Trouble in paradise

Charlotte Gannet emptying the kayaks before the storm

Prelude

The sky turns slowly in the color of a big black bruise, Ominous and threatening on the horizon, while we peddle over the to Mull, it looks harrowing.
Although it is getting darker the weather is still and calm. Literally: ’the calm before the storm’.

We paddle fast, at the other side of the sound we almost crash the kayaks onto the rocks. There is no time to find a nice landing or to change the kayak gear, hastily we pitched the tent.
And there it is, the rain, like someone pushed a button. The water falls out of the sky in big heavy drops. Just in time, we created our little safe haven, I sigh.
I check all last things in the boat and secure them, Alexander checks all pecks and strings to secure the tent. All plastic sheets neatly tucked under our cloth shelter.
We peel ourselves out of the suits in the rain and just leave it there to get soaking wet. We will sort it out later.

‘Just in time’, Alexander remarks.
‘Yeah, luckily everything is dry’, I reply. ‘How long is the rain going to last you think?’
‘At least a day, maybe two, we just have to endure this.’ He laments.
I only think: ‘Oh yes, a nice day – or even days – of some rest! Lying in bed, lovely and snug in my sleeping bag’. All conditions are great, we have a boat full of food, plenty of fuel, enough water to last us a few days, a brand new waterproof tent, a good book and with a bit of luck some radio reception. What more could a girl who has already kayaked for a couple of weeks with very few days of rest? I am so going to enjoy this!!
Munching on cookies we listen to the rain falling on the tent. I feel safe, happy and content in my lovely dry and warm sleeping bag.

Day one

After a good night sleep, we need to go out the tent to go for a pee. That’s the only downside to camping out in a rainstorm. Back in the tent and sleeping bag, we cook our morning porridge. After breakfast, I snooze a bit and listen to some radio. Reception is not great but sufficient enough to listen to BBC Radio Scotland, they broadcast talk radio in the morning. I enjoy listening to it because the conversation gives a nice window on what is going on in the community. I alternate the radio listening with reading a few pages in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I am enjoying myself, for Alexander, however, it is less enjoyable. Just out of boredom Alexander starts shooting with elastic bands to the tent ceiling to kill some midgies.
 ‘Shall we have lunch?’ Alexander suggests at around two o’clock.
While I put butter on the sandwiches Alexander cuts the cheese. Making lunch is really a joint effort. We end our meal with a nice cup of instant coffee.
‘I’m going out for a walk and do some fishing, are you going to join me?’ he announces.
I look at him dumbstruck, going out in this weather?! I’m not going to sacrifice my dry shoes to go out for a walk, no way! I am warm and dry in my tent, thank you very much.
 ‘But it is raining outside! You will be soaking wet.’ I moan.
 ‘I’m staying right here, dry and warm.’
I listen to some more radio, a music program. I read more LOTR, I snooze a bit when my eyelids become too heavy from reading.
Suddenly I hear the plashy sound of footsteps through the soaking wet grass coming closer to the tent.
 ‘Hi, love.’
 ‘Take your wet things off before you come in the tent!’ Oh no, you make everything wet, great’ I reprimand.
My favorite program is on the radio. Get it on!! I sing along with all the songs while we cook dinner in the tent. The outdoor activities forecast is predicting more rain tomorrow. Another lazy day in the tent, lovely.
 ‘Yeah, you like that, don’t you?’ Alexander tries to kiss and tickles me.
 ‘Go away, not with your cold hands. Stop it!’ I scold.
I read a bit more and Alexander writes the journal. What a comfortable day, I think. But I expect not everyone in the tent will agree with me on this. We drink some cider and go to sleep.


Eureka tent with tarp extention

Day two

The rain is still dripping on the tent as we wake up. Sometimes a bit heavier, sometimes a bit lighter. The day progresses in a similar rhythm as the previous day, listen to the radio, read a book, a snooze, lunch… I have this feeling of unease creeping up on me.
 ‘Are you going to join me for a walk?’ Alexander asks innocently.
 ‘NO!’, I aggressively answer back.
 ‘But you need to go out for a walk, it’s good for you.’, he pleads.
 ‘I don’t want to. If you want to go, that’s fine. I don’t want everything wet. It is too cold.      Leave me be, go and fish. Bye!’
I pull the sleeping bag over my head and turn my back to Alexander. As he leaves the tent I listen to the radio for the rest of the day. On talk radio, they talk about how much damage the rainstorm has done on landslides and flooding of cities and towns. It is estimated that there is going to be 68 hours of rain. I don’t feel that content anymore in my cozy and warm tent. I don’t know why I had to react so irritable to Alexander, and I’m not even tired! I’ve had enough rest. The rain can stop now. But the weather gods pay no attention to my silent prayer.

