Fear Factor

“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Wise words from America’s former First Lady. And yet, I have much trouble with this advice. For starters, at my age, I feel I’m allowed the ability to simply say that I don’t want to do something (for any reason, including fear) and be ok with that. But, I do like to try new things – within reason. I’ll experiment with foods, and have gone to many new and different places in recent years. I don’t love flying, but recognize it as a necessary fear to conquer for the privilege of exploration. Yet…

To wise Mrs. Roosevelt’s point, this whole trip is a little bit of a “do something that scares you” kind of proposition for me. I’m very much a homebody, and the thought of this many weeks on the road is a bit terrifying to me. I like being close to my friends and family, and I like the comfort of home. Not my things, per se, but my space – that psychological cushion that comes with familiarity. Additionally, I’ve never been big on camping (and rumor has it we’ll be doing a lot of that), so when you add that in, the potential for anxiety was that much higher. But even accepting that, and choosing to do this thing anyway, I recognized that within the confines of the trip, there would be things that would scare me.

I faced one of them today – with mixed result. I kayaked on Lake Superior.

I had kayaked before. Once. You could call it “trip training.” Back in July, I went with my friend Courtney, in anticipation of this trip. Sriram likes to kayak, and has often mentioned wanting to go together. I found the whole prospect terrifying. I’m not a confident swimmer, and even though I’d be wearing a life jacket, my one experience with being dumped out of a raft while white water rafting left me pretty sure that panic would ensue if I got dumped again. He would never force me to go, or pressure me into it, but I wanted to be open to the experience, so on a random Saturday afternoon, Courtney and I went kayaking on the Sudbury River. It was nice. A little daunting at the start, but overall it was relaxing and fun. I was pleasantly surprised.

But kayaking a small river in Boston just isn’t the same as kayaking Superior. Lake Superior might as well be an ocean. It’s so big it has tidal variations. The waves can get pretty high and because there are so many tourist boats heading to Pictured Rocks (where we’d be heading, too) a significant wake was pretty much guaranteed. Still, I was willing to stop into a kayaking rental place and get some information before making any kind of decision.

So, we stopped into Uncle Ducky’s Outdoor Adventures

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Uncle Ducky’s is a family owned business that’s been operating guided adventure tours since 1988. We spoke to a really nice gentleman who gave us information about the tours offered. The tours are of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and vary anywhere from 2.5 hours to 8 hours on the water. I instantly ruled out everything but the 2.5 hour tour. If I was going to give this a shot, it was going to have to be a short trip. After further discussion I realized the 2.5 hour tour included getting to the beach, getting geared up, the safety speech, etc. The time on the water was closer to 1 hour, 40 minutes (which was about how long I’d gone with Court). Even more doable.

I explained about my severe hesitation and asked about the water conditions. I was told that the kayaks were very stable, that the tour won’t go out if the conditions were unsafe, and that the lake in the last few days was only at 1-3 foot waves in that area. That 3 was still pretty daunting to me. He also mentioned that all season only one girl had ever tipped, and that was because she had reached for something outside of the kayak. He was honest about the possible conditions though, which I appreciated. He also provided information about the training and experience level of the guides (all trained and have Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder Certifications). We thanked him for the info, took a brochure and told him we’d stop back if we wanted to go.

I was still very much on the fence. Strangely enough, one of the things that kept the door open just a bit more was the fun array of stickers they had available. As mentioned before, we’re collecting stickers along the road to decorate our Thule roof box with. They had some good ones, and a part of me really wanted to face this fear and earn one.

So the next day we went back to Uncle Ducky’s and asked about the conditions again. We spoke with the same great guy (I really wish I could remember his name), and he said that every trip out that day had been a great one, and that the lake was really calm. I decided to go for it, knowing that I could back out right up until the last second (and could even turn back if absolutely necessary).

We set out in a caravan down to the beach with the other kayakers and guides. There would be two groups for the 2.5 hour tour, and another group heading out for 4 hours. We were paired with 4 other sets of kayakers and a guide named Chris.

Into the kayak we went, and before long someone was pushing us off the beach out into the lake. We were one of the first kayaks out, which made things a little tricky right off the bat. We ended up a little further down than the rest of the group, which made it harder to stay with the guide, which was my ultimate goal. We managed to linger until the group caught up and then started the wonderfully picturesque ride.

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I was having a really good time. The ride was mostly peaceful, and the scenery was fantastic. We passed the lakeshore’s smallest waterfall (at a mere 4 feet), and some amazing cliffs. I snapped a bunch of photos of our travel companions and the beautiful scenery. We drifted in and out of some caves and got rained on a bit.

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Blur is due to water on the lens

Then two tour boats passed in quick succession on their way down the coast, and the “seas” swelled. When we got caught in the wake it felt so big (huge to my scared mind), that I ended up having a full blown panic attack. The fear was overwhelming and I found myself caught between my inability to effectively paddle, and my inability to not paddle at all. Paddling felt like control, even though I wasn’t doing it in any helpful or productive way. Deep breathing helped to calm me down. The wake passed within minutes, but it felt like an eternity. Once it passed, the fear passed, but the tension in my body lingered for the rest of the journey.

Still, I powered on and managed to enjoy the rest of the paddle. We played in some more caves, and even paddled under an arch.

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And, we even finally thought to hand our camera off to Chris for a while so he could get a few pictures of us.

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He also couldn’t resist a selfie.

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By the time we made it back to the beach I was definitely ready to be done, even though it was a mostly positive experience. I won’t say that I’ve conquered the fear. I won’t be hopping in a sea kayak anytime soon (read: ever). But I faced the fear, worked through it, and have a (mostly) great memory and some beautiful pictures.

And I got my Paddling Michigan bumper sticker. Because I truly felt like I earned it.

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Thanks Uncle Ducky’s for helping me face my fear!

Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. We love getting feedback on the trip.

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