Holding Kayaks, Riding Bikes & Changing the World

It’s time. We all need another dose of Melody’s heartfelt mix of humor and wisdom. Here it is, along with a request for you to support Melody on a ride that’s sure to inspire brilliant blog posts, and help save lives. Without further ado, here’s Melody…

YOU GUYS. I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL IS WRONG WITH ME. I JUST SIGNED UP FOR A 200 MILE RIDE IN LIKE A MONTH AND I MIGHT ACTUALLY POOP MY PANTS. I promise to post regular updates about all my mishaps and the state of my vagina. Hold me Jesus.

I’m about to ask you for some money. But I want to tell you a story first, and it’s a long one. So gather around, young whippersnappers, grab a cup of coffee and let me tell you a tale.

Last month, Amy and I went on a 5 day backpacking trip into the back-ass country of Maine. Before you think we’re all fancy and strong and Cheryl Strayed a la Reese Witherspoon, let me assure you– neither of us had been backpacking before, and we were scared poopless. Part of the Maine Huts & Trails system, each hike brought us to a different “hut” every night. If you’re imagining “hut”= “Appalachian Trail, 3 sided, rat-infested den of inequity”, let me assure you that these huts were nothing of the sort. Comfortable and clean and with all the amenities of home (and almost completely off the grid), the staff served us heaping plates of gourmet, locally sourced meals every night. They had wine and beer for sale. (Betcha think we are a little less strong and fancy now, eh?) Amy and I had gone into it deciding that, listen, we don’t want to make any new friends. We will commit to the bare minimum required small talk to be polite at the family style dinner table– I mean, we’re not animals. But we are here for us! We don’t want to hike with you, we don’t want to sleep in a bunk with you, we don’t want to see pictures of your kid or your dog. BYE FELICIA.

But then we met Skye, Camille, and Ruth. Sixty-something divorcees hailing from Vermont, they spent their spare moments going on adventures, both solo and as a group. Skye talked about how she’d traveled the world on a dime, by staying in hostels; her family had grown to expect that she would be gone inexplicably for long stretches of time. (Incidentally, Skye corrected our misconception that hostels were full of incapacitated, hot university students looking to get laid– she said they were mostly full of people like her.) Intentional and deliberate with their conversation, but silly and fun and full of life, this trio became my girl crush for our trip. We spent hours on the screened-porch of the Grand Falls Hut talking about our evolving world views and our children and what concert we would most love to see (me, The Indigo Girls, them James Taylor). On one day of our trip, we had a six-mile kayak trip down the river, and at one point, I look over and my new-friends-that-I-promised-I-wasn’t-going-to-make were jumping off a dock, naked as the day they were born more than half a century ago. “BOOBIES IN THE SUN!!!” one of them shouted as she floated in the cool current. These were the ladies I wanted to be, I decided on the spot. Saggy boobs and all, but possessing an unfettered moxie that left no room for comparison or judgement or lack of confidence. Bitches didn’t care.

At this point in the story, I am going to have to throw Amy under the bus a little bit. I love you dearly Amy, but in the interest of candor and integrity in reporting and all… I was kinda the ringleader of this trip. I was the one who said, “Hey, what do you think of…”, the one who called and made the reservations, the one who purchased the backpacks and drove the car and listened to the podcasts about what to do if you encounter a moose (we didn’t, but I was prepared). I was the one who was always a couple hundred feet ahead of Amy on the trail, not because she couldn’t do it, but just because I could do it a little faster. I saw a shirt advertised recently that describes Amy to a T: “I won’t quit, but I will cuss the whole time.”

But there was a very notable time when this self-proclaimed ringleader majorly faltered (and also a time where she fell into a bog and broke her hiking poles, but that’s another story). I am going to tell you this, and it might seem dumb and petty and it is all of those things, but fears often are and that doesn’t make them less scary for the person who owns them. Having grown up near the water on the Outer Banks, I have a decent amount of kayaking experience. Most of it involved pushing the boat off of a sandy beach or a boat ramp, or occasionally maneuvering into the boat from a very low kayak dock. The day of our kayak trip, I was feeling good and confident and ready to go, and after a couple of hours of paddling, we found the dock from which we were intended to exit the water. (An aside: the river made a distinct Y right before the dock. A teeny little sign said “Portage” with an arrow to the right, and exactly no signs noted the fact that if you went to the left, you would immediately enter loud, swirling rapids and in a 1/2 mile go over a GIANT ASS WATERFALL. We found this to be generally true about our trip to Maine: no legal disclaimers, no signs off the dock that said, “No (naked) diving”, nothing. Amy and I joked that the highway sign should say, “Welcome to Maine. Do whatever the hell you want to.”)

