In advance of the Block Challenge, an 18 mile paddle from the tip of Montauk to New Harbor in Block Island, I worried about my feet. During the hours on end of training for this massive paddle boarding event, my feet were the only part of my body that talked back. To prepare them for this journey, in addition to lots of stand up paddling time, I jumped on the kid’s trampoline for 30 minutes a day, went to lots of yoga and pilates classes, and did heel lifts while folding laundry or other mundane tasks. Turns out this time focused on my feet was ill placed – for over 6 hours across the 18 miles, they were just along for the ride.
The first thing out of my husband’s mouth at 5am on Sunday morning while he stood out on the porch was “Have they cancelled the crossing?” I checked my email/vm/text and said, “Nope.” He pointed out is was awfully windy. I asked if the wind was in our favor. He nodded. Okay. Let’s go. We drove to the Montauk Lighthouse, our starting point, arriving just in time to see the sunrise (early morning paddling perk).
We lined our boards up next to the other boards and kayaks. We observed that the water was kicking up a bit of a fuss, but told ourselves that it was temporary. Just some early morning chop! I tried to sit every now and again to give my feet a break in preparation for their necessary work in the “stand up” portion of the paddle boarding, but there were too many people to say hello to and the beach was buzzing with energy. Little did I know that sitting was just what I was about to do for the next six hours.
With a hug and a kiss and some photos we embarked over the mini waves and headed out to sea. They told us that the first two miles would be a little rocky – so stay on your knees! Will do! The crowd was cheerful and game and we all smiled at one another as we dug our paddles into the boiling ocean.
Early on there were promises of calm water ahead. Being an optimist I embraced these promises. Alas, calm water on this day was not to be had. It was like being in a giant bathtub with a oversized toddler splashing not far from you. Water came from this way and that and my paddle board bobbed along with it. There was no way I was going to attempt standing, but watched with great admiration as others did! Note to self: next year spend more time paddle boarding in choppy water.
I never felt in danger, I just had to quickly re-write in my brain what this day was going to be about and experiment with the many different sitting/kneeling positions that I would be rotating through. Cross legged or kneeling seemed be the best options, but neither were sustainable for too long. My back talked back a bit, but I hunkered down and kept dipping my paddle in that water.
Not doing the crossing was never an option for me. I had hoped to do it without a tow from one of the four Ocean Rescue members who gallantly scooped paddler after paddler onto their jet skis re-joining them with the group. However, I did get one, not optional, tow. Bless her heart my rescuer was polite enough to ask… “Would you like a tow?” To which I replied, “No thank you, I’m good.” She smiled and said, “I’m afraid I have to bring you to the group.” I smiled and said, “Well I appreciate you asking first – thank you!” And off we went. Was nice to stretch out and savor an on sea shivasana as Katie (my person) whisked me ahead to the group. I thanked her, but made a mental note to work harder to stay in the middle of the pack.
Along the way I chatted with some pretty special people. One friend of a friend was embarking on this challenge on the heels of recovery from his leg being broken in three places. After the accident, one of his Doctors said he would never paddle again. Well, clearly that was not the case. He managed to stand most of the way which impressed the hell out of me. He was always at the ready for a chat and some positive words about the water ahead.
It was always fun to see Michael Grande, the “mayor of Montauk”, and all around grand guy. I’d paddle extra hard to score a few moments with his always cheerful and thoughtful self. I chatted a fair bit with the woman who started Camp Soul Grow, a year round enrichment program for children in Montauk. Her goal with Camp Soul Grow is to provide an environment for kids to find their passion in a supportive, pressure free environment. This real life angel not only acts angelic, but looks the part as well. She was the mermaid in our midst as she valiantly forged on through the less then cooperative water.
The Paddlers for Humanity folks with t-shirts that said “Paddlers Support” were everywhere. They must have paddled double the distance checking in on everyone. The boat support was impressive too and though I did not avail myself of a ride it was nice to know I could. My favorite boats were the ones with my family and friends in them, cheering me on for the last 90 minutes of the paddle. Thank you Don, Colin, Margaux, Stacie, Rakesh, Sandra, Ayan, Maya, Jill, Michael and Lucy. You all being there meant the world to me.
The amazing volunteer support crew and the upbeat company aside, I was still alone on my Boga board. I quietly sang a lot of show tunes favoring Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen with some Annie for old times sake. I thought A LOT about John Aldridge, the lobsterman who was stuck out in the ocean for 12 hours with only the boots from his feet available as flotation devices. In his book A Speck in the Sea, that I read in one sitting earlier this summer, he described trying to stay afloat in water that was coming at him in every direction. How alone, water logged, and overwhelmed he must have felt! I felt pretty alone at times and I wasn’t one bit alone. But it was just me and my board and my paddle and elusive Block Island looming way, way out in the distance. Even when we were close it felt far and then it didn’t.
At the mouth of New Harbor I was finally able to stand up. I enjoyed every minute of that paddle through the Harbor to the Naragansett Inn where the post paddle celebration lunch was taking place. I was back in my comfort zone… flat water and beautiful scenery. I thought about the journey that I just accomplished and was equal parts glad it was over and happy I did it. I thought about my generous friends and family members who enabled me to far surpass my fundraising goals and the humans who’s lives would be better for it thanks to Paddlers for Humanity. I had achieved my goal: a proper challenge raising money for a proper cause before I turned 50. I paddled almost every bit of that strip of water and I raised $7600 for the various causes supported by Paddlers of Humanity. Bring it on 50 – I am ready for you.