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A Virgin at One Thing

Updated: Mar 28

Friday, 24 March 2023, Cruz Bay, St. John

I awoke refreshed, ready to challenge myself on this trip. For over thirty years, I've loved spending my time on the water, paddling a kayak in places new and familiar - in at least 13 states and three foreign lands. In recent years, I've seen more and more people riding SUPs, and wondering what that would be like. Thus, I set myself a goal: take a lesson to get myself familiar with stand-up paddleboard (SUP), then paddle from Cruz Bay to Honeymoon Beach in the national park.

I shared that goal with Lucy at SUP-St John, who agreed to help me with that. "I can't teach you inside the park, because they won't license people for that. But I can teach you at Chocolate Hole, then take you over to Cruz Bay."

First I had to get to Chocolate Hole, which lay just past the Westin Resort. As I ate breakfast at my Inn, another guest stepped over and struck up a conversation. Harry spends a lot of time on the island, and he gave me some hints. Once I told him of my 60-ways challenge and of my plans for the day, he generously offered to drive me over there. Turns out he benefited, also - he discovered someplace new he could come back to.

At Chocolate Hole, Lucy awaited me. After introductions, she told me a favorite story (to help bolster my confidence? Maybe). "A few years ago, three sisters who were all in their mid-to-late 70s signed up for lessons. Time to check an item off their bucket lists, they told me. They weren't sure they could actually to this, but I got each one of them up and paddling. They were so thrilled to do something they'd long dreamed of!"

Lucy started with dry land instructions, having me practice the paddle stroke, the kneeling position, getting onto my feet. "Most kayakers pick up on things pretty quick, and you look like you should do well. So let's get in the water. We'll paddle while kneeling down toward the far side of the bay, then you'll get up and try paddling back."

Easy for her to say! The kneeling posed no problems - standing up was quite the different matter. My legs said, "This board is shaking! You can't let go and subject us to that!" Try as I may, I couldn't convince my back to straighten up. Lucy came over to hold my board, but it didn't help.

Back to shore. "You did fine practicing on shore before," she patiently pointed out. "You've just got to make up your mind to stand up. Do it quick, don't hesitate while you're leaning over, or you'll just get dizzy." I tried a few more practices on the beach, then headed back out.

"Do a few strokes while kneeling to get some momentum," she coached me, "then stand up - quick! - start paddling to get some momentum." I took her advice, got moving, stood up, stuck the paddle in the water - kerSplash!

"Oh good, I got my first fall out of the way," I said hopefully. "Now I can build from there." I got back on the board, kneeled, got moving, stood up, paddled a stroke, paddled another, kerPlop!

She continued to coach me, I continued to try, and the water continued to claim me as victim. I knew it was a matter of training my legs how to balance on that wobbling board, giving them muscle memory so I could concentrate on improving my stroke. I must have taken near a dozen dunks before we headed back to shore.

"Okay, your goal to paddle to Honeymoon Beach is not going to happen today," she told me. "I wanted to give you a shot at it, so I brought you a performance board, hoped that would work. But really, only about 5% of people would likely have been able to pull off what you wanted to do."

She then gave me an option. "If you'd like, I can run home and get you a heavier board, one that's more stable. But it's too heavy and slow to go as far as you wanted to. See, performance and stability are mutually exclusive." I accepted her conclusion, and opted to try on the stable board.

As I waited for her to return, I reflected on the lesson for the morning. I guess that just like performance and stability, planning/dreaming and living are also mutually exclusive. But if I can still make progress here, it could pave the way for the future.

Fifteen minutes later, with me all dried out (though the taste of salt water would linger in my mouth for a while), I headed back out. Got moving, stood up, paddled, paddled, switched sides, paddled. Bingo!? I approached the far side of the bay, turned around, paddled back. As soon as I felt the first twinges of confidence, reality dumped me back into the brink.

"You just need practice now," she told me. "You need to feel it, to make your own decisions out there. I'm going to sit on the shore and watch you instead of coaching you, then I'll let you know what could help you the most." With that, she left me to flounder in the water.

I kept practicing, kneeling, standing, paddling, occasionally dumping, back and forth across the small bay. After two hours-plus, I could feel the fatigue setting in,

and Lucy could see it from shore. I paddled back in, thanked her for her patience, and opted against renting the board for the rest of the day. Time to move on!

Maybe I could salvage the day - still need a National Park experience! - by renting a kayak in town, or look into a snorkeling trip. The ladies at the National Park Visitor Center urged me to call Jackie at St. John Boat Charters - "She knows everything that's offered here." Jackie couldn't point to a snorkeling tour, but directed me to Arawak Expeditions for the kayak. I traipsed over to their store in Moongoose Jct, but the sign on the door said they were out on an expedition. Someone pointed me to another company two businesses away, who also had an 'out on tour' sign posted. As I stepped away, the owner jumped out. "Sorry, I forgot to change the sign. How can I help?" Unfortunately, he had no more kayaks on hand for the day.

My options were rapidly disappearing. However, I noticed a sign for the Caneel Hill trailhead just past Moongoose Jct. That looked like my best option to dive into the park, so I took off up the forested trail.

Definitely not an easy, beginners hike (when they said 'hill', they meant it).

The forests had recovered nicely, packed densely on both sides. The trail ascended at a good pace. In the lower reaches, the trail surface was covered with rocks jutting from the ground, forcing me to choose my steps carefully. As I went higher, the footing got more challenging. Thankfully, there were few vistas to distract me on the way up.

At the top of the hill, an observation deck provided grand, 360-degree views of the surrounding ocean and islands.

Definitely a hike worth doing - but not a simple stroll in the park.

For dinner, I dropped into the Irish Caribbean pub I'd noticed yesterday. (No, nothing like Jerk corned-beef-and-cabbage - the Irish was reflected more in the drinks.) When I walked in, the bartender urged me to sit anywhere. The couple at the bar - friends of the bartender - made my choice obvious, pulling out the adjacent chair for me, then giving me suggestions for which drink to start with. Mentioning that I don't do much alcohol didn't faze them at all, and they urged me to order a mocktail.

I sat next to the woman, who eagerly plied me with questions - "Where are you from? What are you doing here?" When she found out I've been married 30 years, she reported that they were engaged, planning to tie the knot in August.

It was so nice to have company for dinner. her fiancée only occasionally tuned in to our conversation, so he didn't hear much of 60 Ways, or of my Litterwalk. After I finished my meal (and they continued sipping theirs), I told her I'd go get her an Underwear book from my room and bring it back for them. My return shocked the fiancée. "I couldn't believe what she was telling me! Man, I said no way he's coming back! He must have been feeding you a line. Man, I don't read much, but I am really looking forward to reading this!"

I couldn't think of any better way to end my day. Back in my room, I relaxed my sore muscles and considered options for tomorrow. I checked Arawak's website for kayak rentals, but got diverted when I saw another of their scheduled tours: a half-day of kayaking and snorkeling with the endangered hawksbill sea turtles. Whoa. THAT could be a keynote experience for this trip. The website mentioned tours tomorrow leaving at 9 and 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.. Due to the late time, they all said 'call office to book'. Hey - I did that last-second scramble in Alaska and Jackson Hole in January, and it worked out well. Better leave a message so I can get squared away with another winner tomorrow!

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