IN TANDEM - Luke Vargas
Kayaking is my favorite thing. It’s something about the rhythm of paddling that just gets me. You’re paddling and propelling yourself by lightly slicing through the water. I guess kayaking is just really satisfying. The water is consistent, smooth, and still. Each stroke whips through the water like a spoon through cake batter. The kayak slides across the water in a gentle and silent glide. The entire act is consuming and absorbing. Every ripple seems like the perfectly clear ring of a triangle. The simplicity and perpetualness clears your mind. I don’t really think about anything when I’m kayaking. I barely even notice myself. No Luke, just the kayak and the water.
For a long time, all I ever wanted was to go kayaking with someone else. I had this yearning to take a friend kayaking with me. There was this weird idea that: I needed to share the “art of kayaking” with other people, but definitely not just anybody. Whoever I was going to take kayaking had to be- I hate to say it like this but- like me. This person needed to see things the way I did. Someone who appreciates the same things as me because they would understand what makes kayaking so special to me. I needed to take someone like that, otherwise, I’d be wasting kayaking on people who don’t care. It would give my favorite thing a bad reputation, and I just can’t have that. Don’t be offended if I haven’t taken you kayaking. To be fair, I’m not sure if I’m ever going to do it again. I’ve done it before, but only once.
I’ve only asked one person but I asked that person at least a dozen times. The only reason I did that was because there was always something that got in the way. We’d make plans the at the start of the week but by Thursday something would always pop up. We would call it off, and I’d just ask again later. We didn’t actually go kayaking until April of that year. I had started nagging my friend about kayaking back in August, on the day we met. From the start, I just knew I found someone who’d get it. I just had to make it happen. Even though it took months, I never gave up trying to make it all happen. And the more time past, the more I realized this person was simply: the one.
I suspected, for a long time, that maybe my friend just really didn’t want to go kayaking with me. It definitely seemed like all of the excuses were made it up. I started to think that my friend didn’t like me as much as I first thought. Maybe my friend was tired of me, didn’t like me, or (worst of all) my friend was annoyed by me. The whole time I was losing it a little. There was so much doubt and uncertainty surrounding this person. It felt like trying to swim with a weight tied to my leg. But like I said earlier we did eventually go kayaking.
That April, this friend was the one who suggested that we should go kayaking. That was a powerful gesture. The insecurity and the fear were dismissed from my mind (but it never completely left.) Honestly, hearing the words come out of her mouth was inexplicably relieving and meaningful. Such a simple phrase validated a friendship that was clouded in speculation. It brought me security and confidence in our companionship. It filled a huge gap that I was ignoring like a soldier ignoring a bullet in his chest. But for the first time, I felt like I had
a best friend.
The only problem was I didn’t have a tandem kayak. This whole outing depended on me having this tandem kayak and I was not about to let this fall apart now. The best way to get something when you don’t have the money to get it: borrow it. I asked everyone I knew about tandem kayaks. I quickly realized that not too many people “do the whole... kayaking thing.” It turned out that my neighbor had a Tandem kayak. Well not exactly, you see his girlfriend's brother’s friend owned a tandem. Explaining why I needed the boat was difficult. It was kind of awkward, sort of embarrassing to be honest, for me to explain what I was doing. After a long discussion he drove out and brought me the kayak. The important thing is I got the boat.
We picked out Saturday as the day we’d go kayaking. The days leading up to Saturday were spent in a dreamy and electric anticipation. The entire day had already happened over and over again in my mind. I saw us paddling down the river in a perfect sync. Things were looking up and I couldn’t have been happier in that moment.
Saturday slowly but surely came and when it did I had to make a point not to text my friend 100 times. I managed to restrain myself and only text her 20 times in a row. That was pretty normal for me. It seems over the top, but I liked doing things that way. I would always try to be something out of the ordinary for her. Something just unconventional enough to be sort of mysterious or… I don’t know…. just… extraordinary. I wanted to be this fantastic guy that stood out, and I had to be that way. When I’d be scrolling through Instagram she would always lean over and go “Ohhh look it’s so and so! We used to be best friends.” That bothered me a lot. Back then I never would have really admitted it, but it did. I just couldn’t bear to think that I might end up just a name that she “used to be best friends with.” That’s a frightening reality to be faced with and it makes you conscious of everything you do. I don’t know if she just never realized how big of an impact saying that -so casually- had on me. Regardless, I put forth extraordinary effort to make sure I’d never become just a name of lost significance to her.
Tandem kayaks are definitely made to be used by two people. Most tandem kayaks are 10-14 feet long making them incredibly difficult to steer. Never ever try to solo a tandem kayak especially if it’s a monstrous 13 and ½ ft tandem kayak. If you couldn’t already tell, I figured all of this out the hard way. Sometimes to really know the truth you have to actually experience it. I paddled down the river all the way to her house, and this is where things start to get difficult. My dock is level with the water, but her dock is raised above the river. In fact, the dock was about 5 feet above the river. This made getting in and out of a kayak is tricky business in and of itself. Adding a massive vertical challenge made it a lot more difficult for her to get into the kayak. I can barely explain how I did it, but I got us both into the kayak. All I will say is it required an aquatic ramp and caused only minimal screams.
We were finally doing it. I was finally kayaking with my best friend but things were much different from what I assumed they would be. In fact, things would only grow further and further from my expectations. She got tired pretty quickly, and I predicted that happening. But I didn’t predict solo-tandem-kayaking being as difficult as it was. We went down some small creeks off the river and it was an absolutely beautiful stretch of river. The Cyprus trees stretched across either side and the moss dangled over our heads. Egrets crept gracefully over the lily pads while the dragon flies skipped on the still water. Only I was too busy trying to keep the kayak straight to notice the scenery around us. Without my friend paddling, I couldn’t keep the kayak straight. The nose would swing side to side with every stroke. The boat chopped and stuttered across the water instead of its usual silky glide. To make it worse, I started to get tired and I was barely speaking out of exhaustion. Things weren’t going as planned. I felt like I needed to make a big recovery so I took her to the rope swing. The rope swing hangs on two massive Cyprus trees with a big piece of plywood crudely nailed in between the two trees. We both sat there on the platform looking out at the river. The sun was sparkling on the gentle waves, the trees slowly wavered in the breeze, and the clouds were magnificent low hanging giants. We sat there for a while in awe of the scene before us. The river had put on a show.
But we were silent. The rope swing stood still. We sat there looking ahead but we weren’t smiling. We were two grey clouds on a sunny day. I made the decision to break the silence. Today, I look back on that decision with much regret, and I know that it was one of my least proud moment. To this day I’m not sure if too much was said or far too little but that conversation should not have happened. What we said was what would throw me back into the uncertainty and doubt that I had just been liberated of. I know for sure that it would have been better if nothing had been said at all. Maybe it would have been better if we never went kayaking.