Field Notes: Just Going, Pt. 2

Sometimes plans change. They can change you, too. Photo: William Gayle

Sometimes plans change. They can change you, too. Photo: William Gayle

Field Notes: Just Going, Pt. 2

On May 28, Rachel McCarty and Casi Rynkowski took to the waters off Massachusetts for a doomed two-day, 50-mile paddling adventure. This is their story. For Part 1, click here.

The sunrise lit the tent like a blue orb, making sleep impossible. I peered outside into a world of warm hues and clear skies. However it was still about 49 degrees, and after finally overcoming the claustrophobia I felt in my sleeping bag, I was reluctant to leave it. But there was paddling to be done!

Boards loaded, we stood on the shore of West Island staring down Buzzards Bay toward the next peninsula along our path. I figured the second day of paddling would be harder, but it was not sore muscles that kept me lingering on the beach. After the previous day’s ordeal, I was much more cautious and didn’t want another mistake to halt our progress. We had an eight-mile crossing ahead of us. Eventually I eased into my paddle strokes as we glided calmly past the New Bedford Harbor channel markers. We felt like the only vessels on the water, the busy fishing harbor far off and quiet.

“Holy shit!” Rachel’s screams clearly broke through the deafening wind. I snapped my head back to see that she was still standing, her mouth agape. She had snuck through the boulders by the coast, while I took a longer path around the rocks. “I just saw a shark,” she shouted, her mouth curling into a smile. A four-foot shark had been swimming in the shallows near shore, and she had almost paddled directly into it. The sighting, her first ever, had momentarily broken down the daunting wall that lay ahead of us.

We had been paddling with the wind over our left shoulders for several miles, fighting to push offshore to get around Gooseberry Island, where the Buzzards Bay meets the open Atlantic. As we paddled directly into this confusing mess of ocean, the wind switched from east-southeast to south, and opposing swells rocked our boards.

Rynkowski hitting the beach after a hard day's paddle. Photo: Gayle

Rynkowski hitting the beach after a hard day’s paddle. Photo: Gayle

Yesterday was hanging on our shoulders like an albatross. Four hours of paddling passed by dreamily, and then Rachel hit rock bottom. We had become separated by a couple hundred yards after leaving the beach post-lunch. When she finally closed in on me, she dropped to her knees. “I just can’t do it anymore,” she said, her eyes glazed over. As much as I tried to bolster her spirits, I felt my own waning as we sat there. It was time to head in.

Our landing was not a celebration. We had started with the goal of paddling 50 miles. Two days of paddling had finally brought us to what was supposed to be the end of Day One.

In the past our trips had largely been success stories. Start here, end here, pop the champagne. From circumnavigating Conanicut Island to our grueling 30-mile day around Aquidneck Island, each one had been carefully planned to coincide with optimal tides and winds. In deciding to “just go” on this trip, we put ourselves in bad conditions and never thought to adjust our expectations.

This trip fell short not only in mileage, but in the immediate sense of accomplishment. The disappointment shrouded raw emotions that gnawed at us both. It would take a week before we could think back on this trip without them bubbling to the surface. But once the storm settled, we found we had gained so much more from this trip than others: not just paddling experience, but respect for the ocean, humility and a renewed sense of what an expedition can be.

Days later, with gear unpacked, clothes washed and all remaining evidence confined in photos and memories, Rachel called me. She was ready for another paddle adventure. I paused for couple seconds before I said I’d go.
—Casi Rynkowski

Check back to see the gear used on this trip.

For Part 1, click here.

More Field Notes, presented by WaveJet.

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