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“We call it couple’s therapy,” the young fella said who was orienting us to the art of paddling a tandem kayak. “Either you make it or you don’t,” he added, laughing.

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As we stood next to the Chicago River last Saturday, my husband, Marv, and I laughed along. I remembered when we’d tried to take ballroom dancing lessons many years ago. Midway through the first lesson, the instructor came out to the middle of the floor and told us it was not going to work unless we decided who would lead. We left and did not return for the rest of the paid-for series.

Another couple waiting in line said, “That’s why we don’t tandem kayak. We do it alone.”

I wondered if crossing kayaking off our bucket list was such a good idea. When we’d signed in, the registration gal had asked us if we’d kayaked before. We’d both nodded no. “Then it’s not a good idea to go today,” she said. “This day on the fourth of July weekend is our busiest weekend.”

I knew we were not going to back down. We’d been saying we were going to do this every summer since we’d moved downtown Chicago, blocks away from the Chicago River. I suddenly remembered I’d taken canoeing at Camp Roger in Michigan when I was twelve. Did that count! And I’d been on rowing machines in a fitness center at times. I had no chance to list my vast experience before I heard Marv say. “We can handle it.”

So now we found ourselves getting ready to walk down a plank and lower ourselves into a kayak.  Just getting into the kayak was a challenge because my thighs have aged along with the rest of me. To balance on one leg on the seat of the kayak while I swung the other leg down to the bottom, without any side rails or banisters, made me realize I must get back to the gym. Luckily, the brawn of a young fella made my descent less choppy than my legs felt.

We look smug as we prepare to leave the launch pad:

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 Traffic was a challenge:

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On this busiest day of the year, we shared the river with other kayakers, pleasure boats, and large tour boats. Even though there are No Wake signs, the boaters did not seem to adhere to any rules. We rolled and rocked and paddled.

In the front seat, I was supposed to be “the pacer.” In the back seat, Marv was supposed to steer. Supposed to, the key phrase.

We’d been told to stay within ten to fifteen feet of the wall. When I found ourselves, in my opinion, heading treacherously toward the center of the river, I did a quick something with my right paddle to propel us toward the wall. “Don’t do that,” Marv warned more than once. “You only slow us down.”

 I thought it better to slow down than to disappear under a tour boat holding dozens of people.

We stopped by the Wrigley Building, and Marv took a picture of the large draped flag while I hung on to a ledge on a cement wall far above my head to keep us from hitting a docked boat ahead of us. A kayak tour leader paddled by and yelled over the wakes, “Are you guys okay?” 

Of course, we were okay. Doesn’t everybody hang on to walls to stabilize themselves? I guess not.

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We managed without mishap to negotiate heavy wakes, cross the river four times, go under two bridges that have more turbulent waters, avoid numerous large and small boats, and pass one docked tour boat. All in under an hour.

When the young fella extricated me out of the kayak, I told him, “You were right about it being couple’s therapy. I think if we do this again, we’ll go single.”

Marv agreed.  We know we do not need any more couples therapy to learn what we’ve known all along.  We are best leading our own selves. So if we kayak again, we’ll be going solo.

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