Embrace the Suck
I did something stupid. I knew it was stupid, too, before I did it. To my credit, I thought that the worst thing that could happen was that I’d die. I was wrong. It’s much worse than that.
Kayak camping in Puget Sound isn’t dumb at all – if you hire an experienced guide. All the guides that I found, however, were dudes. I needed to spend time in nature to get over some stuff, and the last thing I needed was another guy falling in love with me. So I went out solo.
I thought I was being smart. I bought a bunch of laminated nautical charts. I bought a compass. I watched a good two-dozen YouTube videos on sea kayaking. I did sport-specific training – A lot of weights and core and cardio. The one thing I didn’t do before I pushed off the beach in Deer Harbor in a tiny boat loaded with gear was any actual sea kayaking.
If the weather is good and you’re lucky, not knowing what you’re doing in a sea kayak isn’t a problem. In fact, when conditions are favorable, you can easily come to believe that you’re just naturally good at it.
The San Juan islands are a great place to fool yourself into thinking you’re not a dumbass who’s going to fucking die in the ocean. First of all, the Puget Sound isn’t the open ocean. There are hundreds of islands. Some are so big they have airstrips and towns. Others are barren piles of rock that are home to nothing but birds. In-between are hundreds of medium-sized islands. Some with campgrounds. Some with small year-round communities. And some that are marked “off limits” on the charts.
My plan for if I had trouble on the water was to just head to nearest big island, land on any random beach, hitch to town, and get drunk in a sports bar. I was prepared!
The first two days of my solo kayaking adventure were amazing – beautiful weather, calm water, and beyond-epic campsites on different islands. When I woke up on day three, though, things were different. Gusty wind blew a drizzly-mist into the beach. The Sound was a mess of whitecaps and foam. There were a dozen other kayakers at the campground, but I was the only one dumb enough to launch that morning.
It’ll clear up, I told myself. It didn’t. It’s not as bad as it looks out there. It was worse than it looked. I just have to get to Clark Island – it’s only three miles away. Those three miles turned out to be an impossible struggle against the tide and the wind. I made virtually no progress even after four hours of hard paddling.
I should have turned around and headed back to where I started. But I’m kind of thick-headed, and, until now, that trait has served me well. “Embrace the suck” has been my motto as I’ve trained for marathons and triathlons. Every time I’ve hit a wall of exhaustion in training or a race, I put my mind into “embrace the suck” mode and transform into a combination of Zen master and Navy SEAL. This works well on land, where, if you collapse, you’ll just lie on the dirt for a while until you can get up and keep going.
I discovered that this attitude doesn’t work well in the ocean. Not to be corny, but the old-timey phrase is true: The sea is a harsh mistress. Maybe I’m pushing the analogy between the sea and a woman a little too far, but that morning, my mistress the ocean fucked me. In a bad way.
Dense fog settled over the water and I couldn’t see Clark Island, or any other land. Going back to where I pushed off in the morning was no longer an option. My contingency plan – land on a big island with a bar – wouldn’t work either, for the same reason – I couldn’t see anything out there other than fog.
I fished the chart out from under the spray skirt and pulled the compass out of my pocket. I easily found Clark Island on the map, but where was I? The wind and the current pushed me north of the line I wanted to stay on to Clark. But how far north had I drifted? What direction should I go to get myself to Clark, or back to where I started? Having a map and a compass isn’t really helpful if you can’t figure out your own location.
I extracted my phone. A quick check on Google Maps would clear things up. Before I pushed off that morning, I had put my phone into battery saver mode. Now, out in the rocking waves and the thick fog, I had to mess with the settings to turn the GPS back on. Maybe if I had been paying attention to my surroundings instead farting around with the phone settings, I would have heard the container ship approaching. And if I knew it was coming, maybe I would have been ready to handle the waves it created as it passed by. But I was too focused on the phone instead. I screamed when I saw the ship break through the fog right in front of me. The bow wave hit me a moment later. I managed to avoid capsizing, but I dropped my phone into the water. It was gone before I could even try to grab for it.
