Tropical Storm Hector: Day 3

Upon Rising: Last night I tossed and turned thinking about Zee and whether I’ll be able to get her to town today. My bedtime reading of 50 Shades of Grey also put me to pondering about erotica and how it is prime time for this genre. After imagining and mind-writing some erotica of my own, I finally fell asleep.

This morning I arose thinking the storm would have passed, but that low pressure system is apparently sitting right on top of us and refuses to budge. I check eebmike.com and sure enough, there is the large blob obscuring the tip of the peninsula. I consider my options and decide I’m not flying anywhere tomorrow. I can’t leave the house and Zee in their current condition. They’d both end up with infections (mold in the house’s case).

Midday: I’m losing the battle for territory against the rain. The area of dry floors is shrinking faster than I can mop. The rain is coming down so hard that I can’t clearly see the point, a mere mile away. It’s forcing its way under the doors, seeping like an evil menace into my shelter and making it increasingly like the outdoors. Contributing to this feeling are the leaks that have begun to pop up, here, there and, while not everywhere, they are becoming common enough that moving about the main floor requires a dance around scattered buckets. My feet are now perpetually wet.

After mopping just inside the second story door non-stop for a good 15 minutes, I filled a bucket ¾ full and still the water kept coming. I repeated this process over and over until I mentally cried “Uncle!” acquiesced and went downstairs to the garage.  I pulled a chair as close to the door opening as I could without getting wet (my feet don’t count any more) and sat there watching the rain come down in buckets (I have a greater appreciation now of the origins of that expression). I looked at the sky and wondered if perhaps the rain was going to back off.  Almost immediately, as though she read my mind, Mother Nature responded by cranking it up a notch. The rain began to fall so hard it was impossible to tell where one huge drop ended and another began.

And that was it. Something in me shifted and I started to laugh in spite of everything and realized that the rain was going to come down as long as there was rain to fall and all the mopping in the world wasn’t going to make much of a difference. I laughed out loud. I laughed hard and the more I laughed, the better I felt. As my body relaxed in response to the laughter, it occurred to me how serious I tend to be and how I need to lighten up in general. Then I laughed harder at how, if they could hear me my neighbors would certainly think I was losing my mind to all this rain. The diagnosis would be mopping-induced hysteria the treatment of which would also help me deal with the effects of reading 50 Shades of Grey. But alas, the pounding of the rain and surf kept the men in white coats at bay.

The battle I refuse to lose is the one against infection in Zee’s leg. Today I remembered that there are hair clippers under the sink in one of the bathrooms. Sure enough, they work and I shaved the hair from around each of the wounds in an attempt to keep them cleaner. I note that the lower half of her leg is swollen and decide anti-inflammatory medicine is in order. I give her one of Doobie’s Prednisone tablets, on hand to treat her auto-immune disease, in the hopes that the swelling will back off. She’s a trooper – letting me shave her, put hydrogen peroxide on all her wounds and holding her bladder longer than usual because it took a while for the rain to subside enough so she would to hobble out and do her business. Thankfully she pulled a double header.

Mid-afternoon: The increased rainfull has made the arroyo run hard and the sea is slowly turning from its usual azure blue to the color of milk chocolate. The sediment and debris-laden water slowly oozes out into the sea and gradually makes its way North. The arroyo has not run for six years. There’s a lot of animal and human waste in that brown water. I won’t be surfing any time soon.

The “Server Not Found” message is increasingly present on my Firefox screen. Unlike yesterday, today it seems my connection with the outside world has been suspended. It’s raining too much with too few breaks in between to reestablish a connection. Oh well, there’s plenty of other things to do around here – mopping, baking, reading, writing. Actually, I think my priorities have finally shifted – as of now it’s writing, reading, baking, mopping.

