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driftwood dweller
Home by the Sea. Photo Axel Schoevers.

Baja 2008

Three Days to Guerrero Negro

Previous paddling Adventures
Rocks, Water, Action!
The Wave of a Lifetime

Baja Guiding & Travel
Manuel's Memory
Catavinia Mountain Bones
Will Shoot for Coffee

Sleeping Outside the Box
Stalking the Wild & Graceful Chanterelle

Breast Cancer & Recovery Updates 2006 & 2007
BC Updates--Requiem for Lefty
BC Updates--A Pirate Emerges
BC Updates--Office Party
BC Updates--Amazon Pirate

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Notice to Those Seeking Clarity
and better resolution in the photos:
This entire website was created at the distant end of a 24Kbps dial-up connection that runs along a pasture fence, through a leaky dirt-floor barn and into the window of a 1971 Winnebago. Images were compressed so that this poor laptop, grunting and panting, could squeeze them through that line and into the big world. If you like what you see and want a better view, come paddling where the action is!

More Stories- "Steady as She Goes: Women's Adventures at Sea" from Seal Press contains one of Ginni's stories, "Fourteen" about building a wooden kayak and paddling it in the Sea of Cortez. Order from your favorite local bookstore.

High-action DVD "This is the Sea" features Ginni in some surfing exploits, and many other kayakers from around the world demonstrating sea kayaking at its most exciting. Order through Columbia River Kayaking or one of the many kayak shops on the links page.

first fish in the Sea of Cortez
Baja Fish Tacos. Photo Matt Willis.

Three Days to Guerrero Negro with Abraham Levy
Jan 10-13, 2008

Abraham Levy is kayaking the entire coast of Mexico. He has already completed the Caribbean side and now paddles some weeks south of Tijuana.

Ginni Callahan is taking a two-week break from guiding and coaching in the Sea of Cortez to surf with Dave at their favorite break on Baja's Pacific coast.

January 9, 2008, Abraham paddles by the surf camp too far out to see, lands some miles south at a fishing village, and begins to set up camp.

In the village, Nacha and Sergio are preparing fish tacos to sell at the surf camp when they notice a brilliant yellow and orange kayak pulled up on the beach across the road from their house. They invite the handsome, travel-worn kayaker in for food, hear about his mission, and bring him to the surf camp, along with their fish tacos that evening, to meet some other kayakers.

At first he doesn't look familiar, but his journey rings a bell. Yes, the guy paddling around Mexico. He was mentioned in a Canoe & Kayak magazine given to us because of a feature on Ginni. We swap notes on coasts we've both paddled, gather information on new places, trace our fingers along nautical charts by the dim light of our headlamps. Questions, answers, English, Spanish. The energy builds like a wave.

"Que remas?" I give him a tour of my Romany kayak. Abraham follows with video camera. Then the interview. Como se llama? Ginni Callahan. Donde estamos? At Rancho San Andres. Que piensas sobre este viaje? Sounds like fun. I want to go!

It was an offhand remark on my part. But a serious invitation followed.

Just after sunrise the next morning, a dirt-encrusted blue pickup lumbers over the rocky road towards the fishing village of Santa Rosalillita carrying one light green Romany kayak on the roof. David has decided not to paddle three days to Guerrero Negro with this ambitious young man, and Ginni, yes.

Nacha and Sergio serve us all a warm breakfast of eggs and beans and tortillas and homemade salsa. Some fussing with gear, some goodbyes, and Abraham and Ginni take to the sea, each with their own style of entry.

It's a two-foot beach break, dumping all at once onto a moderately steep, scalloped beach. Abraham puts his kayak in the low spot, on the sand, enters, and inches forward with his hands until a wave meets him and he can paddle through the little break. Less traditionally, Ginni waits at the bow of her kayak on a slightly higher hill of surf-rounded cobbles until a medium-sized wave washes up to the boat. She pulls it down with the retreating water, hops aboard on her belly like a surfer to paddle a few strokes past the breaker zone, sits up, and slides her legs into the cockpit.

"Nunca lo he visto eso." I have never seen that before, says Abraham. It was one of many firsts.

