Kayaking On The High Seas

Friends, last Friday I went kayaking.

Unlike other competitive sports, such as swimming, lawn bowling and falling asleep standing up, I excel in sports where I can sit down.

I’ve done a fair bit of kayaking, but never down the Detroit River. I’ve shied away from it because I’ve heard that it’s choppy. How bad could it be?

I’ll tell you.

This tour was billed as a trip through Detroit’s canals. There would be some time on the river to get us from one canal to the next, but I was expecting a fairly leisurely ride.

I arrived at the tour starting point and signed a release form with approximately 300 non-indemnification clauses and a promise to harvest my kidneys in case of my death on the river. In hindsight, this should’ve been my first red flag.

While we waited for the rest of the group to arrive, I observed my fellow kayakers. All couples, a few in their 20s but the crowd largely skewed over 55. Someone may have had a tank of oxygen following them around. If these people can do this, I CAN DO THIS.

I was outfitted with my life jacket and given a paddle. I was assigned a kayak and while our guide, Rob, was helping me get in, I inadvertently wielded my paddle as a weapon and knocked him on the head.

“I’m so sorry, that must happen a lot!”

“Uh, no. No it doesn’t.”

Rule 1. Do not beat up the guide or he will make your life hell.

Wait for it…

We convene in our kayaks on the gentle waters of the canal, waiting for Rob to begin the tour.

“As you may have noticed, it’s unusually windy this evening. We’re going to experience some stronger waves on the Detroit river, but don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe.”

I’m worried.

As we kayak through the canal toward the river, I begin to replay my first, and only, experience on a sailboat several years prior. I was on the San Francisco Bay for a team-building event where we had to race sailboats. It was a windy day for sailing, but I knew nothing about sailing, so I figured someone with a clue would inform us if it was unsafe to sail.


For reasons that must have been rooted in madness, I decided I’d man the wheel and captain the ship while my team makes moved sails, flaps, dingies, jibs, jabs, thingies and whatchamacallits around the boat to actually prevent us from capsizing.

“I know how to drive a car, holding onto the wheel seems easy.”

I only realized when we were 10 feet out of the dock on a very windy day, that I was in charge of us not capsizing. Did I mention I have no experience sailing, know nothing about boats and am utterly unqualified to be captaining this death trap?

I’ve blocked out the majority of the trip, but I recall being so terrified of how the boat was keeling precariously to the side that I seriously considered jumping overboard just to get off the sailboat. The only thing that stopped me was the realization I would be forced back onto the boat to get to shore.  

Outwardly, this manifested by me digging my nails into the wheel while tears silently streamed down my face. Our guide finally relieved me and recommended I go below deck and have a lie-down. I refused, convinced we were going to capsize, I didn’t want to drown, trapped inside the boat.

So that’s what’s going through my mind as Rob calmly explains that we’re able to enter into the tropical storm that’s touched down on the Detroit River.

Fucking fantastic.

We leave the gentle waters of the canal and begin our trek along the Detroit River. The waves began to hit the kayak, bouncing off the front of it, water splashing on either side. I’m not sure where we were paddling, but I assumed we’d stay close to the seawall and headed towards a canal.

So why is our guide paddling into the middle of the Detroit River?

Reluctantly, I turn towards him and make my way towards the center of the river, waves slapping me around the river.

I get close enough to realize Rob has stopped, in the middle of the Detroit river, in Hurricane Andrew, to recount the story of Detroit’s rum runners smuggling spirits across the river during prohibition .

Rob, are you fucking kidding me with this right now? I feel like I am on the deck of the Titanic watching the orchestra play their final performance of Nearer, my God, to Thee as the ship is sinking.

Couldn’t we tell this story somewhere else?

The kayakers have banded together to form a flotilla as we try to dampen the force which we are being pounded by the waves. I look over at the older woman beside me and say, “This is quite a day to be on the water, isn’t it.”

“It’s so relaxing. I just love it,” she replies.

Yeah, I suppose if your bucket list includes sunset hikes in the mountains of Kabul or playing Russian roulette with a loaded .45, this is chill AF.


Thrilled to be alive.

I can’t really hear anything our guide is saying over the rumble of the waves and the existential alarm sounding in my head.

Bobbing up and down, I now know what it must feel like to bob for apples and be the apple. A few minutes go by, and I realize I am silently chanting, “become one with the apple.”

The waves mellow and I stop realize Rob has stopped talking.

“Is the spoken word portion of the tour done?” I cry out to anyone within earshot.

Rob begins to kayak towards the shore, and I rush forward, paddling like my life depends on it. We make our way into the canals and there are several more tour stops, where I fail to listen, and mainly focus on kayaking in circles trying to get cell phone reception.

Questions rolling through my mind include:

  • Does 911 have a water ambulance?
  • Why is everyone else having so much fun?
  • How much is a portable defibrillator?

We watch the sunset over the city and make our way back to shore. I got out of the boat and kissed the ground.

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