take long for me to realise that keeping on track required constant vigilance and that we were constantly correcting our strokes to stay on course. This involved doing a few more strokes on either side. We are just novice kayakers. We didn’t have any grand manoeuvres or techniques. We had to keep our eyes on the bow and on our destination to stay on track. I thought about how easy it would be to drift right off course and how much extra effort is then required to get back on track. It is so much easier to gently correct your position as you go.

I mentioned these navigational observations to Geoff back at home. It soon became apparent that staying on track involves technique as well as focus.

Geoff quickly taught me a couple of strokes:

Sweep Stroke: this is a wide paddle stroke where the kayak turns quite a lot.

Power stroke: This is down the side of the kayak with a more vertical paddle. The kayak doesn’t turn as much but you go further with each stroke.

Support Stroke: If you are starting to fall over, you use the support stroke to regain your balance. You slap the paddle blade flat on the water as hard as you can as though you are killing a spider or a snake. Geoff also offered a word of warning regarding the support stroke: to get the paddle out of the water, you must you must twist the paddle so the blade is vertical and then lift. If you leave it flat and try to lift it, the paddle won’t come out of the water but you’ll fall into the water to join it.

Geoff also enlightened me about the J-stroke which is a complicated canoeing manoeuvre designed to enable you to paddle on one side of the canoe. However, I decided to apply the KISS principle and keep it simple stupid. I figured that I had enough to learn with those 3 strokes without trying to canoe in a kayak.

So what are the life lessons of a Solo Man?

Well, first step, you need a destination. This is where I’m going. No detours. No distractions. No alternatives. This is it.

Plan your journey. What are the pitfalls? What’s the easiest, most direct route?

Then it takes commitment. How are you going to stay on track? Again using the analogy of the kayak, it is the small and little things which add up and ultimately make a difference and get you where you want to go. These also take much less effort than a big, strident gesture. It is definitely much easier to correct your strokes as you go than it is to recover from a major detour…getting lost!

I must confess that I’m very good at detours which from a creative perspective are called taking “the road less travelled”. I am still not entirely convinced that being 100% focused on a single goal or destination is such a good thing. That life is as much about the journey as the destination or as John Lennon put it “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”. I have found some truly amazing places on these detours such as taking up the violin and we do after all need to be flexible and be open to a bit of divine serendipitous influence. After all, how can God guide and enlighten our path if we don’t let him in.

There definitely needs to be some space between the lines and yet somehow we need to be focused enough.

I guess that’s where balance comes in and that all important support stroke. Making sure we don’t get so extreme that the kayak topples over and we fall out. It’s obviously much harder to recover from a fall.

Personally, I use a weekly check list where I list all these things and every day I need to tick off the tasks. All these little steps add up contributing towards my goals.

This is my list:

  1. Read Bible
  2. Practice Violin
  3. Practice piano
  4. Take calcium drink
  5. Take olive leaf extract
  6. Piece of fruit
  7. Pray
  8. Exercise

These are all those little good intentions which are so easy to forget with the busyness of daily life. I want them to shift from the intentions into actions and help me on my way. I have really noticed how much my violin playing improves when I do my daily 30-60 minutes of practice. These small sessions added up and rewarded me with an A in my Preliminary Exam. It wasn’t a fluke or some raw unnurtured talent. It was perseverance, commitment, passion and consistent hard work. Never giving up even though it was very, very tempting especially with the pneumonia. I didn’t have an easy run at all and yet I succeeded. Not because I’m some amazing superhuman. No. I simply stuck at it day after day in these small little ways and kept going. I kept my eyes firmly focused on my destination and didn’t give up.

You can do it too!

What would you like to change about your life and when are you going to get started?

Geoff and I are now racing against the tide to get out in the kayak.

Come on! Last one in is a rotten egg.

xx Rowena

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