The chop and swell grew worser still and at one point I was toppled by a 6-foot whitecap that broke at the perfectly wrong moment. The boat flipped and I was instantly floating serenely under the water, looking at my compass and my walkman hanging happily in front of a beautiful, inviting green void. It was so quiet and I heard, "You could die here..." and after more than seven hours of paddling so hard, the word die had a softer meaning then: more like rest or take-a-break.
There is a moment in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, in which we are placed in the perspective of a soldier struggling in the surf of the beach; while the camera is above the water, we hear machine guns, terrifically-fast violence, men crying out. Below the water, everything relaxes to a peaceful silence and even the bullets slow down and leave charming little bubble trails. It was just me and that large green restful void. Ahhh…
I scrambled back up into the howling wind and started paddling with renewed vigor. The walkman was still working and the soaking had rinsed some of the salt crust off my arms and refreshed me. The closer I got to the isthmus, the stronger the wind pressed against me. I was so relieved when I finally made it to the shelter of Bird Rock, that I didn't mind the stink from the bird droppings, which is what Bird Rock is apparently composed of. I rested for about 10 minutes then went back out into the furious howl. All eyes were on me when my prow finally hit the sand of the beach, so I restrained myself from kissing the ground, though I could have gargled the sand I was now walking on. A lifeguard stopped me as I was drunkenly pulling the Cabo up on shore:
"Are you in the gray kayak?"
"Did you paddle from the mainland?"
"[Uh-oh, I'm probably going to get a ticket or something] ...Yeah."
"You picked a bad day to do this--35-40 knot winds and a small-craft advisory was issued hours ago. One of the powerboats that came in earlier reported you as a vessel in distress. The Coast Guard was just about to come looking for you."
I was ready to collapse from exhaustion and relief, but still had to secure a campsite and get the tent up. There was a steel-drum band playing and the place was jam-packed with Parrotheads of the Seal Beach yacht club. They were dancing, drinking and there were volleyball, tug-o-war and horseshoes matches between power-boaters and sailors, both groups intent on outcheating the other.
Once my tent was up, I paddled (ugh) back to town and ordered a maitai and a tri-tip sandwhich. Both tasted better than anything in memory and the delicious maitai made me giddily gigglish. The Two Harbors Market was sold out of disposable cameras, so the only photographic evidence I have of this trip is the below postcard I mailed to my ex-girlfriend.
Because I was so paranoid about keeping the boat light for the crossing, I froze my butt off in a thin, felt sleeping bag (the kind kids use when they play camping and pitch the tent in the livingroom.) The wind howled that night and despite being exhausted, I didn't sleep well.
At least that made it easier to wake up and set out early. It was pitch black and there was one little fishing boat powering out from the harbor. I grabbed a little white rock as a souvenir and paddled straight back in five hours and 15 minutes. I was pretty proud of that until learning that some of the elite long-distance swimmers can make the crossing about that fast.