Autumn hit Maine with the force of a hurricane, and for once I’m not being hyperbolic. On August 27, Irene slammed into the eastern coastline of North Carolina, and started working its way north to the chorus of doomsday predictions and worried mothers, one of which happened to be calling my phone.
“Hey Mom, how are yo-“
“BRYN! OH THANK GOD! ARE YOU OKAY!?”
“Mom? I’m fine…What’s wrong? Is everything okay?”
“BRYN! THERE’S A HURRICANE COMING TOWARDS YOU!”
I looked out my window. It was sunny outside, with a nice breeze, and down on my street a lady was walking with her child in the stroller.
“Mom…I’m fine. Really. It’s not here yet.”
I heard a deep breath as she calmed down. “ Okay, well, are you ready for it?”
“Yes.” I said. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how to get ready for a hurricane, save for maybe buying a pair of goggles and kiddie floats. But I let that set of details slide.
“Okay,” she said, “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
I assured her that I was, and thanked her for the concern.
She got ready to hang up, then paused. “Bryn,” she said, “don’t do anything stupid…..”
“Of course no-“
Hurricane Irene was at one time projected to generate winds of over 100 miles per hour with a storm surge that could potentially bring an end to New York City. As Irene chugged up the eastern seaboard, and the media flew into a feeding frenzy, I received several text messages, emails and phone calls from various acquaintances, all wondering if I was okay. I assured them that I was (“but have you checked out my blog?”) and was somewhat befuddled when most of the conversations ended the same way as my mother’s: “Bryn, don’t do anything stupid.”
As I gathered my gear together, scanned nautical charts for the best places to catch the surf from the incoming storm, and secured a kayak on top of my car, I kept wondering what on earth they were talking about.
As it turns out, Irene headed inland and struck Vermont with more ferocity than my coastline. By the time it reached Maine, its’ strength decreased significantly. The day after what was left of the hurricane reached Bar Harbor, I awoke to sun and clear skies. I looked out my window, severely disappointed.
But then I heard the wind. Even in town, gusts were kicking it at 25-30 knots, which meant out on the water there would be some glorious swells…. which meant I wouldn’t be sitting in my house all day. I made some phone calls and soon enough I was on my way, a kayak tied to the roof.
I met two other Maine guides, Jeff and Chris, at a section of the park called Otter Cove. As we got out of our cars, we glanced out towards the open ocean.
“There’s some good action out by the rocks over there,” Chris said, pointing to the opening of the cove. The wind blew by me as I followed his arm. Sure enough, about a quarter of a mile out, I could see large waves crashing into the shore.
“Think it’ll be good?” I asked.
Chris shrugged. “Worth a shot!”
The three of us donned kayaking tops and helmets, loaded our boats, and then we were off. As we began paddling towards the open ocean, I could hear the sound of waves crashing. I suddenly realized I’d done something very, very stupid:
I had forgotten to turn off my alarm clock that morning; it’d probably wake up my landlord. I smacked my head with my kayak paddle a few times, muttering “stupid, stupid, stupid….”
We reached the opening of Otter Cove and faced the incoming waves. The swells increased until we couldn’t see over the top of them, and then lost sight of each other as we paddled along. The wind was blowing hard from the south and was almost impossible to paddle against. Every single swell lifted me eight to nine feet and then suddenly dropped as the wave moved on. It was like being on a roller coaster that could drown me.
We let the wind push us to the north, to a section of Mount Desert Island called Otter Cliffs. These are exactly what they sound like: cliffs lining the ocean, on which the massive swells were currently crashing with a vengeance. The point of our venture had been to ride some of these waves- surf them into shore. However, with the high tide, and complete lack of beach line, we quickly realized that surfing into shore would mean being caught between the waves and rocks….really big waves and really, really hard rocks. Instead, we opted to hang out just past the surf zone, catching the rim of each swell right before they broke into waves and smashed onto the rocks. This proved to be a thrill all in its’ own:
Each wave is, in itself, a circular movement of water moving in a certain direction (usually towards shore). What we think of when we hear the word “wave” is formed when the bottom half of that cycle becomes inhibited by the approaching shoreline. Thus, when we see a wave “crashing” on the shoreline, what’s occurring is the inhibition of the circular motion by decreasing lack of depth. This causes the wave to “crash” or close in on itself. For us to remain safe, while simultaneously seeking the biggest thrill, we had to ensure we were placing ourselves where that circular motion was at its peak (known as the “crest”), all while avoiding the whole wave-crashing-in-on-itself-with-us-squealing-our-last-words-inside-of-it part.
Thus, with each wave that came in, I felt myself lifted, suddenly elevated and moving towards shoreline at rapid speed as I talked to my fellow kayakers: “Wow, this is amazing! Oh man…oh man…look at those rocks! Look at these waves! Look at those rocks that are getting a lot clo- OH MY GOSH!” (Insert ferocious paddling and the squeal of an I-am-freaking-scared-to-death-Ohioan).
As the three of us paddled outside the surf zone, Jeff motioned towards the shoreline.
“I think we have some fans!” he said.
Sure enough, standing on the rocks was a small collection of people all looking in our direction, some of them with cameras. There were even a couple Park Rangers sitting and watching us; I’m guessing they had the rescue squad on speed dial. I can only imagine what the conversations must’ve been like:
First bystander: “Hey, do you see those kayakers out there?”
Second bystander: “What on earth are they doing?”
Park Ranger: “Being stupid.”
“Yea, it looks like they could get swept into the rocks at any moment!”
“Did you just hear that one squeal?”
“The one in the green…that looks like he’s from Ohio or something?”
“Yea, that one!”
Ranger: “Stupid Ohioans.”
As it turns out, my (newly employed) guardian angel did a pretty good job. As the day moved on, and the winds and swells died down, we edged closer to some of the rocks. Eventually, we decided to head in for the day, and paddled back to our cars, the sound of waves crashing echoing in the background.
As I drove back to my house that day, and apologized profusely to my landlord for the alarm clock that woke him up, the thought occurred to me that I had just kayaked in the remnants of a hurricane. It sounded like an adventure worth telling say -I dunno- on my blog (have you heard of it?). But then again, if it was posted online my Mom might be able to read it….
Man, I thought to myself, now that would be stupid.