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Our Magical Journey- The Friendship Paddle and Pedal

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For months The Friendship Paddle board and their families and many of my fantastic friends and friends of friends planned and prepared for the amazing adventure that took place on October 18th and 19th.  Saying thank you for all the work that went into the event just doesn’t seem like enough.  Over these past weeks I have been trying to formulate how I would  put into words what the Friendship Paddle meant to me.  I’ve sat down multiple times and started writing but then just had to walk away because I didn’t feel like I was able to accurately portray my emotions of the trip.  It finally hit me, it was so amazing that it is really indescribable but I’m going to try and do my best.

At 7:15, Friday morning there was a knock at our front door.  Jon and I looked at each other like who would be here so early.  We opened the door and there was Brady delivering us a bunch of awesome TSFC hats.  Brady and Kristy had the hats made for the big event and Brady wanted to be sure we got them before we headed to the islands.  Super sweet!  Then the texts started, are you headed to the harbor?  What time will you be there?  We are headed out now.  See you there.  The excitement was brewing.

Jon and I dropped the girls off at school and headed to the student of the month assembly where Lucy received an award for Cooperation with Classmates.  She had the biggest smile on her face and we were very proud.  Then we headed down to the harbor to unload our goods for the paddle.  As we were unloading the magnitude of the event began to set in.  Everywhere I looked there were not only friends but people who would become friends getting ready to shove off for the big adventure.  There were lots of hugs and big smiles.   Heidi grabbed my cart and we headed down to Marina 1 to meet the rest of our team.  I knew we would be heading out on a pretty fantastic boat but I had not yet seen it.  When we walked up I was in complete ahh of the Athena.  We were riding in style.

We had a great group of ladies on our boat:  Heidi Ziskind, Kim Blair, Linda Meyer, Pamela Thiene (captain), Julie Estabrook, myself and Meghan Behrens. I don’t think any of us quite knew what to expect from the adventure.  We loaded the boat with the necessities:  ice and wine.  LOL.    The sun was shining, the ocean was flat, the air was warm and I knew this was going to be an incredible weekend.

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Thank you Pamela Thiene for donating your magnificent boat for the trip and being the best captain ever!!

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We shoved off with the help of Alan Watson who we were lucky to have on board for the trip out to Santa Rosa.  Alan is also the person who so thoughtfully asked Pam to donate and time and boat for our adventure.  We lost him to his team once we were all anchored up and secure. The crossing was absolutely beautiful.  The visibility in the water was incredible.  The dolphins were magnificent.  I don’t know what it is about dolphins but every time you see them it is like the first time all over again.  At one point it felt like there were pods coming toward the boat from every direction.  We had about 20 minutes straight of dolphins swimming with the boat.  They are such a soothing and peaceful sight.  Dolphins in the Channel

We pulled up to Forney’s Cove and found our spot.  I think we were the 5th boat to arrive.  The island was drier and more barren than I thought it would be but beautiful nonetheless.  We were greeted by friends who had already been enjoying the spectacular weather.  As the day went on more and more boats arrived.  I think in total we had 27 boats and about 180 people of which 130 or so paddled.  Just incredible.  Not only was I surrounded by good friends but I was introduced to people that I will never forget.  At about 4pm John McFadden began to rally everyone to come to the island for dinner.  (Thank you Chicken Ranch for providing the burritos and Figueroa Brewing Co. and Telegraph for providing the kegs.)   The water was calm and taking a dingy to the shore was no problem for almost everyone. Although there were one or two who landed in the water but I won’t mention any names.  Everywhere I turned there were smiling faces, hugs, kisses and words of support.  There were stories of how our journey has touched peoples lives in more ways than we could have ever imagined.  There was excitement in the air.  I met so many wonderful people all there to support me, my family and our crazy cancer journey.  At one point I looked around and thought to myself who am I to receive such astounding support and love from not only my friends but their friends and people I have never even met. Pretty incredible.  The energy on the island was extraordinary.  You know when someone is just beaming with happiness and you can feel it and their amazing energy literally seeps into you, imagine that coming from 180 people and just soaking it all in.  It was a total high and completely mind blowing!  As the afternoon turned to evening we all gathered to hear Dave Kronen say some words about the Friendship Paddle and the crossing the next day.  It was pretty overwhelming to be the center of it all.  Everyone was so pumped up to make the crossing.  We all hoped the ocean would remain calm and beautiful for the next day.

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At some point in the evening people began to head back to their boats to continue with the merriment of the day.  It was pretty cool to take the dingy around and visit everyone.  The cocktails were certainly flowing and there was no lack of tequila shots being taken.  If you were looking for a dance party you didn’t have to go far.  Throughout the evening the sky was lit up with beautiful fireworks and then there was the moonrise.  It was the Harvest moon and when it came up over the island it was a sight to see.

Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island

The evening was full of fun and much laughter.  Three of our ladies including our fearless captain decided to jump off the crows nest of the boat next to us which of course was awesome.  I was wishing I could take the plunge but had to live vicariously through them.  Two of our ladies did a late night swim to all the boats.  I would say everyone on the trip had a pretty awesome time.

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At some point I realized the morning was going to come fast and I needed to get some sleep.  My accommodations were awesome!  A cozy bed with a big warm comforter on it.  I stuck my earplugs in and closed my eyes hoping to fall quickly to sleep.  Unfortunately my brain was on overload and the energy was flowing through my body so it took sometime to finally wind down.  I woke in the middle of the night when the boat started to rock a bit.  I thought to  myself I hope this rocking isn’t a precursor to tomorrow’s conditions for all the paddlers.  You guessed it, it was.  We woke in the morning to a beautiful sunrise and the moon still bright in the sky.

