These difficult times of COVID-19 and stay at home orders, gives me time to reminisce my first kayaking experience. I’ll admit I felt a mixture of excitement and fear; I had never kayaked. I had this feeling of being out of control and not trusting myself. It’s the same strange feeling that overcomes me when I return the shopping scooter back to the store after my mom has used it. Yes, I have been driving for many years, but there’s a different sensation driving one of those things and getting into a canvas kayak boat. I’m so glad that I overcame my fears and tumbled into and out of the kayak, because tumbling it was.
I had one of the best host families anyone could hope for, the Schultz’s from Kassel, Germany. They lived in a cute suburban part of Kassel named Oberfellmar. It was about a 20 minute tram ride to the college. My host family are an active family and their daughter Theresia was home from college by this time. It was a beautiful, hot Saturday. They have a kayak and a canoe. We helped Heinrich load one of the boats on top of his car then we drove to a point along the Fulda in the Lower Saxony State of Germany where he dropped Maddi and me off with the first boat. He and Theresia picked up the other boat while Beate drove the car to follow along on the roads, stopping on bridges and the side of the road to take pictures as we would make our way down the river.
I voiced my nervousness to Maddi, and she reassured me she would guide me. She had been kayaking many times. Theresia and Heinrich returned with the other boat. It was now time to put them in the water. They were heavy and once in the water seemed so unsteady to my fearful brain. I sucked it up though and climbed into the canvas boat of which you can only step on the wood or risk stepping through the canvas. This warning did not help. I was situated finally with our bag of snacks and Wasser (water). The kayak felt a little wobbly as we pushed off. We started off easy, allowing me to get used to the feeling of the kayak circling in the water a couple of times. Then it was time to go on an adventure down the Fulda. Heinrich and Theresia led the way in the canoe. I was unsure of myself at first but soon began to get the hang of the paddling motions. I gazed down at the very murky water and how close it felt and mused on what may lurk under there, but soon my anxiety was overtaken with awe.
This became a magical time for me. The beauty of the water and lusciousness of vegetation around overwhelmed my entire being. I was in love with kayaking! We would stop and glide along at points. The river was calm, the sun beat down at certain points. I was basking in the glory of it until…until we had to get past the dam. I had no idea what was happening. There were large metal handles along a concrete wall that was level to us. I gave a frightened glance to Maddi who shrugged her shoulders sharing her own trepidation. She had never seen anything like this. My heart was in my chest as the water began to lower and us with it. I have never held so tight to a metal handle in my life. As we were lowered the large wall ahead of us became longer, the canyon deeper.
We stopped lowering. A loud creaking, metal sound, that had a very dystopian or Mordor door opening from “Lord of the Rings” ambience. I squirmed, “What’s happening?” Maddi is as clueless as me. As soon as it was up, all fear was gone. We were level with the rest of the river. Now that I knew what had just transpired, I realized the transition of levels was done this way, keeping us from kayaking down a rambling waterfall. The relaxation returned in a wave as we made our way out of the dam construction to continue our journey. I breathed a sigh of relief and drank some Fanta, a German favorite.
An hour or so later or maybe longer, I am not sure, because I lost all concept of time, we came to a dock of some sort. Just a wall on the side of the grass where we could tie the boats. We climbed from the boats staring at the slightly rolling rapid along the side of the dam. It is forbidden to ride, boaters are supposed to walk their boats through it, but we decided to have a little fun and ride the mini rapid after overcoming a little anxiety on my part. It was exhilarating and uneventful at the same time. Beate had met us there. After taking the boats from the Fulda Fluss (river) we ate lunch. We helped to load the first boat. Theresia, Maddi and I took naps on the blanket as Heinrich and Beate left to return the first one home. It was relaxing, serene, and beautiful.
My trip down the Fulda from one German state to another was one of the best days of my time in Germany, even my life. It was a day that I will never forget, and I was introduced to a new passion that I would repeat along the Ipswich River this past summer in Massachusetts. Studying abroad is more than just the learning in the classroom or the friendships between classmates, but in my case a new bonding experience with my host family, the Schultz’s.