She Feels Like Home

Kipling on Guard

Kipling

In my previous life, back before I discovered Baja and surfing, I shared my life with two Rhodesian Ridgebacks (and a husband too, but he’s a whole other story). Their names were Kipling and Fletcher. I got Kipling in 1994 when she was eight weeks old, after visiting the breeder and meeting her “mom” and “dad” and being thoroughly impressed by their quiet strength and nobility.  I took raising Kipling seriously – some who knew me then might even say obsessively – because knowing she would become a large and very powerful dog (brushing up against 100 pounds), I didn’t ever want her to get out of control. The result was a dog that was a pleasure to walk on leash, who came to work with me every day and slept quietly under my desk until something was amiss or I pulled out my lunch, who sat nobly beside me in the passenger seat of my truck, buckled in with her special doggie seat belt. And because I socialized her to within an inch of her life, she also loved everyone and greeted them with an adorable full-body wag that caught most people off guard. If she really liked them, she would try to go through their legs while doing the body wag, lifting shorter people up off the ground and giving several woman in skirts an unexpected thrill.

The best thing about Kipling, and I’m told Rhodesian Ridgebacks in general, is how discerning she was. She loved everyone with two exceptions. In both cases, they were strange men who proved to be up to no good. In both instances, she put herself between me and the man and growled so menacingly that it was clear they were not to come near me. A Ridgeback conveys that they mean business like few other breeds. I’ve missed the sense of safety that comes from knowing your best friend has your back.

When I left my husband and moved into my bachelorette apartment, Kipling came with me. But when I made the decision to move to Mexico I was faced with a dilemma – should I bring a large dog on a journey across two countries and on into a third where I didn’t know precisely where or how I would live? I wrestled with that question for some time before deciding that the best thing for Kipling was to return her to the home she’d shared with me, Fletcher and my ex for several years. I’ve always wondered if I did right by her, if we would have done okay down here together. I’ve missed her and every time I think about leaving her and the fact that I’ll never see her again, I tear up.

In the past two years, I’ve lost four dogs to old age, two of them medium to large dogs who were excellent guards, barking what seemed like vicious warnings to those on the outside of the gate. They weren’t vicious dogs, but they did a good job acting the part and I believe took protecting me and this property seriously. Of the remaining three dogs, one is too old and infirm to fend off much more than a pesky fly; Peanut barks a good game when I’m home, but she purportedly stays in the garage if I’m gone; and Millie, while she might bark and nip at strangers when I’m home, like Peanut, does nothing if I’m away. I miss having dogs on the property who defend it consistently.

So about a year ago, I started thinking about my Ridgebacks and how they are such excellent, discerning guards, and just big and scary looking enough to get people’s attention. A couple of months ago I went so far as to contact a RR rescue organization to see if they could help me adopt a Ridgeback that needed a home. No dice, they said, they can’t adopt out of country. I put the word out with friends and on Facebook in the hopes that someone would know someone who knew of a Ridgeback that needed rescuing. I even went so far as to consider the possibility of traveling to Jeffreys Bay at some point in the future to visit my buddy Derek Hynd (more on that later) and find a Ridgeback while getting some epic surf. Where better than the land where they originated to find one?

And then, last Tuesday, I was at the veterinary clinic buying more meds for Doobie, when at the end of the transaction, I said to the vet, Dr. Felipe, “I’m looking for a dog…” Before I could say another word, he replied, “Follow me.” So I did.

He took me to the shaded kennel area behind the clinic and from about 15 feet away pointed at a medium to large red dog in one of the dog runs. When we entered the area, she barked at us three times – a deep, resonate bark that would make anyone sit up and take notice. The cage she was in was under heavy shade, but I could see that she had a black muzzle and black-rimmed dark amber eyes, a large white blaze on her chest and white socks on her front feet.  I held my breath a little and listened as Felipe began to tell me about her.

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Kali

“She has just started to bark when people come back here. She will make a good guard dog.” He said he believed she was part Mastiff. I was dubious because of her size and relatively fine facial features. He said, “and she has some Boxer in her,” and then he said, “And some Rhodesian Ridgeback.” My heart did a little leap.

I tried to remain objective, so I asked him, “What makes you think she is part Ridgeback?”

He took me over to inspect her. “Look, she has a ridge,” he said.

I looked at her back and saw nothing, but he directed me to look at her neck. And there it was –  a circular whirl of hair just below the occipital ridge and a length of hair growing at odds to the rest of her coat that runs the length of her neck. While it might not be up to breed standard (the ridge is supposed to start between the shoulder blades and run the length of the back), it most definitely is a ridge.

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“Kismet,” I thought.

I had to leave and return for her, so he had his staff bathe her, and when I returned and they brought her out to the waiting area, I was surprised to see how beautiful she was. I gave her some barbecue chicken I’d brought along as a bribe and was impressed at how gently she took it. Her friendly nature reassured me. The fact that she made it all the way home on the bumpy, windy road without any “incidents” further made me think I was doing the right thing by adopting her. To prove me further right, she promptly relieved herself when I let her out of the car.

