I stopped at Trader Joe's to pick up some wine and noshes on Friday, before heading out of town with my girl peeps. "Have fun, and behave yourself!" said the cheerful clerk. (They're always cheerful at Trader Joe's. It's part of the job description.)
"Make up your mind," I said hilariously. "Have fun, or behave myself?" Aaahhh-hahahahaha. I do love my own sense of humor.
This group of peeps has vacayed together before; the stories are recounted in Vagina Dialogues I, II, III and IV. This trip we were down three members (four if you include L-Tiny): Vespinator moved to Germany (how rude), Rock Star is promoting her new CD on a 10-day Midwest tour, and the Professor is re-prioritizing.
We navigated Friday night traffic, met up with peeps along the way, and came up with the first catch-phrase of the weekend: "This trip is a well-oiled machine," J. Cool kept saying, "Well-oiled machine. Everything is under control and running smoothly." This, after she spent an hour-and-a-half driving less than ten miles from her house to my house.
We finally arrived at the cabin in the woods around 10 p.m., and we were more than ready to tip a glass of wine or two. Somehow we stayed up well past midnight--two of us until 3 a.m.--eating cheese and drinking wine with labels like Pirate Booty and Evil Twin. Our conversational topics included boyfriends, movies, kids, jobs, house renovating, and the pronunciation of "gor-GON-zola" and "PAP-ricka."
We also discussed our plans to go kayaking the next morning, which ONE OF US had spent HOURS researching and planning. After the long drive and several glasses of wine, the thought of spending a couple of damp hours testing our upper body strength against a swift current did not sound appealing to one or two group members. Actually, all of them, except me.
The next morning we again debated the merits of going kayaking on the scenic Pigeon River. The day was overcast and chilly, and the stakeholders were sort of inclined to noodle around antique shops and go to wine tastings rather than getting in touch with their inner outdoorswoman.
"It's so gloomy," one whined.
"My broken rib still hurts," complained the accident-prone one.
"I hate nature," said a third.
"Two-and-a-half hours?" they chorused. "My muscles are sore just thinking about it."
We put Skip, the cheerful and obliging shop-keeper at Kayak-Kayak in Holland, MI, on speaker-phone. "Tell you what," he said tinnily. "Come on over to the shop, and I'll drive you down to the river. If it's raining too much, I'll refund all your money." This was a more-than-reasonable offer, and we headed up to Holland. (Or is that down to Holland? I'm bad at geography.) It started drizzling, then really raining on the drive up, and Bob the Builder could not let it go.
"Here, E. Peevie," she said helpfully, "you can borrow my sunglasses." Beat. "They'll keep the rain out of your eyes." Squeak, squeak, swish, swish went the wipers as we followed Skip and his trailer of brightly colored kayaks down the highway.
"I'm just going to close my eyes and imagine I'm sitting by a fireplace holding a glass of wine," Bob said. I threw a Look at her, but even I was starting to wonder if maybe this was not a great idea after all.
"How far away is this place?" we wondered, as the miles blurred by; and the rain kept coming. We had thought it was a mile or two up the road, but--maybe because of the rain, and because of Bob the Builder's unrelenting teasing--it seemed like we were traveling to another state.
Finally, we pulled over and bounced down a rutted road. Skip backed his trailer up against the shore and started unloading kayaks. A tiny sliver of blue sky appeared, but the clouds kept drizzling, and we pulled our hoods and hats down over our faces. Skip pointed us to the life jackets, but reassured the hydrophobes among us that the river would rarely be more than a few feet deep. He pulled a blue tandem kayak off the trailer and dragged it to the water's edge.
"This one's ours, J.Cool," I said. The others were all taking singles, but J.Cool has back issues, and I had volunteered to be her chief paddler. We climbed in, and Skip pushed us off the shore. We paddled out into the middle of the gentle current and waited for the singles kayaks to join us. Spike found a rhythm easily, and quickly turned out into the current; BrokeGirl wasn't very far behind.
But Queen and Bob the Builder, OMG. They spent some time talking over paddling strategy with Skip, and then he pushed them away from the beach. Bob headed straight into the weeds on the opposite bank; and Queen paddled in circles. Bob freed herself from the river flora, turned herself around, and paddled back across to the other bank; and Queen paddled in circles.
J. Cool and I drifted and watched the unfolding drama of Urban Girls v. Pigeon River, periodically calling out to them supportively. And by "calling out to them supportively," I mean "laughing hysterically."
"Shut the eff up!" Queen yelled, somehow switching from clockwise circles to counter-clockwise circles.
Eventually, the comedy portion of the kayaking expedition ended, and our group meandered down the Pigeon River. The sky drizzled, stopped, and drizzled some more; the sun made occasional promises, but failed to deliver. We disturbed a great blue heron, who lifted up from the shallows and spread his blue-gray wings against the gray-blue sky. A hundred yards further down, we startled his mate, who also flapped languidly away. A pair of wood ducks floated in the weeds, barely glancing over as we paddled by.
"This is my new favorite sport!" Bob the Builder allowed, and I maturely resisted saying, "I told you so!"
After an hour or so of paddling, drifting, and floating downstream, we headed back upstream to our beachhead, where Skip was waiting to pull us ashore. I think he was a little surprised that we had stayed out as long as we did in the not-so-accommodating weather; or maybe he expected one or more of us to die a watery death and not return at all.
"Way to go, ladies!" he called out cheerfully as we approached the beach where he waited in the shallows in his shorts and Keens. "I'm so proud of you! Next trip you get half off!" He clearly enjoyed putting people on the river.
"I'll bet he's a retired bond trader who left the big city and opened up the little kayak shop that he had always dreamed of," profiled BrokeGirl. Sure enough, when we asked him, he said he had retired from Goldman Sachs and moved from New York a few years earlier.
I love my peeps, and I could not be more grateful for their friendship and the opportunity to hang with them, away from the chaos and responsibility of real life. But as it often happens, I was also grateful to come home to my little family, to eat grill-marked hotdogs with them, and to listen to my delicate flower of a little daughter belting out Bon Jovi's Shot Through the Heart in the shower.
NOTE: I borrowed the heron photo from NJ Bird Photos which has hundreds of really fabulous photographs.