A sound on the other side of the house pulls me out of the office and I discover a section of the ceiling gave way due to the pressure of the water building up behind it. Great. So I returned to my mopping after writing 1500 words and now it’s 3:30 and I feel like I have been mopping for three days straight. I’ve mopped more in these three days than I typically undertake all year.

5:00pm: The rain is finally letting up. I’ve been waiting for a break in the weather so I can drive my ATV a mile down the road to see if my neighbors’ internet is working. I need to cancel my airline ticket to California. There’s no way I can leave tomorrow. I’d also like to see if there are any reports on road conditions and whether there’s any hope of getting to town any time soon. Again, Zee’s leg is pressing on my mind.

The drive to Villa del Faro is over a road that has been transformed. There are big and little washouts, rocks tumbled and exposed and at the base of the hill upon which my house sits, I must ford a small, but rapidly running river. I look to the east and see a huge swath of beach has been blown out to sea by this river that clearly ran big and fast at the height of the rain today. There is one deep gash in the road that has narrowed it to a width possibly too small for a truck to pass. If this one mile stretch of road contains an obstacle of this sort, the 20 miles to town must be a nightmare of washouts and certainly isn’t passable.

At my destination Mary, a soft-spoken, thin blond, greets me. She is sporting a long gash and several stitches on her head. “Oh my God Mary, what happened to you?!” Her sweet smile is tinged with regret as she explains how two nights ago, as the storm began the wind grabbed a shutter out of her hands as she tried to close it against the rain. I notice that the sharp line of the cut lines up perfectly with the side part of her hair.

The first thing Mary asks me is if I’ve heard anything about the roads. I tell her what little I know and why I’m there. That’s when she tells me that the pharmacy screwed up and only gave her enough antibiotics for one day. She’s naturally concerned about her cut getting infected. I tell her the good thing about a head wound is it can’t be very deep, making the chance of infection significantly lower. She kindly invites me to dinner saying, “It’s only spaghetti. We need to get to town for groceries.” Seems I’m not the only one this storm took by surprise.

Online, there are a series of emails related to the weather and road conditions between neighbors living South of us in places with names like Playa Tortuga and Zacatitos. We learn that the Los Cabos municipality is evacuating people who live in two large arroyos where shanty towns have sprung up over the last six, drier-than-normal years. Several years ago many people died when the Santa Rosa arroyo flooded during a storm. It’s clear from the emails that we are not going anywhere. The large arroyos separating us from town are all running and the police are not allowing anyone to cross. Mary’s face falls when I relate the news.

Over dinner I learn that my friends are dealing with a different kind of problem caused by the rain. Their beautiful pool is filling with frogs. Really noisy frogs that are keeping them up at night. Juan, their pool guy, is removing them as fast as he can, but they keep coming back. And they bring their friends. There’s more. Nell relates that the frogs are copulating. So not only are there frogs in the pool, but it is slowly filling with eggs. Juan is concerned that if they don’t get those eggs out of there fast, they’ll turn into tadpoles faster than you can say, “fucking fucking frogs.” We share a good laugh at the bizarre situation and discuss the marvel of how frogs manage to survive a four year drought.

Evening: When I return home the internet is back on. I look at the clock – 8:00pm and still no more rain. Do I dare think this might be the end of it? I mop up what I hope will be the last of the puddles in the house and am pleasantly surprised to discover things have already begun to dry out in the three hours I’ve been gone. But before I can call it a day, the storm deals me a final blow when I strain my left hand wringing out the mop. Like I said, these hands are not used to this kind of hard work. The mopping completed, I pour myself an ice cold shot of Don Julio tequila (it’s medicinal!) and sit down at the computer. I reach over and turn on the fan, let my flip flops drop from my feet and hold them to the drying air.

Oh crap, I think I might be getting trench foot.

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 2

The Vinorama Arroyo began to run on Aug 15th.