That night walking with her and the other dogs down the beach, I was astounded at how much she looks and moves like Kipling did. She has the same long, strong, sinuous body, beautiful deep red coat, and graceful gait. While she may be a little long and masculine in muzzle and her ears may not hang in the proper “houndy” fashion, I think there’s more Ridgeback in this baby than either Mastiff or Boxer. The hair on her head is as soft as velvet, just like Kipling’s, a tactile memory I’d long forgotten.

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Kali and Mochi checking out a horse grazing just outside the property.

She’s fit into our home almost seamlessly, behaving like this has always been her home. After one night and a morning in the dog run outside (as much to give my dogs a chance to get used to her as the other way around), I quickly gave her run of the property. Her second night here I let her sleep inside because it was clear from the way she stayed so close to me that she wasn’t going to spook and take off. She lies a few feet away on the floor as I write this, legs outstretched, eyes half closed, trying, like the rest of us, to find some cool in the oppressive heat of a tropical summer afternoon.

And I don’t know if she senses it, but to me, she feels like home.

Welcome to my Kitemare

On Thursday I plugged away for most of the day at my WIP. I’d missed the morning surf session due to the morning groggies and the wind came up by 8AM sealing my fate to remain in front of my computer. By 4PM I was ready for a break. The wind was averaging 18.4 mph on the hill our house sits on, the exactitude of which I was able to ascertain using my handheld Kestrel wind meter. In pretty short order I got my nine meter kite and other gear together and transported it down to the beach.
 
It had been a while since I’d assembled my kite so the first time I launched it the lines were crossed and on the next attempt I forgot to insert the “donkey dick” (yes, that’s really what it’s called) into the chicken loop, which caused the kite to unhook from the waist harness, shoot skyward and fly a ways down the beach. After two false starts, I finally had the kite flying acceptably well, my helmet on and my board in hand strapped to its leash, ready to head into the water.
 
The next challenge was the eight to ten-foot shore break that was pounding between me and the open sea. I had to get through it without crashing the kite or getting bashed on the rocks (did I mention that this coast is really rocky?). I’m still learning, so I said a little prayer (yeah, I really do that kinda stuff), asking to be kept safe, waited until it looked like there was a lull between sets and headed into the water. In my panic to get outside quickly I forgot a bunch of basic technique and got pounded pretty good a couple of times. Somehow I miraculously managed to get outside without losing “too much” ground.
 
I had several successful runs out and back and was marveling at how I hadn’t crashed the kite yet and that I was only about 50 m downwind of where I’d started. This was a first. Somehow my pock-holed brain had managed to retain most of what I’d learned during sporadic forays made over the past two years. This day I was concentrating on the instructions I got from Mike Doyle the last time I kited.
Mike is a legendary surfer, surf equipment innovator and all-round expert waterman who took up kiting shortly after it appeared on the scene in the late 90s. A couple of months ago, I was driving North down the road on my ATV loaded up with kiting gear when he pulled up alongside in his SUV and asked me where I was headed. He invited me to join him saying,“It’s more fun to kite with someone.” I warned him I was a total beginner, but that didn’t phase him. He helped me rig my kite and then as I struggled to keep it in the air, I watched in awe as he zoomed out to sea and back with ease. Each time I returned to the beach to start over because I was getting too far down the coast, there he was on my ATV waiting to give me a ride back to the take-off spot. This gave me a lot more time in the water and instead of expending energy on long hikes back up the beach I reserved it for kiting. To top it off, at the end of our session Mike gave me a bunch of pointers. I was grateful to receive his insight and committed his instructions to memory. “Keep the kite out of the water. Park it between 11 and 10 o’clock and keep it there. Get your hips pushed forward and lean back.”  Check, check and check.
 
I’m at the stage in kiting where I’m still using what is called a bidirectional board. It’s just what it sounds like – it goes both ways. It has foot straps and a handle for pulling the board snugly onto your feet while your kite is behaving like a leashed, coked-out orangutan overhead. At some point I hope to move upward and onward to a unidirectional board like Mike uses. My dream is to kite in big waves like he does (well, big to me anyway).
 
I’m also still learning how to go upwind. This is a key skill. Until you master tacking upwind you are doomed to make the Walk of Shame every time you go out. It’s just what it sounds like – a long walk back down the beach to where you left your car, ATV, dogs, drinking water, spouse or all of the above.
 
So this last session, I’d been out for a while and was slowly losing ground, but I was doing so much better than usual that I didn’t want to come back in. I just kept riding, kept trying to regain ground. Before I knew it I was a mile and a half down the coast. There’s a gentle bay lined by a beautiful sandy beach just a little further North, so I decided I’d head there to land and avoid dealing with the rocks that lined the beaches where I was when I decided it was time to go in.
 
