My Grandpa's Kayak


My grandfather bought the kayak back when I was in high school. It's a small, lightweight
single-seat lake kayak that's red with an orange stripe. It was just what he wanted, a
kayak to use just to putter around the lake near his home. He and my grandma drove down
to San Diego from their house in Nevada to buy it. My dad helped my grandpa load it into
his truck, but before that, he joked and said grandpa should test it out in our swimming
pool. So Grandpa did just that. We all laughed and my dad gave Grandpa a beer to enjoy as
he paddled around the pool.

During the summer of 1998 I got my first job working for the Forest Service at Lake
Tahoe. The house I stayed in was at the Tallac Historic Site right on the south shore.
Grandpa and Grandma came up to visit me and they left me the kayak to use for the
summer. I spent many afternoons puttering around the south shore near the mouth of
Taylor Creek. One Friday afternoon I loaded up my sleeping bag, tent, and some food and
water and set off on a longer journey over to Emerald Bay and there I found a campsite
on the southern mouth. I pulled the kayak onto shore and set up my tent and there I ate a
sandwich for dinner and then watched the sunset then slept the night. In the morning I
packed up and explored the length of Emerald Bay then headed back home.

The most wonderful thing about kayaking in Lake Tahoe is the water is crystal clear and
turquoise blue and you can see up to 80 feet below the surface. Kayaking on Lake Tahoe is
surreal and is almost like flying.

Many times after that summer, as I traveled to jobs in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and
then back to California, I've thought about buying my own kayak. My family has always
been big into boats. My parents built a kayak when they first got married and when I was
younger we had a ski boat. My dad has always dreamed of owning a sail boat but currently
just owns a sea kayak.

My grandpa started suffering from macular degeneration in the late 90's. He is now
legally blind and it's been very hard on him. Even as his vision deteriorated, he'd still go
out in his kayak and ride his motorcycle. Eventually, though, those activities became
impossible to do safely. So this last Thanksgiving Grandpa gave me the little red kayak.
It's a little more beat up than last time I saw it, but it's still sound. I finally got the
chance to take it out for a spin yesterday, I've been meaning to do so now that nearby
Lake Success has filled up as is typical in the springtime. So I set off from the tip near
the marina in the late afternoon and paddled towards the bridge where Highway 190
crosses the South Fork arm of the lake. As I paddled under the bridge the swallows who
had made their nest there took off flying and swooped down towards me chittering and
scolding me all the while. As I cleared the bridge it got quiet again and I got into the
rhythm of paddling.

I love kayaking almost as much as I love to hike. The regular swish of the paddles in the
cool water is akin to the beat of your feet against the earth. And there is something
wonderful about self-propelling yourself through the world. You notice so much more about
the plants, the animals, and the environment when you hike or kayak (or canoe, raft,
snowshoe, or cross-country ski) rather than encasing yourself in a metal automobile. You
feel more rewarded when you arrive at your planned destination. And the exercise is
energizing.

I paddled up the South Fork quite a ways, weaving my way between driftwood and willow
tree, then as the sun fell lower in the sky I turned homeward. It was a little tougher
paddling back as the breeze was now hitting me head on. But with just a little more effort
I made it back to where I had let off. As I got out of the little red kayak and pulled it
onto shore I vowed to come back to the lake on more afternoons. It was a relaxing way to
end the day and I thank my grandpa for giving me the kayak and the memories that go
along with it.