Alexander Gannet fishing from the rocks


Alexander comes back to the tent, a big smile on his face and happy with his achievement. Proudly, he raises a big Pollock above his head.
 ‘How on earth are we going to prepare fish. You have to cook it outside!’ I bark at him. So much for a warm welcome home for the heroic fisherman and his catch.
 ‘You need to come out of the tent and help me put up the tarp’, Alexander barks back, disappointed by my reaction.
Raging en raving, while I put my clothes on and step into my rain gear.
 ‘Happy now?’ I snap as I come out of the tent.
We put up the tarp and start to cook the fish. It is a big fish, and Alexander really puts an effort in to make nice large bone-free fillets, just the way I like it. The big slices of fish are coated with Indian herbs, the tangy taste warms me up. It is actually really nice, but I am not going to admit that, I am way too grumpy.
 ‘Can I go back in the tent?’ Provocatively, I put my hands on my hips and look at Alexander.
 ‘Pffff, yes, please!’ Alexander replies annoyed.
I take off all rain clothes and complain loudly about how wet my trousers and shoes are.
Alexander comes in about an hour later. Silent we drink some cider.
 ‘Goodnight.’
 ‘Yeah.’

Day three

After a very uncomfortable night, it is hard to sleep when you are used to so much activity, I wake up to hear the rain still coming down on the tent.
 ‘I am sorry for being so grumpy yesterday’, I say to Alexander.
 ‘Oh, sweetheart, that is okay. I know, this is really very difficult weather.’ Alexander whispers while he takes me in his arms.‘
I start crying. I mean really crying, with the ugly face and snotty nose and all.
While having breakfast we listen to the weather forecast on the radio. There is still a bit of rain around but there will also be spots of dry weather.
 ‘Let’s start to clear out.’ Alexander suggests with a happy face hoping to lift me out of my sadness.
 ‘No, it is still raining, everything is wet, we cannot pack up now!’ I say exasperated. I look at him like he made the most indecent proposal ever.
 ‘You heard the forecast, it will be dry and all the stuff will dry too’, he said annoyed.
 ‘Yeah, in about a fortnight. I’m not going, everything will be wet and cold!’, I yell.
 ‘Everything that is wet will be dry and warm. Come on!’ he shouts back.
With all the bad mood I could muster I start packing the sleeping bags and mattresses. Everything is a bit damp and moist. But Alexander doesn’t pay any attention to my bad temper.
 ‘Look, it is getting lighter, there is a break in the clouds. Even the sun is poking through!’
I delay and sigh and moan and curse. I am radiating my bad mood.
 ‘Especially for you the rain is easing, you see, it is getting less!’ Alexander teases.
He is having fun with taking the mickey out of me.
The worst thing is still to come, getting into my wetsuit that has been lying in the rain for the past two days. With the utmost use of bad language, I start wriggling into the sodden suit.
 ‘You will warm it up in no time, look at the number of calories you will be burning!’ Alexander optimistically says with a big smile on his face.
This aggravates me even more. I put all my anger into carrying the boats to the water. While we paddle into the Sound of Mull Alexander points out how beautiful the light shines on Duart Castle, the rainbow in the distance, the eagle in the sky.
The paddling and the beauty surrounding me lift my bad mood a just little bit.

I give a little smile to Alexander, back in my mind I know I am silently hit by a bad case of cabin fever. But next year we go to Ibiza!

Charlotte Gannet

The love boat

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A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it’s built for.

— Albert Einstein or John A. Shedd.

I always tell my kayaking students, jokingly, ‘the best thing about this sport is that it allows me to yell and scream at my spouse’. And it is true, a rough sea and strong wind demand short, loud and well verbalised commands. But there is more to it. So in this blogpost, I will dig into the way’s, how getting your feet wet with your significant other will built a state of strong emotional attachment or love.

