As I drove over the Sauvie Island bridge, I felt the stress of the day dissipating. The sun hung lazily above the horizon, sparkling over the quiet, still water below.
Breathing deep, I reveled at the ease of this escape. Sure, life kept knocking me down, but I was finding my moments to have those deep Brene Brown moments. You know: feel gratitude, find beauty, embrace vulnerability, live wholeheartedly. Tonight, I was going to find my peace.
You know what’s coming, right? Well, I didn’t see it coming.
As I pumped up my inflatable board, a very excited dog ran past me toward the water, his owner close behind.
“Looks like you’re getting quite the workout,” she remarked kindly.
I welcomed the excuse to stop pumping for a moment.
“It so is!” I said. “This is more of a workout than the paddling part.”
I had no idea.
Once my board was fully inflated, I affixed my fin and carried the board and new paddle down to the water.
My previous paddle had disappeared at Willamette Park a few weeks back, so I had just gotten this new one. It conveniently broke into three pieces to fit in the back of my car.
I launched out on the water, and all anxiety dissipated. The glassy surface barely moved over the gentle current.
After paddling upstream for a mile and a half, I settled on my board to take a picture of the sun coming through the trees and blackberry bushes. Then I looked up the river and shot a picture of the Sauvie Island bridge. And then, feeling particularly tranquil and relaxed, I decided I would take a selfie and post it to Instagram.
I know, I’m not 16. I have no business taking selfies and posting them to Instagram, especially while on a paddleboard in the middle of a tranquil river. But, this is what I did.
After a few more moments of peace, I stood up and began the journey back. A speed boat came by, creating a huge wake that I paddled into perpendicularly to keep from falling. Then I turned my board back up the river.
On the second stroke, I dug my paddle into the water, and the blade slipped off and very quickly began to sink.
I held the handle of my paddle in confusion, watching the blade disappear into the dark depths. I groaned, cursed, and stood there helplessly.
After another moment of despair, I tucked the handle of the paddle under the board’s straps, laid flat on my belly, and began to paddle with the technique somewhere between a surfer and a Labrador. The shore passed by slowly as my arms and shoulders began to burn.
I shifted to my knees and bent over to paddle again. The sharp pain of a charlie-horse hit my right foot and then my left. I plopped back to my belly and paddled some more. And some more. And some more.
Finally, I reached a long wooden dock behind the line of houseboats. I carried my board and gear for what seemed to be a very long time, shifting the board between my left and right arms as the weight felt immense to my already exhausted muscles.
Walking up the steep ramp to an open parking lot, I decided to deposit the board in the “loading area” and run back to find my car.
I chuckled at the ridiculousness of the situation as I walked back along the road. Taking selfies mid-paddle to showcase all that peaceful tranquility…. I almost deserved losing my paddle!
I plucked a blackberry off the bush lining the road, relishing in the warm sweet flavor as I tried to regain my sense of tranquility and appreciation for the beauty of that warm, summer night.
I reached my car and drove back to the parking lot where I had left my board. As I pulled in, I saw a man with my board under his arm being followed by a woman and younger girl.
“Oh, that’s my board,” I said through my open window, pulling into the spot beside them.
“You can’t park there,” a second man told me, stepping between me and the family. “That is a not a parking spot.”
“Oh sure,” I said. “I’ll move into that loading zone spot as soon as they’re not standing in it.” The family was staring at me dumbfounded, perhaps debating whether or not they were going to relinquish their treasure.
“You can’t be here at all,” this man continued, his voice becoming a bit edgier than before. “This is for tenants only. You’re not a tenant.”
“Oh no, I’m not,” I responded, stepping out of my car. “You see, I got kind of stuck. I lost my paddle out on the water, so I had to get back to shore and then carry my board to here. I just ran to get my car and then came back to pick up my board.”
At this point, if it was not already obvious, I really had no idea what was happening. In typical Oregonian naivete, I tend to assume everyone is nice and has the best of intentions. I don’t think this particular group had the best of intentions. This I did not know. Yet.
“You can’t just leave your stuff here,” the man said, his voice becoming angrier. “We were going to throw it away.”
I looked over at the other gentleman who had at this point put down my board. He looked rather startled by this declaration, but then he adjusted his face and nodded. With my board now on the ground, he turned and walked away, his family following behind him.
“Oh, well, um, sorry about that,” I continued. “It really was a bit of an emergency.”
“I don’t need your attitude,” he scoffed. “Coming in here acting all entitled like you can just be here. I’m taking your board up to the road.”
“Wait, what?” I asked confused. What was this? His response took me so off-guard that I just stared at him, dumbfounded.
“You are not welcome here,” he continued, lifting my board and stomping through the shrubbery that separated the parking lot from the road above. He dropped my board on the gravel shoulder along the road and marched his way back down to the parking lot.
“Um, okay,” I said, getting back in my car. As I pulled up on the gravel shoulder, he continued staring at me from the parking lot below for a moment until finally walking off. I deflated my board, not sure whether to laugh or scream. I rolled it up, placed it in my trunk, and pulled back onto the road.
The pink sunset reflected across the glassy water as I called my mom.
“Hey Mom, you know how I said I wanted to go paddleboarding for some tranquility tonight. You’re never gonna believe what happened…”
First, I think I met the only rude people on all of Sauvie Island that day. Do not judge that magical, happy island by this particularly odd event.
Second, the kindness of Portlanders was completely restored the following day when I went back to Gorge Performance to return my half-paddle. They empathized with my dramatic retelling of the blade slipping from my paddle, and Bob Reuter even offered to give me a replacement paddle though I was only returning a handle.
As I retold my story to Bob, first losing my paddle a month earlier and then becoming stranded the day before, he paused and looked at me with a side grin.
“Wait, where did you lose your paddle?” he asked as he began scanning through the Stand Up Portland Facebook feed. “When did that happen?”
“Willamette Park, about a month ago,” I responded.
“Well, we just might…” he began as he scrolled through a month’s worth of posts from happy Portland paddlers.
And then, there it was. A post from Nattie a month earlier, with a picture of my paddle hoping she could find the owner, a girl on an inflatable board.
Bob and Nattie have restored my faith in all things nice and kind and Portland.