I think one of the better parts of hiking a long trail is the suffering. Maybe not the actual suffering, but certainly the moments of glorious turmoil where you get extra dramatic and think you’ve met your end. This is a story about Craig, me, and the fin above water between us.
We were priding ourselves on the ease of this endeavor. So many nice people helping us out, so much lucky timing for tide crossings. That was our first mistake. Just that morning we were speaking of it. We even had one 44k day where our first steps were an estuary crossing perfectly timed at an 8am low tide, and our last steps were another estuary crossing perfectly timed at 8:30pm. High five us! Weeeeeeeee! Look at us go, Mom!
Then we were sitting in the grass on New Year’s Day, feeling lucky for our hummus wraps, the generosity of strangers, and the km we had already covered for the day, when we realized we had overlooked a rather important feature coming up. It was a river crossing that required a low tide. Where we were sitting, we were 4km from it, and an hour past low tide. Maybe we could scurry and make it happen. Surely, it was worth a shot.
Then came the rain. Believe me, I don’t ever oppose the rain. There are times that my soggy feet make me a bit grumpy, but I always recognize rain as good. I want the trees to have it. I want the grass to stay green. There are few things in life I dread more than going thirsty, and I try to understand how the plants must feel in a drought. So rain, yes, but then estuary crossing, not so much. We arrived in good time, but the water had risen quite a lot. Craig and I were several meters apart, trying to negotiate our own path across the mud, when he started crossing the river behind me.
“I don’t know that it’s safe.” I said.
“I just want to see how it goes.” He said. I followed with hesitation. Thinking it’s probably a bad idea, but it shouldn’t hurt to check.
The water was murky, and moving quite a bit. It didn’t look super deep, so far. Craig was in the low thigh range, and I, closer to shore, was just at knee level when I saw this…
This is not our photo, but this is what we saw.
I tried to stay calm. “Craig, there’s something in the water!” It flashed again, as I spoke. Craig saw it. It was right in between him and I, so naturally, he went running away from it, toward the opposite shore. Which turned out to be deep! I watched helplessly as Craig fluttered around in circles, water chest high, backpack and all. After circling around, with a similar anxiety to a dog that can’t find it’s stick in the water, he resolved to make his way back toward me, and managed to do so without getting chewed on.
Reaching shore, we sat for a helpless few minutes. Now things were wet that we really needed dry, and we had a long way to go around. Things had changed a bit in the short hour since we were eating lunch and deeming ourselves a success. What can you do though? The ocean is queen, and she won’t let you get the impression that you control things. You don’t. You just step lightly and hope for the best.
From there it was a gorgeous forest walk for a few km and then a lot of road walking, not the pleasant kind either, and being off trail was unsettling. We rejoiced when we saw the ocean again, 3 hours later. If the estuary would have been timed right, we would have avoided that detour. It’s a great reminder. Heed the ocean. Don’t rely on being lucky. The next day I came across a quote that I know was speaking to me. “Good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.” -Thomas Edison.
During the walk around the river, we happened by a lovely bridge across the estuary that had just kicked us around. As we watched the water, the very same vision of fin appeared. From the bridge above, we saw quite well, that it was, in fact, the wing of a stingray. We marveled, we laughed, and we kept walking.