Gnar Lee. Photo by Dan Stoffle
We’ve all had that one swim.
The one that shakes our very foundations and forces us to question our sanity. It becomes one of the greatest obstacles to overcome as a paddler. One moment we are perfectly in tune with water, the next we are simply its plaything as we fight for the safe embrace of the shore. It’s an intimate experience with river that leaves you terrified and stripped of the confidence you thought sound. Not only does the swim leave you bruised and battered, but now all of a sudden you have a mental game to play.
You make jokes. You paddle on. Drink that booty beer. Tell yourself you’re fine. But something is missing though that you are failing to admit…
You’re not okay. In that moment, you saw your limits and the river humbled you in a way that makes it hard for you to realize the true gut-wrenching effect it had. You have experienced genuine fear.
For some of us, it’s making excuses not to paddle for a while. For others, it’s setting limits to certain classes of whitewater. And perhaps for the smart few, it’s hanging up the skirt for good. In truth, to get back in your boat is one of the hardest things to do. To push back that fear and tell that little voice in your head to just shut up.
We know just as the river takes away, it can also gives back. We recognize the importance of fear and we adorn a new respect for the whitewater that continues to call us home. Only we know how the healing can begin by embracing the river once again. It’s one of the many lessons we have to learn in the sport in order to progress not only in skill but in life. We are the resilient few who continue to push ourselves to our limits, each time discovering of what we are mentally capable. We understand the consequences more than anyone else, yet to paddle gives us strength in the chaos.
I had one of my toughest swims a couple of weeks ago on the New near Meat Grinder when the water was at a pretty incredible level. My drysuit leaked and filled with water as I swam a long way down steam. Completely exhausted, I finally floated into an eddy where a support raft of friends picked me up and we paddled the rest of the way. Within 24 hour period I had to manage some severe river anxiety and get right back in the boat for the Cheat the next day. If it hadn’t been for the support of my friends and teammates, I don’t know if I would have had that kind of strength to come back in that short of a time span. In the end, I’m glad I made the right decision to carry on and have a fantastic day on the water. While I am taking some time off to recollect myself, I’m also planning my next trip back up to WV to the New and its exciting possibilities.
A link to the Gnar Fairies, an awesome blog!