I tripped out of the tent, cursing the tent flap for the surly bastard that it was, and walked over to our makeshift kitchen table to heat up some tea.
A mug in hand, now feeling more sanguine, I took a seat in my camp chair, and looked around my feet. Beneath me were the adorable paw prints of a Catalina Island fox. The fox had sniffed around our camp looking for grub during the night, and poked a small hole in our trash bag so he could yank out a few morsels. He made some noise and woke me during the night, and I turned my flashlight on him. When I did, Schling did the same thing from the other side of our camp. Suddenly illuminated, the fox looked back at us briefly with his flashing eyes, and bounced off, annoyed at the interruption in his meal. He left his prints all over our camp, and even a trail of prints on our kitchen table.
I sipped my tea. Our little cove was placid, with the gentle tide swelling, and then swirling around a large rock just in front of our campsite. In the distance, a fish suddenly leapt clean out of the water, signaling a world of chaos underneath the calm surface. But above the surface, on my side of the dimensional plane, there was only stillness, slow moving distant birds in glide, and increasing light and warmth.
The water looked like a reflective mirror, as if the sky were taking a selfie. As I sat there in silence, a grave happiness descended on me. There was a weight to it. I let the feeling press me down. I lifted my chin and closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
This is it. Right here.
Then the blissful moment was over. The guys were stirring. Amir was out on a walk, looking lost in thought. Ian lay in his sleeping bag, eyes open, staring at the water. Schling was fiddling in his pack. Kenny had come over and was eating a protein bar.
Aware we would only need a couple hours to get to Avalon, we were again in no rush to get on the water. So we took our time waking up, eating breakfast, and packing up.
Once on the water, we lollygagged around, and let the lazy current that snaked around the island push us eastward toward our destination.
Funny, but it is near impossible to keep five paddlers close together, even in good conditions, and within no time at all, Kenny and I were in the back of the pack, a long way from the other three paddlers in the lead. We paddled purposefully, and slow, remaining in shallow water, and dodging partially submerged rocks as the small waves mingled with the shore. I mostly kept my eyes down, looking for sea life beneath me, hoping to catch sight of a leopard shark, bat ray, or an octopus.
It was a great day to see something new. The water was cellophane. An emerald green color shone from the stones. Schools, endless schools, of small baitfish were our constant companions.
At one point, while I ventured off away from Kenny, a disc-shaped creature swept across my field of vision underneath my board, and two front fins swept it forward behind me. I immediately stopped, and back paddled.
“Ken!” I yelled across the water behind me. But he couldn’t hear me.
Was that a sea turtle?!
I did not believe my eyes. When Ken came up to me, I told him about it, but said that my eyes must have been playing tricks on me.
Kenny said, “I dunno man. You see a lot of cool stuff. If you saw a turtle, why doubt it?”
“Because I have never heard of a sea turtle around here, in cold water like this.”
“Well, maybe he’s on vacation. And the water isn’t that cold these days,” Ken said with a shrug.
I later looked it up (using the Google machine) and it turns out, to my surprise, that Catalina apparently does have a resident sea turtle. I suppose I stumbled upon him. But I never saw him again. And I’m still not sure that is what I saw. If I cannot believe my eyes, what then?
With space and time to think, my thoughts meandered to the shattered epistemology of our times. When there is no shared experience, no consensus on the facts, when each of us devours our own stories fed to us by a billion-dollar supercomputer’s algorithm who decides what stories we are most likely to give our attention to, and when those decisions are viciously cycling through confirmation bias, how will we survive? How do we know anything is true anymore? I caught myself spiraling. Back to the water, back to the cliffs, back to the presence of the paddle stroke.
Kenny and I kept exploring. We wandered in and out of the rock flows near the island’s sheer cliffs as the current pushed us along. The three guys in the lead, Schling, Captain, and Amir, were no longer visible to us at all.
Through lazy but constant paddle strokes, Kenny and I progressed toward Avalon, our boards never tracking a perfectly straight line. We zig zagged along on parallel tracks, moving toward each other, then away from each other, again and again.
While we danced like this, we talked about our families, our jobs, our goals, our dreams and futures. I found myself feeling grateful to be with Kenny, and with the rest of the guys. These guys are challenging themselves to be better, and they make me better. I need them. Iron sharpens iron.
As we neared Avalon, I realized I had just paddled my last sliver of un-paddled coastline on the island. Once I got to Frog Rock west of Hamilton Cove, I had now officially paddled every inch of coastline that Catalina has. I took a moment to celebrate the accomplishment, and let out a Woo-Hoo.
Kenny and I caught up with the guys in Avalon, in front of the casino. We paddled up to the dock, carried our boards up the ramp, rolled up our boards, checked our bags and boards, and sat down for a few cold beers before our boat ride home.