Dateland: Keep Paddling


“Oh, Jen, I’m so depressed.”

This was one of the first full sentences I heard from my new friend, Tinky, who was sitting in the front seat of our two-person kayak.

“Umm….how depressed, Tinky?” I asked nervously, staring into the ice-blue glacier waters of the Bay of Alaska. Tinky, who couldn’t swim and was terrified of the ocean, was partnered with me on this all-day paddle because I was the only person who made her laugh in the two days we’d been in the Alaskan wilderness. “Depressed enough that you want to capsize the boat and kill us both via hypothermia?”

“Depressed enough to think that’s not a bad idea,” she said, dipping her hand into the chilly water.

I had met Tinky on our van ride from Anchorage to Seward. Twelve strangers, most of us in our 40s and 50s, had piled into the van for our weeklong women’s adventure trip. As we all chatted merrily on the four-hour ride, Tinky, only 30-years-old and the youngest of our group, feigned sleep and didn’t speak for the entire trip. When we got to the lodge, she moodily walked the rocky beach alone and stared out at the sea.

While the other women gave her space, I sensed that she needed to be pestered. “Hey, Tink,” I said, dangling a wine bottle in front of her. “I made a bet with the others that I can get you to say more than three words.”

“You lose,” she said, grabbing the wine from me. But when I noticed her trying to suppress a smirk, I knew she would soon cave to my incessant charm.

By the end of the evening, she had confessed that she was not looking forward to any activity on our itinerary. She didn’t want to get on a horse, had no interest in climbing a glacier, and wanted absolutely nothing to do with the ocean.

“Then why the hell did you come on this trip?” I asked.

She looked up at me gravely over the rim of her wine glass. “Needed to get far away from my troubles, Jen.”

Tinky is a boyishly adorable native of the Philippines and Olympic fencer who moved to Phoenix to get her PhD in engineering. Clearly the thing she needed to get away from was some type of romantic drama. But she withheld the full extent of her heartbreak until we were alone in a kayak. In the middle of the frigid Bay of Alaska. With only one of us knowing how to swim.

Once you’ve settled comfortably into the warm, comforting waters of middleage, you forget the roiling, unpredictable rapids of young adulthood. As Tinky spilled her story of love gone stupidly wrong, I comforted her with tales of my ridiculous youth. None of my romantic humiliations could compare with Tinky’s drama, which involved her locked in a literal death match with a fellow fencer who stole her girlfriend, but I find that playing the fool always helps lighten the mood. By the time we were paddling for home, Tinky had shucked off her cloak of despair and was looking to me as her madcap role model.

“You are even a bigger idiot than me!” she exclaimed as we pulled the boat onto shore. “Yet, now you are very old and in a peaceful, happy relationship.” (Isn’t it awesome when 30-year-olds call 40-somethings old? When I questioned her about this characterization, she said, “Well, you’re older than many buildings in Phoenix.”)

“And, believe it or not, you’ll find that you won’t miss the drama. Just keep paddling. You’ll get there someday,” I said sagely.

“Yes,” she nodded. “When I am very old like you.” With that, I grabbed her and tossed her in the water that she was so terrified of. And then I dove in after her and saved her.

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