Santa Rosalillita falls behind as we head towards the distant point. The coast between Santa Rosalillita and Guerrero Negro is not a part I'd choose to paddle this time of year. January brings the biggest swell and chance of the worst winds. The route has few landings and miles of steep beaches that are completely exposed to the predominant NW swell. One landing is a surf spot they call The Wall. It's where surfers go when they want to catch the biggest waves.

Abraham sets a good pace and evidently enjoys having someone to talk to. We drift toward whichever side I'm on as I try to keep the boats just far enough apart to avoid hitting paddles on each others boats at the exit of each stroke. We talk the whole day, and there is much to learn about each other.

He loved beaches as a kid and wanted to know all the beaches in Mexico. What better vehicle than a kayak? He learned to paddle in rivers. Pursued sponsorship of his dream for four years before finally launching his expedition. Continued learning en route along the Caribbean, and the Pacific would teach him even more.

Even more than a paddling trip and a dream, this trip is his business. "If you want to do well at anything, you have to learn how to sell," an uncle once advised. Abraham learned to sell telephones door to door. Trying to sell his trip to sponsors he discovered that nobody wants to support something little. Make it big; ask for lots of money. His success is grandly evident in the boat he paddles, brightly smattered with logos. The shirt he wears for interviews has his sponsors printed on it. The wall behind him at speaking events is papered in logos. "If you want to do anything badly enough, and you keep working at it, you can do anything," he declares. That smile doesn't hurt a bit either, I'm sure.

The sea is gentle with us, and after three hours of sociable paddling we approach The Wall. An old river mouth a mile in width, forms a NW point which magnifies the swell. Breakers begin tumbling well offshore because of the long rocky reef. Arrecife, in Spanish. The rolling of rr's sounds like the rumble of surf at a distance.

We take turns being taller than each other on the lifting swell. "Soy mas alta." "Ya no."
"I know why they call this place The Wall," says Abraham. "These are walls of water."
There are also walls of rock on land, built by surfers as meager protection from the frequent winds, which mercifully forget to blow while we're there. Ten miles is Abraham's shortest day yet, but we have plans to surf in the afternoon.

Abraham, for all his miles, has never just gone surfing. Surf is a door for him to pass through between beach and sea. I, on the other hand, live on the beach and paddle the sea so I can find fun places to surf. So it is to be for the 3 days we paddle together to Guerrero Negro: two skilled paddlers with different strengths, different perspectives, different backgrounds, and different languages, yet plenty enough in common to relish the playful sharing of company.

If the wave is gentle and hard to catch, especially if you're starting far down the shoulder, aim towards the breaking part of the wave to catch it, then turn and ride with it. Abraham learns quickly. On a wave too big to see his head as he rides it (from my perspective further out to sea) I can follow the trail of his kayak moving towards the peak, then back away in a perfect reading and riding of a wave.

Dinner involves some strange combinations. Freeze-dried Mountain House Sante Fe Chicken (his contribution), and Mexican staples refried beans, fresh avocado and tortillas (my addition). The world of the burrito has never seen the like. Abraham breaks out his camping luxuries for the occasion-a short aluminum table, a foldable plastic serving spoon, and a titanium spork. A pair of osprey watches us from their nest in a nearby datilillo, or Joshua Tree. The nest is much bigger than the spindly, bent trunk should support, which makes it look like a Dr Seuss invention.

Darkness brings the setting of a red crescent moon, then photo sharing. On my camera, we see shots of Abraham surfing. On his phone/camera/marvel of technology, we see his entire trip. Stars revolve slowly past this private showing of a very publicized trip.

The image in my mind that exemplifies Abraham Levy will never be seen by any other. With my camera in my pocket, I paddle for my own survival as we leave The Wall the next morning. I summit a wave, slide down the backside, and look over my shoulder for Abraham. Through the crest of the wave bursts an orange and yellow streak, water streaming off as it soars completely airborne into the morning sunlight. This man has the muscle and grit to make his dreams fly.

Scale is deceiving on the water, especially with the low sunlight angle of winter. Abraham, with his poor eyesight, thinks the hazy distant point which alone populates our southern horizon, is Isla Cedros, some 60 NM away. I disagree. The day will reveal it as we get closer.

Intensive talk of day one diminishes, as it usually does. Spanish practice switches to English practice. Abraham fishes and catches some Sargasso, but no fish. The wind picks up and then dies back down. Still we paddle. A gull inspects us so closely I almost whack it with my paddle by accident.

