Murphy’s Law…….. And Me

                “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, “ is what I recall Murphy’s Law says.  For the longest time, years ago, I was a strong believer in Murphy’s Law.  All that came back to me today, with a vengeance.

                I work a midnight shift now and don’t get enough exercise.  I also don’t get out enough and enjoy the outdoors.  I have had an 17 foot aluminum canoe for the past 27 years, but I haven’t used it in quite some time.  It generally takes two people to use.  My wife doesn’t canoe anymore and my 19 year old son and I can’t seem to get the same days off.  I became determined to get outdoors more, and get more exercise.

                For the last year I have been thinking of buying a kayak.  On Friday the 13th I was in Tallahassee.  I dropped my boots off to have the heels replaced.  I then drove south on Monroe street past the bypass to Wilderness Way.  I had seen an ad for them on the Internet.

                When I walked in the door I fell in love with a kayak on display in front of me.  It was rigged for fishing and looked perfect.  A rod holder, place for a cooler, the works.  The price was even right. 

                I had interviewed many people in the past year.  From that, I had just about decided that I needed a kayak that was about 36 inches or so in width.  It has to do with my being overweight and my desire to be able to move around.  That kayak I was looking at on the 13th was only 30 inches wide.  My eyes, however, were telling me that “this could be the one” I was looking for. 

                It was then that I looked at the kayak next to it.  Not only was it also rigged for fishing, but it had a pedal rig on it for propulsion, in addition to a paddle.  Not only that, but it was 35 inches wide and would be more stable with my weight.  It was about twice the price. 

                Wow, what was I going to do?  For the past year I have told myself that I would rent a kayak to try it out.  Here, on Friday the 13th, I decided that I was going to come back to Tallahassee the next day, about 65 miles, and rent one of these kayaks.

                When I got home, Friday the 13th hit someone close to me hard.  I wasn’t thinking of Murphy’s Law at the time.  Murphy’s Law, to me, means awareness.  It means taking precautions to counteract any effects of Murphy’s Law.  In other words, always be prepared.  I also found out that when I picked up my boots after they had been repaired that day.  Something was missing.  I didn’t have the insole inserts to the boots.  No problem, I would get them another day.

                The next day I had planned to go rent one of those kayaks to check it out.  Unfortunately I had not gotten enough sleep the day before.  I was tired, real tired.  After I got off work at 8 AM,  I told my wife that how tired I was.  Instead of driving over to Tallahassee and renting a kayak, I was going home and go to bed.  Unconsciously, I had avoided invoking Murphy’s Law that day.  I could envision my going to sleep at the wheel of the truck on the way to or from Tallahassee.  Murphy’s Law would have to wait until today.

                This morning I woke up late.  I had wanted to be at Wilderness Way when it opened at 9 AM.  I was going to be about an hour later than that.  I made my preparations.  This is where Murphy’s Law comes in, although I wasn’t thinking about it at the time.  Some of it still came naturally to me.  Almost good enough, but the day’s events would show I was way short of being prepared 

                I got out a zip-lock bag for my fishing license.  If I was going to check out a fishing kayak, I might as well try fishing from it.  I took my son’s digital camera.  I wore a blue T-shirt and my swim trunks.  I wasn’t going swimming, but a kayak sits low in the water, and I might get my pants wet.  I don’t even want to think of what could happen if I had worn blue jeans and got dunked.  Blue jeans are not very good for swimming in.  I got my fishing rod and reel, and the tackle box.  I wore my favorite hat that I wore for working in the yard.

                I told my son that I needed to borrow his pickup.  It had AC (air conditioning.. that worked) and was in better condition than my old Nissan pickup.  He told me that I probably couldn’t fit a kayak under his tool box.  I was sure it would fit.  He wanted his truck back by 2 PM.  I was sure that I would be back before then 

                I was well down I-10 before I remembered two things.  I had forgotten to bring a towel to put on the truck’s seat in case I did get my swimsuit a bit wet.  The truck has cloth seats.  The second thing that I had forgotten was that it was my 25th wedding anniversary.

                I went to the shoe repair place and got my boot inserts.  Hey, that was good news.  No sweat.  That was just about the last good news of the day, and it wasn’t even 11 AM.

                When I got to Wilderness Way, on the Woodville Highway, they had the kayak that I wanted to rent.  After all, it is Monday.  One look at the pickup and Sarah, the owner, said that the kayak would never fit under the tool box of my son’s truck.  Hmmm….. he was right about that.  Not only that, he had a bed liner in the truck bed.  All the tie down eyes were under that liner and not available to tie anything down.

