The rolling repetition of summer make it hard not to use each festival or race as a mental milestone, comparing this year to last and first experiences to second.
A lot can happen in a year, in the 12 months between the Bix 7, Tugfest and Floatzilla.
Friendships form. Gardens are planted. The Mississippi River rises and falls.
And somehow over my second cycle of Quad-City happenings, I started to find my place. This time last year, it was my first summer. I was still a little disoriented at the grocery store and events were full of the faces of strangers – with the occasional friendly face.
But after almost two years of living in the Quad-Cities, I’m slipping into the rhythm, carried along through the summer by events I remember. Two years in, I’ve settled on the best gnat fighting solution for summer nights and I have near-perfect my bridge management skills.
This year, I had a routine at the Bix. I knew exactly when the pivot from watching the starting line to looking up Brady Street hill toward a sea of runners. And I knew right when to leave the podium and jump into the crowd, recognizing my pace and my place in the crowd. Last year, I didn’t know what it would feel like to climb a hill with more than 13,000 people, how the moving bodies and the cheering from the sidelines and the music would drown out the rest of the world and erase any weariness.
I got on this train of thought as the calendar flipped to August and I saw the date of Floatzilla on the horizon.
I remember that Quad-City milestone well from this time last year. Looking back, I realize I was exaggerating about the rooms full of strangers, because I distinctly remember standing in line on Credit Island for my registration packet and talking to everyone around me – people I knew, people I’d met over just a few months in this city of ours that still manages to feel like a small town. “Glad you’re doing this,” a woman waved and called out from the other line.
Once I was on the Mississippi, I was surprised by the relative diversity of people taking part in Floatzilla. I paddled by a couple guys in their boats getting some sun on their bellies with coolers between their legs. I saw a laughing family of four – two kayaks and a parent and child in each boat. And I paddled for a time with a group of serious men, endurance athletes, but let them leave me behind.
There’s an interesting cycle to that day. It starts and ends as something relaxing and social. But, just like any pilgrim’s progress, the middle part is difficult and you are alone.
I crossed the Mississippi from Iowa to Illinois at Credit Island. I navigated my way over the wing dam and felt Pelican Island disappear behind me. Within just a few paddle strokes, you’re alone in the vastness wide miles of water rushing to get to the ocean. In this water at that place, you cannot stop paddling. This is not a resting river. The wind picks up and so does the adrenaline. You imagine you can feel the catfish and the gravity of the channel. There is just as much water behind you as in front of you and you can’t turn back now.
The fight to kayak across the Mississippi River is 50 percent mental and 50 percent momentum, but it is a fight. As I paddled, I thought about the big bellied men and wondered if they were really going to make this trip. (They did).
Then, as quickly as the battle started, it was over. I made it to the other side. The protected water clamed and, suddenly, I wasn’t alone. Kayakers I hadn’t noticed during the crossing were flowing into the marina by the hundreds, paddling slowly into the harbor. Smiling strangers loosened their life jackets and one woman pulled a small dog from out of the cockpit and perched him on the bow of her boat.
It’s that time of year again. Floatzilla is Aug. 19. This year, I plan to paddle Taming of the Slough, which I did do last year. That gets us to September, the end of summer festival season, and it’s time to start the whole Quad-City cycle over again.