August 15, Day 2 of rain compliments of Tropical Storm Hector

Last night the wind picked up tremendously, same hour as last night, 2am, but this time the whole house shook and the windows were flexing and groaning in a way that made me uneasy. No naked patio forays this night. Instead I said a little prayer and tried to go back to sleep. No dice…too much wind, too much noise. It was probably close to 5am by the time I fell back to sleep. At 7am I was groggy, but awake, and discovered it’s still raining with little indication of letting up! I get up, excited to see if it rained enough for water to penetrate the crust that’s been baked solid over the last four years. But first I check the bucket out in the driveway to see how much rain fell – just short of one inch. It’s a good start.

Downstairs I inspect the rooms and discover that some rain has managed to come in under a few doors. I retrieve the mop and return to the North bedroom when suddenly something scuttles behind the door. I let out a small cry as I instinctively jump back. It must be a mouse, so I call Peanut, but expert mouser. She ignores me and so I take a closer look. It turns out to be a sand crab! He’s holding his pincers high in defence and has shoved his large, for a sand crab, body between the doorstop and the door, using the stop as armor I suppose. Apparently I wasn’t the only one unsettled by the storm’s surge last night. I get a bucket and after several attempts to coral him into it, I’ve got him. Back to the beach with him.

Do you suppose he’s going to EAT that cockroach?

I decide to take a drive down to the arroyo and see if it’s flowing. Zee and Lobo follow me down the driveway, so at the gate I tell Zee, “Stay home Zee.” She’s such a sweet and obedient dog, unlike Dakini and Lobo, she never follows me – even when she could still see. At the arroyo, the water is running slowly in a narrow rivulet, making large pools here and there, turning the fine dirt of the arroyo into sticky mud. I drive out to the beach and marvel at the colors of the waves – sandy brown, aquamarine and then deep marine blue closer to the horizon. The sky is light grey closest to me, but there is a dark, grey-blue cloud bank marching towards us from the Northeast and I can just make out the sheets of rain at its leading edge.

That’s my house on the hill off in the distance.

It’s best to get going if I don’t want to get caught in the downpour and turn to see Dakini and Lobo, followed by a caramel colored male Pitbull I’ve never seen, crossing a large pool of water in the middle of the arroyo. Silly dogs, I think.

On my way home I stop to say a quick hello to my neighbor’s Cris and Dave. On my way up the hill to their house, I notice a heavy-set Mexican man with unkempt curly hair in a white t-shirt carrying a heavy chain in his hand with a white and brindle female pitbull. I nod in his direction and figure that the other pitbull is his and he’s going to retrieve him (the chain being his version of a leash).

Cris greets me as I pull into their driveway and before we finish our greetings, David yells something unintelligible from inside the house. We look at each other curiously and then David comes charging out the door and gasps, “There’s a dog fight on the road down in front of the house!” I picture Lobo or Dakini in a pitbull’s vice-grip jaws, jump back on my ATV and tear down the hill to see what’s happened, my heart in my throat.

Curly already has the two pits behind the now closed gate of the property he looks after. There is a third short white dog, not mine, limping and holding his right front paw up, blood trickling from a small wound on the back of it. I ask the caretaker what happened and who attacked who. He points up the road and tells me there is another dog that was attacked. I take off down the road and turning the corner, see Zee zig-zagging into the bushes on the side of the road. She is clearly confused and limping, holding her rear left leg up. I choke on the emotion that tries to bubble to the surface and drive over to her. I give her a quick once over and see that she has several puncture wounds on her leg, but the rest of her appears to be intact. Relief floods through me, but is quickly overtaken by anger, anger that I could be looking at an uglier situation, anger that this is not the first time this has happened. Only two days earlier, Lobo lost a chunk of ear to one of these dogs.  I realize that this is going to be an ongoing issue and decide I’ll have to talk to the owners about letting these vicious animals run loose in our neighborhood. Ugh, village politics, I think.