Three hours later I was still lost in the fog. I was even colder and more deeply exhausted. I stopped paddling and drifted with the wind. I had no idea what direction to go. What was the use in using energy when it was just as likely that I was heading away from land as towards it?
I heard the surf crashing on the island before I saw it. I paddled towards the sound, relieved to finally find land. When the dark shape of the island emerged from the fog, I turned around and paddled like mad to get away. There was no beach, just a massive outcropping of rock that turned the wind-blown swells into a violent splashing catastrophe.
I paddled until my shoulders couldn’t take it anymore, but the wind was fierce and all my work was for nothing. I made no progress away from the island.
The wind blew me towards the rocks. I made another attempt to get away which was as useless as the first. I hit the rocks facing backwards.
The boat flipped. I pushed with my legs and popped off the spay-skirt. Freed from the boat, I surfaced in a panic and clung to a boulder. With the spray-skirt removed, the kayak filled with water when the next wave hit. The wave pushed me further onto the rocks and dragged the flooded kayak into the water.
I was pushed under water by the crashing wave and scrambled like a sock in a washer. I thrashed in an attempt to surface but couldn’t figure out which way was up, and slammed my arms into the barnacle-coated rocks. The wave receded and I was momentarily pinned against one of the boulders as the water raced back into the sound. Then all was calm. I stood up, the water in the trough of the wave rose only to my knees.
My kayak was twenty feet away, flooded and being dragged into the ocean with the outgoing wave. The red plastic boat rose above my head as the next wave smashed into the rocks. I leapt onto a higher rock and grabbed on. The wave crashed onto me, smashing me into the rock. I managed to hang on as the flood drained back out, then I clawed my way up the bluff.
The bluff was thirty or forty feet high. At the top, I found myself at the edge of a small stand of fir trees. I collapsed onto the sandy soil. I was bleeding from a dozen bad scrapes on my knuckles, forearms, and knees. I wiped the water off my face and my hand came away bloody – I must have bashed my head on a rock while getting thrown around.
I probed my scalp wound, and the injuries on my arms and legs. None of them were too serious – no bones were broken and the bleeding was already starting to slow down.
I scanned the water, looking for my boat. Or any boat – someone who could help me. Neither appeared in small arc of the Puget Sound that I could see through the fog.
The fog surrounding me darkened to a gloomy, impenetrable grey as sun set. The residual glow of the sun couldn’t break through the layer of fog and it was soon as dark as midnight. No moon. No stars. No lights of any kind in the water or on the small wedge of the island that I was on. I pulled my arms inside my jacket and wrapped the spray-skirt around my legs as a makeshift blanket. I said “embrace the suck” over and over until I somehow fell asleep.
* * *
I woke up at dawn. Looking back, it was a miracle I awoke at all, given what lived on that island. But at that moment I thought that my biggest problem was the fact I was shipwrecked. I still had no idea what I was really facing.
“Shipwrecked.” I said it out loud, just to hear myself say the word. Shipwrecks are things that happen to pirates or merchant marines. I was just a normal person on vacation, not a seafarer or whatever.
I checked in with my body. My arms and back were destroyed. None of my so-called sport-specific training prepared me for yesterday’s furious hours of paddling. My abrasions looked bad. Dark blue bruises formed under the damaged skin. I imagined the abrasion on my scalp looked just as awful.
Embrace the suck, I thought.
I checked my pockets for food. I had a Cliff Bar and an apple. I swallowed the Cliff Bar in three bites and saved the apple for later.
A layer of fog still hung over the Sound, but the sun was able to show through, and the sky above was blue. I scanned the small arc of water that I could see through the fog. Nothing. If I was going to improve my situation, I’d have to find help on the island. I entered the forest of fir trees.
A quarter-mile walk through the forest led me to a grassy field. I plodded across the field, looking for signs of people. A decaying, thoroughly-rusted 1930s-vintage tractor sat half-buried at the other end of the field. Was that a good or a bad sign?
