Friday, August 3, 2012


I'm going to tell you a secret.

Whitewater Kayaking is a scary sport.
Also, this isn't usually what you're hoping to see when setting shuttle...
It appeals to most of our innate fears; fears like drowning, being entrapped in a confined space, loss of control. Fears of edges, falling, and "river monsters." Some of these are rational fears, others are not.

I think fear is an important thing to acknowledge, and occasionally, to challenge. It reminds us of our vulnerabilities and creates the opportunity for personal growth. It also reminds us of our strengths and encourages us to appreciate the challenges we have already overcome. The result can either perpetuate and strengthen your fears, or knock them back like shots at a frat house (or so I'm told).

My greatest fears stem from the unknown.
Not quite...
Perhaps I'm biased, but it seems like the unknown is the root of most fears. It's impossible not to play the "what if..." game, especially when staring at a complex rapid, or in the wake of tragedy. The unknown is equally influential in my trepidation about what the future may hold. Where am I going? What's out there?

Darkness embodies the unknown. It makes it visible, if not tangible.

Nietzchie references aside, I frequently find myself facing off against the darkness and feeling challenged. Most times I make it a few hundred feet into the woods before something goes Rice Crispies in the woods and I return to someplace less threatening.

But on the water it's different. Whatever light there is gets reflected and refracted, multiplied with every ripple. On the water, I feel at home. It acts the same way whether it's light or dark. For me, water creates an incentive to push past the fear.

So I chased after that incentive. I jogged my shuttle in the fading light. The dogs at every house I passed were aggressive but on leashes. In the last quarter mile I startled something in the woods. It followed me to the clearing where I stashed my boat, but stayed hidden in the trees.

The water was warmer than I expected. The residual light of the setting sun faded as I paddled through the minefield of rocks above the first falls. I sat quietly at the edge in the dark. The night air was rich and still. Life hung in the balance of black and white.
The answer's in there somewhere...
In truth, the flatwater was more difficult than any of the whitewater. The calm water in the river had turned to oil, indistinguishable from all but the most prominent rocks. In the darkness, my memory of these sections was incomplete at best.

But in the whitewater everything was sharp and clear. Well practiced moves came easily, holes and pillows provided an effervescent glow, and my memory easily filled in the gaps. Features loomed out of the darkness. With less time to prepare for each, my reactions adopted an intimacy with the river previously unheard of. I began relying less on my visual input and focused on what I felt beneath the hull of my boat and against the blade of my paddle.

Boofing over the last ledge and into the glow of lampposts was simultaneously relieving and disappointing. Tendrils of fear had wrapped themselves in my mind, forcing me to paddle continuously down the river, getting out of the dark and back into civilization as quickly as possible. But as soon as it was over, I only wanted to go back.

But the river wasn't finished just yet. In the orange glow of the streetlights, the river flowed as molten copper. My paddle strokes sent me gliding and slicing through the copper-oil and foam so easily it felt as if the currents had reversed direction. In fact, I looked up at the shore a handful of times to be sure.
Something like that..except much darker.
Paddle in hand, I walked into the darkness to retrieve my car, emboldened by the gifts facing my fears had left me with.

And that's just one of the reasons why I keep kayaking.
What about you?

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I am a freelance writer and photographer, collector of experiences, adventure lover, and outdoor goer.