I put Zee on the ATV and drive her slowly home, one arm around her to keep her from jumping or falling off, one on the throttle. Rather than drive in first the whole way home, I shift into second using the big toe of my left foot – thank goodness for flip flops. At home I do a more thorough review of Zee’s wounds – several are deep punctures, the kind that like to get infected – and douse them in rubbing alcohol, making her cry and bark in pain. I detest causing her pain, but it’s imperative that we get these wounds clean. Who knows if we’ll be able to get to a vet tomorrow? And I’m leaving on Friday. I must prevent infection from setting in. I give her an antibiotic that I have stored in the fridge for just such an emergency. Thankfully, Lobo’s injuries at this point appear to be healing nicely with minimal inflammation.

As I finish with Zee that front finally arrives and the rain finally starts coming down hard. It’s such a unique event that I am filled with gratitude and sense that the whole desert is giving thanks as the large drops fall faster and faster until I can barely see to the other end of the property. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Finalmente bastante lluvia!!

It rains on and off for the rest of the afternoon and I alternate between mopping and trying to write a review of a local hotel, but I can’t concentrate on it (probably because I am bored by such things). Instead I decide to research the book 50 Shades of Grey to figure out what all the fuss is about. At this point, all I know is that it is erotica that focuses on a guy that’s into S&M and three of the men in my life are reading it! I thought it was chick lit. Apparently, I was wrong and because it’s captured their interest and the imagination of the entire planet, I figure it’s time I stop resisting the flood. I read what I can online and become frustrated because they have conveniently removed all of the juicy bits.

As night descends, I have to take Zee by the collar to get her to go outside to pee. She’s not putting any weight on her leg and it’s quite inflamed. The worry and anger rises in my chest again. I check the bucket before heading to bed and find we’ve received 3.5 inches of rain throughout the day. That’s more than we’ve had in the last four years. !Que milagro! Puddles of water have reformed inside two of the doors, so I mop before heading upstairs to bed, Zee tagging along as best she can, blind and on three legs.

Check in tomorrow for Day 3 of rain from Tropical Storm Hector.

Tropical Storm Hector: Day 1

Image

The end of Day 1.

August 14, 2012: Tropical Storm Hector draws a low pressure system over the tip of the Baja Peninsula.

I can’t seem to concentrate. There could be all sorts of reasons for that – I live a pretty interesting and stimulating life – but I’m guessing few of you would guess that the reason for my inability to sit still and get some writing done (until now) is that it’s raining out.

I feel the way I felt when I was a little girl and we had the first snow day of the season – school was cancelled and all I wanted to do was either sit by the window and watch the snow fall and swirl or, better yet, get outside and feel the sharpness of the wind on my cheeks, the cold wetness of the snowflakes as they melted on my face and the crunch of the fluffy new snow under my boots.

Here in Baja, I keep looking outside to see if it’s still raining, check the level of water in the bucket I’ve put out on the driveway to act as a pseudo rain gauge and look South to see if the arroyo (riverbed) has begun to run yet. I check to see how saturated the ground is and rejoice as it turns spongy with moisture after so many years of it being so hard baked by the sun that a pick ax is required to dig a hole.

The rain is being brought to us thanks to Tropical Storm Hector, who spins approximately 500 miles Southwest of the tip of the peninsula. As typically happens, last night at 2am a front came tearing through, blowing suddenly and strongly through the open window so that the metallic sculpture hanging over my head began to swing back and forth. I got up and it took it down, lest it fall, as it has once before. I rallied when I imagined the sharp pain it could induce when its rusted jagged edge sliced through my forehead. The hanging – a winged heart – now lies on the dusty floor in the closet. Back in bed, I turned off the now redundant fan and fitfully tried to go back to sleep. That’s when the rain began. Again I jumped out of bed and closed the windows, ran downstairs to do the same. Returning upstairs, I went out onto the patio adjoining my room, opened my arms and felt the rain drops on my naked body. It wasn’t a lot of rain, but after four years of drought, it felt like manna from heaven. I fell asleep to the sound of rain hitting saltillo tile, followed by it gushing from downspouts onto the pine poles of the ramada outside my window.