Shore is over 2 miles away, and we are an island. The island sings. It sings poorly in English. It sings quite beautifully in Spanish. Traditional songs, sad songs. Sometimes the island is quiet and moves slowly along its course. "You don't feel so far away when you paddle with someone else," says Abraham. This is the first time he has paddled with someone on his entire trip.

The headland turns out not to be Isla Cedros, but Morro Santo Domingo, a long rocky point with several little sandy beaches near the mouth of Laguna Manuela. Most of the pocket beaches have big surf crashing onto them, but we work our way around into more protection and find the perfect one under the lighthouse, whose position is mismarked on my nautical chart. Everything about the beach is right. It faces south so we can see sunset, sunrise, and tomorrow's paddling direction. The sand is clean and lovely for going barefoot. Red rocks embrace the evening sunlight with a most satisfying hue. The flat sand at the top of the beach is just large enough for two kayaks, two tents, and a common eating area. A trail leads up the hill to the lighthouse. And, for the businessman, signal for the phone and internet actually work for the first time in ten days. We can sit on the beach and GoogleEarth the upcoming coastline. Who needs those old-fashioned nautical charts?

It's quite an undertaking, kayaking the whole coast of Mexico, especially solo. In the Caribbean Abraham had to shelter from hurricane winds in a patch of mangrove, constructing a platform above alligator-infested waters for the night. Further north on the Pacific he had to crash land through big surf when winds made it impossible to continue. But he'd never seen anything like the mouth of the Estero de San Jose. Our destination Guerrero Negro is situated inside this bay.

Estero San Jose is one of several lagoons along Baja's Pacific coast, most famous for the gray whales that calve and mate here from January through March. Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Laguna San Ignacio, Bahia Magdelena.

As we approach Estero San Jose, the entire horizon is house-sized breakers. They tumble and tumble without getting closer to the coast. Two forces collide to make it thus: swell and current.

Earlier that morning could tell that the swell is building on our beach below the lighthouse by the tremendous crashing of waves on our eastern rocky point. "Such power without malice," comments Abraham. "Beautiful."

Paddling towards the boca, the entrance to the lagoon, we follow a compass bearing of 170 degrees. We need this reference because we can only see land occasionally, when we are on the crests of long swells. Even from the tops of waves, we can't spot the 2-mile wide entrance because of the flatness of the sandy coast and the height of the breakers between us and there. The primary view is green, undulating sea, and each other. We won't know until we check the online report in Guerrero Negro that the swell was 19-22' on exposed NW-facing beaches, which this is.

Current is the other force. Living on the beach, in the surf, one gets in tune with the rhythm of tides. I didn't have a tide chart, but could calculate that if we left the beach at our usual 9 or 10 am, we'd fight an increasing ebb current as we tried to enter the bay around 1 pm. Having had experience at the mouth of another Pacific lagoon, I suggest we aim to enter before 11am, and get an early morning start. Abraham is young and strong and does not need to plan around tides, so we leave at 10.

The bocas of Baja's Pacific estuaries are notorious for their power and their shifty channels. I have the only nautical chart between us, and it shows four light towers, none of which still exist. This is the opening through which much of the world's salt was once exported, so I envision something tamer, something less… well, less Baja. The horizon of tumbling white houses extends well over a mile out to sea. There is no visible channel of deeper smooth water. Breakers from the current meet the breakers along the sandy beach where more big swells trip over themselves and fall into a white froth. It's a bit more than I have prepared myself for, so I adjust my mental calibration of "gnarly landing" as we approach. About then the wind begins building and pushing us shoreward.

"Plans?" I ask the man whose trip I have been invited on. He seems surprised by the question. "You're the guide," he says, as if my certifications mean more than his experience.

I have been working on a plan, which we both execute cleanly, though I wish for a ready camera once again and miss a fun shot of a small orange and yellow kayak in front of the open mouth of a hungry wave. Between sets of very big waves, I surf a shoulder-high one in to the shore. I look over the back of it and see that image, then hear the wave break, and see him skimming along broadside with a mighty fine brace keeping him just in front of its gnashing teeth. Once inside the bigger breakers, we paddle parallel to the smaller inshore waves for about 15 minutes until we think we see the entrance, take a quick look about from shore, and spot a channel to follow into the mouth. Mission accomplished, except for a few small breakers inside the mouth and 2 more hours of paddling against the current to meet David for our ride into town.

