Into the Eye of Odile

Odile Up Close

Hurricane Odile making landfall.

During the second week of September, 2014, a Category 3 hurricane by the name of Odile had the tip of the Baja Peninsula in her sights. On the 14th, at approximately 11:30PM, she moved ashore and wreaked havoc. She was one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall on the peninsula and easily the strongest storm in recorded history ever to make a direct hit on Los Cabos. (The only storm comparable was Hurricane John, which in 2006, hit a much less populous area here in the East Cape where, in comparison, only a small number of people were affected). In her wake, Odile left two cites, Cabo San Lucas and especially San Jose del Cabo and their quarter of a million citizens without power, communications or running water. Because I live off-the-grid, I had power, running water, and even an Internet connection. Between here and town though, power poles and major electrical towers were downed everywhere, making it difficult or impossible to drive the local roads. Most homes had serious damage, especially those on the beachfront, which were inundated by a storm surge created by massive waves unheard of in the region. In the panic after the storm the stores were quickly emptied of any and all of their contents. With no way to resupply – the airport and roads were impassable – people who hadn’t prepared for the storm, or who lost everything, were left completely destitute. To quote six year old Lucas Nobili, Odile was “quite a bitch.”

Lucas Letter to Odile

English writing exercise by Lucas Nobili Photo: Pablo Nobili

The good news is that ten days after the storm hit, the citizenry of Los Cabos have restored order, begun a massive cleanup effort, and with the help of the federal electrical commission, power is being reconnected little by little, allowing stores to reopen.

My account of going through the storm, alone, has been published on an online magazine called The Scuttlefish. Check it out by clicking on the link below and let me know what you think.

Into the Eye of Odile on The Scuttlefish

Fear and Kiting in Los Cabos

DSCN0401Parental Advisory: Dear Mom and Dad, please don’t read this. I know how you feel about me kiting and this isn’t going to help. Love, Dawn

I don’t kitesurf in the summer heat. I consciously decided that kiting is a fall and winter sport for me because it’s hell getting the gear rigged on the hot sand. I’ve come close to heat stroke a couple of times. But on my first foray out this autumn, I came close having a stroke for a very different reason.

It’s always difficult to motivate to go out the first time after my summer break; I know from experience that half my equipment is going to fail because it’s been sitting around for months in the summer heat. The glue that they use to seal the valves in particular is degraded by high temps so when you try to blow the kite up, one or more valves go “pop!” and you’re S.O.L unless you know how to do repairs, which apparently I don’t. I tried to replace a valve last year, followed the instructions carefully, watched YouTube videos on how to do it, but failed terribly. I can’t even tell you where I went wrong.

My neighbor Walker, who’s a kiter, was here this week and convinced me it was time to get the kites out. The wind was blowing a good 25 to 30 miles an hour, the water was crystal clear, and it seemed as good a time as any to get out there. And I was glad to have some company for the first foray in many months.

Walker is an enthusiastic kiter. He’s been doing it since the sport was in its infancy and went through the hell of using kites that didn’t have all the built-in safety features that those of us starting up much later benefit from. He’s got some great tales of harrowing near-death experiences that I’m glad I got to miss out on. His enthusiasm means he was down on the beach at the first sign of whitecaps. I dragged my feet, experiencing the resistance borne of the knowledge that it was probably going to be a bit of a nightmare figuring out which of my well-used kites was flight worthy. Sure enough, after I got down there and helped Walker launch his brand new 7M Sling Shot, I tried three different kites, including one of Walkers that he’d offered up, and none of them were operable. Walker had forgotten to bring the bar (essentially the “steering wheel”) down for his 6M that I was hoping to use and before launching he suggested I jerry-rig it with my own bar. I knew this was a bad idea and did it anyway. The kite is different than any of mine and sure enough, when I launched it, it immediately dove to the beach and crashed, flew back up and dove, over and over again as the lines twisted on themselves. Frustrating!! Not to mention not so good for the kite. Before I could get it under control, it nose dived into a sundried porcupine fish, which penetrated the heavy nylon of the leading edge, but thankfully not the bladder and a foot long hole tore through the canopy. That kite was out of commission until it could be repaired.

Meanwhile, as I struggled to get the next kite (any kite!) rigged, Walker was out there flying back and forth across the water, intermittently crashing the kite into the water’s hard surface and then struggling to relaunch because he was under-powered. It was apparent from the tangled mess of the lines on the bar I was trying to rig that I didn’t deal with that issue before putting them away for the season. My bad. Untangling lines requires the patience of Job and after trying to get two other setups rigged, mine was waning. Walker came in while I was deep in the tangles.

When I explained what the hold up was, he offered me his brand new kite. Although he’d been underpowered, we reasoned it would be perfect for me because I weigh considerably less than he does. After a half-hearted protest that the kite was new! I thanked him profusely and got out there.  Employing what patience remained, I timed it right to get out through the heavy shorebreak without mishap and was up and whizzing out to sea trying to remember the subtleties of the sport.