This morning the rain is light and intermittent, so between the various weather status checks, I manage to get some work done, send emails to my absent neighbors to tell them it’s finally rained and start a loaf of bread. Like snow, the rain makes me want to bake filling, hearty food. Throughout the day I flit about from one task to the next. Ultimately I decide I need to put all the patio furniture up at the casita inside in preparation for my departure four days hence. Plus, who knows? Maybe tonight it will rain and blow hard enough to get the patio truly wet. The starving cows and I hope so.

Check back here tomorrow for Day 2 of Tropical Storm Hector

Is the Kid Really Dead?

Icy surfing in IcelandIt’s the day before Summer Solstice and it’s only 79 degrees Fahrenheit outside. I’m considering whether I need to put a sweater on because there’s a brisk breeze blowing in off the sea that is chilling me as it hits my bare shoulders. A week ago, I had to put a lightweight hooded sweater on over my t-shirt in the middle of the day and resorted to donning full length yoga pants because I was so cold. The mercury didn’t get much higher than 77 degrees that day. Normally at this time of year I’d be sweating in shorts and a tank top. Conclusion? This is possibly the coldest June in the history of Baja’s East Cape. However, before you accuse me of being melodramatic, and in the absence of any definitive long term historical proof, let me say instead that it is definitely the coldest June I’ve personally experienced in this region.

Admittedly, this is only my eleventh June in Baja. Eleven is neither a big number, nor is it small in the context of time passage. But it is more than a handful and a decade plus one. Never before in the month of June have I needed to put a sweater on in the middle of the day. Remove my t-shirt? Definitely. Change my sports bra because it’s soaking with sweat? You bet. Take a shower and lie down under a fan on high in the middle of the day because it’s 105 degrees outside? Several times. But put on more clothes at what is the hottest time of day? Never!

Air temperatures have been uncharacteristically low because they reflect sea water temperatures, which have been near frigid. Since the middle of May, they’ve fluctuated wildly between extremes. From 84 degrees Fahrenheit one day to 62 degrees the very next – that’s a whopping 22 degree drop.

The colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit a surfer needs to wear. Wetsuit thicknesses are measured in millimeters (mm) and water temperatures of 62 degrees mean wearing a full-length wetsuit of at least 2mm thickness or going out for super short sessions in which your muscles tend to seize up. I don’t own a 2mm full suit.  My shorty suit wasn’t up to the job and on more than one occasion I got out of the water with blue lips and legs that were numb from the knees down. By the end of several sessions, I had to blow into my cupped hands between sets in an attempt to warm my frigid digit. It took all my willpower to put my hands back in the biting cold water and keep my arms paddling for the next wave. Back on land again it took almost an hour of sitting in the direct sun to warm up again. While I know that there are many a surfer who experiences this regularly and to an even greater extent, bear in mind that we’re talking about surfing in the normally tepid, turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez.

I have furthermore never seen the sea turn green. Two weeks ago, I thought I’d been teleported and was surfing in South Central California when overnight the water changed from its characteristic turquoise and azure blues to a brilliant emerald green.  Apparently the colder water resulted from an upwelling event that brought nutrients from deep down in the sea to the surface causing a serious algal bloom. Then there were the jelly fish, or, as I like to call them, the Helly fish, feeding on all that phytoplankton. At the risk of being repetitive, I’ve never seen so many large gelatinous jelly fish in the water here. The water was amuck with them and more than once I managed to squeeze their fire-wielding tentacles between my leg and my surfboard to produce the kind of stinging you only wish upon your worst enemies. The resulting welts were impressive and the itching lasted for days.

It’s not just June weather that’s been strange. May was uncharacteristically cool and foggy too. From the middle of May onwards we’ve had the equivalent of what Californians call June Gloom in the East Cape – fog, wind, and shockingly cold water.