                It was right about there that I began to have Murphy’s Law slowly emerge from the depths of my brain….. ever so slowly.  Fortunately, Sarah said that the kayak would still fit in the back of the truck anyway.  I wasn’t so sure about that, but sure enough we got it strapped to the back of the truck bed 

                I told Sarah that I was going to the Wakulla River, just below the state park.  It has always been a favorite place of mine and what better place to try out a kayak.  That last sentence did not make a bit of sense.  I will have to explain.

                When I first went paddling down the Wakulla River, 40 years ago, there were no houses anywhere along the river.  Once out of sight of the bridge where we put in, my brother and I could have been in darkest Africa.  Tarzan would have been at home there.  Hey, what am I talking about.  They made a Tarzan movie right here back in the 1930s or 40s.

                The waters of the Wakulla are clear, and spring fed.  I have been snorkeling in the river, oh so many years ago, but there are many places where it is almost impossible to get out of the water.   There is a current.  There is long grass trailing below the surface.  I doubt anyone could get through that grass swimming.  Worse yet, there are no banks to the river for most of its length.  The river’s edge just changes to swamp beyond.  The houses that are along the river now must have had fill brought in.  Add to that the almost 60 degree temperature of the water, and it is not an ideal place to be in trouble.  This is the place I was going to “try out” a kayak.

I got the kayak out of the truck.  I put a five gallon plastic bucket behind the seat and held it in place with elastic cords.  I put the life jacket in the bucket.  I can swim so I didn’t think I would need it.  Never mind that I hadn’t been swimming in years.  I had my fishing license in a pocket, safe in a zip-lock bag.  I thought of putting the digital camera in that zip lock bag, but changed my mind.  I dodged a bullet there.

                I parked the pickup and walked down to the kayak.  Since I was wearing an old pair of Reebock shoes, I had thought of wearing them.  I decided, since they were leather, that they might get wet.  I left them in the truck.  Instead of taking my tackle box with me, I just put two Beetle Spin lures in the pocket of my T-shirt.  They were still in the plastic bags I bought them in.  The walk down the kayak was painful.  There was nothing between the truck and the river but sharp rocks.  Subconsciously, I think something, or somebody was trying to get my attention.  I regretted leaving the shoes in the car.  Now for the real adventure.

                I had rented a sit-on-top kayak.  You sit on a seat molded into the top of the kayak.  It is virtually unsinkable, or so I thought.  It looked so long and sleek sitting there pulled up to the landing.  That should have given me cause to stop and reflect.  I am anything but sleek.  The kayak I had been looking at for the last few months was 36 inches wide.  This one was 30 inches wide.  As I said before, my eyes were determining my actions, not my head. 

                As soon as I pushed myself out into the Wakulla River I found out one thing very, very quickly.  The kayak was way more unstable than I had imagined.  I know I am overweight, but I was still below the weight limit for that kayak.  Still, I was not comfortable.

                You have got to be thinking right about now, “Did this guy take any kayak lessons?”  The answer is, “no.”  I have been canoeing since I was twelve, off and on.  That makes it 45 years or so. 

                I had watched the PBS program Trailside when it used to be on.  They had several shows featuring kayak trips.  I watched with interest.  I figured when the kayak tipped one way, you put out the paddle, flat side down, and pushed to keep yourself upright.  It looked easy.  Well….. all that went out the window.  I felt like I was on a tightrope…… in a kayak on a tightrope.  It was going to take some getting used to.

                The kayak was easy to paddle.  Easier than I had thought it would be.  I paddled downstream a while, then turned back upstream close to where I started.  I then turned back downstream again.  I was trying to get the hang of the thing.

                I was paddling along, downstream, close to the right (west) edge of the river.  I quit paddling to enjoy the view.  After all, it was a perfect day.  Well…….. almost perfect.  When I quit paddling there was not a sound to be heard.  Dead quiet.  Well….. almost dead quiet. 

                I heard a sound, very faint.  It was not a sound I expected to hear.  I heard a faint sound like a “glup, glup, glup.”  I looked down at the water.  I was flowing with the current, at the same speed.  I listened closer.  Still that glupping sound.  What could that be?  I searched my brain, what there is of it, and guess what sprang into mind.  A drain plug.  Didn’t this thing have a drain plug?

