For the 50+ Traveler

Some information included in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.

It was a beautiful, sunny weekend with an off-season chill in the air. My husband and I were in search of an adventure, and we decided to give kayaking a try.

I’m 62, and my husband, Chris, is 67; we now have the time and the courage to try new things. Last year, we tried stand-up paddleboarding, which was a hoot! It’s always good to get out of your comfort zone. However, the farther away from that zone you go, the more likely you are to run into unexpected challenges. This can be good, bad, or downright ugly.

We booked the Naturalist Kayak Tour offered by the Omni Amelia Island Resort, a guided ecological paddle through a salt marsh. It sounded like fun. What could possibly go wrong?

The Omni Amelia Island Resort is a beautiful resort and gated community offering lots to do for guests, visitors, and locals alike. It is also a little confusing to navigate, with parts of the resort open to the public and other parts behind security gates.

At first, the guards at the gate sent us to the nature center, where we met a lovely rescued tropical bird named Buddy. The nature center worker sent us back to the guard shack with directions for the marsh landing where the kayaks were docked.

Now we were late, and we worried that we were holding up the tour. After two loops around the residential area, we found the turn, parked, and hiked the short distance to the guide shack. Our two guides were lovely and were worried that we had gotten lost.

Note to self: It’s not good to attempt something new when you are late and stressed. Thankfully, we were the only ones signed up for the tour, eliminating the need for embarrassing apologies.

The wooden boat slip was situated on the marsh next to a rustic boathouse that was being prepared for a wedding reception.

After getting our oh no, you’re beginners instructions, we were given the option of a single or double kayak. Do you ever get the sense that there was a fork in the road and you chose the wrong one? Yep -- we went for the double kayak. It was a weekend getaway, and we were having a great time. What could go wrong?

The tour was lovely, and we were paddling together fairly pleasantly, listening to our very knowledgeable guides explain the ecology of the marsh. We grounded out a time or two, but we were able to extract ourselves without much fuss. We learned about the marsh and its inhabitants as we paddled together in peaceful harmony.

The writer and her husband kayaking together.
Sandi Barrett

It was a chilly day in February, and we were both in jeans, fleece jackets, hats, scarves, gloves, and sunglasses. The guides instructed us to leave our phones in the car, and I was grateful they did.

After almost an hour of enjoyable paddling, we headed back to the dock, navigating through the narrow channel and past the boathouse where the staff members were putting the final touches on the reception venue. A lone fisherman stood near the boat ramp. Chris and I were congratulating ourselves on the wonderful job we had done. There had been hardly any bickering -- quite an accomplishment.

I was in the front, and we were inches from putting the kayak in the slip. I could feel the boat start to tip to the right. Confused, I lifted my paddle and leaned to the left -- but not fast enough.

The next thing I knew, I was underwater in sneaker-sucking, marshy muck.

Shocked by the cold water and weighed down by my very heavy, waterlogged jeans and fleece, my first impulse was to grab my glasses; I couldn’t navigate without them. Thankfully, I still had them.

There was no way I was going to be able to lift myself up onto the boat slip while stuck in mud, and I wasn’t able to get back into the kayak as my guide suggested. I’m just not that strong. Chris managed to pull himself up onto the boat slip, dragging a few barnacles with him.

The only way for me to extricate myself was the concrete boat ramp about 10 feet away. I couldn’t walk in the water due to the thick, quicksand-like muck. I opted to swim, and what I mean by swim is flail, flapping my arms like a person with no control of their feet. My goal was to keep my sneakers -- if one got sucked up by the muck, it would be a goner.

The writers' shoes after falling into the marsh.
Sandi Barrett

The boat ramp consisted of rough concrete covered in slippery marsh muck and very little water. The staff who had been setting up for the wedding reception were now watching this spectacle with wide eyes and gaping jaws. The fisherman unsuccessfully suppressed a laughing fit while asking if we were okay.

Chris was furious. “This is all your fault,” he growled. But I didn’t know what I had done. I was kayaking, and then all of a sudden, I was sucking marsh water up my nose. I looked at the guide, Chris stomped away, and I mouthed, “What did I do?” Her response? “It wasn’t you.” Ha! Thank you! I thought. Secret vindication.

Our guides were worried we would go a few rounds, but then I started laughing hysterically. I was happy the wedding reception hadn’t started; the boathouse would have been loaded with hundreds of spectators watching our little scene play out.

It must have been quite a sight: a chubby 62-year-old woman with brown water pouring off her fleece jacket, jeans saturated with water, and filthy sneakers (which, to this day, are not quite right) crawling on all fours up a boat ramp, laughing uncontrollably -- all while a young, very worried guide, clearly not sure what to do, shouted out vague instructions and encouragement. I wish I had a video!

By the time I’d made it out, the guides had provided towels and Chris had regained his composure (I think he was appalled at my giddy demeanor). We had, thankfully, brought a change of outerwear. A half-hour later, we headed back to our hotel.

We had dinner reservations at the very posh Salt restaurant that evening. After several shampoos to get the marsh (and smell) out of my hair, I called to tell them we were going to be late and explained why. The young lady who answered the phone did a first-rate job of maintaining her composure, but I could hear her smiling through the phone. We got more than a few looks when we arrived. Perhaps we still sported a bit of Eau de Marsh!

I love my husband, and I love being on the water, but I’m not sure tandem kayaking is going to happen ever again!