So what gives?

At first I thought it was because it’s a La Niña year. La Niña is a period during which sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean are lower than normal by 3-5 degrees Celsius (6-9 deg F). In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least five months of these types of conditions. The name La Niña is Spanish for “the girl,” analogous to El Niño meaning “the boy,” the term used for periods when sea surface temperatures are abnormally high. The only trouble is that according to meteorologists the period of La Niña weather conditions that began last year ended in March. In other words, La Niña is dead.

So I’m still scratching my head. If this weather can’t be ascribed to La Niña (abnormally low sea surface temperatures) then what is causing these cool sea breezes the temperature of which seem so abnormally low?

Cold Feet in June

Well, I finally bit the bullet and made the drive down to Nine Palms today despite the conditions appearing to suck from the house. There was a bump on the water and the breeze that had been blowing onshore all night didn’t appear to be about to let up. A large fog bank that sat several miles offshore was making the air fairly brisk. I wondered how cold the water was and, assuming the worst, packed my spring suit. On the drive there, from a distance, I saw what looked like a decent wave breaking at Nine Palms. There weren’t too many people in the water either. Then I saw a good set breaking at Tiburones, the break just before the turn off to Nine Palms. “Hmmmm,” I thought, “looks like perhaps there are some waves.” Apparently that was a teaser set because I didn’t see anything resembling that for the rest of the morning.

Standing on the beach surveying the waves to determine which board to take out (I had my 6’6″ Eclipse egg and my 9′ Stewart noserider), I noticed a commotion a little ways down the beach. A group of adults and children from a large camp nearby were gathered and looking at something lying on the sand. A closer look determined that it was a squid,purplish red in color and about two feet long. It was injured but alive, missing a tentacle and a chunk off his tail. Three little girls were taking turns touching it’s tentacles and then squealing because the suction cups on the tentacles were sucking onto their fingers when they touched it. I’d never touched a squid’s tentacle, so followed suit. What a strange sensation! And powerful grip. I remembered that giant squid are found further up the Sea of Cortez and shivered at the strength they must wield. I returned to my rig to get ready to go out and noticed that a short while later one of the campers put the squid in a cooler. I wondered if they intended to eat it or if they’d use it as fish bait.

I took my longboard out after determining that the waves were weak and it was high tide. Figured I should give myself as much advantage as possible to avoid the frustration of being under-gunned. More frustration I did not need. I dawned the wet suit based on the air temperature, then got out there and discovered the water was pleasingly warm. Even with the foggy mist hanging overhead I was overdressed. I caught a few slow waves and then went in and took the suit off. Paddled back out with my hair still dry after four waves…that’s how small and lackadaisical the waves were. At one point, as the tide switched and the conditions cleaned up, I thought perhaps I was in for a pleasant surprise…it didn’t last though. The wind switched suddenly at 11 o’clock and came hard out of the SSE as this morning’s buoyweather.com report had indicated it would. I caught one more wave to the beach and got out. That SSE wind is cold, pushing air and water up from the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean. It’s cold enough now that my feet feel icy and I am considering putting a sweater on. It’s the 2nd of June in the tropics.  Go figure.

Kitemare Induction

Before the fall.

Along with ample inspiration I returned to Baja from the San Francisco Writers Conference with a horrific, body-wracking cold that made it impossible to get my daily fix of liquid caresses. Nineteen days out of the water.  That’s how long I‘d been out of the water as of last Saturday. I hadn’t surfed or kiteboarded or even dipped a toe in the ocean since the 12th of February. It’s a miracle I didn’t dry up and blow away.