I’d been out for two hours without a break and was getting tired. I bobbed up and down in the water and planned my attack to go in, the kite flying overhead. I laughed in spite of myself when I took in the scene around me – three to four-foot wind swell, white caps and tiny people that looked like ants on the beach. “They must think I’m crazy,” I thought, “but this is so much fun!” I thanked God for what was my most successful session yet. Then I realized I’d said it in the past tense. “Shoot!” I thought, “I meant is, the session that still IS my most successful yet.” Call me superstitious, but I got the distinct feeling that I’d jinxed my session. Now I just wanted to get to the beach. I still had a long walk home.
 
I looked in the direction I wanted to go and then started the power stroke, a maneuver with the kite that gives it more acceleration to get you up and going. Before I knew what happened the kite did a rapid nose dive, WHAM! hitting the water hard. Mike’s words came to me again, “Keep the kite out of the water. And if you do crash it, get it up fast. Don’t let it stay in the water.” I pulled on one of the lines to relaunch and it shot overhead. The right tip flapped in the wind. “That’s not right,” I thought. I tried to steer the kite to my left, towards the beach, but it wasn’t responding normally. Down it crashed again. I got it up fast and tried to assess what the trouble was. I could see that one of the struts that give the kite shape and rigidity was deflated. Now the left tip was flapping in the wind. My heart jumped and I thought, “Shit! I better get this thing to the beach pronto!” I tried to fly it to the left, but it just wouldn’t go. Slowly it became less rigid, crumpled and fell out of the sky.
 
My heart sank. I was still a good quarter mile out to sea. There was three- and four-foot wind swell bashing me around and now my kite was useless. When the kite is still inflated you can lie on one side of it and hold it open to catch the wind so it drags you to the beach with a minimum of effort. I’d used this self-rescue technique many times when my lines had become tangled or once when my kite ripped. Now it was a big awkward piece of formless ballast. I looked at the sun and figured I had an hour before sunset. Resigned to my fate, I started reeling the kite lines in and wrapping them around the steering bar. A bidirectional board is too small to paddle like a surfboard, so I took one of the safety straps and connected one end to the board and the other end to the kite, making a train of equipment. The board was still attached to me by its leash.
 
In the time that it took to organize all the gear, I’d been pushed another eighth of a mile down the coast. I looked at the people on the beach. There were a couple of pangas (fiberglass outboard motor boats) there too and I wondered if the fishermen were among the crowd and aware that I was out there hoping to be rescued. I pushed that thought out of my head. “You got yourself into this, you have to get yourself out of it.”
 
The impact vest I was wearing gave me a little added buoyancy, but the helmet and harness impaired my ability to swim. But the worst thing was the drag the kite produced. The wind swell pulled on it and in turn it pulled on me. I started to wonder if I was making any headway at all. I did the front crawl, then the breast stroke, interchanging between the two while trying to avoid sucking any water in as the wind swell rolled over me.
 
I swam with my eyes closed at first and then when I started to drift off course made the mistake of opening them underwater. Looking down into the bottomless blue depths spooked me. I tried not to think about what might be hanging out down there.
 
The drag of the kite kept working against me. Just as my frustration threatened to unhinge me, it occurred to me that in my fervor to get to the beach where all the people were, I was swimming into the wind swell, and spending a lot of energy working against it. If I turned ninety degrees, I’d get to the beach a lot faster and not have to deal with the drag of the kite nearly as much. I cursed at myself for not figuring it out sooner.
 
Turning to orient myself in the other direction, I caught a flash of white in the water beneath me. I sucked in my breath, my stomach clenched and my heart raced. “Great White,” flashed across my mind. I reminded myself that white sharks are actually grey on top and I was just being paranoid. I thought how sharks are hungry at sunset. I was getting pretty spooked.
 
That’s when the cavalry, I mean firefighter arrived. Out of nowhere Andy, a firefighter from Washington, appeared, paddling his white longboard. It occurred to me then that the flash of white I’d just seen must have been a reflection off his board. “Andy!” I yelled over the howling wind, “You have no idea how happy I am to see you!”
 
It turned out that Andy and his wife Lisa, who were renting my casita, watched much of my session through binoculars. They saw how far down the coast I’d gone and kindly drove their rental car down to pick me up. They’d witnessed the kite crash and my struggle to swim to shore. That’s when Andy decided to paddle out to see if I was okay and would signal Lisa if I needed a panga to come pick me up.
 
“So how are you doing?” he asked. 

“Mostly, I was getting lonely,” I said. And then added, “I got a little spooked. It’s nice to have company out here.”

Rather than signal the panga,we attached the kite to Andy’s longboard. Released from its drag and going with the wind swell, I could finally make good progress.
 
The sun was just ducking behind the western hills and turning the sky to shades of coral and pink as I hauled my waterlogged body out of the water. I expressed my gratitude to Andy and Lisa for being there and for bringing the car that was waiting a short walk down the beach to take me home. As I trudged down the beach, waterlogged kite heavy under my arm, I made another note in my mental kitesurfing instruction book: Issue prayers of thanks only after successfully reaching dry land.
 
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