I digress. Back to our kayaking. We paddle up to the dock and realize that there is no sandy beach. There is no boat ramp. There is no low kayak dock. There are no friendly, tanned cabana boys. Just a traditional dock, rocking in the current, with its deck several feet above the water. For those of you not familiar with kayaks, you are sitting INside, not ON the boat (unlike a canoe), at the same level as the water. Perhaps this seems like no big deal to most people, and it’s probably not. But listen. I weigh one-hundred-and-a-lot-pounds and my upper body strength leaves quite a bit to be desired. Lifting my solid body several feet out of the water is not exactly in my repertoire. I am not exaggerating when I say that I immediately began to freak out. Like a legit panic attack. “AMY I DON’T KNOW HOW TO GET OUT OF THE KAYAK. AMY I AM GOING TO CAPSIZE. AMY I AM JUST GOING TO PADDLE BACK UP THE RIVER AND GO HOME BECAUSE I HATE THIS SHIT AND THIS WAS A BAD IDEA AND I CAN’T DO THIS AND I HATE EVERYTHING.” (I’m real cool under pressure.) (It’s also worth noting that I have some boat related trauma in my past, which makes my reaction possibly a little more understandable.) Amy went into Mom mode, and talked me off the ledge. “It’s ok. You’re ok. You can do this.” And we did do it, and it was the most ungraceful thing I have ever done in my life and Amy, I am so sorry that you had to watch that. Some things you just can’t unsee.

But after we got our boats out of the water and continued on our hike, I still felt sweaty and panicky and shaky, because look– the next day, we would need to hike BACK to that GD boat dock, put our stupid boats back in the stupid water, and paddle back up that stupid river. I just knew that this was going to be impossible. It was a suicide mission. I was going to end up in the water and my pack was going to end up in the water and then my wet pants would make my thighs chafe and that’s really the worst fate imaginable and I might as well give up and just decide to live in the wilderness of Maine for the rest of my life, because God knows that I am never getting out. I obsessed over this as I hiked. I obsessed over it at the dinner table at the hut. I obsessed over this as I tried to fall asleep in my bunk that night. (Again, don’t you judge my fears. I am growing.)

The next morning, Camille came to me and pulled me aside. “Hey,” she gently said. “If you’ll have us, we would love to hike with you this morning and help you get back in the kayak. It would honestly be a pleasure for us.” Let me tell you the million reasons that this was not acceptable, starting with the fact that these women were 30 years older than me and they wanted to help ME? Additionally, if you know me at all, you know that asking for help is my personal kryptonite. I would rather get 73 pap smears in a row. No thank you, ma’am, I am just fine. But honestly, what were my choices? I could accept their help or I could die in a watery grave, and then my waterlogged body would eventually go over the falls and be found by an unsuspecting fisherman in 8 months. FINE CAMILLE, (gulp gulp), I accept your help.

We hiked out and chatted casually about I don’t even remember what, but the whole time, my insides are yelling at me, “THIS IS WHERE IT ALL ENDS, MELODY STRAYER.” (So I have a flare for the dramatic. Sue me.) We get to the dock way too soon, and I empty my pack, put its contents in trash bags in the hatches and strap it to the top of the boat. My new lady friends help me put my kayak back in the water. BYE AMY IT’S BEEN NICE KNOWING YOU.

And then something happened. Skye and Camille laid on the dock, with their bodies suspended over my boat and over open water, and they held it steady for me. Lest you misunderstand their posture, if I went into the water, they did too. There was no way around that. I held onto the dock and I scooted my butt into the boat. And that was it. I was in. A little rocking but nothing even a tiny bit scary. Everybody cheered for me, you guys.

I immediately burst into tears, because listen, THIS IS WHAT WOMEN ARE SUPPOSED TO DO. We don’t compare, we don’t trivialize, we don’t judge, we don’t condescend, we don’t murmur behind open palms; we just hold that MF’ing boat steady for each other and we say, “You can do this. I’ve got you.”

And that is a long, very round-about way of telling you why I am participating in the YSC Tour de Pink this year. I have not had breast cancer, and nobody in my immediate family has (although other forms of cancer have taken more loved ones than I can mention, and as a mother of three girls, a woman with 7 nieces, and my own mother, and two sisters– statistics are grim). YSC is an organization that shows up for women who have breast cancer. They offer support, education, camaradarie, and a shoulder to cry on. In essence, they hold the boat for other women who are feeling scared and overwhelmed and weak.

A couple of days ago, I was listening to a podcast with Jen Hatmaker and Brené Brown. Gosh, I want to hate these ladies; it seems basic to be so in love with them like every other woman in the entire world, in in the same base category as an insatiable penchant for Pumpkin Spice Lattes and Uggs. But man do I love them. Brene was talking about how when she was growing up, her mother insisted on going to every funeral of those in their circle. They paid their respects, they brought their casserole, and they looked the mourning family right in the eye. I’ll be honest, I am not good at this. Suffering makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t know what to say and I don’t want to make it worse. But this is my goal as I grow and learn and evolve as a woman: I want to look those suffering in the eye, and I want to say, “I see you. I will hold your boat for you.”

Guys, this feels fragile for me. Physically, this is going to be a huge challenge. The logistics of it scare me (what if I have to share a hotel room with someone weird? What if I end up being the weird one?? What about my vagina?? It may never be the same.) It’s super hard for me to ask you for money, but here I am– shaking knees about to climb in my kayak, and I am asking you to help. If 100 of my friends would be willing to donate $25, I would be at my goal. I know it’s a big ask, but I am humbly putting it before you anyway.

Thank you so much for considering.

Love,
Melody

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