Fifteen minutes into my session, I’d just tacked, heading back out to sea, when I leaned back and took a look down to marvel at the crystal clarity of the water backed by the white sand bottom and contrasting black and mottled brown rocks. The water was so clear it looked like it was only a few feet deep. I’d begun to turn my attention back to the surface and the kite, when I sailed over the outline of something that resembled a shark.

BigMouthWait…WHAT?!

At first I didn’t believe my eyes, and started looking around at the white caps, hoping one would resemble a shark and I could laugh at my paranoia, but that was denial at work. I considered further what I’d seen: it’s shape was distinct–a wide body, tapering to a long tail with an upright caudal fin that only one type of fish in the sea possesses, light grey on top and white underneath at the tips of its fins and a as I passed overhead, it flicked that tail once to impel itself forward, an unmistakable motion. As the reality that I had indeed seen a shark, a rather large shark, slowly sank in, I felt the vice grip of anxiety rise and take hold of my chest. I began debating what to do. I was still on a course that took me out to sea, to deeper darker waters, but away from where I’d seen the shark. I needed to give him time to continue on his way North. Unfortunately, my mind then had him pulling a U-turn and coming to see what that “thing” was that flew overhead. I wondered Are sharks curious? The darkness of the deeper water was frightening because of all that it could conceal. I decided it was time to tack and head back to shore, but with all that anxious thinking I was distracted and blew my turn. I sank into that deep, dark blue water up to my neck, and anxiety turned to panic.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT!” I said as much at myself as to myself. Get up and get going! I silently commanded.

And so I did, saying a little “Thank you God,” as I got up to speed without the kite crashing and exploding on impact (not an uncommon occurrence where I am concerned). I was headed to shore.

This is where the way my brain works frightens me a little; on my way back to shore, it occurred to me that I’d only been out kiting a short time and I began rationalizing that the shark was long gone. He’d obviously just been cruising, there was no evidence of him being in hunter mode. When the time came, I did not go to shore, I turned that kite and me strapped to my board and headed back out to sea. True or not, I’d convinced myself I was safe above water and blocked out the possibility of kite failure, major wipe outs, the wind dying, and several other instances where I’d be back in the water up to my neck only minutes after seeing what I estimated to be an eight-foot shark.

It’s amazing what the human mind is capable of blocking out when it wants to ignore the facts. I’d almost forgotten all about that shark, when on my next tack, I lost control of the kite and it shot right to left, yanking me out of my board straps and flinging me a good ten feet downwind, before crashing into the water with a resounding WHUMP! Suddenly, I remembered Mr. Shark. Pushing the question of where my board was aside, I concentrated all my attention on the kite and after a few nail-biting failed attempts got it relaunched. I looked back hoping to see my board bobbing on the surface nearby. It was nowhere to be seen. Shit! Where is it? I could feel the anxiety putting its stranglehold on me again. Desperation wrapping its suffocating arms about me, I began to body drag upwind in search of my board. I recalled thankfully that it has red footstraps, unlike the two boards I’d previously lost in scenarios similar to this one – white, I’d concluded, is a STUPID color for a kiteboard; they just disappear among the white caps. The recollection of losing those two boards at sea taunted me now. Would I find the board or have to body drag all the way back in? Please God, no. A couple of drags of about 30 feet, first one way and then the other and I could see the board bobbing in the wind chop. I relaxed a tiny bit. Quickly, I regained the board, slipped my feet into the straps, and power-stroked myself up and out of the water. I could breathe again.

A few more tacks and I wiped out again, this time though I didn’t crash the kite and remained close enough to the board that it was visible. I decided I’d tempted fate enough and it was time to go in. I couldn’t relax out there except when within easy reach of the beach. But there was a big swell in the water that day, so every time I got close to the beach, a huge wall of water would loom up behind me threatening to send me into shore ass over tea-kettle like a big piece of flotsam wrapped up in my lines. I imagined myself riding those waves and pulling out gracefully by launching myself like a bird, as I’d seen advanced riders do on Maui. As I approached the shore, I got my opportunity as a wave began to grow behind me. I rode it partway in before pulling the kite up to stop my forward momentum and skidding to a remarkably graceful halt before I crashed on the sand. Using the kite’s pull, I exited the water in a series of small hops. The sand never felt so solid, so secure under my feet.

Walker was no longer on the beach, so I did a controlled crash to land the kite. When I ran over to deflate it, what I saw made my breath catch in my throat. The plug for main intake valve was open, probably popping under the pressure of one of Walker’s more dramatic crashes. The only thing keeping the kite from deflating was the stopper, a little plastic ball that plugs the hole under back pressure. I was reminded of one of the earliest lessons we were taught by the instructor at Action Sports Maui: Always rig your own kite and if you don’t for some reason, double check the rigging before launch. I’d been in such a rush to get out there, I’d forgotten an essential lesson. I was lucky the kite hadn’t deflated when I crashed it way out at sea.

The next day when I related this experience to my buddy Meisy, he laughed and pointed out that when I body drag using the kite to move upwind to retrieve my board, I essentially turn myself into big fishing lure. Thanks Meisy, the image of a shark clamping down on me like a baited line will haunt me every time I lose my board from this day forward.

