Alone on A Wide Wide Lake

I’d never been waterskiing in my life, but I knew how to ski, and I felt like a million bucks: When Aaron asked, “who wants to give it a try?” I was the very first in line…
It had been the kind of morning you might think you’d never actually experience. Like being in a car commercial or a credit card ad.
The air smelled fresh, the lake was calm, a loon’s cry echoed in the distance. As the faint mist lifted off the lake – and my mind – to reveal the cloudless sky, I felt like I was on top of the world.
A group of us high school friends were out for a long weekend at Aaron and Gord’s family cottage up in Muskoka, Ontario’s beautiful cottage country.
I’d always heard of this ‘up to the cottage’ lifestyle growing up, but as a child of not particularly wealthy nor well-connected parents, I’d never actually experienced it. It was amazing.
The day started with a robust and delicious breakfast – just what was needed to clear the cobwebs after a night of much merriment and underage imbibement.
After we’d had our fill, Aaron suggested taking out the boat and asked if anyone wanted to try waterskiing.
Could it get any more perfect than this?

As Aaron got the boat started, I slipped into the rubberized bindings of a pair of sleek, vintage wooden water skis.
Thrilled by the growling of the boat’s engine and its nostalgic gasoline smell, I eased myself off the dock into the chest-high water.
I grabbed the tow-rope handle, and Aaron eased the boat forward, gradually speeding up. I felt the skis tug as they tried to get on top of the water. They dragged me out along with them, and I was back in the air again, flying across the lake’s glassy surface.
Somehow, I’d managed to ‘get up’ on my first time (apparently highly unlikely). I was beaming with pride.
“Wanna speed up?” Aaron yelled from the boat.
“Sure!” I grimaced and reveled in the acceleration.

As the boat made long, lazy turns in the water, I tried jumping over its wake. I made it over the first crest but landed toes down in its trough, dipping my skis under the water.
Splash! Hitting the water at speed was rougher than I’d imagined. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
Having gotten up so easily, I was Far From Shore when I fell!

It was only then that I realized how long it takes the boat to come back: Floating, alone, legs dangling above an abyss filled with darkness and creatures unknown!
As panic started to settle in, I made the active decision to fight it, not wanting the embarrassment giving in to those feelings would have brought.
As I floated alone out there on the lake, I thanked myself for having put my contact lenses in that morning. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even have been able to distinguish the distant cottage and deck from among the now very far away shoreline.
It struck me that no one there could see or hear me if I waved my arms or cried out. I was truly, utterly, alone. Floating above the blackness, trying to lift my toes out of the water (which is not easy when they’re strapped into wooden waterskis).
It felt like forever, waiting for the boat to make its way back to me.

Realizing I didn’t want to make a scene or buckle under what was actually not very much pressure – in the grand scheme of things – I resolved to breathe through these long, agonizing moments, focusing on one nano-second at a time.

I made it.
“Wanna go around again or head back?” Aaron called from the boat.
“LET’S GO BACK!” I tried my best to sound nonchalant about it all – maybe I was just hungry, right? Who’s to know?
Putting my newly developed water-skiing prowess to its biggest, first, and only test – I made it all the way back to the shore without falling again. Success!
As I waded my way back to sweet, sweet land, I made a quiet vow to never – ever – feel the need to ‘see if I still know how to waterski’ in the future.

When someone suggested going out the next day, I passed, holding up my freshly cracked beer and open book. I took a sip, turned the page, and smiled, remembering what it felt like to fly as I pressed my feet firmly into the sand.