A lot of people have been asking for a little preview of Surviving Bear Island so here it is:
A wall of dog-like heads was closing in on us. Sea lions, six or eight of them, swam side by side. They raced toward us like they were gonna swim right through us, stretching their necks and plowing through the water like they had motors attached to their backs. I gripped my paddle tighter and held it just above the water, waiting, watching, just like Dad. Then, at the last second, they dove.
“They could’ve dumped us if they wanted to,” Dad said. “It’s happened to other kayakers.
I felt some bumps right under my feet, and the nose of the kayak shifted.
“Crazy,” I said. “You feel that?” The last thing I wanted was to take a swim. We’d be in trouble if we dumped. The water would freeze us solid.
“Never been touched like that,” Dad said. “Let’s paddle. Now.”
I dipped my kayak paddle into the blue-green salt water and pulled. Then did it again. And again. I twisted side to side, pulling one blade through the water while pushing the other through the air. Like Dad always said, “You get your back muscles working for you when you paddle. If you just relied on your arms you’d be trashed in a couple hours.”
Sea lions swam along on both sides of the kayak, easily matching our pace.
Just as I pushed my paddle in again, a gust of wind came out of nowhere and water slammed into my face, running down and underneath my raincoat. I felt the sweat building under my raincoat and rain pants and just wanted to crawl out of them. At the same time my hands were turning to ice from being washed by the waves and chilled by the wind.
The sea lions dove under the boat, nudging it. Two of them surfaced right next to me, opened their mouths and made these roaring sounds that made my breath catch. Then they dove again and disappeared.
I couldn’t see Dad, but I knew he was behind me, using the rudder to steer, keeping us pointed at an angle to the foot-high waves to help steady the kayak. Left. Right. Left. Right. I was a first-time kayaker.
Left. Right. Dad was the expert.
Left. Right. More water stinging my face.
Left. Rubbery arms.
Right. More water up my sleeves.
Left. I can’t feel my hands.
Right. Where are those sea lions.
Left. This was so Mom and Dad’s thing. I just agreed to go because this was the first time in three years that my dad actually acted like he wanted to do something with me.
I tried to keep paddling, but the water was dragging my arms down.
My body was burning but my face was freezing in place and my hands were completely numb. And to make matters worse, the gray clouds looked like they would dump on us any moment. But hey, that’s how it is in Prince William Sound, Alaska. You come out here to kayak, your muscles work overtime, and you expect rain. We’d been gone for two and a half weeks and still had sixty miles to paddle to get to Whittier and then a four hundred mile drive north to Fairbanks. I just wanted to get home.
The kayak slowed down. I stopped paddling and twisted my body around.
“Just making a clothing adjustment so I don’t overheat,” Dad said. His paddle was lying across his cockpit as he wrestled with his raincoat and life vest. “Looks pretty rocky ahead, but I’m gonna try to work us closer to shore. Hopefully that’s the last we’ve seen of those sea lions.”
I nodded, turned back around and waited. Mom should’ve been with us. Everything was better when Mom was around.
I scanned the water. No sign of the sea lions. And the waves seemed to be calming down. Little did I know I would be upside down in the water in less than an hour—fighting for my life.
Copyright 2015 by Paul Greci
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