The Condition My Condition Is In

For whatever reason, I don’t get a lot of comments on this blog. People read it, but they don’t feel the need to express their opinions afterwards. Maybe they’d like to tell me what they really think, but they’re being polite. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of comments made here and via email in response to my last post, in which I admitted to feeling the negative effects of my isolated lifestyle. Those words of thoughtful advice and encouragement reminded me that loneliness is a common ailment in our increasingly isolated and isolating societies. It became apparent there was a lot of empathy to my plight, a lot of “yeah, I’ve been there.”

The number of comments spoke of how many of us have felt this emotion, but while wandering around Facebook the day after publishing that blog, I stumbled across an article from Slate magazine called Loneliness is Deadly. The Universe tapping me directly on the shoulder? The melodramatic title did its attention-getting job. As I read it, I couldn’t help but notice that much of what the author described as the consequences of loneliness I knew, at least intuitively, to be true. I realized that for months, except for to a couple of close friends, I had avoided communicating how I felt because of the stigma associated with admitting we are lonely. The notion that we are capital “L” Losers if we admit to being lonely is sad, potentially disastrous, and just so much BS. If we avoid talking about it, we’ll never realize that there are a whole bunch of us walking around here not realizing that there are bunch of us out there feeling the same way. Comfort in numbers, my lonely friends!

A few days later I opened my email to be struck by the timeliness of Nathan Bransford’s latest post “Writing and Loneliness.” Then, just to make sure I really got the message, a week later the Daily Good newsletter I receive each day drove home the bottom line, the same message all those comments to my blog were sending: While we may be lonely, “We Have Never Been Alone.” Hannah Brencher distilled my feelings and pointed out an oft forgotten reality:

Loneliness is quite capable of swallowing us whole. And Loneliness will think to do a lot of things, but it will never think to spit us back up until we look around and realize that we have never been Alone.

Alone and Loneliness. They are two different things. One is thick, and the other is a myth. We have never been alone, not a day in our lives. What kind of devil hissed this lie in our ears? Yes, we have felt tender. Yes, we have felt defeated. But no, we have never been alone so much as we have refused to let the others in.

And so I began to examine where I might be keeping people out, whether I was the one who was isolating myself or had circumstances conspired to put me here in Isolationville?

I’d already taken matters into my own hands to actively remedy my situation.

Solution Number One was seeking and applying for jobs that will either give me the financial wherewithal to get out of Dodge more often, or necessitate leaving Dodge altogether.

Solution Number Two was to once again temporarily get out of Dodge. There’s nothing like a two week surf vacation away from your regular surfing life to give you a new lease on life!

The little town where I found myself was itself remote, but it turned out that I was not the only one looking to for a little surf-related R&R. New friendships were made and old ones renewed. And that saying about a change being as good as a rest? Well, it’s a cliché for good reason.

A few days into my surf vacation, I realized I’d never actually taken a surf vacation. By that I mean, I’ve never taken a trip for the express purpose of surfing. Yes, I’ve surfed away from home, but rarely, and I’ve always had another reason for taking the trip. Surfing hasn’t been the primary focus. I’ve even flown all the way to Fiji and Hawaii and not so much as paddled.

I spent two weeks at this very special surf spot and, unlike when I am at home, had no trouble at all getting up well before sunrise to hit the water before the crowds. I was the first one out every morning with only one exception (and yes, the size of the surf probably had something to do with the fact that no one was really chomping at the bit to get out there). I was pleasantly surprised on the first morning to see my favorite winter constellations – Orion and Sirius – shining overhead as I loaded the truck with essentials (lots of drinking water and my buddy Friday). The water’s coolness washed away any lingering drowsiness as I dragged my feet through the shallows (to avoid getting stung by stingrays who might be lurking on the sandy bottom). Sirius blinked in the gradually brightening sky as I paddled out into the bay where two to three footers peeled right to left from the rocky point. I placed myself a few feet inside of where I knew the larger waves would break, hoping to be the recipient of one of the set waves that typically appear just before the sun breaks the horizon. It was pure joy catching that first wave each morning before anyone else was out. The sight of me erect and sailing across the face of a wave was usually enough to get the campers moving though and soon I’d be joined by two, then three or four others.

Friday, traveler extraordinaire.

Friday, tucked in next to the 6’8″ Roger Beal, which sadly didn’t get wet this trip.

Near the end of the first week, more campers appeared along the bluff overlooking the break in response to swell reports that promised better waves, waves that had yet to materialize. By the time the sun had risen there’d be six, sometimes eight of us in the water, chasing knee-high waves. The waves’ size made for a mellow crowd. We shared the little peelers and chatted between inconsistent two-wave sets. The vibe was sweet and it felt good to be part of something so positive. Even the boys from Orange County, used to surfing among the aggro crowd at Trestles, encouraged me to drop in on them, yelling, “Party wave!” more than a little often. My faith in So Cal surfers was renewed along with my conviction that being connected to the larger Human Race is our natural state, our salvation.

Beautiful, but about as close to flat as it gets.

*********************

And speaking of small waves, here’s a beautiful piece about riding the small stuff, Small Waves by Thorpe Moeckel.