I heard a commotion behind me and spun around. A deer bounded out of the forest on the far side of the field with a look of terror in its eyes. Immediately after the deer entered the field, a dozen horses, also traveling at a top speed, blasted out of the woods.
The deer moved with graceful leaps. The horses ran with a thunderous gallop, smashing away branches of the firs at the far edge of the field. I thought that both the horses and the deer must be running from some common terror in the woods. But nothing else came out of the woods.
The deer juked to the left and the pack of horses followed. The deer made a sharp right and the lead horse pounced on it, grabbing onto the deer with its mouth, like a lion taking down an antelope.
I screamed. The lead horse fought against the struggling deer. The rest of the horses turned and barreled towards me.
I screamed again and ran. I sprinted past the ruined tractor and into the woods. The furious gallop of the horses grew closer with each of my pounding heartbeats.
I dodged the trees. I ducked under some branches and broke through others. A few branches bent but didn’t break, leaving bloody scratches on my face and hands. I didn’t dare turn around, because that would slow me down. But there was no doubt that the horses were gaining on me.
I saw a break in the woods ahead. I flung myself towards it, and had to catch myself on a tree to stop short. A long, deep ravine interrupted the woods. The horses broke through the trees behind me and chaotically piled into each other to avoid falling into the ravine. One of the horses, a huge black monster, was so intent on catching me it didn’t bother stopping. It plowed into me and we both fell into the ravine.
I yelled as I fell, and so did the horse. It howled with shrill, hollow, cry that sounded more like the cry of a wolf than a horse.
I dropped about fifteen feet and landed on a long, steep slope of scree. I managed to roll in a semi-controlled way, and slid down the pile of gravel and stones on my ass. I was mostly unhurt at the bottom – just a few more scratches, scrapes and bruises to add to my collection.
The massive black horse, however, didn’t fare as well. It lay at the bottom of the ravine, struggling to get up. It thrashed its head and front legs violently, but its hind legs were motionless. It twisted and thrashed again and I could see panic and pain in its eyes. It cried again, this time sounding more like an injured horse than a wolf.
The sight of a maimed horse was appalling. Even though it tried to run me down, I still felt sorry for it. Whatever it was doing with its friends in the field, it didn’t deserve to die from internal bleeding at the bottom of a ravine.
“Okay, okay,” I said, trying to soothe it.
It stopped its agonized flailing and turned its massive head towards me. I don’t know much about horses, but this one was big-boned and beefy. Do all horses look like they’ve been lifting weights since infancy?
I pulled the apple out of my pocket. I could give it a last meal, at least.
“Here, do you want this?”
The horse quieted and regarded me silently. I reached out with the apple.
The horse lunged at me with an open mouth, aiming not for the apple in my hand but for my neck. I thrust myself backwards, falling onto the ground to avoid its bite. Its attack was over in half-a-second. But that instant was all I needed to see that its mouth was full of teeth like a wolf’s or a bear’s. It had three-inch long canines and cruelly curved incisors.
I scrambled backwards. The horse snarled. It lifted its lips in a growl, again showing me a mouth full of carnivores’ teeth. I stood and backed away further. The horse snarled again. But not at me, this time. It was looking at the top of the ravine. The rest of the herd stood at the top, snarling back.
I looked back and forth between the black horse and the herd. They exchanged nasty growls for a minute. Then the herd backed away from the edge of the ravine and trotted off into the woods.
I ate the apple and stared at the maimed horse. It snarled at me again, showing off its carnivore teeth.
I finally convinced myself that the horse was permanently down, and I took my eyes off it to study my surroundings. A small stream ran along the bottom of the ravine. Thickets of bushes and small fir trees blocked the view in both directions. Across the stream, the bluff was similar to the one I fell down. A slope of scree topped with a fifteen-foot cliff of crumbling earth, protruding roots, and rocks.
The horse cried again and I heard the drumbeat of the galloping herd. They were in the ravine!
