A Kayak, Jockey Briefs and a Blackberry

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On a blue-sky Sunday morning last December, my husband Bob and I set out with our kayaks strapped to the top of our car.  We headed for Kentucky, where holly grows in Merry Christmas abundance in forests of oak and cedar and birch and pitch pine, among azaleas and magnolias and mountain laurel and sassafras. Specifically, we headed for the Daniel Boone Forest, a land of bluffs and rocky outcrops and caves, huge boulders stacked on top of each other as if tossed by ancient giants, water rushing and tumbling over cliffs and dropping into deep gorges. 

An hour down the 401 toward the Blue Water Bridge, we slam head-on into the first winter storm of the season - whiteout conditions. By the time we reach Sarnia, the kayaks are ice- and snow-topped. It is small wonder the US border guard at Customs regards us suspiciously. What idiots would go kayaking in this weather? the border guard is obviously thinking, and do I really want to let them into my country? 

The border guard bangs the deck of our boats for a hallow sound to make sure we aren’t smuggling contraband inside the kayaks, and then searches the trunk and backseat. Finally,  he waves us through. 

The odd looks at our kayaks are unexpected to us. The weather in Kentucky is a brisk autumn “balmy”. There is some light morning frost, a few snow flurries, and one evening, even a layer of snow outside our cabin. To Kentuckians, we realize, it is akin to the deep freeze of winter. 

The camping and beach areas where we have accessed lakes and rivers during our summer Kentucky trips are blocked off. The parks are “packed up” for the winter, and empty. Hardy Canadian types, we are not to be deterred. We have driven all this way to kayak. We search out a boat ramp at a marina on Laurel Lake in the Daniel Boone Forest.

The wind has picked up, so we decide to put only one of the boats in the water, the less-likely-to-tip boat. I paddle first while Bob naps, stretched out on the dock. He is fully dressed in long pants, lifejacket and winter coat, his Blackberry hooked to his belt.  

A short paddle later, around the bay, I pull up to the dock, climb out of the boat.  As Bob takes my place, eases into the boat,  his Blackberry hits the edge of the cockpit and there it goes -  tumbles into the water. We watch it sink.  It is one of those moments when time is suspended, when the action unfolds in slow motion.  The Blackberry comes to rest on the bottom of the lake. 

I put my paddle upright into the water and touch the Blackberry with the blade. The Blackberry is buzzing, I can feel it. It vibrates right through the water and up the shaft of the paddle to my hand.  

So Bob's got email...   

How to get the Blackberry out? It sits in about five feet of very cold water - cold even for Canadians.  

From the end of the dock, we use the paddles as chopsticks to lift the Blackberry, working together, Bob maneuvering one paddle and me the other. We almost get the Blackberry out first try, but then it falls before we can grasp it. 

We’ve stirred up the bottom, and the Blackberry disappears from sight.  We have to let the sand settle before we attempt another rescue. We try the chopsticks method again, but we're only pushing the Blackberry further out into the lake and stirring up more sand. Then the Blackberry gets pinned under a tree root and we can’t dislodge it with the paddles.  

We could leave it there. Bob figures it won't work anymore anyway, but he really should hand the Blackberry back to the IT Department at work to get a new one. After deliberation, we decide Bob needs to go into the water and get it. 

Bob ponders the situation for a “brief” moment, and then strips to his underwear. So picture it, there he is on a marina boat ramp in Kentucky in the Daniel Boone Forest, bare-chested and in his jockey briefs - in what Kentuckians consider winter.  

We wonder if there is a state law against the underwear bit - whether the lone state park worker up on top of the hill blowing leaves and fully decked out in winter gear will arrest us. 

Bob puts his t-shirt back on, sits at the edge of the dock, bare legs dangling in the water, and looking very cold. There are a few ducks hanging close - one is a snow duck - winter feathers - quite curious and beautiful. We all sit there, waiting. 

"Do you think I'll black out from hypothermia?" Bob asks.

 I use a tough love approach, borrowing a slogan from Nike. “Don’t think about it so much, “ I say.  “Just do it."

"But how do I get in?" he asks.           

If it were me, I'd go to the shore and swim or wade out. Not Bob. He pushes himself off the dock, and stops, in chest deep in water, a shocked look on his face. He stands there. And stands there.  I'm crouching on the dock, arms extended, using the paddle as a pointer to point out the location of the Blackberry. "Follow the shaft of the paddle," I say, trying to sound encouraging and helpful.

Bob doesn’t move.

"It's not the water temperature on my body," he tells me. "It's my face. I can't breathe. I can't go under the water."           

What to do, what to do? Bob standing in the frigid lake in his underwear...         

Then Bob has an “eureka!” moment. He uses the chopstick method again, this time to get the Blackberry between his feet, sculls and lifts up his legs. Grabs the Blackberry and hands it to me.           

I have no idea how Bob got out of that lake, and neither does he - how he got out of the water (no ladder) and up the dock at least a foot from the surface so quickly. I think he willed himself up there (if you've read Carlos Castaneda, you'll know what I mean).           

So now we have the Blackberry, but Bob is standing there on the dock shivering in his jockey briefs and t-shirt. I give him my Adidas jacket and he pulls on his winter coat overtop. His legs are wet and his underwear clinging to his skin.  I climb the hill to the car, and return to Bob with a pair of my stretchy yoga workout pants for some reason I stuck in the trunk that day - in case the boat tipped... one of those intuitive feelings....

My yoga pants are way too big for Bob, but he pulls them on, and climbs up the hill, each of us carrying one end of the boat, and Bob clutching the pants up with the other hand. We get the boat on top of the car, the state park worker with his back to us and across the parking lot. 

“I've got to get out of these wet clothes,” Bob says.         

So we open the car door and he strips behind it with his long winter coat still on at least, but off come my yoga pants and that drenched underwear. His legs (and bottom half under the winter coat) are bare. We wonder again if he could get arrested - this time for indecent exposure. I think of us in a Kentucky prison, trying to explain what we were doing. This is, after all, Bible-belt country, a Baptist church on every country corner, even in the hills, especially in the hills, sometimes churches standing side-by-side. And it’s a dry county as well, strict laws, no alcohol for sale, although guns, it seems, are quite acceptable.           

Finally, Bob is dressed and decently covered, the boats are loaded, and I drive along the winding mountainous roads of the Daniel Boone Forest towards the Cumberland Falls State Park lodge. Bob is warming up quite nicely, and the sun is starting to set. It glares brilliantly in our eyes so we can hardly see. Sight is dependent upon the curvature of the highway and the location of the sun in the sky. It is an awful long way down the rocky mountainside into the gorge if I miss a turn and go over the edge...  But the geography is indeed beautiful, awe-inspiring. 

 As we round those curves, sun blinding, we resolve to buy sunglasses. A thermal blanket, too. 

And just maybe, Bob should switch to boxer shorts…

© Marianne Paul 2011