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I’d rather look back at my life and say, ‘I can’t believe I did that’ than say, ‘I wish I did that.’

When I started planning a solo month-long trip to SoCal in January 2020, I had a few people tell me that I was adventurous.  Others weren’t quite as supportive.  I appreciated the words of praise while privately harboring quite a bit of fear and doubt in agreement with those who questioned the safety and financial logistics of such a trip.  I didn’t know where I was staying, who I was staying with, what I was driving, and little of what I’d be doing.  I was leaving the comforts of home and familiarity behind.  The unknown is scary.

When I left my apartment for the airport with only a carry-on holding minimal clothing and toiletries and necessary equipment for the stand-up paddling that I planned on doing (leash, pfd, booties, neoprene jacket), I sobbed.  I cried because it wasn’t supposed to be like this; I wasn’t supposed to travel alone.  As a 38 year-old woman, I longed to experience new adventures with a partner.  Yet here I was.  Going alone.  And leaving behind my dog, the most stable partner I’ve had in years.

That first afternoon in Redondo, I jumped into Lanakila’s paddle practice.  As everyone loaded themselves into their OCs (outrigger canoes), I cautiously crawled onto a 22” wide SUP race board. (For those of you unfamiliar with this sport, that’s pretty dog-gone narrow… and unstable.)  As everyone left the harbor mouth for the open ocean, I was rather quickly over my head.  Quite literally.  I fell into the cold water time and time again as the other paddlers pulled further and further ahead into the distance.  Fear gripped tighter as wave after wave knocked me off the board.  I felt evermore alone and afraid.  Those feelings multiplied when a large, black fin surfaced to my left.  I dropped to my knees (yah, I was miraculously standing on the board at this time), knowing that an orca was about to capsize my board and drag me to the ocean bottom.  I sighed with relief as more fins appeared and I realized it was a pod of dolphins… though rather large dolphins.  But what an incredible sight!

A couple weekends later, I attended a SUP clinic at Dana Point.  I finally thought that I’d be with some novice paddlers.  Heck, maybe I’d even be more experienced then a few and give my self-conscious ego a break.  Nope.  Most of these guys and gals were top-notch racers looking for more of an advantage at an upcoming race.  I was still the beginner.  After dealing with the humiliation of t-boning a small sailboat which launched me onto the dude’s boat deck with a scraped elbow and an even further wounded ego, I still had to endure falling into chilly waters as everyone else gracefully (and dryly) practiced their race strategy buoy turns.

The next day, I joined a few Lanakila OCers for a 10 mile paddle.  Again, I was the only one on a SUP board.  My inexperience and lack of ability, a headwind that managed to be both out and back, a mass of kelp that simulated paddling on dry land, and too short of a paddle left me with a cramped back… and exhausted.  As everyone went to lunch (after kindly waiting for me to drag myself back to the dock), I struggled to stand in the shower before taking a nap in my borrowed parked Jeep.

Then there was the race itself in San Diego.  Ok, this really had me anxious.  About 350 paddlers lined up at the start.  Buoy turns.  Drafting.  So much more technical than I had ever experienced.  It brought me back to my first triathlon:  the fear of being among hundreds of people at a mass swim start when I couldn’t handle the thought of being touched in the water.  Or going into my first criterium/draft-legal race after only time-trialing on the bike.  All of these former fears and anxieties mashed into this new experience.  Later, a video of my race start shows it: TIMID.  It wasn’t good.  Not by a long shot.

Finally, there was the surfing at San Onofre.  Skip dry-land practice.  Baptism by fire.  Why not?  That seemed to have been the overarching theme of this whole trip anyway.  To  keep this short, I was not just anxious or a bit nervous here; I was terrified.  I could only picture the waves scraping me on the rocky bottom, not knowing which way was up out of the water to breathe, and getting my face smashed in by the board.  I wanted to start small.  No breakers, please.  But once out passed the breakers, there was only one way back.  God knows that I just wanted to sit on that board and cry as I watched my experienced new friends catch wave after wave.  Please don’t make me have to ride these same waves back onto shore.  Well, it wasn’t graceful or pretty… but I got back to shore.

Can you tell as you read through this that each of these experiences have a happy ending?  They do!  I did it.  I lived life.  And I met some of the most incredible people along the way… lifelong-friend-kind-of people.  The fear, the risk, the novelty, the uncertainty are all what made these experiences so great… as well as the new ohana (family) that filled my heart.  

Yes, I cried tears of sadness, fear, and apprehension as I sat on that plane bound for California.  My life hadn’t turned out like I ever thought it would.  It still hasn’t.  I’m still solo… “partnerless.”   And, yes, there are still times that it feels a little lonely.  But it’s ok.  It’s better than ok; it’s a wild, gnarly, exciting, freaky trip that can look really scary at the start, kinda clumsy in the middle, and a whole heck-of-a-lot of fun through the ride.  I don’t know if I would have had this same wild, gnarly, exciting, freaky trip or these amazing new relationships if I didn’t wander solo.  But I do know this:  I can look back and say, “I’m so glad that I did that.”

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Kattie Carpenter is the Head coach for Calvin College's Triathlon team, as well as owner of Beyond Tri: Teaching, Coaching, & Growing. She's a certified trainer in both NASM and ACSM and has performed at elite levels in both triathlon and SUP paddle events. let Kattie get your tri-ready for your next race, click here.

Connect with Kattie: Facebook / Instagram / Her Website


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