Two reporters walk into a kayak rental shop....

How we learned to handle pressure with a plastic paddle 

Victoria paddling away from her worries
Credit: 
Supplied by Victoria Gibaon

One summer’s day in the brick-walled offices of The Kingston Whig-Standard, a sleep-deprived reporter slammed her fist on the desk, looked up at the coffee-strung intern sitting across the room and yelled, “I want to go kayaking.” 

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Not between the two interns, but between them and the sea. Okay, Lake Ontario, if we’re being particular. You could call it our odd transition from 20-something females to middle-aged dads contemplating our existence during the equivalent of a weekly fishing trip. 

Between the pair of us, we were juggling four full-time jobs and 18 credits of summer coursework. We know we weren’t alone. In a handful of months, thousands of Queen’s undergraduates will be handed their degrees and vaulted into an uncertain world. 

As Arts students especially, loitering spare time feels like a luxury reserved for those with a guaranteed path. Spare time is for filling with extracurriculars, academics, applications, test prep, and for us, somehow managing to get this volume of The Journal on its feet. 

In this strangely-constructed mindset, kayaking fit. Even while stationary, you’re moving. You’re propelling forward or paddling back. You’re floating with the waves even when sitting perfectly still. You’re fighting against the current or accepting its direction for the day. 

While we could turn this story into an ode to the ‘serenity of nature’, it wasn’t the glittering waves or Kingston’s cityscape — awe-inspiring as it is — that made the difference. 

For one, we put down our goddamn phones. After signing out a kayak, we’d trade in our keys and cellphones at the Ahoy Rentals hut on Ontario Street for a pair of lifejackets. The disconnect from responsibility was forced by the fear of those same job-essential cellphones being damaged, rather than an actual inkling to let go. 

Working full-time as daily reporters, our cellphones were our lifejackets for the job. Finishing work every day came with a sigh of relief, then the anxiety would build whether there was a story — let alone a good story — to write the next day. The trend has become more and more common. Nine-to-five day jobs aren’t left at the office at the end of the day, but taken home. We check our emails, send a few messages and then check again. 

Consider this the story of how we traded our work lifejackets for ones that actually kept us afloat. 

Kayaking was an activity that, for Jane, forced her to forget everything else in conquering her fear of drowning. For Victoria, it was a good chance to yell where no one could tell her to quiet down. 

For both of us, it was a chance to talk, really talk, without anyone else in earshot but the ducks. For two people who spent all summer together, this was our chance to hash out things we had never talked about elsewhere — often, because they just weren’t relevant to the manic to-do lists we’d been hammering through all summer. 

As the weeks went on, we wish we could say we improved from an athletic standpoint. We can only applaud the patience of the blonde-haired, perpetually-tanned lad who signed out our vessels each time and sent us on our merry way. 

He always helped us launch and dock the kayaks, assuring us that we “looked great out there.” We appreciate your perjury. Victoria is still sorry for whacking you with a paddle. It was an accident. 

In fact, the only time we ever showed any paddling prowess was when one of us was determined to tell the other a story about corpses that the other, weak-stomached participant really didn’t want to hear. 

It was a noble getaway attempt, though feeble. What happens on the lake, stays on the lake. 

The point we’re trying to make is that, among an emotional roller-coaster summer of trying to get information out of bureaucrats, receiving hateful emails, pestering the military for comment, working through cases of sexual assault and fumbling through the process of becoming adults, the hours spent out on the water made it all doable. 

Before our first escapade, we were truly at our wits’ end. As 20-somethings, you hear a lot of the word ‘no.’ Rejection and stress are nearly expected. Though we can paint a rosy picture of the wonderful memories in two kayaks this summer, we shouldn’t have been forced to take a break for fear of waterlogging our electronics. 

It was honestly the first time in the summer either us said ‘stop,’ and we learned that we could’ve done so a lot sooner. Taking a breath doesn’t have  to come in a backpacking excursion across Europe, or a trek up a foreign mountain. There was breathing room close to home once we stopped to look for it. 

For the pair of us, all we needed was an hour. We came back better for it, and nothing had set on fire or broke to pieces in our absence. At most, we missed an email or two.

Not to sound hyperbolic, but being out on the water was the first time in a long time that we felt, well, free.

It wasn’t just being cut off from the worries of our lives, but also the feeling of being able to decide where we were going, and to get there under only the steam of our own strength. In the middle of the lake, you can see the Kingston skyline, the city we wrote about every day. You can pick out the peak of City Hall, the towers of the churches and the spaces that could one day be filled with high-rises that caused such an uproar in the newsroom this summer.

There it was — what felt like our whole world. The city was delightfully tiny from our vantage point — in two little kayaks, halfway between the city and the islands. On one occasion, we were bold enough to paddle all the way to Wolfe Island and back, leaving the city even smaller still. Once you can pinch City Hall between your fingertips, what happens inside feels much more manageable. But, with the winter months coming, we can’t go kayaking anymore. 

We can’t go running and slipping into Lake Ontario, to be cuddled by the waves as we did on the days the wind was too strong. On those days, our previously-mentioned charming friend refused to rent us a kayak. He knew he’d have to come rescue us.  

So maybe, as the weather cools, we’ll take up squash. It’s probably best to look up from your phone while balls fly at your head.  

Or, maybe we’ll just look out the window at the water and remember how life looks from inside a plastic vessel — that Jane swore was going to capsize any second. 

Whatever we choose, while the ducks head south for the winter, we’ll alter our routine as well. We’ll stop every once in a while, turn off our phones and accept that life is more than an endless to-do list. Or, at least, we’ll try.  

It isn’t easy staring life head-on, or making the transition from full-time students to semi-functioning citizens of the world. It’s easy to run away from your problems when they get to be too much. 

Instead, we just kept paddling, whatever direction the literal and metaphorical current was going that day. We always made it back to shore.

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