Funny thing though, I didn’t miss it while I was eyeballs deep in the conference, nor when I was bedridden and unable to remember what day it was, but once I started feeling better, I became aware of a mounting physical tension. It was more than just tension, it was a longing, akin to that sexual yearning that sits somewhere between the pit of the stomach and the genitals. It had that same deep down, heaviness about it, that I imagine is the physical equivalent of the sound of a long, slow stroke of a low C note on the cello.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon when the wind was blowing 25 knots out of the North it was more than I could bear. I still wasn’t feeling a 100%, but reasoned that the inevitable salt water nasal lavage would do my sinuses good. A rationalization perhaps.

My parents happen to be visiting from Canada and my father agreed to take some video of me kiting so I could evaluate and improve my technique.

I launched just North of the house. When the sea enveloped my feet, I shivered in response. It was as though I was returning to a safe haven, my home.

I took off flying across the sea, giddy with exhilaration and gradually made my way South towards the house so that my dad could get some good footage. I laughed out loud as I made a couple of jumps, then laughed harder when I got the desired nasal cleanse from a particularly dramatic wipe-out.

And then my kite fell out of the sky.

I looked around me in amazement, wondering what had happened to the wind. Just like that, it had died. And I was a good mile out at sea while my parents stood on the patio and watched, not knowing what was happening or whether I knew how to get back to the beach.

That’s when it occurred to me that I should have let them know that this kind of things happens once in a while and that I have thus far been capable of getting myself back to shore even if the kite isn’t flyable. What’s that they say about hind sight?

I imagined them watching me through the binoculars and went to work trying to relaunch the kite. But it wouldn’t launch. It was being buffeted by what I now realized was a South breeze that was competing with the Northerly. The kite shifted back and forth and then, as the South breeze won out over the North, the kite swung around to the North. Just as I started to relaunch using the slight South wind, the North wind regained ground and pushed the kite towards me. The lines went limp and as I tried to retreat from the kite, the lines crossed and tangled and the kite flipped over. The chance of relaunching it had, like the North wind before it, died.

As time ticked on, a different kind of tension rose in my body as I imagined panic rising in my parents and the conversation they were likely having.  My Mom would be first to give their feeling voice, “What’s taking so long? Why isn’t the kite back up and flying yet? She’s so far out.” And my father, trying to remain calm in the face of my mother’s vociferousness, would tersely instruct her to be patient.  When she said what they both were thinking, “What if she can’t get back? She’s out there all by herself and there’s no one with a boat to go get her!”  He likely felt the panic rise in his chest in the way that only a parent knows. The last straw came when the kite flipped and flopped around as I tried to get it positioned to drag me in to shore, concealing me wholly and at times beneath it. That’s probably when he marched over to my neighbor’s house, whom he knew kites, to ask him for help.

But Walker wasn’t home. What my father didn’t know was that Walker was already paddling out on a longboard to see if I needed help getting back in.

I normally would have insisted on getting back in on my own, but knowing that my parents were up on that hillside patio freaking out, I decided this was no time to assert my pride and independence.

They were on the beach when I finally got back in, the waterlogged kite taking a beating in the shorebreak as I unsuccessfully tried to haul it out gracefully. It was easy to read the degree of relief on their faces as they greeted me. I apologized and told them how terrible I felt for putting them through such anguish.

My mother only recently stopped having a recurring nightmare ten years after I drove her and my father along the windy, narrow section of Mex Highway 1 that traverses the mountain range between Cabo Pulmo and La Paz. I’d made the mistake of driving it like the adrenaline junky that I am, quickly, with her and my dad squeezed onto the narrow bench seat, our elbows knocking and the stick hitting her leg every time I shifted into fourth gear. The nightmares always ended with me driving my truck off one of the many cliffs hugging the edge of the road and plummeting to my death.

I wonder how long the nightmares will last this time?

Extreme Teachings

Working on my form.

The sound of the wind blowing through the palms outside my window tells me it’s another great day out there to play at my newest sport. We’re smack dab in the middle of Winder (my name for the season that falls between November and March here on the East Cape) and after approximately 20 sessions spread out over two seasons, I no longer feel like I must add the caveat “I’m just learning” when I say I kitesurf.