                I thought I remembered a drain plug, probably in the rear of the kayak.  I couldn’t turn in the seat to see what was happening behind me.  I decided to turn the kayak around and go back to the landing and check it out 

                As soon as I turned the kayak to the left, towards the middle of the channel, I knew I was in trouble.  The current is faster in the middle.  The awful truth became evident.  I was terribly waterlogged.  I was much lower in the water.  Every time my paddle hit the water, the kayak became more unstable.  I was sinking.  There was no way I was going to make it back upstream to that landing.  In fact, I wasn’t going anywhere 

                I desperately tried to get to shallow water.  All I could think of, in the short millisecond before disaster, was Murphy’s Law.  Whatever can go wrong……. was going wrong.  It happened quickly.  One moment I was paddling frantically.  The next moment I was in the water. 

                Looking back on it, I wasn’t even conscious of the cold water.  I was trying to hold onto the paddle, the kayak, and trying to stand up.  I had my Fitover sunglasses on over my eyeglasses.  The cord on the back of my sunglasses wasn’t cinched up.  It was a wonder I didn’t loose both.

                All that frantic paddling, and all of a sudden I was in chest deep water, cold water, trying to figure out what to do next.  I looked up and down the river.  Not a soul in sight.  So much for doing this on a Monday.  There was no one to help me.  I couldn’t stand there and wait for help.  I also couldn’t swim downstream and leave the kayak.  

                I briefly remembered the incident a few years ago that happened upstream at the spring.  A boatload of “flatland touristers” were horrified to look down through the glass bottom.  There, under the boat, was an alligator with a man in its mouth, swimming away.  I also remember one time on the river seeing a huge water moccasin sunning itself on a log.  I had always thought that they wouldn’t go near water this cold.  Forgetting for a moment alligators and water mocassins, I didn’t like swimming where the underwater grass might get tangled with my legs and drown me.

                I couldn’t turn the kayak right side up.  That five gallon bucket secured back of the seat was full of water.  I got the live jacket out of the bucket and pulled the bucket loose and let it go. 

                I was in the shadow of the trees on the east side of the river.  There was a fallen branch between two trees, about a foot above the water.  I had to get the water out of the kayak.  I looked down and I could see my fishing rod and reel resting on the bottom.  Thank goodness for the clear waters of the Wakulla.  That wasn’t much to be thankful for I thought.  I picked up the fishing rod with my toes and secured it to the kayak. 

                I stood there for a few minutes and looked around.  I looked at the opposite side of the river.  All I saw was tall grass.  If I had gone that way I would have been stuck.  The limb in front of me looked like my only chance.      

                I waded towards the tree-line.  Before I got half way there I was knee deep in muck.  I’m sure there was mud down there, but it felt like decayed vegetation, eons of the stuff.  As I said, muck.  I was glad I had left my Reebocks in the truck.  They would have been sucked off my feet by then.

                Have you ever tried to do something with wet glasses on?  I was trying to work with my eyeglasses and my sunglasses wet.  The whole world was a blur.  I had nothing dry to wipe them dry with.  I was basically half blind.  I secured the paddle to the side of the kayak.  I then secured the life jacket under the elastic cords in the back of the kayak, along with the fishing rod 

                I had to lift the front of the kayak over the limb.  The limb was about the size of a child’s arm.  As I lifted the front of the water-filled kayak I got a lesson in Newton’s Law.  “For every action there is an equal, but opposite reaction….” or words to that effect.  As I lifted the weight of the water logged      kayak over the limb, I sank deeper into the muck under me.  I did not like that at all 

                I finally got the front of the kayak over the limb.  I then waded through the muck to the back of the kayak and shoved.  I got enough of the kayak over that limb so there was a steady stream of water spouting from the open drain hole in the rear

                I stood there in the chest deep water and muck, shivering.  The water quit draining.  There wasn’t enough water out of the kayak.   I had to wade up to the front and lift the kayak up on a part of the limb further out of the water 

                I finally got the kayak emptied of water.  Yes, I put the drain plug in.  Then I had a problem.  How was I going to get back in the kayak?  I felt around in the muck under me until I came to a submerged log.  I pushed on that and pulled myself onto the kayak.  That was a traumatic experience in itself.  As I squirmed around into a sitting position the kayak wobbled alarmingly.  I was sure glad that was over.  Never again.  Of course I have said that before ….. and regretted saying it.

