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.

Rambling Time

I need a vacation.

I’m guessing that comes as a surprise. I’m guessing it probably even sounds self-indulgent and more than a little decadent. I’m guessing the consensus out there in places like Kansas, Indiana, Wisconsin and, dare I say, the entire country of Canada, is that those of us living in paradise are perpetually on vacation. So why the hell do I need to go on vacation?  Well, at the great risk of condemnation and ridicule, I’m here to challenge the notion that life in paradise is always paradisiacal.

In eastern Canada, around mid-March, near the end of a particularly cold and stormy winter, everyone starts itching for spring and can be heard to say with varying degrees of whininess depending on the speaker’s disposition, “It’s been a long Winter. How much longer do you think before the snow melts.” And then the snow melts and there is excited anticipation and we start thinking the warmer days of Spring are right around the corner. The crocuses on the South side of the house are the first to bloom, while the green tips of daffodils begin to rise up through the dark wet earth in fuzzy patches dotting the yard. Tulips are felt, unseen deep below the surface of flower beds, to be bursting forth from their bulbs. Then, almost without fail, there’s one more big snowstorm in the first week of April. It usually falls on or right before my sister’s birthday, April 6th. Overnight the yard is transformed back to a place enshrouded in white where everything looks dead and the snowplow can be heard noisily running up and down the streets removing the unwanted gift from Mother Nature. Suddenly it seems as though Spring will never arrive and everyone shuts themselves up in their houses where I imagine they sit wrapped in woolly sweaters, grimacing while they sip big glasses of scotch in an attempt to dull the sensation of cold air seeping under the doorjam and the pain of the never-ending wait for relief.

There’s a similar phenomenon occurring in the Tropics. Despite the groans and grunts of disapproval I foresee emanating from your mouths, I’ve got to say it: It’s been a long summer.

I’ve been waiting for weather that resembles autumn to arrive for several weeks now. But it seems that, like those early signs of Spring, the early signs I wrote of produced premature declarations of the imminence of cooler weather here in Baja. Normally, autumn arrives by mid-October, providing relief from the energy-sapping, spirit-desiccating heat. But we’re brushing up against November and each and every day the mercury continues to top 90 (thankfully down from the daily high of 95 only a few days ago). The air still feels dry and hot like a furnace as it blows past the moisture-deprived skin of my arms and I sit here sweating in my chair. I have a hot ass. It’s been hot since June, without respite. It makes sitting here while I type uncomfortable to the point of being unbearable at times. I have to get up and walk around and let air flow over my overheated posterior. It makes it necessary to lay a towel over my office chair so it doesn’t become sticky with sweat. Altogether now, it’s “Gross!!”

We’re going on five months of incredibly hot weather. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. Sure, the nights are cooler, more or less, and sea temperatures are slowly falling so that my evening swim is actually refreshing, but the daytime highs are still uncomfortably high and the sun is still stinking strong. I’m tired of having to coat my entire body with sunscreen and of staring into the bright sun while I surf. I’m pretty sure I’m doing irreparable damage to my eyes.

So I’m done with the heat.

I’m done trying to convince myself that this is good for me – that all this sweating is ridding me of toxins or that this is better than the 65 degree weather in Central California.

I’m looking forward to the cold. I want to shiver and relish the thought of wearing long pants and a big heavy sweater while I look west towards the Pacific Ocean without the sun frying my retinas. I want to feel the chill air on my face, air so cold it makes my eyes water. I want to experience surfing in a full wetsuit for the first time in my life (not so much the crowds). I want to tuck into bed at night under thick downy comforters and rise to walk on chilled floors. I want to sip hot tea in the morning to warm myself gently from the inside out, instead of it making the sweat pour down my neck and face to gather in my cleavage, gradually soaking my sports bra. In the evenings I want to sip scotch on the rocks and feel the heat of the alcohol warm the cockles of my soul all the way down to my icy toes.

Clearly, while I do look forward to the change, it’s not that I like the thought of being cold so much as the remedies for it: grasping a mug of steamy hot chocolate with chilled hands, wrapping myself in feather-down comforters, cashmere sweaters, ridiculous looking woolen caps and brightly colored mittens, sipping good California red wine or scotch (take your pick) before a crackling fire in the hearth. Oh and did I mention snuggling? Snuggling is definitely the best thing about cold weather. Hey, a girl’s gotta dream.

Baby It’s Cold Inside

When I was a child, there were days when I would have to stay inside, holed up in the house with all the windows and double doors closed against the cold. On particularly nasty days, the temperature would fall to incredible lows of minus 40 degrees Celsius. The wind chill could make it even colder and warnings were issued that skin exposed to such temperatures would be frost bitten in mere minutes. Outside the wind howled its warning against entering its grip.

At times like this, when the door was opened by someone going out or coming in, the chorus rang throughout the house, “Close the door!!” and we all hunched our shoulders and tucked our feet in against the draft.

At night lying in my bed waiting for sleep to come, my eyes would follow the patterns on the frost-covered windows, lit up by the street lights below.The patterns were artful, sweeping, wing-shaped and glistening like crystal and diamonds. Sometimes I’d get up and touch them or lick the window and feel the icy chill on my tongue. My fingers melted the frost in patterns or words. Scraping with fingernails and a snowstorm was created, a miniature of the one raging outside.

Today again I am holed up in the house with all the windows and doors closed. And, were someone to open a door, I would definitely be hollering at them to “Close the door!” against the weather.

There is a difference between this day the days of my childhood I just described…today I am inside hiding from the insufferable heat, generator running, air conditioning on full blast.

The thermometer in my office read 95 deg F (35 deg C) with 78% humidity. At 1:30pm I decided it was time I get a couple of potted palms into the holes that were prepared for them several days ago, on the west side of the house. After an hour of careful work, taking breaks and drinking cold water, I’d just about had enough. The job was finished – the plants were in their holes and watered, a mess remained to be cleaned up – but I knew I needed to get out of the heat. In the bathroom getting ready to take a shower to cool off, I got a clear illustration of what “beet red” really means. My face was literally the color of beets. “Not good” I thought. Better hurry up and get in the shower. While in the shower, the need to throw up became very overpowering.

After this turn of events, it occurred to me that it would be a good day to run the air conditioning. But sadly, the generator, which in this solar home is required if you want to use the AC, has not been working. The neighbor, a knowledgeable mechanic, was supposed to come early in the day to look at it, but didn’t show up. Basta!

So instead, I lay down under the fan and tried to get my core temperature down. Another shower and then I rested fitfully under the fan.

Finally, the mechanic Victor arrived, and after less than 5 minutes had figured out the problem. In 10 minutes flat he had it repaired. The propane gas line was clogged. As he left he said “you need to run the generator for a while to clear the lines.” Well you don’t have to tell me twice.

And so I moved quickly, closing all the doors and windows, taking the covers off the air condensers and then turning on the AC units in the two downstairs bedrooms.

Here I sit writing away in 84 deg F (29 deg C) temperatures and 50% humidity. I’m wearing very little and the fan is blowing cool air at me. Heaven!

Oh wait, I think I might be getting a chill…

.