(Un)inflatable Winter

At the risk of writing a (slightly) political article alluding to some opinions about supply chains and the state of the modern world, I wanted to share what (finally) arrived on my doorstep yesterday.

A box.

In fact, it was a large box, and a box I’d ordered … in June.

In June, we were undergoing record heat, the days were long, and ahead of us were all sorts of free summer weekends filled with plans and potential for getaways to the mountains or nearby lakes or anywhere our pandemic lockdown selves could reach in a car without crossing borders.

We optimistically ordered an inflatable kayak. And not just any old blow-up boat. We did some research, trialed some rentals, talked to people who know about these things, and ultimately invested in a fairly mid-to-high-end kayak made of sturdy materials and meant for real, practical outings.

It never shipped.

We received a notice about it being low in stock, then out of stock, then anticipated back in stock any day, and then a simple we’ll update you about your order when we have more information.

After a month of waiting we cautiously ordered a second (much cheaper) inflatable kayak … if only because we had lodged it into our hearts that we wanted to get out on the water in one form or another. Summer was short. Summer is always short. Had the first one shipped in the meanwhile we would return the second. Or, alternatively, keep it for the kid (there are three of us and a dog, after all.) But it seemed like summer was slipping away while we waiting for an invisible manufacturing or shipping problem to resolve itself.

The replacement arrived quickly, and so July and August were peppered with outings in our bright yellow inflatable dinghy-come-kayak, more of an oblong boat or a canoe-shaped raft toy than a proper adventure tool.

No word on the first kayak.

We went out once in September but already the weather was starting to cool and the risk of falling in the water and chilling too much was not sitting well with my practical sensibilities on the noob kayaker front.

Still, no original kayak arrived.

October came and dwindled. On some of my morning runs I noted that the creeks had a layer of ice on them already as the overnight temperatures consistently dipped into the sub-zero freezing range. I packed up the big yellow kayak into our winter storage space and resigned myself to start thinking about snowier sports.

Then on Halloween, a shipping notice arrived in my email, and a few days later a big cardboard box was dropped off on the front step.

The original kayak had arrived.

Just in time for winter.

Just in time to drop it into my storage space … and dream about next year’s kayaking adventures.

Whirls Clear Water

by powerful strokes
levering solid against fluid
an oar pushing on crystal water
delving deftly and deep
by muscular heft against molecular drag
plunging paddles
scooping by effort to counter friction
blurring stillness into motion
unseen effort into swirling chaos
below the calming tranquility
of a kayak drifting upon the lake

– bardo

I have reserved some space on this blog each week to be creative, and to post some fiction, poetry, art or prose. Writing a daily blog could easily get repetitive and turn into driveling updates. Instead, Wordy Wednesdays give me a bit of a creative nudge when inspiration strikes.

Inflatable Summer

Our adventuresome summer is nearing an end as the last day of August brings that calendar page flip into sharp focus. The final third of the year is upon us once again, a time when the days turn shorter and crispier. And as hoped my writing and posting reprieve has given me a healthy backlog of blogging fodder which I’ll be dishing out over the next month or so.

Case in point: for us it took an unexpected turn into the summer of inflatable adventures.

Early summer, we bought two inflatable kayaks.

Mid-summer, we received just one.

Therein is a whole other story about the modern state of the supply chain and the demand for recreational equipment these days which I am mostly unqualified to write about. But if you’re reading an adventure and lifestyle blog, more than likely you are already familiar with the undersupplied market for bikes, skis, PFDs, things that float, things that grill, and all manner of consumer sporting goods.

We managed to snag one kayak from that panic, so for that I am grateful because the kayak we did receive quickly became a driving fixture in our weekend and holiday plans, stuffed in the back of our small SUV and pulled out at a dozen opportunities, both planned and emergent.

We inflated that bright yellow tandem boat beside multiple lakes, lakes in the mountains or on the prairies, out on open beaches, or pebble scattered shores, or on the grassy, wasp-swirled picnic areas while picnickers looked on curiously.

We bought the dog a floatation safety vest and she seemed to have found a curious comfort nestled between my knees as we rowed across the still waters of many random lakes.

We bought life vests, paddling gloves, and started talking seriously about things like paddle length and water clarity.

That first kayak has turned out better than I had hoped when I held my nose and clicked the “buy” button. After all, I had been comparison shopping kayaks for a few years, weighing the pros and cons of higher-end inflatables versus simple hard shells, comparing costs, transport and storage realities, quality, price, and a hundred other little things. The first kayak was us settling for something “cheap” because of those supply chain issues I alluded to earlier. We took what we could get.

The second kayak, the one for which the stalled shipping status never did change to a tracking number (and is still sitting in a vendor fulfillment queue somewhere!) is a kayak of marked superiority in both quality and function at least compared to the basically-a-toy rubber first kayak we did receive.

Yet the first kayak has brought us a heap of entertainment over the last month or so. I still check the delivery queue for the second almost daily, even as the days get colder and the kayak opportunity dwindles alongside the wait, but I’m all-but resigned to the one we have.

If I have learned anything of note from the experience of “settling” for a lesser product (and I don’t intend for that to sound entitled, merely that putting good money into bad equipment has always sat poorly with my frugal mindset) not getting the one you thought that you wanted after a couple years of thinking, planning, saving and eventually buying something, it is this: mediocre equipment is better than no equipment.

It is better to be sitting upon the water of a gorgeous mountain lake rather than standing on the shore watching. It’s better to have that inflatable summer than not.