To kayak or not to kayak. That was the question. Whether it was nobler to strap my bright yellow Ocean Prowler 13 on the racks of my mighty (accelerating for no reason) Tundra for the 5,000-mile trip to Fort Myers or not.
The kayak had sat, collecting cobwebs and a dismaying array of creepy-crawling insects in the barn since last year. Every time I contemplated a local or far-off camping trip, it rained. You remember last summer.
But the problem now was how to tie the Prowler securely enough for the 5,000-mile trip (lots of visits) so it would not fall off and kill an innocent jogger or a motorcycle gang leader. Luckily, I had a collection of tie-down straps from L.L. Bean purchased for the various canoe trips forced upon us by Jefferson Phil. The straps were purchased hurriedly after the first Allagash trip when the canoe initially was tied to the roof with string.
If I remember correctly, the string was wrapped around the red-hot muffler at one point.
On the road to the sunny south this year, in order to retain ownership of the banana-colored toy at the various shady motels along the way, it was wrapped with a bike cable (the bike was brought into the room) tied to the racks.
Who would steal a kayak?
I drove 1,200 miles before I spotted another kayak on the roof. It was February, after all.
The first paddle was in Charleston where former South Thomaston Selectman John Purcell was facing a very, very serious cancer operation on his throat. I stopped to offer my support and take advantage of the perfect weather. The Prowler was launched in the nearby Ashley River, despite the healthy population of alligators that inhabited the banks. “They won’t bother you,” was the local refrain. One guy said, “You should come back at night with a good flashlight. You can see their eyes, glowing red.”
I waited awhile until I saw some pretty young things glide by in kayaks and finally joined them in the river. It was a short trip since every log and rock looked like a hungry gator. I paddled just as fast as that kayak would go, then gratefully pulled it out and checked for missing body parts.
Heaven, to me, is located in the islands just off Fort Myers, Sanibel and Captiva. One of the first items on my lottery wish list is the purchase of a serious residence on either island. As soon as I got to Fort Myers I planned an island paddle but, naturally, there were small craft warnings plus tornado alerts for several days. That’s how my life goes.
When the weather finally cleared and there was no ballgame, I drove the Prowler-covered Tundra to the Sanibel Causeway. It was still a little windy so I kept close to the sandy shore for a wonderful paddle to celebrate the official end of another Maine winter.
One man on shore started yelling what I assumed to be a Florida greeting. I paddled closer to greet my new friend. “Are you from Florida or Canada?” he yelled. Puzzled, I confessed to a Maine residence. “It figures. When you are in Florida, a pole stuck in the sand means someone is fishing.”
It was then and only then that I noticed that I had his fishing line wrapped around my kayak and, for good measure, my paddle. I mumbled my Maine apology and moved on. It was still a great, if humbling, day.
Subsequent paddles on Sanibel, Estero Bay Preserve and Bird Key off Ozello more than made up for the hassle (and lost gas mileage) for taking the kayak along. Just seeing the collection of exotic birds in those mangrove swamps made it worth the effort. (Off Bird Key I thought I was in pristine wilderness until I rounded a bend and saw multiple nuclear power plants.)
Plus, if you have spent some desperate moments looking for your vehicle in a huge Florida parking lot, the sight of the banana-colored kayak is a welcome relief.
On the sad little return trip, one of the aged straps snapped on Route 10 in northern Florida. The other two straps were more than adequate in keeping the kayak well-anchored. But for a few miles, I had a 12-foot blue banner hanging from the speeding Tundra.
Another disgrace for the state of Maine.
Every year, I say that the March Florida-Red Sox trip is the last — at least until it starts snowing and the team sends the ticket reorder form. If there is another trip and I take the 17-miles-per-gallon Tundra, the Ocean Prowler will come along on the racks.
Damn the gators, full speed ahead.