As it is with travelers, the sharing of a path, however briefly, has its influences. Abraham gleaned some skills along the way. For me, another piece of the Pacific coast is mapped in my mind. Before the forces of the sea, I am again as ever, humbled. Yet have gained in a feeling of peaceful confidence. I have been stretched and challenged and found myself capable, though at the end, mortally tired. The experience has broadened my awareness of what is and can be the business of kayaking, though to guard my heart and soul, I don't even want to think about it. On some level I agree with Abraham's uncle that you have to sell to succeed; I just don't want to live my whole life that way. Not much of it at all, really.

Paddle on, Abraham. May the sea be gentle with you.

Follow Abraham's journey at www.abrahamlevy.com

Coast Agave. Photo Ginni Callahan.
Sleeping Outside the Box
April 2004

To awaken briefly in the night to the sparkling eyes of the sky-lover
And catch his face turning toward morning.

To nestle into cradle earth,
Lumpy but comforting,
The birthplace and resting place of the matter that makes us.

To be kissed by the cool breath of morning.

Then arise to a roofless, wall-less
As big as all the air
With a living carpet of water
White fringed and textured.
The warm chandelier arcing in its track,

And wings. Wings and a vessel to ride
The living carpet
Wherever wind and whimsy blow
Or to prop a lazy head upon and watch
The patient chandelier make art of mountains.

Ending of the Eclipse of Venus
April 2009. Photo Ginni Callahan
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Rocks, Water, Action!
Along the California-Oregon-Washington Coast with Axel, October 2004

Dutch BCU coach Axel Schoevers well outranks me in skills and coaching certifications, but I have more experience with Pacific Ocean swell. The importance of this became vividly clear to me when Axel and a Pacific Ocean set find themselves sharing a long archway. The 17' plastic boat he paddled into the 16' wide tunnel is tossed about like a toy as wave after wave blasts through. Between waves, I can see glimpses of action. The yellow bow aiming skyward, the hull rocking about (that would be the bottom), the whole boat spanning the tunnel without touching the water below it, pure churning white with no boat, finally the bow moving in an undirected, unmanned kind of way, and then the deck of the empty boat. Hmmm, one says to oneself, this is not a promising start to a journey.

When the set subsided, I paddled my little wooden boat back through the tunnel, clipped my short tow on the wallowing banana, and dragged it out the far end to Axel, who was unhurt, but worried about the boat, which was mine. I dumped it out, he climbed in, and we went to a beach nearby to inspect.

Just a flesh wound. A few scrapes in the bow and stern, a few pieces of rock embedded, a little bend in the deck, a little gap between the rim of the day hatch and the deck easily repairable with duct tape and a float bag for security. Some dry clothes for Axel, a few moments of heart rate reduction, and we were back on the water. This became the event that we got the most conversational mileage out of over the next few days on our journey from California to Washington. We decided it was a good 5-star rescue precipitated by poor 5-star judgment. Thereafter we conscientiously exercised good 5* judgment. (5* is the top award in British Canoe Union skills & leadership.)

The Mendocino coast is the domain of rock arches, including one 4-way with the intersection open to the sky. We explored and played, and surfed a little bit in a protected cove. One set wave came in when I was waiting beyond the break and Axel was heading out through the impact zone. He said something I didn't quite catch (perhaps it was in Dutch), and leaned on his paddle with long arms. The wave jacked up and crested, obscuring my view of Axel in the bent banana. Suddenly out the back of the wave, through the green middle of it, a yellow projectile launched, with a yellow and red-clad passenger bent over the middle and white streams of water flying off. For a moment it was completely airborne in a snapshot of high drama.

After a quick tourist visit to the Redwoods, we found ourselves on the legendary southern OR coast. This is the secret frolicking ground of sea stacks and offshore rocks. Mazes of them. Playgrounds of them. We used them to full advantage, sometimes riding between as a swell compressed its way through. We stumbled upon sleeping seals, which look like kelp until you're too close. They float vertically, noses out of the water, bobbing on the swell with eyes closed and nostrils rhythmically flaring.

