I never thought that pushing myself to do more difficult things in a kayak would affect me so much outside of the boat as well.
Ever since I started paddling, I’ve had a fairly limited scope of rivers, for financial reasons and because of my commitment to traditional school. For me, maintaining that in my life has affected my ability to travel long distances to achieve many of my personal paddling goals and reach further paddling destinations.
Getting my license has definitely allowed me to broaden my horizons in the few short months that I’ve had it. I can also now share the driving with another person, extending my radius of available paddling.
But these past two weekends, which were 3 days each due to holidays, really shoved, rather than pushed, me out of my comfort zone and what I thought I was able to do. To those that know me, I may seem like the adventurous type, but really, being away from home is and was pretty unsettling for me.
So Labor Day weekend, I packed all my things and all my gear to get ready to go to the Beaver River, situated in upstate New York, just an hour from the U.S. – Canadian border. I had visited the Beaver the past two years in a row, so I had a good knowledge of the rapids on all three sections. Taylorville, Moshier, and Eagle, in order of approximate difficulty, are the three sections of the Beaver River.
Every year, I would paddle the same parts. I would paddle all of Taylorville, everything on Moshier except for the class V portion, and sit and watch the show on Eagle. And nothing changed this year. I did the exact same thing I did every year, the only differences were the amount of teasing I got from my fellow boaters for not quite stepping it up this year, and my growing resolve to change my attitude towards harder rivers. Already hit with pretty bad anxiety due to being away from home, I became really frustrated when I also failed to stare down and paddle the class V sections.
Heading home was pretty disappointing, and I lost a lot of confidence in my creeking ability. I felt like I had missed my opportunity to step it up, and it was going to be another year of putting it to the side and still being afraid when the next year came around.
However, a new opportunity came the following weekend when I had the chance to push myself once again. This time I knew that I couldn’t let my fear overtake my desire to run some of the best whitewater in the world, and I was with someone that I knew would make me push myself no matter what. After school got out that Friday, I got in the car and took a hairy ride down to New Jersey. (The drivers there are not nearly as friendly as in Connecticut). However, after arriving safely in New Jersey, we embarked on a 1200 mile, 25 hour, poke yourself in the eye because you’ve been in the car so long kind of journey. But it was all worth it.
Leaving New Jersey at eight o’clock Friday night, we embarked on our whirlwind weekend. After arriving in Friendsville, Maryland, at about 1 am, we searched through the dark wilderness of a nearby state park for a place to camp for the night. Luckily, we discovered a cool log lean-to shelter that kept us dry for the short time we were there.
At that point, I was feeling energized by the new surroundings and new sights. Surprisingly, I wasn’t obsessing over the rapids that I would paddle the following morning. It was almost as if I had passed the point of no return and fear was just going to be a waste of energy. The following morning, we stumbled half awake to the fully packed car and drove to the put in for the Upper Yough.
In some cases in whitewater, ignorance is bliss. I hadn’t really heard all the hype about the river, so I had no material for my brain to worry about. I was feeling great. After a small miscommunication in shuttle, we were able to put on the water and paddle in on the few miles of flatwater to the first rapid, where we also met up with our guide. He was incredibly welcoming and gave me simple but effective directions for running each of the rapid. In that way, he eliminated a lot of the stress, and I found myself confidently running all of the rapids. When I reached the bottom I was overwhelmed with my accomplishment. Yes, I had just navigated not-too-difficult class IV+, but it was the hardest thing that I had ever done. When I reached the end of each rapid, it was an incredible feeling to know that I had just raised the bar for myself for the future.
After a single long run on the Upper Yough, we took another two hours to drive Southwest and reach the Gauley river in Summersville, WV. Another late night, but much better having arrived at a new paddling destination.
The next morning was the beginning to my best day of paddling on record. After waiting around for several hours for yet another miscommunicated shuttle, and also receiving some skepticism about my paddling ability from the members of my group, we put in on beautiful dark green water and massive waves. The water was warm and I was nervously excited about what awaited downstream.
Initiation, Insignificant, Pillow, Shipwreck, and Iron Ring. The biggest whitewater I have ever witnessed, all now having been navigated by my boat. And my biggest realization; I was in that boat!
After having paddled something that scared me half to death in an environment that was miles out of my comfort zone, I felt different. I felt more seasoned, and I felt confident in myself. At 17, I should take feelings like that with a grain of salt, but inside, I had a powerful renewed sense of self that has stuck with me. I have the confidence to venture out and do more things that will only heighten this feeling. I can’t wait for the adventures that are coming my way.