Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Father's Day

This past weekend was a Father's Day extravaganza. It started on Thursday, when we went camping at the beach at El Capitan, just north of Santa Barbara. We've been there before, and we appreciated it so much we decided to go back. The camp sites are relatively large (Meaning that we didn't have to try to sleep five feet from our nearest neighbor's fire pit where people stay up until 3 am regaling each other with pointless stories at which time I drag my tired butt out of bed and very rudely tell them we have children trying to sleep -- who are actually still asleep at that point -- and can they please keep it down, already!? We had none of that, and we are grateful!)

Anyway, so we went to El Capitan and we had great weather. It stayed between 50 and 75 the whole time we were there. At night, of course, the kids played with the camp fire as much as they could until we had to banish them because they were being unsafe with their "poker" sticks. They wandered the vicinity looking for dead wood to burn (which we were later told by another camper that we weren't allowed to do that ... well, too bad!).

When we packed up, our van was filled to the brim. In actuality, for the two days of our trip, we didn't actually have that much by way of "necessities"; we had a cooler and a few small boxes of food with us and a single suitcase with clothes in it. But then all the camping gear had to go in: the firewood, the tent, the camping tote (with everything in it from a hatchet to pots to decks of cards), the sleeping bags, and the pillows. And then all the beach gear had to go in: the tote with sand buckets, shovels, and sunscreen; the beach umbrella, the beach chairs, and the body-boards. We recently purchased a trailer hitch to mount to the back of the van so we could put a 5-bicycle rack on it, which we put to good use (5 people = 5 bicycles!), which also implied we had to squeeze in the helmets into the van.

But the best part: my wife recently bought me a two-seater ocean kayak! This was something we've wanted for a long time, and she took a small bonus I got from work and invested it there as a joint Father's Day/Birthday/Christmas/Valentine's/Anniversary-through-2015 gift. She found a deal on craigslist or somewhere with a guy who was getting rid of his kayak because of a split with his girlfriend for whom he'd purchased it; he was selling everything that went with it, including the life jackets, the seats, the roller wheels, and paddles. My wife also bought mounts to attach to the van's roof (we didn't want to buy a trailer). So ... we had life vests to cram into the back of the van, too.

It was very full, and a real puzzle to assemble.

Camping, we had a blast. Aside from the fact that putting the kayak on top of the van is a real chore (bringing it down is surprisingly straightforward), we are very happy with it. I took it out four times this weekend. The first time went very badly. I had my oldest son in the kayak and tried to get through the breakers at high tide and it simply didn't go well. With everybody watching us from the shore, we were rolled and tossed and hammered with wave after wave until finally we were pushed back to shore with grim expressions on our face. It wasn't going to happen. My son just couldn't swim past the breakers and I couldn't haul both him and the kayak that far.

I tried again a little later when it seemed the waves had calmed (deceptively), and it went almost as badly. I managed to get the kayak out beyond the breakers by pulling it behind me as I dove and pushed through, and by the time I got out there, I was already exhausted. Once I hauled myself up on to the kayak, I started paddling upwind and up-current and actually went quite far out. The swells were high, and one time when I was at a bad angle to a swell and an adverse wind came, the kayak flipped beneath me and I was plunged into the water. The entire time on the water was a ceaseless battle to keep the kayak pointed the right way and to prevent myself from drifting too far down the beach where the rocks were.

Finally, after what seemed like a long time, but could only have been about ten or fifteen minutes, I turned around and headed back to shore. I was tired by this point, and with the wind at my back and huge breakers behind me, of course the kayak flipped as I came into shore. I planned for it and ditched away as best I could. After hauling the kayak up off the sand with my wife, I was shaky and cold and a little disheartened, but still happy that I had had the strength to get out there and make it back safely.

The third time was the next day (Saturday) during a low tide and much calmer waves. I went out with my daughter first, and we had a great time. We paddled out away from the shore and headed upwind and up-current.

She really enjoyed just bobbing on the waves and looking around.

After about twenty minutes, we headed back to shore and on the way in, we capsized again. Even with my specific instructions to jump away from the kayak away from the shore in the event of capsizing, so that the kayak wouldn't hit her, she wasn't able to do so as she just didn't think about it and also got tangled in the rope that attaches the paddle to the kayak. She was dunked soundly, and ended up underneath the kayak when she tried to come up.