Kitesurfing is definitely an extreme sport. As anyone who’s tried it will tell you, it’s got a very steep learning curve and if you don’t think it deserves to be called “extreme” perhaps you need to read my post Welcome to my Kitemare.

I’ve always shied away from equipment intensive sports because of the associated expense, repairs and technical knowledge required. However, a couple of years ago when I started to spend a lot of time on the North Shore of Maui  – note: there are more windy days on Maui than any other place on Earth with the exception of Antarctica – I decided it was time to reevaluate that stance. I started out with one kite, one board, a harness to connect me to the bar and the necessary safety gear. Having only one kite meant I could only go out when wind speeds were within a specific range before I could head out. This reduced the number of days I could kite, slowing down my progress. Realistically, you need several different kites of differing sizes to cover the range of potential wind speeds you may encounter. Then there is the bar used to steer the kite – there are different sizes and styles depending on the kite you’re flying.  Safety gear includes a helmet, a leash and an impact vest.

I was debating recently whether I needed to keep wearing a helmet because my board had yet to hit me in the head despite some pretty impressive wipe outs, when it did just that. It hit me hard enough that it took a chunk out of my helmet. From there it ricocheted into my right thumb leaving an inch long gash that weeks later is still healing. That relieved me of any doubt regarding the need for a helmet.

Early on I also questioned how badly I needed to wear an impact vest. These are the vests that guys like Laird Hamilton wear when they surf the big waves at Pe’ahi and Mavericks.  Contrary to popular belief, they offer minimal floatation, but act like a flack jacket, protecting the wearer from bruising and breaks that would otherwise result from the force of impact during a high speed crash. I laughed to myself when my kiting instructor recommended I buy one, figuring there was no way I actually needed that kind of protection. “Does he think I’m crazy? I’m not going to go that fast,” went through my mind. Turns out I have gone that fast. More than once.

The first time it happened I was still hanging out at the lower end of the learning curve. I was out with my nine meter kite on a day when I should have taken out the 7.5 meter. This was also before I figured out that conditions tend to be fairly gusty in front of my house (I now head further North where winds are steady).  So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what ended up happening:

overpowered + gusty = epic wipe out

One moment I was up and running, the next I was lying in the water, dazed and in pain. I felt like I’d been run over.  Like a rag doll that had just been shook by a large dog. I began a mental body scan to assess the damage. My ribs were screaming at me, my left hip bone felt like there was a knife sticking into it, my ears were ringing, my eyes stung from hitting the water so fast I didn’t have time to close them before impact, and my ankles felt like the tendons holding them together had undergone a serious stress test.  My heart was racing and my lungs? Well, they were having trouble re-inflating.  I managed to choke down a few painful gasps of air and lay there trying to figure out what had gone wrong while the kite pulled me steadily and quickly downwind. That’s when I noticed my impact vest – it was lying in the water above my head, attached to me only by my shoulders.  With horror I realized that the force of the impact of my wipeout had exploded the heavy duty zipper and ripped the vest from my body. “That explains why my ribs hurt,” I reasoned, imagining what it might feel like to try to swim the half mile to shore with multiple fractured ribs. It was in that moment of clarity that I realized, “I guess I need this vest after all.” Ever since then when I zip the vest on, my mind flashes to that tiny but significant eureka moment.

I will say that while the learning curve may be steep and the equipment expensive and a pain in the ass to repair, the pleasure payoff is supreme when you are flying across the ocean powered only by the wind. This is the first sport that’s ever made me laugh out loud from the shear joy of it. Last time I was out I caught some air, for on purpose this time, which induced a big laugh of amazement when I landed it successfully and kept gliding. Of course I wiped out seconds later as my mind became distracted with reviewing my success.  Like a Buddhist master  with his bamboo switch, extreme sports have a direct way of letting you know each and every time your attention wavers and you stop being present in the Here and Now.