Paddling Through the Pandemic

by Barb Sanders

2020 was an incredibly stressful year. The pandemic started, there was racial unrest, and then the divisive election. These circumstances raised everyone’s stress level. I could sense this in myself and other people I encountered. I want to share with you the joy and pleasure I experienced this past summer and fall kayaking with my friends. The kayaking helped me cope with everything that was happening.

The usual activities that brought me a sense of calm and de-stressed my life were no longer available to me. I had developed a routine of walking at Young Arena two or three times a week with a couple of friends. We would walk for an hour or so in the late morning and then often have an early lunch together, making the rounds of the various restaurants in downtown Waterloo. I also attended Zumba at a local church two to three times a week. Zumba is the best way to exercise. One not only gets a good workout but it is a great deal of “fun”. It is choreographed exercise, basically dance. This group does other fun social activities, like wearing costumes for holidays at our classes and going out to dinner together a few times a year. I am a member of Kiwanis, a civic organization dedicated to improving the life of children, in our local communities and internationally. We meet once a week at 6:30 am (they are a hardy group) have breakfast together and hear presentations about various community groups and issues. At that time of day there are no scheduling conflicts.

Last March everything changed and none of these activities were available anymore. Young Arena was closed. Restaurants and churches were shuttered. I wasn’t able to enjoy all those routines that had been so important to me and had brought balance to my life. However, people adjusted. Kiwanis and Zumba went to zoom. I am grateful for the benefits of technology. I live in a community with excellent internet access and I had just purchased a new computer with all the latest upgrades. However, it is not quite the same. I missed the companionship of my friends. We were not able to spend time together like we had done in the past.

However, I am blessed to have a friend passionate about kayaking. She was willing to share her fleet of kayaks (she now has 5, purchasing a new one this year to celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary) and the necessary auxiliary equipment with friends who share a similar passion. This summer and well into late fall, about every other week, she would invite me to paddle with her. Every time I slid the kayak out onto the water, I could sense my spirits lift and tensions melt away.

We started on small lakes close to home and then graduated to a back-water of the Wapsi. The pond lilies were starting to bloom that day. Maneuvering around the buds shooting up out of the water was like dancing with fairies. t was just magical. We were surrounded by these huge flowers, floating by trying not to bump into them.

Next, we tackled the Iowa River. Paddling a river is very different from a lake or a back-water. The current can take you where you don’t want to go, into a log just below the surface or into a tree branch hanging over the water. On one trip in the upper reaches of the Cedar River one of my companions swamped her kayak and lost her paddle. We were rescued by a local farmer. He provided us with directions on the best place to disembark, cold bottled water, and a generous supply of sweet corn from his own farm. I felt reassured that there are still good people in the world.

The climax of our river adventures was the paddle on the Mississippi. The idea of being on the Mississippi brought a flood of fond memories for me. My Dad was born and raised in Clinton, Iowa. As a child he told us about swimming across it. This was in the 1920s before the lock and dam system was built. It was narrower then but still it was an impressive feat. My Dad came from a family of 13. We spent time with our numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins on and in the river. The Mississippi is muddy. I remember as a child not liking the way the mud squished through my toes when we went swimming. However, as an adult, in a dinky kayak, trying to safely ride out the wake of a huge barge produced an entirely different emotion. It was like being on a carnival ride without any of the safety equipment. My friends advised me to turn my kayak and head into the wake. Obviously, I was able to follow their directions and safely navigate our barge encounters. Eventually we paddled into Johnson slough, a place of calmer waters and where barges can’t go. Then we pulled ashore and had a fantastic time collecting rocks. This was a pastime I hadn’t enjoyed since my childhood. We shared our finds with each other and each of us took home a cache of the rocks we had found especially interesting or attractive.

There was some talk of continuing our outings and “breaking the ice” with our kayaks but we had to put the kayaks away for the winter. These last few weeks with the frigid weather have left me yearning for time on the water again. Hopefully spring will come soon, and we can enjoy more adventures. The lesson here is finding what you are passionate about and spend time occasionally pursuing it. Doing so feeds your soul and provides balance to your life. It makes it possible to deal with the many stresses in our lives.


Feeling down and need someone to talk to?

Iowa Warm Line is here for you. 

Open 8:00am- 2:00am daily|1-844-775-WARM (9276)

The Warm Line is a peer-run, telephone based, non-crisis, confidential listening line for anyone struggling with mental health or substance use issues. The line is staffed by people who have been through a similar journey and are in recovery themselves.

The Warm Line can…

  • Give support for individuals not requiring crisis management. Those in crisis are transferred to the Crisis Line for critical services.
  • Provide an empathetic, non-judgmental listener.
  • Provide community resources and assistance in accessing services.
  • Help empower individuals pursuing their own directives.