They broke through the brush a moment later. My brain locked up. Should I run? Back away slowly? Make a lot of noise? I ended up doing nothing but stare at the them. There were ten horses. Maybe more. All of them were dark brown or black, like the one that fell. Also like the one that fell, they were all enormous. Each had huge, well-defined muscles.
Behind me, the fallen horse snarled again. The herd answered with their own growls and displays of their predator's teeth. They charged.
I’m dead, I thought. I’m going to know what it feels like to be ripped apart by predators. I shut my eyes.
The horses ran around me. A few of them brushed against me as they ran by. I opened my eyes. The herd leapt at the downed horse like lions leaping on a wildebeest. The horse howled again and thrashed around for a few moments. The herd tore away flesh and muscle like giant piranhas, and the black horse fell silent and motionless. Its guts spilled out of its torn-open body and were crushed under the hoofs of the frenzied herd.
A chunk of horse flesh landed on my shoe. My mental logjam finally broke. Fucking. Run. I sprinted up the slope that I fell down and started to claw my way up the vertical face of dirt and roots.
Dust from the bluff fell into my eyes and mouth. I looked down and blinked the dust from my eyes. The horses were already slowing their feeding. One turned from the carcass and looked at me. It snarled and a string of bloody drool slowly fell from its mouth.
I turned back to the cliff. I jumped and managed to grab a protruding root. I kicked a foothold in the packed dirt and pulled myself up a foot. I grabbed a protruding stone. As soon as I put weight on it, it pulled out of the bluff and landed on my face. I let go of the root and fell back to the scree pile. The horse was still looking at me.
I turned back to the wall of dirt and grabbed the root again. I managed to kick another foothold and found a handhold above the root. I gained three feet. Twelve to go.
There was a howl from below. The horse that was interested in me started up the slope. The dirt was loose and the slope was steep. It slid back down, snarling in anger.
I grabbed another protruding root. I tested it and it seemed firm. Below, the horse gave itself a running start, and leapt up the slope. This time it had momentum. It struggled its way up the screen.
I tried to pull myself up another foot. The root pulled out of the soil and I dropped to nearly where I started. The horse lunged at me. I lifted my legs, praying the root wouldn’t pull out further. The animal’s teeth snapped together an inch below my feet. I responded with a kick that landed solidly on its nose. The horse didn’t even notice.
It jumped at me again, this time grabbing my heel with its teeth. I yanked my foot out of its mouth and it fell away with my shoe impaled on its teeth.
The horse left a huge gouge in my heel. Intellectually, I knew I was in pain from the injury. But a billion years of evolution took over and I entered fight-or-flight mode.
Pain ceased to exist. Exhaustion ceased to exist. Emotions dissolved. Every neuron in my mind focused on one task: Climb. The. Cliff. Every cell in every cubic millimeter of muscle tissue in my body was fully engaged. I gouged handholds in the packed dirt. I pulled myself up narrow shelves of protruding rocks with my fingertips. I lifted my weight with one arm, then the other. I flung myself over the lip of the bluff and sprinted away into the woods.
By the time I reached the rusted tractor in the field I was desperately sucking in air. My peripheral vision went black and I saw spots in the center of my vision. I collapsed onto my hands and knees and hyperventilated. The spots in my vision vanished, and my peripheral vision returned.
I took more deep breaths, this time keeping my mouth wide open to make my breathing as silent as possible. If the horses were hunting me, I didn’t want to give away my location.
I finally noticed the pain from the horse bite in my ankle. I lay on my back and lifted my left leg to get a look at my ankle. Blood flowed from two nasty-looking punctures in the heel. I gingerly touched the injury. The pain was confined to my ankle, and, to my relief, my achilleas seemed to be okay.
I put my leg down and turned my head to the side. Teeth. Blood. A wide-open animal mouth, full of carnivore’s teeth was inches away from me. I squirmed away with a start. My heart rate jumped back to you’re-about-to-die levels.
