Anxiety. I’m not normally an anxious person, but paddling rivers can bring those feelings up out of the depths of my normal confident nature.
I recently found myself telling a friend that I Iike to paddle rivers in spite of the rapids, not because of them. Maybe this is because I came to rivers in my 30’s, a bit more hesitant to pick up a new extreme sport, or maybe it’s because rivers hold more consequences than trails.
Learning to read a river is like learning to read a new language. Where do you want to put yourself in a river with potential hazards like holes, strainers, undercut rocks and log jams? The risks are bigger and the consequences can end your adventurous life in a second.
But meeting Kirk, an experienced Class V whitewater boater (and guide), was probably the only way I would have approached this new sport. Through Kirk I was able to start learning the language and trust him in the water.
It was been fun and exhilarating, and I love broadening my skill set.
I’m not comfortable in a hardshell kayak… not comfortable upside-down under water, but with the advent of packrafts (lightweight inflatable kayaks) I’ve enjoyed our paddling adventures all over the Pacific Northwest.
I have seen a change in my comfort levels. The first few years I would start many of our trips white knuckled and tense, afraid to make a mistake and swim out of my boat, but I would see Kirk and his friends approach the trips very differently. Instead of a mine-field of potential hazards, they saw a playground full of features to try out moves, surf the waves, and have fun. Could I get to that point where I saw fun instead of angst?
It is so empowering to paddle a section of river that will challenge your skills and be successful, but every time I feel like I’m being put to the test, me against the river. I’ve done some big trips, successfully paddling Class IV rapids, and solo packrafted the 140-mile water alternate to the Oregon Desert Trail on the Owyhee River, but lately we’ve spent more time on rivers I’ve become comfortable with, and I find myself entering that place of enjoyment instead of dread.
There is still that little voice in my head that berates myself for taking the easy way out and not rising to the challenge. I don’t know how to quiet that voice entirely, but I’ve gotten better at not listening to it. Why are we our own worst critics?
So this weekend we paddled a section of the North Umpqua River that I’ve paddled 20 times before, the same section we paddled yesterday in fact! Today I’m going to marvel at the blue-green water, do some more river snorkeling (my new favorite thing in clear river waters) and leave the white knuckling for another day.