Saltwater / by Jess Huang

The cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea.
— Karen Blixen (as Isak Dinesen)

We'd been paddling for over four hours. The wind was blowing directly in our faces; the beautiful sunshine and warm, gentle waves from just a few hours before had turned into grey, foggy skies and a harsh chop slapping the hull of the boat. Sharon (my kayaking partner) and I were soaked, cold and sore. Our light and breezy conversation had turned into a bitter silence, heavy with frustration. Every stroke of the paddle took our last ounce of energy, over and over and over. And still, the shore of the boat-in campground seemed miles away.

All I could think of at this point was how stupid I was for thinking I could do this. When we set out that morning, we discussed our intentions; I shared with the other newly minted Trail Mavens that one of mine was to surprise myself with my abilities -- last time I'd done a trip with the Mavens I'd been pleasantly shocked at how okay I was with being dirty and smelly and sweaty, how quickly my anxiety about having dirty hands and smelly skin had faded into a campfire and beautiful, open, heartfelt conversations. 

And now, here I was, in the middle of Tomales Bay, in one of the lowest places I could be, doubting myself into a deep pit of despair and humiliation. My arms were killing me, tears were welling up in my eyes, I was certain all of my photos were ruined from water spots on my waterproof camera bag lens. Who was I kidding, thinking I could do this?

Then, I saw one of the single-person kayaks turn around; Katie, one of the guides (who had also been a guide on my last trip), was turning back to come toward us. As she came closer and asked how we were doing, I couldn't hold back the tears anymore.

Katie, in one of her many natural habitats

Katie, in one of her many natural habitats

"You're almost there!" Katie shouted. "You're doing great."

I don't remember how the conversation went after that, but soon we were talking about baked potatoes, and specifically restaurants that specialize in baked potatoes. In the middle of nowhere, more than an hour north of San Francisco, in two kayaks under foggy skies, I was talking about a baked potato restaurant.

But more importantly, Sharon and I were pushing toward the shore. As we pulled up on the sandy beach, I remarked out loud, "Wow, that last little bit went by so much faster."

Katie grinned, "The power of distraction."