Jul 11, 2007

SEATTLE – My Green Lake grace is borrowed, not earned. I am coasting on the power of far superior athletes. So I return, biking over bloody Phinney Ridge to truly come to grips with flatwater kayaking.

Women's leader Traci Cole gestures to the racks in the Small Craft Center, which shelters 80 vessels. "The beginner boat is hard to reach. We'll start you in a slightly more advanced model. It has flames on the nose, so you'll be extra fast."

She notches the seat back, until my legs crook at a 120-degree angle. "Stick the rudder between your toes."

"Rudder?" I ask, alarmed. No one mentioned rudders the other night, when the K4 ruled the waves like Britannia.

"This one's easy. Just point it in the direction you want to go."

"That's opposite of every other rudder on the planet. Easy how?"

"It'll be second nature soon," Cole says.

She is wrong. So wrong. I can slide a 52-foot barge into a lock with an inch clearance on each side. I cannot – it emerges – overcome decades of rudder programming and kick a lever in the direction of travel with any reliability. So I lurch across Green Lake.

Cole makes the rest easy. She teaches me to dig the paddle deep ("spear the fish") and brace the tippy boat ("spread peanut butter"). After an hour, I manage to join the pack for a few sprint drills.

Paddler Tamara O'Keefe shouts, "you look so comfortable now."

"We're past the 45-minute panic zone," I explain.

New sport or the most careworn, I suck at warm-up. I scrape, I claw, through the rock-wall bouldering. I puff through the first trail mile. Fidget and bob during the initial dive, maybe banging my head on the reef for poor-buoyancy yucks.

And then?

I dunno ... the all-terrain Barbie gene ignites. Twenty-five years of outdoor skills coalesce into semi-competency. Suddenly I'm torching the bike down a wicked grade or corkscrewing into a yoga inverted-half-moon balance.

And wherever it arrives, that moment is grace.

Read the full story in the PI on Thursday, July 19.

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