June 2010

Row, row, row your boat

By Suzanne Strazza

As the entire world knows, this has not been the easiest 12 months for me.

So, on the year marker of the beginning of my personal hell, I decided that I needed to do something different.

I turned 45 this month and spent my 15th wedding anniversary in divorce court. I got to share that special day with not only my soon-to-be-ex, but also two of my best friends and their soon-to-be-exes. My personal life had just taken a rather messy turn and my older son was spending way too much time telling me that “Everything is going to be okay.”

It was time to take action.

So, I called the river-permit woman, the one who always has a kind word and the power to make or break a person's day, and begged her to get me on the river for the weekend. I shamelessly told her that it was a matter of life or death for my sanity and that I was going to court on my anniversary. Suddenly, I had a permit.

I think she was just hoping to get me off the phone before I came unglued and she had to listen to it.

I packed for my trip a week before I even had the permit, because I needed something to do so I would stop obsessing about all of the not-so-good. I packed my food, my clothes, my tent. I borrowed my friend’s duckie and turned off the reruns of “Friends” that I had become addicted to.

I thought about another friend, the goddess, who had done a solo trip when her marriage fell apart. I thought, “If it worked for her…”

I had been pretty comatose for about two weeks. Apoplectic really. Suddenly, the reality of being 45 and divorced hit me and when I thought too much about it, I ended up in bed with the covers over my head, listening to Courtney Cox and canned laughter.

Enough was enough. I had become…

Pathetic.

So after work on a Friday I got ready to leave. I washed my face and changed my clothes. This was a celebration, you know. I even brushed my teeth. I put on clean jeans and my favorite white shirt. I thought, “No more walking around looking like the wretched, pitiable old lady that I have become.”

I got in the truck and headed west.

Twenty minutes into my drive I spilled my Dr Pepper right down my front. As I sat in the puddle, ice freezing my thighs, white shirt now brown and sticking to my sugarcoated body, I wondered if this was a sign.

Nah, just an accident — don’t read anything into it.

I drove off into the sunset. The music was cranked and I was psyched. I was brilliant. Strong, beautiful and competent. This was going to be the perfect thing to get me back on top of my game.

The weather report wasn’t great: Sunny but rather windy (if you call 60-mph gusts “windy”). But a little breeze wasn't going to get me down.

I'm tough. I’ve even been called macho and badass.

Right?

I slept in the truck and awoke to a beautiful sunny day. Full of anticipation and joy, I launched. For the first time in a long time, I felt sane. I was going to reflect, enjoy and write. I had a trashy magazine in my dry bag and one celebratory beer in my cooler.

Obviously not a really big drinker here.

About an hour into my glorious journey the breeze began. Two hours into it, breeze turned to wind. Four hours into it and I was fighting just to stay put. To not get blown back upstream. Going downstream was icing on the cake.

My friends had been saying, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” I pooh-poohed them repeatedly. Suddenly I was wondering what they had known that I hadn’t.

Without going into all the details, let me just say that my arms have never been so worked, I had bruises on my right side from being slammed into the rocks. My fingernails were shredded from gripping the limestone to avoid flipping over and I had a small sand dune in each ear.

I didn't stop to eat, drink or pee. I became Sir Edmund Hillary, determined to reach the top of my Everest. A little blustery weather would not daunt me.

I persevered through the day, through the river miles, with a smile on my face.

Unfortunately that smile was coated in sand.

“Why don’t you just go camping?” my friends had asked.

“Hillary didn't just climb an anthill, he climbed Everest.”

By the time I was forced to camp, I was thinking that “Friends” wasn’t such a bad show after all.

I opened my beer and took a sip while waving to the passing commercial boaters. I put it down to roll a much-deserved cigarette and watched the wind blow every last drop of that beer out of the bottle and onto the rocks.

I considered lapping it up but I was too tired.

The magazine never left my dry bag. The pen never hit the page. I had a cracker for dinner and collapsed into the deepest drug-free sleep I have ever experienced.

I awoke the next morning to total darkness. It was 5 a.m., after all. I was determined to beat the wind at its own game — this was my trip. I got into my boat just as the sky was turning gray and paddled like hell.

Suffice it to say that I made it off the river without being pummeled again.

At the takeout, I got into my very big truck and would have given myself a hearty pat on the back except I couldn’t lift my arms.

Five days and as many showers later, I am still digging sand out of my ears. My thumbs are frozen into paddling position and I can’t hold a pen. My white shirt is in the trash. I am back in bed, enjoying the company of my six best Friends, laughing right along with the studio audience. I have not pulled the covers over my head, nor have I taken a Xanax.

It was a magnificent trip.

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.