Thor Heyerdahl. Leif Erikson. Amerigo Vespucci. Vasco da Gama. Cap’n Quint. Princess Moana. The Fed Ex guy from Cast Away. These mighty explorers braved the open sea in the name of exploration, discovery, adventure, salvation, and/or Because It Was There. To millions of Americans, water travel is an exotic activity best left to professional captains and drivers while the rest of us assume passenger positions and let others choose our paths and our destinies.
But I understand that sometimes taking charge of a vessel and setting your own course can be quite fulfilling and build confidence that you can draw upon in future endeavors. And when a lovely lady like my wife wants to try something completely different, something involving animal-shaped things and scenery almost as beautiful as her, I really, really like to make that happen for her if it’s within my power. And sometimes even when I think it isn’t.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…
One of the more interactive activities in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is Team Chessie, a fleet of four-person dragon-shaped paddleboats available to rent for short excursions into a generous but clearly demarcated section of water. (Fun trivia: “Chessie” is a portmanteau of “Nessie the Loch Ness Monster” and “Chesapeake Bay”.) Over the past few days we’d walked back and forth past their kiosk and seen them from any number of angles while visiting other attractions.
Anne really wanted to try the dragon boats. They looked fun. We had money in the budget. They had charming faces. I had my doubts. We’ve ridden a paddleboat at least once before — a Swan Boat in Boston’s Public Garden, where a trained professional did the pedaling for us. I’d never helmed such a craft myself before. Granted, each paddleboat is equipped with a pair of pedals to allow for a pilot/copilot team effort. It’s not like I would be alone out there while Anne stayed standing and just kept yelling at me, “STROKE! STROKE!” On the other hand, if our dragon went belly-up or was rammed by an oncoming water taxi or spontaneously exploded, and if we survived impact and if heartless seagulls didn’t pick that moment of weakness to strike, then I would still have a problem because I can’t swim, unless you count my skill at doing the backstroke a foot below the surface, which is the best they could do with me in high school gym class. And I don’t pack a snorkel.
But Anne wanted to do it. We do a lot on our vacations, but sometimes we don’t get to do all the things on her personal wish list. Many of our stops on Day Four had been my idea, not hers. I couldn’t find it in me to say no. And besides, every so often I need a challenge, whether I like it or not.
As we approached the kiosk, I psyched myself up for our experimental voyage and prayed to the Lord for guidance, strength, or at least a top-notch rescue squad on standby somewhere out there.
We donned our mandatory flotation vests — which thankfully come in my size — boarded the dragon they chose for us, posed for our lead photo, and were given approximately fifteen seconds’ worth of navigation tutorial. Pedal the pedals, steer with the handle, try not to run into things, and don’t go out of bounds. With these scant tips we would have to train our dragon.
It sounded simple offhand. We headed out, clearly didn’t die, and took several photos while we were on the go. We take pride in the small joint victory that neither of us dropped our cameras or phones in the water.
I’d had my doubts, but we did it. Our first attempt at self-service paddleboating was, by objective if modest measures, a success. Admittedly it’s easier to say that in hindsight months later. I would like to tell you that we learned an important lesson in that moment, that we congratulated each other for an awesome experience over dinner later, and that we ended the day on a high note of euphoric victory. I really, truly would.
To be continued!
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