After she finally got out, the next wave was upon us and it knocked the kayak soundly into her. I was really quite worried for her well-being, but after I finally got her extracted from the kayak and away from it, she was all smiles, laughing and giggling about the whole thing.

What an amazing little girl!

The last time I went out, I took my oldest son, who was quite reticent given his experience from the day before. But having seen his sister do it, and with his mother not giving him a choice, he finally hopped onto the kayak and I hauled us back out beyond the breakers. There, we started paddling out and headed towards some pelicans that were bobbing on the ocean a bit further out. On the way, we saw these dark shapes rising above the water in the distance, and after staring at it for a bit, I finally realized that they were seals leaping out of the water!

What's more, it occurred to me that I had seen dolphins the day before at about the same time of the day, and less than a minute later, here they came! We were at just the right distance from the shore to almost intersect the path of the dolphins, who were surfacing in the swells. We watched as three of them passed within about ten feet of us as they swam parallel to the shore. We turned and tried to follow them, but, of course, they were much faster than us. Still, what a great experience! I'd seen dolphins at Seaworld before, and "wild" ones at the ocean, too, but always from shore. This was something else!

Happy with our experience, we finally headed to shore. I fully expected to flip again in the breakers on the way in, but we managed to ride the kayak all the way in to shore.

My son was much happier, but being the pre-teen that he is, his praise of his experience was much less than effusive. I, on the other hand, was delighted.

We spent the balance of our beach time just sitting around doing very little. My wife and I mostly sat underneath the beach umbrella enjoying the sun, the sounds, and the sights, and even had some time to enjoy reading books. The children, of course, spent hours erecting sand fortresses with the aim of preventing the waves from overwhelming them as the tide rose. Of course they failed in the long-run, but they enjoyed the process even so.

We also did quite a bit of body-boarding, which is always fun. My youngest doesn't quite have the vision for it, yet, and after a few tumbles in the waves, he was reticent about going out. He had a wonderful time, anyway, with his sand trucks.

We spent almost all our camping time at the beach. When we weren't at the beach, we were back at the camp where the kids mostly just played in the fire. We inherited some wood from nearby campers who were leaving, so they had a great time burning everything they could. On occasion, we got them onto their bicycles and we rode around the campground. The weather was great, my wife did wonders with the food, as always; and it was a great time.

The only downside is that I still feel totally beat up. Having fought with the kayak and the waves, I have bruises from my top to my bottom. Seriously, even my toes hurt. I somehow managed to keep from getting sunburned, though, which is always a very good thing for me.

I believe that El Capitan is now my favorite campsite. If only it weren't so impossible to get reservations there ...

Yesterday (Sunday), was Father's Day. At church, all three kids went up to stand and sang the typical Father's Day songs, and it was fun to see them. The meetings were good, and I spent the rest of the day trying to milk the holiday for all it was worth (even at my wife's encouragement!). I would say stuff like, "I'm going to clear the table ... on Father's Day!" and the kids would squeal and make me sit down and then do the work themselves ... sorta. Towards the end of the day, it got kind of old with them, and they weren't quite as responsive as at the beginning.

We did try to play some games together, but the two older kids were a little grumpy because all they wanted to do was read their books. We played Skip-Bo, and my pre-teen got all huffy because his younger sister was *gasp* using some strategy and blocking his plays. Then we played Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, the DVD version, and the kids liked that, but that ended prematurely, too, when some fighting ensued. So, not altogether a peaceful day, but it was good for me to sit around and recover a bit.

My wife and I did call our own fathers, though, and expressed our gratitude and appreciation. We're making plans to see them in a few weeks, and that is always exciting for the kids. Both of our fathers are good men, and we are grateful for them.

My wife, too, is so amazing. I am so grateful for her and for all the hard work she puts into caring for our family. She's the reason I am a father, and I'm grateful for her in every way. I wish it were possible to express it better, and in a way that would last, too, so that she would feel truly uplifted, appreciated, and strengthened, particularly when the burdens of family life seem heaviest. I love her dearly, and thank her for who she is. And for my new kayak! :)

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