It was the deer. What was left of it. The deer’s head and about a third of its spinal column sat on the ground where I collapsed. Bones and entrails were scattered about. A hoofed foot lay in tuft of bloodstained grass.
I forced myself to look at the dead deer’s head. Death had frozen its eyes into the wide expression of terror that it wore when it bounded out of the woods. I tried to ignore its eyes and studied its mouth. I’ve never looked inside the mouth of a deer. Just as with the horse, though, what I saw was not what I was expecting. The deer’s mouth looked like it belonged to wolf or a bear. It was a carnivore’s mouth. A predator’s mouth. Huge canines. Vicious incisors that meshed in a way optimized for eating meat.
Where the hell was I?
I looked around for signs of the horses. I held my breath and listened. Nothing.
I ran to the edge of the field and entered the woods. I walked through the woods like a ninja. I carefully stepped on rocks and thick roots, avoiding twigs or anything else that might make noise. I moved from stealthily from tree to tree, scanning 360 degrees each time I stopped.
I didn’t know where I was going. Or what I was looking for. I just needed information. Where was I? What was the deal with this island? Most importantly, how could I get the hell off it before I was eaten by predatory, carnivorous ungulates?
The island was a decent-sized one – at least a few hundred acres. I stealth-walked through the forest for at-least forty-five minutes. My horse-bitten ankle eventually stopped bleeding, but the pain grew worse and worse as I explored the woods.
I stopped to massage my injured left foot. I sat down quietly and carefully adjusted my sock so that a clean-ish part covered the horse-tooth punctures. I stood and scanned the forest. That’s when I realized that I was standing on a road.
It was a dirt road, so rutted and overgrown that it was almost impossible to see unless you were standing on it. To my left, the road wound through the trees in the general direction of the field with the dead deer. To my right, it went deeper into the forest. I went right.
“You have got to be kidding me.” I said it out loud, momentarily forgetting that I was in silent mode. I was talking to myself about the house. A 1940s-era craftsman-style house sat at the end of the road, nestled in the fir forest. Its shingles were grey with age, its gables were sagging, and its front porch was collapsed. Miraculously, its windows were intact despite advanced decay.
I scrambled over the rotted planks of the porch, being super careful not to step on any of the protruding rusty nails. I pulled myself onto the threshold and looked through the glass of the front door. It was dark inside. I tried the knob. It turned.
I pushed the door open. It barely moved. I shoved it harder. The hinges squealed and the door cracked open a few inches. I peered through the crack. I made out a threadbare carpet on a wooden floor. Everything else was lost in the interior gloom.
I shoved the door again, creating enough of a crack to slip through. I stepped up and out of the pit of the collapsed porch and slid inside.
The house was a time capsule to the late 1930s. A smelly, moldy, decaying time capsule. Peeling flower-patterned wallpaper in the foyer. A piano with green moss growing on the keys. The skeletons of once-upholstered furniture in the living room.
The floor creaked beneath my feet like it was screaming in pain. I left footprints in the thick layer of dust. I found the kitchen. A rusting icebox dominated the room. Broken plates and glasses were scattered on the floor. I don’t know what I was looking for, but I knew hadn’t found it yet.
I climbed the stairs to the second floor. The treads were rotten and the upstairs floor was in terrible condition. Decades of drips from the leaking roof had all-but-dissolved the plaster ceiling and taken a toll on the floor.
Two small bedrooms held tiny brass-framed beds. Their mattresses and bedding turned into decayed mush. I crept into the master bedroom. The only furniture that had survived decades of abandonment was a larger bed. This too held decayed bedding. But something was different. I walked into the room for a closer look. Someone was in the bed.
I ran. I slipped on a slimy part of the floor. I got up and ran again, simultaneously terrorized and super-careful to avoid slipping down the stairs.
Five minutes later, heartrate basically back to normal, I climbed the stairs and approached the master bedroom again. I peeked in from the doorway. The suspiciously human-shaped lump under the remains of the covers was still there.
There was no response.
