Bay Crossing Revisited

I recently took a break from my weekly blog posts because all of my spare time had been devoted to organizing and accomplishing a different goal. This past Saturday, September 22, at 6:30 am, sixteen paddlers (8 stand-up and 8 prone paddlers) set out from the Santa Cruz Harbor on a journey across Monterey Bay in hopes of arriving on the other side at Del Monte Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. It was my second time in less than a year to cross the bay on a paddleboard. We were gifted with a lifetime memory and mother nature’s awe-inspiring beauty.

We were able to witness humpback whales cruising closely toward us and breaching in an amazing fashion before diving deep. Dolphins erupted from the water and put on a display straight out of Sea World. Miles of continuous baitfish (sardines or anchovies, I can never get them straight) boiled up to the surface as we paddled right through them. Not long after, we trepidatiously traveled through several miles of orange nettle jellies, the type that sting with their tentacles. Some of us were fortunate to wear long sleeve rash guards and avoid innumerable welts. Others were not so lucky. Two paddlers were visited by a couple of blue sharks that were just curious but obviously not very hungry. At one point, a black-footed albatross, with a wingspan of 6-7 feet, glided down and landed on the water just off our side. What a treat that was because it is rare to see an albatross actually land as they spend the majority of their lives in the air.

The months of training leading up to it, in all conditions, really paid off because we definitely experienced an array of marine I conditions. The first 20 miles the ocean surface was smooth and glassy and the air was thick with fog. No land could be spotted in any direction. It was a unique feeling to be out on the open ocean paddling over deep water canyons and having that sensation of just how small you are in the scheme of things. Then conditions changed rapidly and the wind began to blow out of the west at 15mph. You might think that would be a good direction to blow us into shore. Instead, it became a side wind that created waves to push us off course. The last 8 miles required everyone to dig a bit deeper in their already exhausted muscles to continually correct their course to Monterey. Very similar to Heartbreak Hill at the end of the Boston Marathon but about 7 and a half mile longer.

The reason for this paddle was to help others not as fortunate as ourselves. We raised money and awareness for a local non-profit named the Living Breath Foundation. This group tirelessly assists families and individuals battling Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a disease which affects the lungs, digestive and immune systems. It is a disease which reduces life expectancy to a fraction of the average. It gradually takes and takes, until the sufferer can only be an observer of the life which they used to lead.

28 miles. Over seven and a half hours of constant paddling in 57-degree Alaskan current. Yes, our arms ached and several people became hypothermic. 5 paddlers were sick, one with bronchitis and another with a 102-degree temperature. Yes, feet fell asleep and stinging tentacles amassed on our forearms. Yes, the conditions turned sour sooner than we preferred. Yet, we kept on going because one thought kept returning to everyone’s mind. No matter what adversity we faced, it was nothing compared to what a person with CF has to endure daily. We paddled across the bay because we could. We paddled for those who could not, not for ourselves. That is some of the best motivation going. If it is true that you can judge the person you are by the people with which you surround yourself, then I am a very blessed and grateful person to live the life I love.