It is a strange name for a kayak. The Happy 4th. This Old Town Otter 8 foot powder blue and white kayak that I purchased soon after returning from a one year sentence to hell in Baghdad, Iraq in 2005.
The choice to purchase this kayak changed my life.
Rebounding not only from two other war zones, a divorce, and a bitter long custody battle for my children I was looking for a way to find some peace in my personal world.
I have always been the adventurous type. I had taken a couple of white water raft trips and had rented a kayak a few times prior to this impulsive purchase. I had dreamed for years about exploring the rivers and lakes near where I grew up in Northern Minnesota.
Growing up a farmer’s daughter there was no time in the summer between herding sheep and boosting bales of hay on our family farm to experience water hobbies.
“Those things are for rich people and we have no time for that.” I can still hear the voices of my parents as I asked to join such a water party one summer.
It felt like I was doing something very wrong the day I saw the powder blue and white Old Town Otter at a local sports store. Instantly purchasing her and all the gear to handle her safely. Suddenly empowered by my survival of a third war zone, plus frustrated by the ongoing personal dramas in my life I handed over the money for this midlife crisis purchase without guilt. Walking out the door and placing her on my SUV. I couldn’t wipe the liberating smile off my face. I felt rich. I was going to do what rich people do, sit on the lake in my own boat!
One of the first trips was to a local lake. As I pulled the kayak off the SUV and placed her in the water I forgot about everything that I was struggling through in my life. I was now focused in not falling on my butt into the water as I entered the kayak. The kayak sat only in ankle deep water next to the shore. Finally, in and seated I paddled straight to the middle of the lake. I suddenly felt at peace in a world filled with personal chaos. This became a regular escape routine as the crazy personal stuff crowded into my life.
In exploring the rivers and lakes surrounding my home, I was able to finally place focus and new perspective on the issues I had experienced in my life. Those minutes and hours I spent on the water also connected me to a world of nature I had lost along my life journey.
One 4th of July, I entered a local canoe and kayak race. The race had a prize for the best decorated 4th of July theme. I had carefully placed some sticky gel letters spelling out Happy 4th on both sides just above the water line of the kayak in Red/White/Blue of the holiday. My decorating skills didn’t earn a prize that day.
I returned home a bit disappointed I hadn’t won. I started to take the decorations off my kayak and found that the color of the gel letters had bled into the pores of the plastic of the kayak. Giving it now a permanent name on the side of my blue and white water beauty.
For more than ten years the Happy 4th and I adventured together long the lakes and rivers of Northern Minnesota. Dodging fast running motor boats with wakes that tried to turn us over into the cold waters. Experiencing together the first loons landing on the lake in the spring and the last geese taking off for winter in the fall each year. Each trip, a paddle into the peaceful world away from my personal dramas.
This past spring, The Happy 4th went to a new home. The new owner has already made new memories with her. She is missed. But, my memories of our adventures and the peaceful changes she made in my life are lasting.