By Pam Linn

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Sudden squall turns kayak caper dicey

I can’t believe I bought a kayak. But there it is, strapped to the rack on my Subaru Outback. It looks odd among the sedans of folks whose kayaking days are long past.

My daughter Betty and I are taking it to Hebgen Lake in the morning, hoping for what may be the season’s last warm days.

We need to get an early start, Betty says. I’m packed and ready to load up at 9:30 when I realize the car keys aren’t on the hook by the door. What the heck?

I dump out my purse. No luck. A frantic search ensues. I could have put them in the pocket of my sweats, but those went in the washing machine. I search the washer and dryer just in case. Good grief.

I call the Subaru dealer and ask if my emergency key will actually drive the car or just open the door. He says he thinks it will work. Thinks? My son-in-law has a Subaru and he agrees. He drives Betty over, loads her stuff in my car. And their dog Hershey, aka Big Brown, is coming with us. He’s the size of a small donkey and fills the whole cargo space. The clock is ticking.

We pull out at 11:30 for the two-hour drive. Betty says the road through Ennis has less traffic. Unfortunately, it also has a parade in progress. We idle to keep the AC on because Hershey is panting. A patrolman gives us directions to a place where we can swing onto the highway as soon as the last float has passed. This saves probably 30 minutes.

As we approach Hebgen Dam, it’s spewing water from a malfunctioning tower. Beside a huge crane, workers and divers are trying to staunch the flow. The lake water level has already fallen six feet, and residents of the little enclave of Kirkwood have been told to take their larger boats out.

Not an auspicious start for my maiden voyage.

We unload our stuff and put Hershey on the back porch, lest he dive in the water and, in a fit of irrational exuberance, swamp my Ocean Caper. It’s 11 feet and more stable than the longer canoe, but still.

Betty steadies the boat so I can get in. I so hope nobody’s watching. This is not a pretty sight. She gets in her canoe and we paddle out onto the lake turning away from the dam. Good thought.

Suddenly, I realize I have no clue what I’m doing. I did see pictures of how to right the Caper if it capsizes and get back in unassisted. Of course, the water is so cold I’d probably die of hypothermia before I could do any of that. What am I doing out here?

Well, it is beautiful. Caper and the canoe are the only boats on the lake, the water is calm and the sun is warm. We paddle into a gentle breeze, fairly close to the shoreline for a few miles until my arms tire and we turn back. Now the current helps a little and I’m able to maneuver back into the slip where we tie both boats up for the night.

As we drive back to the cabin I’m feeling grateful for an uneventful first outing. We liberate Hershey, cook up some pasta and open a bottle of cabernet. As the sun sets, we sip our wine and watch an osprey skim the water looking for his dinner. Life is good.

Later, Betty reaches into her purse and pulls out, you guessed it, the missing car keys. How they got there, we will never know. I sleep like a stone.

Despite a mixed forecast, the morning dawns sunny and clear. We linger over coffee and bagels. Big mistake. By the time we walk down to the slip the water is choppy and dark edged clouds are blowing in a stiff wind.

Betty leaves the canoe in but unties the Caper and paddles over to where I can get in. I head out toward open water, but today the wind is from the west. Within minutes white caps are forming and waves are slapping the prow. I’m digging in, pulling back, and making absolutely no headway. My shoulder hurts, a blister is forming on my thumb. For just a second, I wonder what might happen when I turn around and waves catch me broadside.

I plunge the paddle straight down and the Caper does a 180, lifts up and the waves are slapping the stern sending me back toward the slip. Trouble is I’m on the wrong side of the pier. Yikes! I pull hard on the left and the nose swings right, dip on the right and I’m finally headed in. Whoa. I’m sure glad Betty’s there because I don’t think I can get out of the kayak on my own. The wind and waves have earned my respect.

They say the weather will warm up again this week and may even hold into October. That would be good. I want to get the Caper out on the lake again. Soon. With any luck we won’t lose the keys or get stuck behind a parade. We won’t linger over coffee and we’ll get out early while the breeze is soft, the surface smooth and the sun warm. Carpe diem.