Kayaking the Creek
It wasn’t exactly white water kayaking, but it sure was exciting.
It was a sunny day in July. One offspring, her boyfriend, and I were dropped off at the side of a creek with the promise of a downstream pick-up.
We slid into the creek, she and he in a canoe and I lounging in a kayak. Our life jackets were carefully strapped on. Both vessels were equipped with stashes of snacks and all the required safety gear.
The day was beautifully hot. The woods on both sides of the creek were green and wild and enticing. Sounds of gurgling water, insects and birdsong drowned out the whoosh of the cars on the bridge behind us. We were enthused and confident. Offspring and boyfriend was experienced in many athletic endeavours, including ocean paddling. I had been in and around boats for my entire life. This would be easy, I thought as I inhaled the earthy wetness beneath us and we set off.
Ten meters into our paddle, the creek widened. The water bounced and looped over and around rocks. These mini-rapids looked idyllic, the gurgling and splashing a soundtrack to our adventure.
The canoe started down first and I trailed behind, watching as a mother does to make sure the kids are all right. They bumped and scraped alarmingly just as my kayak began to speed up in the flow. My heart-rate sped up as my first twinge of mini-panic rose.
What if I fall in? What if bash my head, lose my the boat, and drown? Worse, what if I thoroughly embarrass myself? What if hubby sees his klutzy wife flailing in this little creek?
Then my boat nudged a rock, swerved around it, and stretched sideways across the creek. I had misjudged the first unseen boulder. Fear filled me. Then, in an instant, the boat flipped me out.
Jolted by the cold water that flooded my open mouth and eyes, I was propelled downstream. At least I had the presence-of-mind to hang onto the handle of the kayak and I maintain a death-grip on the paddle. The gear and I bobbed past a few more boulders and surfed some waves until I maneuvered my feet underneath me. I bolted upright.
With water swirling around my shins, I stopped my forward momentum. I felt like a drowned rat, an embarrassed one who was standing in only two feet of water.
I walked the kayak toward the bank where the water was calmer. Downstream, the canoe had made it out of the rapids. I was only halfway through. As the kids turned to shout advice and encouragement, I slipped on a slimy rock and plopped down again. This time, the kayak and I bounced down a bit farther. Off went one of my sandals. Damn! It sped away in the current. What now?
At that moment, a powerful emotion surged up. With a growl, I jumped onto the kayak, determined not to let this puppy-sized cascade defeat me before I even got started. I know how to paddle! All I have to do is steer. I can do that.
With my hat still firmly on my head, I headed downstream. The kids weren’t laughing at me; if fact, they were regrouping themselves. The creek had earned our respect.
I licked my damp ego, squared my shoulders and adjusted my attitude. Sure, I thought, I got dumped out. I’ll probably have a few bruises from one or two hidden rocks. But I didn’t drown. Instead, I came to a realization.
I can do this.
I may get wet and crash into a few shrouded rocks. But my underlying skills--competencies buried over the years--re-emerged. I drew on those experiences. I rose to the challenge, even when my self-doubts tried to convince me that I would fail.
It was as if my fear made me take an imaginary step back. Usually, I step away from the hard thing, hoping someone else would step up to make it easier . But on that day my reaction was different. That imagined backward step forced me to accept weight on my back leg. And that leg is strong. It will support me and then thrust me forward.
On the rest of the trip, I trusted myself instead of doubting myself. I was brave when we encountered fallen trees stretching across the stream, more rapids, and a waterfall forcing a portage. My confidence had returned.
I erred—of course I did, I even dumped a few more times—but I learned something viscerally. I am strong and capable. There are scary things in life—like sending a book you’ve slaved over for ages to literary agents or quickly navigating rocks in a stream—but fear shouldn’t be my first emotion. Fear can be healthy, as long as one turns to her abilities, and rises to the challenge.
The kayak trip reminded me not to let trepidation derail me.
Experiences come in good times and in bad. And each one adds knowledge and self-knowledge. Each helps me grow and learn. I hope you too learn and grow safely.
What have you tried that started out scary and then became either fun or illuminating?