It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way

Hey! Hey… you. Yeah, you! I’m talking to you: the adventurous, the determined, the willing… the scared. I’m talking to you, who wants suc10556931_833877590007705_5282260438537999586_ocess so badly you can taste it, who aches for that moment when desire and confidence trumps fear, who just wants to know what it’s like to fly, who wants to know what it’s like to mostly have fun instead of be gripped with terror.

I want you to know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ve seen you. You nervously smile in an eddy and aren’t much for small talk. I can spot your bruises, skinned knees, and cut up elbows just before noticing your shattered confidence; they usually go hand in hand. I see the deep breath and big gulp you take before you, your dinner plate eyes, and your white knuckles wobble out into the current and go blank until the bottom of the rapid.

I recognize you because I’ve been you. I see you because I know there’s a different way.

I want to tell you that there’s lessons behind battle scars and war stories; hell, we can become strong through experience. But I also want you to know that you don’t have to be terrified all the time, and the line between growing from experience and crumpling beneath it is razor thin. You don’t have to be bloody, bruised, limping, and broken. That isn’t all the River has to offer you, I promise.

Photo: Tracy Welch

Some of us can learn by crashing, burning, and putting the pieces back together along the way… but some of us lose the pieces altogether and face an uphill battle to ever regain confidence, joy, and peace on the water, if ever we do. Some of us never reassemble, and we wash our hands of the River entirely.

I’m not here to tell you that there won’t be days where you crawl to the takeout with your tail between your legs. We dance with a force of nature that is wildly more powerful than us, and even the masters of our craft will have wounds of mind and body to nurse from time to time. What I am here to tell you is that kayaking is not a physical altercation every time you get on the water. Kayaking is not a dread filled fist-fight that you must mitigate between put in and take out. If that’s how you feel, I want you to know it can be different.

The River can be a slow, rich sonata that deepens with time. You will see layers of time and Earth unfold as you move downstream. Eddies can be places of reflection, growth, self-determination. Kisses from the River can be gentle messages of humility, and paddle strokes can be harmonious, transcendent, and filled with power- sometimes not even your own, but a gift from the River. Heartbeats can be reminders of vitality and existence, and current can be a pathway to another dimension. We can leave the water new, innocent, and primed for growth. We do not have 10431246_779980678730730_2771207873774664554_oto shatter.

I pass no judgement; I simply want you to know that if you, while reading this, think to yourself that perhaps you’ve never had a gentle exchange with the River, that maybe you are always in combat as you claw rather than proceed downstream, I want you to know it can be different. You don’t have to be gripped, you don’t have to be broken, you don’t have to wonder why you do what you do at all. Ask me, and I’ll tell you about it. Find the stewards and the soul boaters, and they’ll show you. Seek ways to remember why you kayak at all- the pull of the water, the light dancing on the surface, the incredible journey rivers make from source to sea. Don’t we tell kids not to rush through childhood, not to wish away youth and innocence for adulthood? Don’t ache for the bottom line so badly that you throw yourself over the edge to get there. Don’t trade quality for quantity.

I hope we can do this together sometime. I hope next time I see you on the water, you’re charged with peace and not terror. These gifts from the River, subtle and boundless, I don’t just want you to wonder about; I want to be able to share them with you.

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