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It was so peaceful but the ocean was no longer glassy and flat outside of the cove it was more like a bit of a washing machine.  At this point I realized it really didn’t matter whether or not the doctor gave me the go ahead to paddle or not because in these conditions and only 4 weeks post op I would not be hopping on a board.  The first round of paddlers and those soloing the crossing all began heading to the island for a morning circle and prayer.  Being in that circle is something that I will never forget.  As I sit and write this and think about the words to describe what happened that morning the tears have started flowing.  It’s almost just too wonderful for words.  If there was one word I could use to describe it, it would be magical.  I was infused with the love, compassion, support and healing energy of everyone around me.

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As many of you know Jon decided to solo the crossing.  It would be the longest paddle he had ever done and so he would be the person leading the pack as the adventure began. The paddlers began the journey at about 7:40am.

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The first round of paddlers made their way out of Forneys Cove and headed to potato patch.  It was quite rough through that area.  People were going down left and right but always getting back up and always pushing forward. Many decided to drop to their knees to make it through potato patch.  I was in such awe as I watched everyone pushing their limits, going way beyond their comfort levels and never giving up.  Linda was our first paddler and she pushed through the worst of it.  After the paddle was over Jon Bishop told me that as he was paddling through the hardest parts he just kept thinking to himself this is like the cancer that Tara is fighting and this isn’t supposed to be easy.  We are on this journey to support Tara and just as she never gives up neither will we.  DSC_0816

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Linda was quite happy when we finally pulled up after dealing with the kelp on the anchor and Heidi was able to jump in for the next leg of the relay.

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Next in the water for our team was Kim Blair followed by Meghan Behrens and then Julie Estabrook.

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Everyone continued to take turns on the water for the next 7 plus hours as we crossed the channel.  We were visited throughout the crossing by pods of dolphins which is always a good sign.

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There was lots of excitement as the dolphins swam with the dinghies.

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As the day went on I was able to take the dinghy around and check in with the paddlers and the other boats.  I don’t think I stopped smiling.  There could have been only one thing that would have made the day any better and that would have been to have the opportunity to paddle side by side with everyone on the water but sometimes you have to know your limitations and keep your eye on the prize no matter what.  My abs got enough of a workout just from steadying myself on the boat as we made the crossing.  About halfway through the crossing the boats slowed and the paddlers gathered up so everyone could take a breather and check in.  It was such a cool sight.

Here is Jon at about 1pm.  He didn’t get off his board once well he may have slipped off a couple of times but got right back on.  I think he was pretty much a bit delirious by the time of the landing.

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At 1 pm the Pedal began from the harbor out to Goleta Beach and back.  I think there were about 50 riders who made the trek.  I hear the cliff drive hill was the killer of the ride.  You guys all rock!! Thank you for pedaling your butts off for me!

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As we began to come closer and closer to the landing we began to see fog and at one point while I was out on the dinghy the fog completely covered all the boats but it was literally there and then gone.  Later someone told me they thought the fog was like a metaphor for the cancer.  It came in and took over and then it was just gone.

Once we were able to see the beach and little specks of people on the beach I was hit by an overwhelming amount of emotion.  I was sitting on the bow of the boat by myself and just taking it all in.  I looked up and noticed that the beach was covered with people.  Not only had 180 people made the crossing with me but there was a ton of people on the beach waiting for the landing.  It was incredible and I just started sobbing.  You go through life hoping that you are good person, compassionate, understanding, supportive of others but for some reason there is always some sort of doubt. It’s so unfortunate that it takes a diagnosis of cancer or some grave illness for us to realize that we don’t have to doubt ourselves.  That we can be just who we are and people will thrive on it.  That a smile really does make someone’s day.  That kindness and compassion truly are what is needed in the world.  That the everyday drama doesn’t mean a damn.  That life is what you make of it and true friends will be there no matter what happens.  In that moment I realized no matter what happened in my cancer journey I have lived my life just the way I want it.  I may not be a millionaire in money but I certainly am in love and friendship and that is just the way I want it.

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I pulled myself together and was picked up in a dinghy to head in for the landing.  I was hoping to get on a board and come in but decided I better be safe.  As we all gathered to make the landing I just kept looking behind me and then to the beach and it was one of the most overwhelming moments of my life.  The cherry on top was looking out and seeing Madison being paddled out to make the landing with us.  It was truly a moment I will never forget.  It was almost surreal like is this really happening to me, to our family.  As we made the landing I didn’t know where to look or who to hug or where to go.  I wanted to kiss and hug everyone.  I know I didn’t get the chance to connect with everyone who came down but know that each and every one of you are forever in my heart.  I wish I had photos with all of you who paddled, supported, donated, pedaled, prayed, and cheered us all on.  If you were there and I haven’t met you please introduce yourself I would love to give you a hug.

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Here is the link to a slideshow that was made by Kristi Gordnier of the landing.  Makes me cry every time I watch it.  If you have photos of the event I would love for you to post them on the shutterfly site.

Landing Slideshow

The event didn’t end at the landing it continued on at the Maritime Museum and ended for Jon, Madison and I the yacht club.  I wish it never had to end but at about 8:45pm Madison said to us it is time to go home and you know what she was right.  I was exhausted but running on the adrenaline rush of the past two days.  It took me a week to start to come down from the high of the event.  The experience that this gave me and my family is absolutely priceless.  It was truly magical and something we will never forget.

I have a favor to ask of you if you were touched by this event and are able to put your thoughts down would you send them to me.  I would like to put a book together.  I know this event impacted not only my family but so many others even beyond those who participated.  I would love for those who started the event to know what a profound impact they are having on the community and what a legacy Doug McFadden has left.

Hugs and Kisses!

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