I awake after a fitful first night’s sleep on Big Bear Lake, due to the high elevation in the mountains. While making breakfast and lunch for me, my husband and my sister, who is vacationing with us, I feel slow, and draggy. The high heat and humidity get in through the kitchen window and join with the smells of bacon sizzling, eggs frying and coffee percolating. I squint as the small dark kitchen heats up and I flip on the overhead light. It does not work. My heart beats fast and my head feels tight. I ignore that and keep turning the bacon, because we have to be at the boat rental place in 20 minutes. As I rush and ignore my body, I get hit with heart palpitations, drop the spatula and lean over with my hands on the counter. My husband walks into the kitchen.
What is the matter?
My heart is racing from the altitude.
I can take over. Go sit down.
I drop down into a chair and sip some water. He takes over breakfast and my sister finishes making the tuna sandwiches for lunch and places them into the cooler.
My husband drives fast on the winding road leading to the Marina. Around the curves we go, as I stare at the yellow line to still my belly. After checking in, we grab our gear and cross the sand and head to the boats. My gait gets wobbly as I follow the others and my heart racing increases. I feel a wave of fear that I might faint here and now and fall into this soft, warm white sand that I am crossing. I begin to panic. If we can’t take the boat, will we lose the cash deposit we just made?... Will I have to be hospitalized?... I don’t want to be in a hospital with Covid patients...What about our vacation? I take a breath and stop walking. My sister turns around, looks concerned and takes the cooler I am carrying.
Are you okay?
I feel light-headed.
Should we go back?
No, I think I will be okay.
The pontoon has puffy looking cushioned seats that feel inviting as I climb aboard and settle down under the awning. My husband takes the wheel and we slowly sail away. The breeze on the water cools my warm skin. The view of the pristine green lake, booked by pine tall mountains relaxes me, and I lean back and stretch my neck and shoulders. Within a half hour, I notice with surprise that my body feels normal again. I feel relief.
A shiny black fish shoots straight up, then curves and dives back down into the water. After a few hours looping around the lake, we head back toward the Marina. My sister tells us a story of a Norwegian woman she knows, who while renting a boat, was dealing with a condescending male employee who did not trust her to sail alone. She told him, “I have had my own boat since I was nine. I know how to handle a boat.” Her story gives me an idea and I ask my sister a question.
Hey, do you want to drive the boat?
Oh, wow. Yes. I’d like to try.
My husband is reluctant and says, “No, she can’t. I signed a contract that only I can drive the boat. I had to sign a million forms and leave a $260. deposit on top of the fee, in case of breaking the rules, boat damage or injury.”
I know, but just for a little bit?
Ah, I guess.
He vacates the driver’s seat and my sister takes the helm. Her long dark wavy hair is topped by a broad brimmed tie-dye hat that straps securely under her chin.
How does this work?
Push the throttle forward to go fast and pull back for slow. Don’t touch that side button.
It will raise the engine and damage the boat.
Okay. I get it.
She starts the engine in lowest gear. Her confidence rises and she goes up one gear faster. As she pushes it all the way forward, her wide brimmed hat pulls back, framing her smiling face in a pink, purple and yellow oval of joy. She grins and shouts, “Whoo hoo”, then pulls the throttle back to low. My husband smiles at her. She asks him,
Can I do that again?
She hits the gas again and starts singing so loudly that her beautiful soprano voice fills the blue sky and green sea. She returns the boat to slow and with a glint in her eye says, “I am going again.” I laugh with her and encourage her spiritedness.
You are a wild woman!
I will take that!
She lowers her head with her eyebrows knitted and yells out like a conquering warrior and cusses, “Take that you…” We laugh.
My enthusiasm for her spills over on to me and I want a turn to drive the boat, but there is only ten minutes before we have to dock. My husband frowns, “I don’t want them to see you at the helm from the Marina.” I shrug and change seats with my sister. I push the throttle all the way forward for two full minutes of bliss. Like my sister, I sing, and laugh and cuss at the top of my lungs. My arms feel powerful and my spirit soars to the thrill. Sated, I give my husband back the wheel and he steers us into port, exactly on time.
As I step off the deck and place my feet back on the white sands, I remember the fear I had a few hours ago in this same spot. Now I feel expansive and serene - like the black fish who risked jumping out of the water to smile at the sky.