The rest of the Oregon coast was unfriendly as we drove up it, with 13' swell and high wind. We mused that state lines were not drawn for land features like mountain ranges or large rivers, but for cloud formations. From southern OR, we could still see sunny skies to the south, and the partition of gray. Upon crossing the Columbia into Washington, we surfed ourselves silly in the sunshine. We found the holy grail of sea kayak surfing spots inside the mouth of the river, and covered an awful lot of mileage in 200-yard increments.

One particularly foul Oregon night, Axel dispaired of putting his tent up. So we turned my pick-up into a 2-bedroom motor condo. He, being taller, scored the back with its stinky wet gear (my usual domain), while I enjoyed the front with its picture window.

Now I'm home, cozying up to computer work, or out puttering in the garden in the short sun of winter, or walking the woods in bright clothes so I'm not mistaken for an elk. Axel's in the Netherlands undergoing a common recovery program for NW winter tourists, involving a heater and a stack of gray photographs.

Axel's webpage

Frisco Bay
The City by the Bay. Photo Axel Schoevers.

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"How does this seat adjust?" Trys Morris gets creative.
Photo Axel Schoevers.
Stalking the Wild and Graceful Chanterelle
Skamokawa, 2004

They flit through the forest like nymphs with golden wings.
They bound over soft hemlock duff and mossy logs,
Through the latticed fronds of sword fern,
Giggling in small joyful voices that sound like wind.

Enter the human footfall, and mischief ensues.
The wild and graceful chanterelle holds its breath,
Flutters to the ground, and assumes the yellowed shape
Of an alder leaf.
Disguise complete.

Only the slow, the aged, distracted, or lazy are caught
Standing like one-legged like birds
Or snoozing half tucked beneath a moist dark log.
Only they fall to the hunter's knife.
Only they ride the great cycle of
Everything connecting to everything
In this method:
By passing between human lips.

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Baja Pacific
Baja Pacific. Photo Ginni Callahan.
Manuel's Memory
Feb, 2004

There is a Mexican girl in my kayak. Thoughtfully she paddles, and with good form, and takes great interest in running the kayak into buoys. She fits the wooden boat well, gracing its strong lines with her straight posture. I sit in a borrowed SEDA, watch, and offer encouragement in my simple Spanish.

Al-Lin's father Manuel was the kind of person who comes along rarely. A kayaking enthusiast without access to courses, he taught himself to roll from a video. As a guide he was generous with his energy, time, and beaming smile. Once after a trip, he, Marta, and I were doing our glamorous guide duty of cleaning the port-pottie, and discussing what we wanted to be in the next life. As I handed the loaded throne down off the van roof, Manuel caught it and said he wanted to be me, but as a man.

Why? Marta and I demanded.

Because I want to be that good in a kayak, he said, but I want to marry my wife again.

We paddle up the point into a building breeze, the girl and I. A long island lies to the east, with one small puffy cloud floating in the middle of it. Al-Lin asks the name of the island. Carmen. She knows Danzante Island, to the south, from her one trip with Manuel.

She wants to be a guide someday, like her father. That was also his last wish. That's why I'm here. Life rewards in funny ways; it takes so it can give. After cruelty, simple kindness feels so sweet. This moment I hold in my heart as one of life's odd rewards. Here's to the memory of Manuel, and to the beauty of broken sun on the water as his daughter glides her silhouette across it.

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jetty A
Ginni on a Columbia River wave. Photo Axel Schoevers.
The Wave of a Lifetime
(Very nearly the last) Baja, 2004

Wave faces stand more than head high to a surfer, some double that. Little wavelets dance up the concave walls, and a mane of white spray flies off the tops in the offshore wind. I decide it's perfect kayaking weather. Evidently, not much isn't.

Surfing against the wind, one must descend the steep part of the wave just before it breaks to get enough momentum. Spray whips into your face, making breathing and sight all but impossible. Surf by Braille.

Occasionally a set of waves bigger than the others crashes through. I was already outside of the lineup of surfers when the set of the day rolled in. The first few waves caught all the surfers inside, diving for safety below turbulent foam. Alone and sprinting to sea for all I was worth, I saw the monster wave of the set loom up behind the others, white teeth bared.

I cranked on my fat-bladed paddle as if it were the last thing I may ever do. I know what it's like to cartwheel a sea kayak in waves half this big, and I wasn't looking forward to making kindling out of my homemade boat.

