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Publishing at 77
“Nothing, not one thing, hurts us more—or causes us to hurt others more—than our certainties.” Maria Popova, the editor, poet, author, and creator of the Marginalian
An Uncertain Adventure
It was 2002, almost twenty years before I would publish my novel, Paper Bags, when I decided to join a kayaking expedition to Sardinia, Italy. My friend DJ and I had previously paddled the Sea of Cortez, so we were certain we could handle the Mediterranean. Of the two of us, she was much more of an adventurer. I was mostly in for the friendship and camaraderie. When I got the call that she had to cancel because her husband was sick, I had a dilemma.
At almost sixty years old, I hadn’t planned on going to a foreign country alone, but the trip was already paid for, including an extra week in Rome, and I was not going to lose my money. A year after 9/11, I was in an airport, on the metro with a backpack and a rolling suitcase searching for my hotel. After close to an hour of frustration, I found my hotel, checked in, dropped onto the bed, and sobbed. It was my birthday, I was alone, hungry, and had only myself to rely on.
To help me feel grounded, I used my hotel as a base, took day trips by bus to Pisa, Florence, and Umbria, returning each evening to Rome. My biggest challenge was the train to the coast, where I would get the ferry to Sardinia to meet the kayaking expedition. To prepare for my trip I had purchased a few audio tapes to help me learn some words in Italian. I had no cell phone to use for translation as it was pre-iPhone, but I was starting to feel some self-assurance.
What I envisioned as a simple ferry turned out to be the size of a small cruise ship with entertainment onboard. As I was lounging on the upper deck, I had zipped off the bottoms of my kayaking pants to get some sun. My eyes were closed when I was disturbed by someone who looked exactly like Telly Savalas shouting, “Sola, sola.”
Yes, I said enthusiastically, “The sun, the sun!”
When he reached down to touch my leg, I slapped his hand away. The look on his face told me he wasn’t talking about the sun; he was talking about the fact I was solo—alone. My energetic response gave him the impression I was up for some fun. So much for those cheap audio tapes.
It was dark when I arrived in Sardinia, but I’d been guaranteed I’d be met by a member of the tour group who would drive me to the campground, our base for the week. As I walked off the ship looking for a sign, I spotted a young man with a placard bearing my name. I followed him to a Jeep, and we made a long, bumpy ride to our destination. I’d missed dinner but I had been expected, and they’d saved me some soup and bread. I met my roommate and we bunked in a stucco cabin that would be home for the next week.
In the morning, I met the rest of our group; we introduced ourselves and got acquainted with the kayaking equipment we’d be using for the week. I’d never used a Greenland paddle which felt quite a bit heavier than the graphite one I was used to, but I was undaunted. We pushed off following our lead guide who didn’t speak English and was wearing a cowboy hat. There was an American woman who translated, so I brushed off thoughts like “This is not safe.”
The Mediterranean Sea is lovely along the shoreline, but we were headed out to the channel where the swells were beginning to concern me. When the waves became so great that I couldn’t see the rest of the group, I was alarmed. I’m a strong paddler; I’ve kayaked in the Sea of Cortez off Baja and throughout the Florida Keys and I’ve never felt afraid.
We had skirts on our kayaks, so I was not taking on water, but every time I got a glimpse of the coast, I could see the same landmark and soon realized I wasn’t making any progress toward the destination. I decided to try and angle my boat a little more although I knew I’d be hitting the crests harder, and my wrists would ache from the heavy paddle. I kept from panicking by telling myself I was safe, a good paddler.
As I steered closer to shore I could see the others, their kayaks up on the beach. They pulled my boat onto the sand, helped me out on my wobbly legs. I dropped to the ground, put my head down into my hands and let out a sigh as tears pooled in my eyes. When I looked up, I noticed only a small part of our group was there.
“Where are the others,” I asked.
“They had to be rescued,” said our American guide.
I noticed the women on the beach were sobbing and shaking. Later I learned my roommate was in one of the groups who had to be rescued. That night she told me,
“I’m done with the kayaking. I’ll stay on the island and explore but I’m not setting one foot in a boat again on this trip.”
We took the next day off and went into town shopping where I heard some of the women declare they were done. I decided to stay with the expedition. I had come to kayak, and I was going to paddle the Mediterranean. I was also pretty sure we would not be venturing out into the channel again.
As I expected, we spent the rest of the week exploring shorelines, caves built into the rocks, secluded beaches, and picnics. I felt sorry for those who decided to stay back for fear they wouldn’t feel safe. I had spent a lifetime being afraid and this trip helped me see I could take care of myself even in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.
What I learned is feeling safe doesn’t come from a lock or a gate but from something inside, a confidence I gained from an experience where I was able to feel fear and tolerate the uncertainty of my safety and be ok. This adventure would help me years later to accept the uncertainties of publishing a book at seventy-seven and lead to my motto:
There’s no expiration on dreams.
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Author/ Paper Bags/ https://woodhallpress.com/paper-bags