Watery Respite for an Overworked Arizonan

Nothing quite as refreshing as dunking oneself in a cold river on a scorching hot day.

The complications of one’s life tend to dissolve when one is actively engaged in physical exercise. You can’t lift a heavy box or bench two hundred or fight your way up Granite Mountain unless you’re focused on the job at hand. That’s what’s great about physical exercise. It demands concentration; the body – sole agency by which the task is performed – won’t have it any other way.

I’ve wasted a lot of breath bitching about Arizona and its “fake lakes,” but I’m here to tell you I don’t care if Clear Creek, scene of my recent kayaking adventure, is purely God-made or the product of human intervention. It’s the latter, but who cares? It’s delightful — and cold. The dappled river runs between rugged rock, a flickering display that even features real Native American petroglyphs at one point. You drift along on the water, sometimes not even having to paddle, just coursing down the way, then back to work paddling kayak style, bit of a shoulder and upper back workout describing figure eights in the air, dipping one oar into the water then the other.

All your problems drift along, objects in a meditation. Hmm … my agonizing about my wife’s imperfections … my sense of her own anxieties regarding my imperfections … complaints like assholes, everybody’s got one …

But look! Young people ranged on rocks, sunning themselves, drinking beer and smoking marijuana and jumping off cliffs into the water, swimming on this sizzling hot day. This is Navajo country, I deduced on the basis of all the coppery skin and lustrous black hair mixed up with all the crazy white people. What was happening all around me became the meditation.

Everything fell into place on this day. Bob Gitlin, Angry Loner, the man fighting a proud defense of his integrity and damn them who don’t get him, realized he has true friends in a couple that’ve flitted on the periphery of his life since he moved to cowboy country fourteen years ago. Repeating the same pattern as obtained for my father, I let Barb make social arrangements. Sure enough it was she who asked me whether I wanted to go. I did want to. Had my bellyful of my own company, and Barry and Cathy really know how to do the outdoors. We had a Mexican brunch at the juncture of I-17 and SR 260, then drove another hour to get to McHood Park Clear Creek Reservoir, in Winslow.

“Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona / I’m such a fine sight to see!”

Well maybe not as fine as when I was younger (or as Jackson Browne), but I did justice to my swim trunks. Not too bad for an old guy. Picture to prove it.

Wounded my pride more than anything when we decided to drift to the shoals and park our boats and swim, and when I got out of my kayak my foot touched down on mossy-slick rock and down I fell, backwards. The only physical damage was the bruised heel of my right hand, which made today’s gym workout extra challenging.

I rode for a while with my buddy, just me and him, so his girlfriend could get a rest from the Howard Stern he likes to listen to. I like Howard. So the girls rode in my SUV and I got in with Barry. I had felt a wave of drowsiness overcome me, maybe because I’d scarfed my huevos rancheros a trifle too expeditiously, but soon as I was in his truck, and even though I set the seat back to recline, I found myself overcome with the urge to talk. I was telling him about how my wife and I have problems, yadda yadda, like what couple doesn’t. And he’s telling me he knows, he knows. And it was good to realize I don’t have to hide everything. Such a thing as over sharing, sure. But I’ll get by “with a little help from my friends,” as Ringo said. Sometimes it helps to come full front and admit you’re human.

I tasted victory on this day. For one, I’d overcome my annoyance at Barb for making me have a life, and so I decided to really learn how to lash those two kayaks onto the roof rack of my Subaru Forester. Lord knows my wife spent enough at that trucker accoutrement place having them install those J-racks up there, and she spent a pretty penny buying good kayaks. Two times (at least; I’m trying to block it out of my mind), a badly secured kayak started to fall off the ride while in transit, on the highway!

It wouldn’t do. I decided to man up and do my homework. Over and over I watched a YouTube video about lashing a kayak to J-cradles on a top rack. At Barb’s more recent prodding, I realized I’d turned the vid off too soon. There was this other part. You also must belay the kayaks fore and aft. It’s not just lashing them to the J-racks, it’s using cord and S-hooks and what rudimentary knotsmanship you possess to secure the nose and butt of your kayak to hold-down positions at the front of rear of your ride. This I mastered. No more agonizing, timid crawling down the road afraid of another ego-busting, punk-anger-producing embarrassment, and some “real man” – the prototypical two hundred and fifty pound Arizona Trumpnik in shaved head and goatee riding by in an F-350 – having to come along to fix it.

I’m the real man.

I got a sunburn, but in most respects I put myself back together yesterday. I kayaked, I swam, I bonded with friends. What more can you ask?

Arizona summer, don’t end just yet.

Our love affair has only just begun.

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