One day when I have the time I’ll get my bone-on-bone knees replaced. I almost did about five years ago, but then decided I had better things to do with my life. In the meantime, I ache, I throb, I creak, I cringe, but I still manage to eke out a very happy and active existence. On any given day I can walk five miles, ride my bike 30 miles, swim 50 laps and lift the middle-sized Styrofoam weights in my water aerobics class.
However, I can’t run. I can’t jump. I can’t stand for hours on end and I have to be ever- conscious of my movements. But, I’ve learned to deal. Like when I am pedaling away through Saddle River Park and a floating piece of something gets caught in my knee cap, I simply dismount, put my left leg up as high as my right and left arms can lift it, drape it over a park bench, massage the floater back into place and get back in the saddle and ride another 15 miles. I can’t skip down the stairs so I just do the senior-citizen, same-foot shuffle, one step at a time. I can’t weed the garden without my old-lady bench and haven’t been able to get on my hands and knees to scrub a floor since the kids hit middle school. I can’t jump off my roof if I have to escape a raging fire like I did in college, but the odds of that happening again are slim.
All in all, I have my aching bones pretty well under control.
Or so I thought. Until I tried stepping from a dock into a dinghy.
In the beginning of August, my ever-loving spouse and I went on road trip to Maine. We hadn’t traveled together in the same car at the same time to the same place for selfish purposes in quite some time. Years of being pulled in opposite directions with opposing children put us out of practice. But when we got the invitation to spend a weekend with my spouse’s favorite cousins at the wedding of one of their lovely children, we didn’t blink an eye before booking our room in the inn overlooking Sheepscot Bay.
The wedding was as perfect as we knew it would be. The weather, guests and family members all collaborated in cheerful jubilation. The bride was beautiful; the groom was dashing. The parents were proud; the buddies were beaming. The food trucks were awesome and the dogs were well-behaved.
After blueberry pancakes on Sunday morning, we bit adieu to the newlyweds and their entourage and headed north to Rockland to meet my college roommate, Betsy, and her husband, Tom. The plan was to go sailing for the day, then drive south to Higgins Beach to Betsy’s family’s house and stay for two nights
Betsy and Tom are ruggedly efficient outdoorspeople. My spouse is one of those robust and resilient Outward Bound alums who excels at anything remotely athletic. And then there’s me. I’m sporty. I like nature. I appreciate beauty. But I have my limits. I’m kind of a priss when it comes down to it.
I’ve spent my fair share of time on the water. I’ve canoed, kayaked, ridden in speed boats and been on more cruises than I can count. But I’d never been sailing. And while it was not on my bucket list, I knew my spouse would love leaning precariously over the side of a sailboat as he learned the basics from master mariners. And I knew that Betsy and Tom would be the ultimate sea dog hosts, enthusiastically sharing their love of the sea with someone who could appreciate their passion.
And I could come along for the ride.
Betsy has known me long enough to simply shake her head at my intense aversion to sand, and to play into my need for knowing exactly what I was getting into.
“Don’t worry. There’s no sand at the marina,” she told me. “Wear sneakers, bring a jacket, sunscreen, a hat, maybe a beach towel and that’s it. Leave your phone in the car. You can help sail or just enjoy the day.”
I did exactly as she told me, except I broke two rules. I didn’t bring a hat. I have never worn a hat in my life and wasn’t about to start. And, I opted to bring wear my flip flops and bring the sneakers along to put on if and when I needed to. Because, despite how often I get cold feet, having hot feet can drive me to drink.
When we reached the marina I grabbed the canvas LL Bean bag that had been packed up as my sailing day bag for over a week. We parked the car and headed to the dock where Tom was waiting in the dinghy.
Tom and Betsy share a sailboat with Tom’s siblings and consider cramming together in close quarters a vacation. They had just finished a week-long sail up the coast of Maine and for much of the time had other human beings eating, sleeping and peeing on the boat.
Tom tossed my spouse the week’s trash and asked him to take it up to the dumpster, instructing me to get in the dinghy while he was doing that.
Now, the dinghy is a little wooden boat named Sandy. It has a little wooden seats and little wooden oars. And a little wooden bottom. Tom was pulled up flush to the dock, but it was a step down. A big step down. For someone with two bad knees and a fear of the unknown.
I clutched my carefully-packed canvas bag and asked Tom what to do.
“Just get in the boat,” he said. “Just step in the middle.”
And, so I did. Or I thought I did. But whatever I did, I did it wrong.
Because, there I was, spread-eagled with my right leg in the dinghy and my left leg on the dock. The dinghy tilted and tipped and water splashed in Tom’s face. He didn’t yell. He didn’t laugh. He simply grabbed the dock to steady the boat. And I took the plunge, knowing I had a split second to keep from a landing a full-out split. I leaped into the hull of the boat, landing on all fours, one leg twisted behind me under the little wooden bench seat, the other in praying position. I turned my head in time to watch the little canvas bag go bobbing away in the bay.
A quick-thinker, Tom grabbed the bag with an oar, saving one of my favorite blue Nikes, orthotics intact. The other sneaker floated off, under the dock.
Meanwhile, inch-by-inch, I managed to right myself. I wasn’t scared of broken bones or bruised egos, but just that I’d capsize the boat completely. But somehow that didn’t happen.
“Let me take you out to the sailboat and then I’ll go back for your spouse,” Tom suggested.
I climbed red-faced up into my college roommate’s warm embrace, a task infinitely easier than getting down into the dinghy. Betsy cackled as I told her about my traumatic take-off. But,efficient first-mate that she is, when she saw the soaked specimens that I had so painstakingly packed, she got right to work wringing out my wet belongings.
“I did bring sneakers like you told me,” I promised.
And with that, the boys rowed up, soggy shoe in hand. In a life-defying maneuver, Captain Tom was able to rescue the runaway, and unsinkable Nike from under the dock.
I settled in to my seat on the sailboat, vowing not to make a move for the rest of the afternoon. My spouse got right in on the action as I knew he would and learned to do whatever it is they do on sailboats when the captain yells, “Hard-a-lee.”
I sat in my corner, holding on for dear life as we glided across the picturesque Penobscot Bay.
And eventually, the serenity of sailing got the better of me and I bravely made my way to the front of the ship, sitting on the point which I’m sure has a real name, with my dear old friend. Two Betsy’s, as different as can be, watching the world go by while our ever-loving spouses sailed us around on a picture-perfect day.
Tomorrow I am heading out on my yearly cruise with Penny (aka Patty). And while she’s been a wreck about the impending hurricane, I’m way more concerned about the excursion we have booked in Bermuda.
We’re going sailing on a catamaran.
But maybe this time I’ll have an umbrella drink or two before I board.