You Don’t Need to be Athletic to have an Adventure
Let me start off by saying, I am not what you’d call the athletic type. I don’t go to the gym and find no pleasure in repetitive exercise.
But, a little while ago I went to Croatia with a friend and we thought the best way to explore the natural beauty there was a daylong kayaking trip. I hadn’t had time to do my normal research on our destination, since Zadar was selected after a trip to Greece fell through at the last minute. We booked a kayak tour on the Zrmanja River through our hostel when we got there, and at that point we hesitated, thinking we were wholly unprepared to kayak 14km (about 8.7 miles) in one day, but we decided to take the chance.
We woke up early, put on our athletic shorts and t-shirts, packed lunches in a plastic bag, and waited for the Raftrek representatives to pick us up. The cloudy weather reflected my mood. I tried to calm my anxiety by reminding myself that I’d kayaked before; sure, it was just in the lake at summer camp, but a kayak is a kayak, right? A woman named Mary picked us up and we stopped at an old fishing town on the way to get another kayaker. Her name was Helen and she was traveling alone from Oslo.
As soon as we arrived at the drop-off point, I knew this would be a far cry from my summer camp days. We had to wear kayaking gear, including wetsuits, special shoes, a windbreaker, a life jacket, and a helmet. Every kayak was given a barrel to store their belongings (lunch, camera, etc.), and we had to put our clothes in another box that would be delivered to us at the end of the day.
After a quick kayaking lesson, we were told it was time to get in the water. My friend insisted she should be in back, because they said traditionally that is where the heavier person sat (she was not significantly heavier than me). The problem was, the person in the back was meant to steer and the person in the front was meant to be the power. This was the first time she had ever kayaked, so her steering was…let’s just say subpar. We continuously hit the riverbank until we were at the back of the group with the guide who was supposed to be holding up the rear.
It only took twenty minutes for the guide to become impatient with our lack of skill. He decided that my friend would go with his partner and I would go with him. As I started paddling, still in the front, he informed me that his English was limited. Soon, I realized that meant he knew “yes,” “no,” “right,” “left,” and a few more explicit terms to use in times of frustration.
Because I wasn’t constantly chatting with my friend, I had time to notice everything: how clear the water was when it was calm, how many shades of green were represented in the plants, how a frog came up and landed on my kayak, and how lazy a stray wild cow looked on the side of the river. It was absolutely gorgeous.
Somehow, my guide and I ended up at the front of the group. It was time to stop for lunch, which was going to be a picnic, so he pulled over to a little island and instructed me to get off. I carefully slid out of the boat, expecting a gradual shore, but instead found deep water, and slipped. Soaking wet, I worked to hoist myself up onto the island. Another guide paddled by and said this wasn’t the place people were supposed to get off; it was a few feet away. I watched as everyone else gracefully exited their kayaks and pulled them to shore. Helen, my friend, and I met up and they laughed at my embarrassing slip.
The entire group followed Mary on a ten-minute hike to a clearing overlooking a lagoon and a waterfall. In warmer weather, the group could have gone swimming. We ate lunch and took the opportunity to rest our arms and take some photographs of the scenery.
Once we finished lunch, we resumed kayaking until we reached a 14m (about 46 ft) waterfall). The guides helped everyone get out of their kayaks, which they lowered using a rope. Meanwhile, we hiked down the rocks. Though I wasn’t expecting to hike, the adrenalin kept me going. The time on dry land also gave us the opportunity take photographs. As if by magic, these 45 minutes happened to be the only moments of sunshine during the entire day.
There were a few more waterfalls that had to be approached in this way; everyone got off the kayaks and hiked while the guides lowered the boats with ropes. Then the guides assisted people in getting back onto their kayaks.
After the final waterfall, my guide and I were at the back of the group. The last leg of the trip was flat and there were few rapids. It started to drizzle and then the rain got harder and harder. I could see lightening in the mountains and heard thunder. At camp, we were not allowed to be on the water when there was lightening in the area. I rowed as hard as I could to get to the end as fast as possible, though in reality it wouldn’t matter since my guide and I had to be last.
By the time we reached the end, it was pouring rain. I changed into my dry clothes that had been delivered from the drop-off point and grabbed my umbrella and flip-flops. Dashing through the rain, I got a seat in the van and waited until Mary came to drive us back to our hostel.
That night, though my arms were sore, I couldn’t help but smile. Despite all of my doubts, and through a few mishaps, I had successfully completed my trek. I felt accomplished and empowered. Now, I always tell people about the time that I – yes I – kayaked 14 kilometers in Croatia. Adventure travel is not just for women who are always at the gym. Anyone can have an amazing time experiencing the world, they just need to find what’s appropriate for them and maybe step a bit outside of their comfort zone.