SEA KAYAKING THE CROATION COAST (continued)
By Walter Cumming
Each day, as we worked together as a team and I learned more about our 11 team members, my respect and feelings of camaraderie grew. I always find this phenomenon when traveling. Total strangers become intimate partners within days and even within minutes of working together to solve problems.
(left to right) Jaki “Mitsi” DeGeronimo – The youngest member of the team, Jaki is a lythe, athletic, shy but deceptively ambitious millennial. In her early 20s, she started her own company, a trendy coffee house on the upscale Island of Kiawah, South Carolina.
Larry “The colonel” Ryan – A retired Lieutenant-Colonel, Army ranger, Larry was the oldest, most experienced, well read, educated, and to me, mysterious yet respectable member of our team. Currently living in Seattle, he was my room-mate for the 7 days in Croatia and a rich conversationalist and solid, well-adjusted companion. We had read the same books, James Michener, John McPhee, Pat Conroy, Ambrose Bierce, David McCullah, but he remained a mystery to the end. I didn’t push, like a good journalist would, but he may have survived traumatic combat in Vietnam. He was fluent in Croate having lived for a year in the Balkans with a government organization in the 1990s during the Bosnian war. His business card reads “Construction Manager Facilities, Engineering & Acquisition Division – Naval Facilities Engeneering Command”. I have no idea what that title means, but I do know I am indebted to Larry for volunteering to paddle my solo kayak for me across 6 miles of rough seas to Dubrovnik our last day; an act of courage and sacrifice knowing that I was not comfortable in the solo boat.
Kelly Rodgers and Zach Isaacs. – A nurse with her nurse husband Zach, they both live in Anchorage Alaska. This may be way off the facts, but I’ll call them “gen X” (thirty-forty something?) cultural San Diego raised, by way of Dubois Wyoming where Zach, like me, built buck fences, and we both climbed the Owen Spaulding route of the Grand Teton. Kelly had a magnificent tattoo of a colorful tropical bird on her right rib-cage .
Steve Harrington, second in command as NOLS instructor, lives in San Francisco, was an immaculate model of NOLS professionalism. A multi-skilled outdoorsman with expertise in sea kayaking, backpacking, rock climbing (we both had climbed the famous overhanging free rapell move on Mount Yonah Georgia!) Most noteworthy about Steve (whose email address is “be wise, be brave”) was the fact that he very deliberately withheld his full time profession from the team until the last day (something like Captain Miller in “Saving Private Ryan” withholding his profession as a high school English teacher). Steve’s competence and compassion displayed itself daily , from his sincere interest in my art, to his stoic enduring of a hand wound (he smashed open a finger loading kayaks without complaint). The only other skilled vocalist on the team, Steve and I harmonized “No-where Man” together while cruising choppy seas our last day. A married Presbyterian Minister (we learned our last day). Steve’s best quote was describing the difference between Outward Bound and NOLS: “ By the end of an Outward Bound course, every student has cried at least once, and on a NOLS course, the lead instructor has learned all his student’s names.”
Paul Loudermilk- Another millennial, Paul was an affable, athletic, energetic, IT professional, working for a small start-up in Houston TX. Recently divorced, we bonded over Croatian beer and pizza in Dubrovnic, trading personal details of our divorces and women. Our stories were very different but, despite our age difference (he was my son’s age) we shared a common male bond . Also, as a graduate of NOLS semester in Patagonia, we had plenty of NOLS “war stories” to share.
Lynn Petzold – (No relation to Paul Petzoldt ) Trip leader and, unlike Steve Harrington, Lynn is a full time NOLS instructor. A graceful athlete, a competent and qualified instructor and leader with innate feminine instincts in relationships and communication, she was also quite glamorous in her black evening dress at our goodbye dinner in Dubrovnic. Most impressive about Lynn, though, was her “grace and courage under pressure” guiding the entire team of strangers for three hours through choppy seas while sick (intestinal bug our first night left her very weak but functional ) on our challenging traverse from Broce to Lopud.
Nicole Pearce – The third of four Alaskans in our group, Nicole lives in Fairbanks and I regret not getting to know more about her. What struck me about her was her contagious laugh, which, when I was paddling bow with her paddling stern, her laugh always erupted whenever a big broaching wave threatened to capsize us. Also, I loved her dialect which was similar to Nicoles (maybe unique to Seattle and the Pacific northwest ?) . It was a very slow cadence with an almost equal emphasis on each syllable (“Ya – know – what – I – mean?)
Bill “Hayduke” McCrossen – Fourth of our four Alaskans, an avid photographer (Bill was up at first light every morning with his tripod as I was with my sketchbook) he lived in Steward, Alaska but grew up in New Jersey. I privately dubbed him “Hayduke” after the gruff, eco-terrorist hero from Edward Abbey’s “Monkey Wrench Gang”. Bill declared with a certain working man’s pride that he got laid off from an oil rig job, just after buying his round trip plane ticket to Croatia so decided “What the hell, I’ll draw unemployment and backpack around Europe for a few months after this NOLS course!” Most memorable about Bill was a borderline misogynistic joke that the men laughed at but not the women.
“If childbirth for a woman is supposed to be more painful than a kick in the balls for a man, then how come women keep deciding to have babies after childbirth and no man has ever asked to be kicked in the balls a second time?”
Nest post- “Terror on the Adriatic- Day three sea kayaking the Croatian Coast”