I am so excited to introduce you to my friend, Patti Hall. Patti loves writing and traveling, and loves to share what she has learned in the process. She is debating starting her own blog, so I suggested she write a piece and post here to see how it’s received and if it’s something she wants to pursue. We would really appreciate your feedback–do you want to read more from Patti? Please let us know in the comments. ~~km

Patti Hillen Hall

It started with a simple statement: “Jody, I want to be you.”
I saw her photos of kayaking in a Texas lake while I was sitting at home wishing I had a way to go boating and thinking I needed to move to Florida. Jody is a seize-the-day kind of person and I’m a let-me-think-and-plan-for-a-while person. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, Jody invited me to come by on a Saturday.

She lives on a lake only 15 minutes from my house, but putting her kayak and stand-up paddle board into the water felt like a taste of vacation hundreds of miles away. The weather was perfect, and we paddled for three miles, exploring inlets and taking photos of the purple-pink streaked sky at sunset. Fish jumped out of the water to feed on flying insects, and we turned our heads at each splash to catch a glimpse. By the time we got back to our starting point, it was completely dark and we floated in a circle offshore, feeling the breeze, watching the stars, and talking about how we could do this all night.

When we loaded the kayak and paddle board into Jody’s truck, she said – multiple times – I could borrow her kayak anytime, even if she wasn’t home, and she told me where she kept the truck keys and the codes for accessing everything. As much as I loved her for being so gracious, I knew I needed to have a kayak of my own.

I headed off to REI on Labor Day weekend. I believed that if I bought the smallest kayak I could find, it would fit into my car with the seats folded down. I spent a lot of time at the store, trying on life vests, sizing up paddles, buying accessories like a water pump and sponge, and sitting in the kayak to see if it was comfortable.

When the sales guy wheeled it out to my car, he looked at my kayak, then at the car, then back at the kayak, and then promptly wheeled it back into the store. I walked dejectedly behind him, saying “I really thought it would fit….”

While the sales guy tallied up the costs of installing a carrier on my car, I tried to imagine myself tying the kayak to the roof, taking it off before I pulled into my garage, manhandling it up and down, and talking myself into doing all of that before heading out to the lake. When I told him I was having second thoughts, he asked if I’d looked into “foldable” kayaks.

Two weeks later there it was, sitting in my kitchen, compact as a large suitcase. I walked by it every day, knowing I needed to try putting it together. Finally, I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I looked up a YouTube setup video, paused, looked at the instructions, rewound, and watched again. Finally, I unbuckled the straps and the large white corrugated plastic stack unfolded like a blooming Japanese origami flower.

A thing of beauty, floating on my kitchen tile. Once I buckled in the seat, strapped in the bulkhead, and tightened down the straps on the bow and the stern, it looked like a real kayak.

I folded it up to make sure I could pack it back into a compact package, and then set it up again the next night. I finally felt ready to leave the kitchen.

A week later I was meeting Jody at the lake, but got there before she did. It was a windy day, and I was glad no one was around to watch me open the kayak and put it together, one hand buckling straps and one hand holding on to keep it from blowing away. I used the Velcro strap to attach the paddle to my wrist, secured my phone in a waterproof bag, and then pulled everything down to the water’s edge.

Would it float? What if I got out to the middle of the lake and capsized? What if I didn’t have everything secure and it leaked? What if a big boat went by and the waves were too big? I stepped in, sat down, and then scooted from the shore into the water, using the paddle to push against the muddy bottom.

I could feel the cool water through the thin skin of the kayak. I felt like I was heading out in the equivalent of a paper airplane. I had put this together myself. All by myself. I felt giddy and scared. And victorious. It took me a minute to get the hang of it, paddling in the direction I wanted and pushed myself through the water. I was comfortable and enjoying myself by the time Jody showed up. I was seizing the day and, at that moment, I didn’t want to be anyone but me.

Patti Hillen Hall has made a career of journalism, business writing, and corporate communications. Her current project is a memoir with the working title Ten New Year’s Eves, a journey of discovery through Prague, Madrid, the Caribbean and other destinations. She also started down the fiction path with recent stories of love, sailing and adventure. Currently in Dallas, she’s lived in Texas, North Carolina, and West Virginia, but will always be a Pittsburgh girl at heart.