                I would like to state here that I am not a quitter.  I decided to paddle around and see if I could get the hang of the kayak.  I just needed to keep my weight centered.  By this time the water on my glasses and sunglasses had cleared up enough for me to see 

                I  decided to forget about fishing.  I was leaving my rod and reel secured under the hold down cords in the rear.  A quick look in my shirt pocket revealed that my two new Beetle Spins had floated out of my pocket when I took a dive earlier 

                I decided to paddle downstream and find my hat.  It had floated away when I got dunked in the river.  I kind of liked that hat.

                Low and behold, guess what I came across?  That five gallon bucket was floating downstream, upside down.  I pulled up to the bucket and pulled at the bottom.  It was waterlogged.  I didn’t see my hat, but maybe I could salvage that bucket.  All I had to do was reach down and rotate the bucket, right side up.  Then I could gently empty the bucket and bring it aboard.  I reached down and pulled.

                The next thing I knew, I was in the river again.  The kayak was upside down next to me.  I couldn’t believe it.  At least everything was tied down except the paddle.  I had that in my left hand.  My other hand had the kayak.

                So here I am floating down the Wakulla River, shivering ever so slightly in the 60 degree water.  At least I didn’t have to empty water out of the now-sealed hull 

                I tied the paddle to the kayak.  I then pulled two of the scupper plugs and tilted the kayak towards me so I could get back in.   I am too old and too heavy for that sort of thing.  How I got back in, without flipping over the other way, was a mystery to me.  I was then ready to admit defeat.

                As I got comfortable for my paddle back upstream something caught my eye.  That was a miracle in itself.  You see, my glasses and sunglasses were wet again.  Everything was a blur.  At least I had the cord on the sunglasses tightened up so they wouldn’t come off.

                What I saw was that darned bucket again.  I know, I should have run…… I mean paddled in the other direction.  No, I was bound and determined to try again.  This time I had no trouble in getting the bucket in the kayak.  Well, almost no trouble.  There was an awful lot of rocking back and forth that went along with the operation.

                When I got back to the landing I had to walk across those sharp rocks again in my bare feet.  Needless to say I got the cloth seats of my son’s pickup wet, very wet.  I was sure that I would hear about it from him when I got back.

                All in all, I was back at Wilderness Way about an hour and a half after I left.  Sarah came outside and asked, “What happened?”  This was embarrassing.  There wasn’t any way out of it, so I told her what happened.  She said, “You can’t quit now.” 

                The next thing I knew I was strapping the other, wider kayak to the back of my son’s truck.  I was going to give it another try.  If this didn’t work, my kayaking days were over, over the day they started.

Things were different this time.  For one thing, I wore my Reebocks down to the kayak and lashed them to the rear, along with the life jacket.  My feet had had enough of those sharp rocks.  As soon as I got in the seat I realized that this kayak was much more stable.

                This model had a unique pedaling system that drove a pair of flippers underneath.  Sounds goofy, but, hey, it worked.  I tried the pedal system for a bit, then reverted to just the paddle.

               Before long I was cruising down the river.  I saw a blur just to my left.  An osprey had swooped down and flashed by about 15 feet from my head.  I looked up and saw its nest in a dead cypress tree far overhead.  That bird screeched at me until I moved on down river.

                I made a hard left and took off into a side channel that wandered through the swamp.  I could silently glide along in a clear opening just wide enough for the kayak.  Looking down, I could see good sized blue gills below me.

                That is what I wanted a kayak for.  No noisy outboard motors.  Just quiet time in a wilderness river with my job far away in another world.  I tried fishing, but I must have gotten some of that muck in the reel.  Oh well, another time.

                When I returned the kayak I was running out of time.  My son, probably disgusted with my not having returned by 2 PM, had probably taken my car for the evening.  That was alright.  I had to get back to Madison in time to buy my wife some flowers.  As I said before, it was my 25th wedding anniversary.

                Murphy’s Law must have run its course for the day.  I got the flowers to my wife’s office before they closed.  She needed a bright bouquet on her desk. 

                Yes, I had had a full day.  You could say that it was time to call it quits.  I had been mowing my yard wearing shorts since the spring, so I had a tan on my arms and legs.  My feet, however, had a nice bright red burn on them.  No way around that.  I could live with it.

                Instead of calling it a day, we drove to Valdosta for an anniversary dinner.  I had only munched on trail mix during the day and shrimp sounded good to us.  With that kind of full day behind me, and a renewed respect for Murphy’s Law, I am ready for bed.  I will probably be asleep before my head hits the pillow.

Tom Sparkman   June 23, 2003