The eternal moment crawling up the steepening face of that wall replays still in my mind. The romantic emerald mountain of water, crystal crest leaping for the sky, my brown bow piercing it, the orange paddle blade stabbing desperately forward towards hope. Then a last gasp of air, throwing my body forward and flat against the kayak, and blackness. A feeling of weightlessness, then falling. I waited in a knot of apprehension to be pummeled to my death, but nothing happened. Passage into the next life had been surprisingly painless! Out of habit, I rolled up and there discovered that I was alive. The wave had passed. The set was diminishing.

I breathed deeply, thanked my angels and the offshore wind, my fat-bladed paddle, and anything else I could think of, then began the humbling, upwind grind back to shore.

That wave was the talk of camp later that day and the next. A San Diego lifeguard, recounting the story to Martin and Jorge, Mexican owners of the camp, said the whole kayak fit easily up the face before it punched through the falling lip, and the entire lifeguard reunion was up on the edge of their camp chairs ready to engage rescue mode. Classic longboarder Shelby said it was at least a 10' face, until he learned my kayak was 14', and grudgingly added, "maybe bigger."

Whatever the numbers, I figure it was a good time to cash in on one of those nine lives.

Baja Hwy 1
Baja Hwy 1. Photo Ginni Callahan.

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Alejandros petroglyphs
Pacific Petroglyphs. Photo Ginni Callahan.

secret passage to uncharted pirate's island.
enter with due warning and at your own risk

Catavinia Mountain Bones
Baja, April 2004

Near Hwy 1 stands a singular pile of rocks in a vast plain. The rocks are tan and round, and have long beckoned me to climb them, to conquer the small hill.

So this year we did, my driving companion and I. The sun was sliding towards the jagged western skyline when we set out across the desert. We agreed to turn around when the shadow of the hill reached our truck parked by the highway, which should be plenty of time for this simple jaunt. We zig-zagged between thorny dry plants, bobbed down and up across tiny ravines, made a game of following each other's increasingly convoluted footsteps, laughed, and watched for rattlesnakes.

By the time we reached the base of the hill, the boulders had grown. Small ones were the size of pick-up trucks, and big ones could have been houses. Their smoothness offered few toeholds. We picked our way carefully, looking far ahead. Soon we modified our goal: not the top, just the nearest ridge.

Far more intimidating than the climb, however, was the fall, or the potential of it in every gap. This was no hill sprinkled on top with rocks, like a cupcake with non-pareils. These were the bones of mountains which the vultures of time had stripped clean, leaving only boulders and hollows.

I lowered myself into the darkness near the foot of the hill where decent was easy and reversible. The floor was flat, the labyrinth complex. Light inquired from several distant portals, but discovered no answers. If I ventured in, upon what would I stumble? The leathered remains of a destitute highway bandito? The flickering silhouettes of a band of indigenos as they moved about their timeless fire surrounded by red and black picture stories on the yellowed walls? Fear tethered me to the portal I'd entered.

Back in the lengthening daylight, we picked our way along. With every hard-won advance we made, the boulders before us loomed larger and further apart, the crevices deeper. With every advance, we appreciated more keenly our profound insignificance.

Our goal continued to evolve, and eventually sounded something like retreat: We're satisfied with having been here; mountains look better from a distance, anyway. Let's see if we can just get back to the truck. And we did, without incident except for a brief visit with a dun-colored rattlesnake on whose coiled back was stenciled a map of the labyrinth beneath the mountain bones.


honeymoon cactus
Honeymoon Cove. Photo Ginni Callahan.

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Cindy in the Gorge
Cindy in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo Axel Schoevers.

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Index of Stories
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AJ catches one
AJ rides a Pacific swell. Photo Ginni Callahan.
Ginni and Steve Scherrer talk kayaking.  Is there ever another topic?
Talking with Steve. Photo Axel Schoevers.

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Unexpected Adventures: Breast Cancer & recovery updates
Puget Island, December 2006

Health is one of those things often taken for granted, and keenly missed when it's gone. Yet when health is challenged, it gives a chance for family and community and friends to be appreciated for the treasures they are. In a surprising turn of events this November, this normally healthy kayak instructor was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a rapid procession of tests and consultations, I had a mastectomy on Dec 12. Radiation and chemotherapy will be ruled out completely on Dec 20, but are extremely unlikely. I consider myself lucky on several accounts, from how they happened to find it in the first place, to the supportive network of family and friends who have been so encouraging, to the probability that I'll make it to Mexico for part of the season after all.