I slowly walked to the bedroom. Shaking, I approached the bed. Yup – it was a skeleton. A human skeleton. I found a for-real dead person in an abandoned house. I guess I can check that off my bucket list.
I forced myself to look at it. She, or he, was dead. There was no threat. It was just gross. I closed my eyes and imagined myself as a doctor. Someone who’s seen all parts of people, living and dead, and was no longer phased by anything. I opened my eyes, now in doctor-mode.
There was no skin, or hair, or anything else on the skull. Bugs or maybe just the decades had stripped all of that away. I’m not in pre-med or anything, but I think I’ve seen enough fake skulls to know what they’re supposed to look like. This one was different. Specifically, its teeth were different.
I bent over and took close look at the skull. Its teeth were … not normal. The canines were enormous. This person had fangs, basically. The incisors reminded me of the deer in the field. They looked more like curved tools designed to tear raw meat than anything that belonged in a human mouth.
What was it with things on this island and teeth, I wondered? Did everything on this island turn into a meat-devouring carnivore? How could that happen? A virus? Mutations from toxic waste? “What happened here?” I asked the skeleton. It didn’t answer. Then I got an idea.
I walked downstairs, carefully stepping on the edges of the stair treads to avoid breaking through the rotten boards. I made my way to the kitchen. Using my right foot, the foot still wearing a shoe, I kicked a path through the debris of broken plates and glasses from the doorway to the icebox. I grasped the handle of the icebox, took a deep breath, and yanked it open.
The ancient, corroded hinges gave a piercing, dissonant squeal. A pile of bones spilled out of the icebox, bouncing off my legs and clattering onto the floor. I jumped back, slipped on the slimy kitchen floor, and landed on my ass. A human skull rolled out of the icebox, down the pile of bones, and into my lap.
I clenched my eyes shut and took a few deep breaths. I needed to somehow avoid freaking out. I opened my eyes. The skull was still on my lap. A human skull. Rather, another human skull that also happened to have disturbingly oversized canines and incisors.
I gently kicked at the pile of bones that spilled out of the icebox. I’m not an anatomist, but they sure looked like they could be reassembled into a human skeleton. At least one skeleton.
I picked up one of the larger bones. A femur, maybe? It had bite marks up and down the length of it. I carried the bone back upstairs to the bedroom, and walked right up skeleton in the bed. I carefully opened the jaws of its skull and put the femur into its mouth. The bite marks one the bone matched up perfectly with the oversized teeth in the skull.
This could only mean … what? I had the sensation of being 99% of the way to figuring something out, but I didn’t totally get it yet. Animals and people – mammals – on this island grew the teeth of carnivores. Horses hunted and ate deer. And humans. And other horses. At some point in the past, humans ate other humans. The island was populated by crazed meat-eating predators. Or something on the island changed ordinary mammals into meat-eating predators.
I was stranded on carnivore island. Whether carnivorous forms of ordinary mammals were somehow placed here, or some pathogen on the island made everyone grow teeth and an appetite for flesh, my course of action was the same.
“I have to get the fuck off this island.”
I walked to the window, leaving footprints in the quarter-inch of nearly-liquified rotting wood of the floor. From the second story, I had a better view of the forest than from ground level. But I still saw nothing but fir trees.
I went to one of the other bedrooms whose window was on the opposite side of the house. Here the view was different. The forest ended a hundred feet or so from the house. A strip of grass separated the trees from a rocky slope that led to a small beach. I had access to the Puget Sound – now I just needed a way to get across the sound to the mainland. Or at-least another island that was populated with Care Bears or chocolate bunnies or something other than quarter-ton predators.
The visibility had improved from the morning. The fog was lifting and I could see pretty far out into the sound. I scanned the distance, looking for something. Anything. And I finally saw it. The dark stripe of distant land through the fog.
How far was it? Three miles? Five miles? I’m in pretty good shape. Really good shape, actually - I completed an Ironman last year. Could I swim there?
