My husband and I love the water. We met in the Florida Keys on a marine biology field course, and we both feel the pull of the ocean from our home in the Appalachian mountains.
The nearest salt water is more than four hours from us. We can’t get to it in the morning or evening for a walk on the beach, or in the afternoon for a quick swim, or any time to body surf or listen to waves crash and gulls cry.
To ease the separation, we started sailing on nearby mountain lakes. The air smells different from sea air, and the spaces aren’t as wide open as the ocean, but a lake is water, and our sailboat gets us out on it.
Last year, we tried a new way to get on the water. For Father’s Day, the kids and I took their dad to nearby Fairy Stone park and rented four stand-up paddle boards. We laughed, splashed, glided, laid on our backs on the boards with our hats over our faces.
Next thing you know, my husband and I have our own paddle boards.
We took them out Sunday for the first time this season. It would have been a good day to sail, too, but the paddle boards are easier. Plus, my husband found a reservoir nearby with limited power boat traffic, so it would be quiet and wake-free — a perfect place to paddle. With the boards, there is no trailering, no stepping the mast, no jockeying for boat ramp position. Once we got to Carvin’s Cove, we plopped the boards in the water and took off.
Over the years, we’ve started to notice how much of a burden stuff can be. Even stuff we we like, like our house, and like hobbies. I love our home and obviously I love my garden, but they’re both a lot of maintenance. And the bigger something is, the more maintenance it requires. Similarly, hobbies that require a lot of equipment become high maintenance. I used to be into cycling, but it got to be a hassle, what with all the gear, and having to find a good place to ride, and drive the bikes there, and then you have this dumb helmet and clacky shoes when you need to stop and get a snack, and you can’t leave the bike because it might get stolen, and you have to ride for hours to get a decent workout.
I eventually ditched the bike and switched to running, which just requires running shoes, clothes that wick sweat, and a half hour of time. I can go right out the door, and I can do it when I travel. As my husband pointed out, walking is even simpler: you don’t even have to change clothes. As long as you’re on land, traveling by foot is the most up-close-and-personal way to explore.
Similarly, my husband and I did a lot of SCUBA diving in our earlier years. After a while, the heavy tank, the gear, the limited bottom time, and the dependence on dive shops to get us to moorings all became burdensome. With a mask and snorkel we could get what we wanted — to see the underwater world — with our bodies free both on land and in the water. With a mask and snorkel, you can walk anywhere there’s water access and just get in and go.
Today I felt that same freedom with paddle boarding. Getting the boards on and off of the car is the most complicated part. Once you’re in the water, you can go anywhere, with no stress, little risk, and pretty much no limitations for water depth, proximity to shore, stopping and starting, and jumping in. It’s just you, your paddle, your leash, your board, and the water, right there, inches from your feet.
On the quiet of the reservoir, I heard the dip of my paddle blade, the rat-a-tat of ripples on the bottom of my board, the wind in the trees. When I saw flowers on shore, I paddled up to them and used my foot as an anchor so I could photograph them. When I was hot, I jumped in. When I wanted to do nothing, I sat on my board as if it were a beach blanket.
Cycling, SCUBA diving, and sailing definitely offer a more intense experience. You can go faster and deeper and farther with them, and I do like speed and depth and wind on my face. But the unencumbered way gets me the main thing I want and with a lot less hassle.
I love feeling unburdened. The more I experience it, the more I want to cultivate it in more areas in my life. I’ve purged almost all of my physical books, for example, and carry my library with me in my e-reader. As I think towards the day that will come when our kids move out and it’s just the two of us again, I wonder, “Could we just take off for a few months and be nomads? Live out of backpacks, go wherever we want, whenever we want? Explore oceans and cities all over the world without having to rush back home to maintain everything?”
When I ask that question, I look around and think, how much of this stuff do I really need? How much do I even want? The only things I need are the things I use on a daily or weekly basis (toothbrush, laptop for work, clothes), the things I want are the things I choose to use on a daily or weekly basis (e-reader, notebooks and pens, camera). I’d need to figure out my fountain pens and notebooks, but everything else could realistically fit in a backpack.
I aspire to feel as unencumbered in my life as I do on the paddle board. I want to be free to start, stop, poke around, and move on to a new place when I get the urge to wander.