Take care and paddle on!

December 7, 2006
Requiem for Lefty

We're celebrating tonight, though it feels funny to celebrate an impending mastectomy. The pathology report from last week's biopsy led two doctors from two separate facilities to recommend a simple mastectomy without radiation, with chances of needing chemotherapy extremely unlikely. Both said I should be able to head to Mexico to guide in a little over 6 weeks. No radiation, no chemo, and yes to Baja, in my book, are great cause for celebration!

I was so happy when we got home that I dragged David on a frolicking sprint over our jogging course :) For the first time since biopsy surgery last week, I feel like myself-I have energy! Whether last week's slog was the weight of the unknown or simply recovery time, I don't know and don't really care. It's past.

I'll be having a mastectomy on Dec 12, with first follow-up visit on Dec 20. I will be able to rule out the minute chance of chemo for sure Dec 20. I'll probably have drain tubes in place for about 3 weeks the Doc says, which would end early January. Then more visits to determine if I should start hormone treatment, and how I take to it, if so. Early Feb I'll get back in shape physically, and head down to Mexico!

David is staying here with me, helping and inspiring in so many ways. We'll travel south together as soon as I'm ready. I'm very thankful to be such a lucky gal!

I know the road isn't over; it's just begun, but I want to thank everyone who's sent a thought or prayer or informative, encouraging word, or offers to help in various ways. One thing I feel more than ever is the connection with loved ones, a strong community of family and friends.

In case you're interested, the pathology details are as follows: Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS, a non-invasive cancer limited to duct tissue) extending beyond the limits of the biopsy sample in all directions. Because they don't know the extent to which the cancer has followed the ductal system, they recommend mastectomy over a kind of blind lumpectomy. I'm comfortable with that.

In a way I'm lucky because this kind of cancer rarely makes a detectable lump or anything visible on mammogram or ultrasound, but I happened to have a cyst in that area which the doctors investigated sufficiently to discover this. They were surprised at the report because the two are not necessarily related. Being an aggressive DCIS, the doctor believes it was a matter of time before it managed to metastasize to other places. We will monitor the other half of my early warning system, Righty, over the years.

Because my personal goals are long term health and high level of function achieved as soon as possible and as simply as possible, I am opting not to pursue reconstructive surgery at this time, possibly never. It is most important to me to be active and strong, and if I look a little lopsided, well, that's just character, isn't it? I wonder if I could get away with wearing half a bikini top like a pirate's eye patch?

Paddle on!

December 12
The Pirate Emerges from Battle!

Back from surgery, a little lighter. Good spirits and ability to get around. Ran into paddling buddy Dan Haghighi as we were entering the hospital this morning. Just happens that he's chair of surgical dept there. He told my docs to take extra good care, and checked in on me throughout the day, which was a wonderful reassurance and pick-me-up!

There had been some miscommunication in advance about pre-surgery time and procedure so that I missed having a radioactive tracer injected to aid in locating my sentinel lymph nodes for biopsy, but after consultation with my surgeon, whom I've come to know and trust throughout this whole journey, we decided to proceed as planned. The nodes were located with blue dye and all went fine. Blue urine afterwards was a little surprising until I remembered why!

I remember two things as I was waking up, but can't recall which was first. One was Dr Dan touching my left hand and talking to me in a reassuring way. The other was waking up with a realization of what had just happened and feeling tremendous grief whereupon a nurse placed a tissue in my right hand. In a few moments I noticed a giant poster of what looked like a lush version of Baja on the wall with palm trees and a white beach, then surprisingly I noticed it again a few moments later, and realized my mind wasn't as sharp as I thought it was.

Within moments I was in Recovery 2, the second stage, with David by my side. The surgery and recovery took about an hour 30, less than expected. Recovery 2 took about an hour as I battled nausea and a shaking of the legs when I'd let my body tense, which it wanted to do. If I consciously relaxed the shaking stopped. David read to me from the newspaper then from the book Five Acres and Independence. After I accepted some anti-nausea meds, I could actually engage in conversation and move my head and eyes. Shortly after that I refused a wheelchair ride, tapping out a little jig to prove I could stand ok, and walked slowly out to the car.

