An Excerpt from Islands and Insulin- Second Installment
10 February 2009
My fifteen-year high school reunion is quickly closing in and the only thing I have done since high school is to spend the last decade or so being ordinary. I now drive a minivan, have two kids, spend my days as a teacher and live in a small house by the beach.
Not that any of those things are bad; I really am enjoying my life. But my life was supposed to be something bigger, filled with great adventures and travel. It should have great moments of glory, like climbing a mountain or sailing the Seven Seas. Maybe even a little professional surfing.
I should have studied sharks and lived for months at a time on a research vessel. I might have my PhD. and teach at a major university. I would have done some great things. Instead I have become overwhelmingly average.
Anytime the reunion comes up, this scene keeps playing over and over in my mind. I run into old friends and time and time again have to answer the inevitable, "So what have you been doing for the last fifteen years?" Surrounded by doctors and lawyers, UN representatives and CIA agents, I will have nothing to tell.
My life is unremarkable. Nothing more or less than every other average American has accomplished. A few tables over a few guys from one of my classes will begin to chat. "Do you remember that girl who used to study with us in AP Chem?" the music manager will ask.
"The one who never actually studied and barely stayed awake in class if she decided to get out of the water long enough to show up?" the C.E.O. will reply.
“You know, I think she only came to study group to get us to do her work for her."
"Karen or Mary or something—”
"Erin. Erin Roberts." He takes a long draw from his beer. “Wasn’t she going to be a shark biologist or something?"
“I think that was Plan B, behind pro surfer.”
"She here tonight?"
"Nah. Probably still out surfing somewhere."
"What ever happened to her?"
"Oh, she did the usual; grew up, got married, had some kids. She probably won’t show her face here tonight."
That image has to change. I can't go out like that. I need to do something to make those guys finish their conversation with, "But she woke up one day, looked at the cards she had been dealt and stepped up to the table to bet."
I have to find something big. And quick. Far too many years were spent muddling through the ordinary. Now is the time to do something grandiose. Or at least somewhere closer to grandiose than where I am right now. And I have to start planning it today.
Saturday gives me a few hours off from Tony and the kids to find my favorite table in the courtyard of a market near the water in Cardiff by the Sea. On the table lies a book that I’ve been meaning to pour through, but I just can’t concentrate. My mind repeatedly wanders off into thoughts of what I can do to feel alive again, to leave behind the stone tied to my leg threatening to drown me.
Diabetes has been holding me under for the last few years. In the beginning, diabetes was a minor nuisance. It was nothing. My self-care had become, just like the doctors and nurses told me it would, like brushing my teeth. But thirteen years in, it overwhelms me with responsibility and fear and depression and I need to do something about it.
Growing up, I was always up for any sort of challenge. But now I am tempered, not wanting to push too hard. The fear and frustration of diabetes fences me in. It has slowly worn me out. I have to get back to the girl I was before all this diabetes shit started. The girl who feared nothing, except being weak. The girl who always accepted a challenge and was ready at any time to go on any journey that presented itself.
Of all the journeys I could take on, the Australian Aborigine's walkabout intrigued me the most. When a boy is ready to venture into manhood he takes off on a journey to unite with the land of his ancestors, to prove that he has the skills and knowledge necessary to fend for himself. When he returns he has proven that he can be a valuable member of the tribe, one whom others can depend on and trust. He has had a spiritual experience that he can look back on as proof that he can handle whatever life throws his way.
That is the kind of thing that I need. It has been twelve years since the diagnosis. Diabetic adolescence has hit. I have gone through the happy-go-lucky childhood days, when my pancreas was not entirely dead and would at least help to regulate my sugar levels a little bit. It evened out the highs and lows. Those years passed quickly and the next three years taught me more of what diabetes does to a person. I was more responsible and knew the power the disease had.
The following six years brought on the usual teenage depression when everything was wrong and I was overly touchy about the subject. I am ready to move out of the teenage moody years and move on to adulthood when I can have a better outlook, more maturity and a healthy perspective on who I am because of diabetes, not in spite of it.
A walkabout looks like the perfect rite of passage to usher me into this new phase. The only problem is I do not have the Outback at my disposal and I wouldn't know how to survive in it even if I did. What I do know is the ocean. And in all its vastness and danger, it easily rivals the outback.
The aborigine walkabout is done to merge with the land. The boy endures it and enjoys it, and it urges him to extend his capabilities as far as possible. I need something to allow me to become part of the ocean and something that would be just at the end of my grasp. I need a risky goal which calls for a major extension of my talent. A goal that I am not sure I can accomplish. One with an opening for the unknown to step in and test me.
I need to go out to sea.
Beyond the borders of the land, where my feet can no longer touch the shore, I can follow in the footsteps of my grandpa, Captain Jack, and sail into the horizon. I loved hearing his stories as a kid, and it is just about time I start stocking up on my own stories to tell my kids and future grandkids. To do this right, though, I need a long journey. And I need to do it alone.
The stories of solo sailors have always engrossed me. My desire to solo was first stoked by reading Close to the Wind by Pete Goss, and Godforsaken Sea by Derek Lundy. They both tell the same story of the 1996-1997 Vendee Globe race. It is a grueling, four month sailing race that pits solo sailors against each other as they race 24,000 miles around the world. Most races have sailors drop out or lose their boats. Some lose their lives.
In this particular race the competitors encountered a fierce storm in the Roaring Forties and Rolling Fifties, the latitudes around the bottom of the world where waves and winds whip themselves up, unencumbered by land to stop their growth.
Raphael Dinelli was wrecked in the middle of the storm. His boat had sunk and he was holding on to life in his little raft amidst icy air and sixty knot winds that whip the sea into fifty foot waves. His life was being sucked right out of him.
When Pete Goss heard the MAYDAY call he turned his boat around to sail into the hurricane force winds to save his competitor. He risked his life to head directly into the storm that he had spent the last two days trying to outrun. And he made that decision without hesitation. It is the way of the sea. When someone is in trouble you do everything you can to help.
That was a tradition I wanted to be a part of and I wanted to do it alone. Shortly after finishing the book, solo sailing a long distance went on my Someday-I-Will list. Now is the time to take it off the list and place it firmly into reality.
Now that the decision has been made to go sailing, I need to start planning. First on the list is finding a place to sail that is warm and safe. Warm because I absolutely hate to be cold and I love not wearing much more than a bathing suit all day long. Safe because I have a husband and a mother who tend to be scared by my adventures.
I know they will be reassured if I stay in the United States. This leaves San Diego where I currently reside, which doesn't make for much of an adventure, or the southern portion of the Intercoastal Waterway in the Carolinas, Georgia or Florida. Captain Jack had come back from a trip down the Intercoastal Waterway and I loved hearing the stories he told. I would love to follow in his wake.
On the Intercoastal Waterway, I need to find someplace that has natural boundaries so that my starting and stopping points don't feel arbitrary. After a quick glance at the map, I decide on the Florida Keys. One hundred miles of warm water, plenty of islands to navigate by sight, and a very end-of-the-road feel. You can't get much more southerly than Key West.
I need at least a year to prepare for a trip like this. One of the many benefits of being a teacher is three months off in the summer to adventure. Next summer should be a great time to go.