The landscape we travel through, with its rough exterior, it’s old ways and it’s fascinating lighting, invokes not only feelings of romanticism towards it, but also to each other. During our ‘working life’ Charlotte and I already do a lot together; walking, inline skating, kayaking and cycling are part of our standard routine. We always share our dinner. But over here, in this rough landscape and the self-reliant way of travelling, the relationship becomes more symbiotic. It would be so much harder to do this alone and there is a real need to tune into each other’s state of mind, especially during exciting sea states.

I truly noticed this romantic aspect when we took a friend on the two first weeks of our Orkney trip. She was a single woman at the time. Somehow, at least not continuous, I did hold a more reserved pose towards Charlotte. Less holding hands, fewer kisses. When the friend left and we were together again the trip became this over compensated, sweet, sticky romantic thing. Later, to explain it to a good friend, I described these three weeks as ‘The Love Boat experience, just like in the television series from the 1990’s’. So let’s explore our different facets to this love story.

One of the most simple aspects I see are the shared stories we created together. The encounters, with people and wildlife. The romantic sunsets and enchanting landscapes we linger along. The tough and testing times and circumstances we suffer. It builds a shared narrative and forms the basis of a strong “We-ness”. Besides the narrative that grows there is also the learning by experience together, that bonds. We are so used to teachers teaching us, where knowledge is transferred from a person with knowledge to one without. But out there you explore and experience together and learning becomes bouncing concepts and ideas of each other and therefore the learning is experienced as growing together.

But, like it is with all cruises, it’s a package deal and has limited space. Being locked in by the rain on a 1.2m by 2.1m tent floor, less space than our double bed at home, for a whole day. It requires flexibility in both limbs and mindset. Wiggling around each other to get some form of cooking done, arms through a small hole underneath the tent seam, a dangerous flame of the petrol stove just outside the tent. This excitement is alternated with the more intimate moments of trying to have a wee in a decapitated cider bottle on your knees in the cramped vestibule of the tent. Yes, normalising new standards, it’s all part of the game. For example; when I said once, ‘I love you’ after dinner, Charlotte said ‘Why?’. My only answer at that particular moment was ‘I love you because you believe that spoon is clean enough to use next time after you lick it off’. Like it is normal to do the dishes in that way.

Part of the package deal is also dealing with each other’s negative moods. I can be too eager and willing to move faster. Being with me for more than half a day stuck in the tent can be a pain. But the worst flaw in my nature is the dreadful cases of going home blues. Silent or emotional, with strong mood swings. I hate returning home. Charlotte, on the other hand, can be indecisive at times and in an ‘I want to go but not too wet please’ mode after a day stuck on shore by wind or rain. In most cases, there is no winning decision in that situation and it can clash with my impatiens. So it is a case of acceptance, not aggregating the mood too much and learning to ignore the unworkable bits of each other.

For me tuning in Charlotte’s state of mind is a key component for a safe journey. As part of the navigation, on and off the water, there is always the check; how much is too much. I really had to learn, a challenging day is not measured in wave height alone. Three days after we passed the Great Race, in high waves we crossed to Colonsay in relatively small waves. But Charlotte’s perception was the complete opposite of mine.

Rest me to only tell you about the symbiotic aspect of the relationship/journey. In the testing conditions of camping in Scotland, there can be a need for a fierce efficiency. Outrunning the rain in putting the tent up or cooking on the fire with limited space and a sandy ‘counter top’. It requires constant cooperation the one keeping the fire going and cooking while the other is cutting the vegetables in the right order and pace.

So who would have known that one of the good tips for relationship building would have been to carry a 75-kilogram kayak over often slippery rocks and twice a day? Some of the readers might say: “this is not possible with my significant other!”, but remember you have to train. I started with the simple stuff; like just catching her bicycle after a strenuous uphill climb on route to Santiago de Compostela.

One thing that shocked me the most is that she stopped taking my love tokens. I like to beach-comb her heart shaped boulders and stones. But Charlotte believes my love will sink her ship.

 

Charlotte I love you!

 

Alexander.

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