We're home now, in the milk room of the old barn, with heaters and bolero music and warm soup and cornbread from my neighbors the Stockhouses. I'm very thankful for them and all the wonderful friends, neighbors, and family who have all been generous in so many ways!

Paddle on!

Dec 13 2006
Goodbye party at the office

A banner hung over the doorway. "Goodbye Lefty" All the body parts milled about the refreshment table. Lefty's partner and best friend Righty had just finished making the farewell speech.

"Lefty, my bosom buddy, I'll miss you terribly! I'll have to keep abreast of matters by myself."

Applause followed, and cries of "Goodbye Lefty, we'll miss you, see you in the great by-and-by!"

But at the refreshment table the mustard heard other mutterings. Right Knee asked Left Knee, "Did you know Lefty very well?"

"No, just an occasional visit when the old boob stooped to say hello."

Left Foot, who was prone to grumbling about his job as well as making odd rhymes, said, "That's a little less weight I'll have to freight, not that Lefty was ever too hefty."

The Eyes, twins who never did anything independently, rolled together upon overhearing Left Foot. They agreed that the view would be different without Lefty in the picture, and would take some getting used to.

Gall Bladder was experimenting heavily with intoxicating concoctions and grew loose in the tongue. "Never met her, they keep me in the dark, you know. Maybe I'll put in a bid for her window office. Still, it's a shame the old gal's going tits up."

At a table, Lefty chatted with Spine, whom she'd never known very well since they worked on opposite sides of the complex. "Still," said Lefty, "I've appreciated your support over the years."

Skin had a big job, including contact with just about everybody at the office, except the Internal Special Forces. As a result of his constant protective duties, he was quite extended, but stopped in quickly to bid farewell. "Lefty, it sure has been great hanging out with you. Bon Voyage. I've got you covered!"

A chorus of Ribs twittered by. "We'll be facing the world without you, Lefty. We'll miss you!"

Al and his wife Viola wheezed out from behind the Ribs, "So long, Lefty. We've weathered the rise and fall of every breath together. All the best to you!" The rest of the lungs sighed in agreement.


Dec 25, 2006
Amazon Pirate

Not much reliable history has survived about the Amazons, so it is not surprising that some fringe elements escaped till now.

It is said they were a race of warrior women, much feared and fantasized about. So tough and single-minded they were that they removed one breast to better shoot their deadly arrows. Most were right-handed and therefore removed the right obstacle, but now we find evidence of a left-shooting combatant, known to us now simply as L.

We've heard that L was as fearless as any, taking even to the seas to pursue enemies, and occasionally to pursue such mundane things as food and beautiful sunsets. First she started in a one-woman boat she made of driftwood, but soon her maritime escapades grew to inspire whole fleets of salty sheilas.

Somewhere along the way our paddling archer L seems to have also lost her right hand, and replaced it with a hook, resulting in a truly pirate appearance and attitude. She took to the sea in whatever craft she could, calling her crew to action with a "ChaRRRRRRge the RRRRRascals!" or "CaRRRRRY on! And look lively now!" or agreeing with a hearty "ARRRRRRmen to that, Lasses!"

Truly, L was a sight to behold in the wild tossing of sea and wind, brandishing the hook and wearing the only left-handed Amazon bikini in miles-that is with the right side covered. Beneficiaries of modern technology we are to have digital time-travel cameras now (even though they are a bit fuzzy) and photographers brave enough to operate them!

The images that came back to us from the ill-fated photographer's transmissions were few-just one peaceful moment while the pirate flag was being hoisted before our man was pulled from hiding and hooked to oblivion. We honor his sacrifice. If we can find another adventurous soul, we may try to capture L in a more festive moment.

Because they may be disturbing, the surviving images are hidden deep in a cave on an uncharted island. Treasure seekers must negotiate the treacherous pirate's maze, designed to discourage all but the most determined. Neither journey nor photos are for the faint of "aRRRRRRRt".

Treasure Map:
the secret passage to the
uncharted pirates island .....
Those brave or ignorant advenuterers who may undertake this journey will not return...

The secret passage can be found beside a labyrinth of mountain bones, on this page


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