Swimming off carnivore island was a really dumb idea. I was exhausted. I had multiple injuries. I hadn’t eaten properly in about a day. I was dehydrated. And I could easily die in the Sound. But … those horses. That herd of predatory horses that held a grudge against me. When I heard myself say “Fuck It!” I knew I had made my decision.
I crept downstairs. I slipped out the front door and ran into the woods. No longer in ninja mode, I ran through the woods, down the rocky hill and to the beach.
Standing next to the water, my idea of swimming to safety seemed even worse. It was cold. I couldn’t see distant land from sea level. I can’t do this, I thought.
The herd of horses was on the damn beach! Not just on the beach, but galloping towards me, through the surf. Majestic. Beautiful. Frankly, it was a pretty good scene for the last thing I’ll ever see.
I spent two seconds thinking about which was worse: drowning or getting torn apart by animals. I pictured myself drowning in the ocean, sliding under the waves and spending my last two minutes under water with horrible pain in my lungs. Then I pictured myself getting ripped apart by the herd. Maybe it’s not that bad, I thought, to be killed and eaten. Maybe if you get torn apart fast enough, your nerves can’t even signal the brain that there’s pain.
The lead horse opened its mouth. Even from the other side of the beach, I could see the white prongs of its teeth. I sighed. I chose drowning.
“See ya!” I shouted. Then I ran into the surf. The water was much colder than I had been expecting. I swam through the waves, away from the beach. I didn’t have to go far before I couldn’t touch the bottom. Treading water, I turned back to the island. I didn’t see the horses on the beach. A wave lifted me a few feet and I saw them. In the water, swimming towards me.
“That is not fair,” I shouted at nobody. I turned and swam like crazy. A minute later, I risked stopping for a moment to check behind me. I saw nothing. Did I lose them? Were they swimming under water like sharks or Orcas? I started swimming again.
I never made it to the distant land.
I swam for at least forty-five minutes. My energy was gone. At that point all land, even carnivore island, was still impossibly far away. I had fatally misjudged the distance, and my own swimming abilities.
Embrace the suck.
I kept swimming. Another five minutes.
Embrace the suck.
Five more minutes. I heard a voice. Someone was laughing.
I screamed for help. I used the last few calories of energy in my body to splash around. Then I saw the source of the voice – a sailboat. They saw me and pulled me out of the water just as I was slipping under.
* * *
I spent a day in the hospital. They warmed me up, and treated my injuries and hypothermia and dehydration.
Was I super-lucky to have been rescued? Frankly I’m not sure. I’ve been barfing a lot lately. Most of my usual favorite foods – beans, salads, veggie-burgers – don’t sit well with me anymore. The only thing I can keep down is meat. Burgers. Steak. Rare steak is especially good.
My jaw hurts too. My teeth are sore and are loose. This morning, my left, lower canine fell out. I was eating a sausage for breakfast and my tooth just kind-of popped out when I took a bite. I felt a little bump in the hole it left. I rinsed the blood out of my mouth and studied it in the mirror. The tip of a new tooth poked through my gums. It looked sharp. I can’t fool myself any more. I’m growing a brand-new set of predator teeth.
It's obvious that I brought back the carnivore disease from the island. Am I infectious? Even if I’m not, will I start eating people like mister-or-misses dead person in the bed on the island?
I should have died attempting to swim back. I don’t mean should-have, as in I was lucky to be rescued. I mean, it would have been better for the world if I died and sank to the bottom of the ocean.
I could try to get medical help. But I’m afraid that it will take so long to find a doctor who will actually believe me and pay attention to my problem, that I’ll turn full-cannibal and hurt someone before I get help. And what can they do, really? People with unique medical conditions are rarely cured.
So I rented another kayak. I’m going to load it up with camping gear and head back into the Puget Sound. I’m going back to the island to self-isolate. My goal is to claw my way to the top of the food chain there, and live off the meat from deer and horses.
Yes, it’s a stupid idea. But it’s no worse than my original idea to solo kayak camp. And this time I know that the worst thing that can happen is that I’ll die. At least I won’t take anyone down with me.
Embrace the suck!