Angle to Key West: Looking in the Mirror (1/20)

Paddling Arm

Tallahassee, FL – January 20, 2013

The bathroom scale reads 205 pounds, exactly what it read when I left, but I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize myself.

Reddish skin sits on my nose and cheeks right above the bones where the sunlight catches my face. My eyes look lighter, almost green instead of dark brown. My lips are chapped, peeling a bit, bright red where I’ve bitten away old skin.

My collar bones are sharp, clear lines that pop off my frame underneath shoulders that look overbuilt. My arms are thick, heavy, and solid. They look full of power, like a gorilla’s, cut from stone in large chunks and hanging from my frame.

Most of my fat is gone, but I don’t look skinny. My back and abs are solid, not like a bodybuilder’s, not ripped into six-packs, but layers and layers of muscle made to endure, built for a thousand light pulls, not a few bursts of movement. They look ready to take a beating, ready to twist my body back and forth for hours like a clock.

My legs look smaller, still muscled from long hikes, but lighter, not in full form, not ready to walk up mountains. There is no doubt they’ve been pillaged for parts. The structure is gone, broken down and shipped up. All that is left is the foundation, the frame, waiting for me to walk again, waiting to fill out with used pieces of shoulders and arms, pulled down by gravity and miles on a trail.

My skin looks good, slightly tan, but not too much given how long I’ve been outside. A few red lines crisscross my stomach and hips, left from skin rubbed raw by folds of clothing and dried salt. My hands are the darkest part of me, tanned brown leather that ends at the wrist where I turn shades lighter underneath, hidden under a paddling shirt. My thighs are red and irritated from days soaking in wet clothes that refused to dry in the humid air. My heels are cracked from pressing on the bottom of the boat. They sting when I touch them.

I don’t see my injured fingers–the third on each hand–and the ligaments that tighten when it’s cold. I don’t see the rib that still feels tender on deep breaths or the tightness in my spine. That’s all internal and hidden away under layers of muscle, skin, and fat. I just feel it.

I look and stare, pull on joints and stretch, press into sore muscles with my hands, marvel at the machine this trip has created. I check the parts like a trainer would a racehorse, a mechanic an engine. It’s not a body built in a gym. It’s not built for fitness or pride or vanity. It’s a body built for one thing, for moving a paddle through the water 20,000 times a day.

10 thoughts on “Angle to Key West: Looking in the Mirror (1/20)

  1. Daniel…….how’s the elephant tasting? Glad to see you are in friendly surroundings. Ken was in your neighborhood, but in already Northbound..he misses our nice weather! You are ALMOST done with this adventure. Get back on your trusty steed in a few days…’ll be hard to leave your home……but is necessary to accomplish the goal. Home will be that much sweeter when you return……take care and have some chocolate!


    1. Haha, I know Keith knows me well when he talks about eating chocolate. I just saw some manatees yesterday, their closest relative is the elephant!

  2. Welcome to the gun show. That is what I’m talking about. Sexy. I double clicked on the photo to get more pictures, but no luck. Thanks for the picture and description of your body. I love it… you are a well maintained machine, a work horse. You are to kyaking what the Volvo 240 is to automobiles. You da man, Dan.

  3. let me know if you want to get you hiking legs back this summer. I have some plans brewing as always.

      1. annabanna! hope you are doing well. I am sure you are glad to have OoO back in the neighborhood.

  4. It is interesting that you mention your middle fingers. I have the exact same problem after paddling the Mississippi. Unfortunately, almost 2 month after the trip, my middle fingers still hurt when cold. Will this ever change?

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