Happiness Vs. The Kayak

Perhaps it is from my childhood that I concluded that I should just have fun and, as the song says, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!” Like everyone else, I have had times in life that are hard, distressing, frightening, or hurtful, and that little piece of advice helps. I have the choice to be happy or unhappy. We all do, so we may as well be happy.

At a 70th birthday party for my husband, Lynn, I gave a presentation, “Travels with Lynn, Facing Death and Life,” and this is one of the stories I told. 

One of the most memorable adventures I have had with Lynn is a kayaking trip in Prince William Sound, Alaska. I had never been in a kayak, but Lynn organized our trip with a local skipper who took us by powerboat to a remote location, Harriman Fjord. Captain Jay agreed he would pick us up at the same spot in five days. We had a wonderful time, truly alone in the wild with whales, bears, sea otters and calving glaciers. We only saw one other human that week.

The time came to leave so we cleaned up our campsite, tossing out our dehydrated food that we were now sick of eating (my idea). We decided to paddle toward town rather than wait for the pick-up at the appointed spot (not my idea!). “How could they miss us? We have a bright yellow kayak,” Lynn reminded me, so off we paddled. It was a gloriously beautiful bright day with the cool aqua-blue water reflecting the pure white mountain snow.

As we paddled around the corner of the inlet, we were suddenly surrounded by a pod of whales, surfacing and diving ahead of us and beside us. Oh! (WOW!); Uh-oh! (glacial water); Oh, well! (die quickly). We floated along, awed by their beauty and grace.

A couple of hours later, we spotted Captain Jay and his boat and we waved happily, but he sped past us. “Oh, well,” we thought, “he wasn’t looking because he expected us to be where he left us.” Soon we saw him speeding toward us. We waved vigorously, knowing he would be looking for us this time, but he sped on by without ever slowing down. We gathered all the dry wood we could find to set a big bonfire, unpacked our emergency kit, and took out our emergency flares. Surely with fire, smoke, and flares, he would see us. But the fire dwindled before igniting and four of the five flares were duds. Early the next morning we heard the hum of a helicopter. “Rescued!” I screamed. But we weren’t. No rescue. We had only candy left, and now that old dehydrated food that I had dumped when we left camp didn’t sound so bad. We snacked on candy and kept paddling. 

There is a near-myth that everything is big in Alaska, including mosquitos that are the size of birds and that fly in a swarm like locusts. Some of these giant mosquitos found us. They surrounded Lynn from head to toe while ignoring me completely. I did not have a single bite; Lynn had too many to count. I chuckled, thinking, “This must be cosmic justice.”

The next day we saw a group of kayaks. With Lynn’s accelerated paddling we reached them and they radioed Captain Jay, who was beyond annoyed. He was getting ready to call for rescue, but I did wonder how long he planned to wait before calling for help. We had missed our flight to Seattle by days, but Alaska Airlines honored our ticket and gave us a sympathy upgrade that I sincerely appreciated.

At the end of my presentation, a friend commented, “I can’t believe you went with him on those ill-planned and half-baked vacations.” A bit defensively I said, “They weren’t really half-baked,” but I realized I would not have wanted to miss any of our half-baked misadventures. They are some of the happiest and funniest memories I have. I realized too that I could definitely and easily have turned this experience into a very bad memory, or use it to build a case against Lynn. But instead I recall it as fun, exciting, and a bonding experience between us.

However accurate the “facts” may be, the emotional interpretation is up to me. If I wanted to think negatively, I could have thought how careless he was. After all it was his idea not to meet Captain Jay at the pick-up spot. But why would I think that? I would feel bad and so would he. It wouldn’t change anything that happened, but it certainly would change our relationship. We can think whatever we choose. Life holds many surprises, and for me many of these surprises have come when things did not go all that well. I embrace them all. I cannot change the past, but I can choose to be happy in the present moment. Anger simply creates more anger. Worry creates more worry. Happy creates happy. I choose happy!