This Blog

This blog is dedicated to explorations of spirit, life, adventure, and people. I hope that it encompasses much more than the actions of people, but rather creates a more complete picture of what it means to be an athlete and a person in the outdoor community.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Portages? part I...

The Portage: Palguin
This rapid is incredibly clean and nearly impossible to do upright due to the entrance.  We had five people run it and one of us got hit pretty hard on the shoulder. Typically you submarine through the first 8 foot drop and gain your bearings just before rolling off the ten footer downstream.

The entrance

The typical line

From below

Underwater acrobatics

Trying something different: seal launch into the middle

There. It is done now. No reason to ever do it again. Too bad that entrance isn't better...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Earning It.

Earning it. It is not just the amount of physical effort that you put into a trip or action that creates the emotional response of satisfaction, that feeling of accomplishment. It has more to do with time and the way that you have built up that particular accomplishment in your head.

After having paddled for a few years and doing rivers that people call classics, I have found that joy comes from how you look at the river, how you interpret it as a test piece, not from what other people tell you about the river. It is about whether you wanted it or not.

Think about times when you have felt satisfaction, think about how you have built up the events that lead to that satisfaction. It isn’t what someone else said would bring you satisfaction, it isn’t when someone else tells you that what you did was amazing(though that does bring a different sense of satisfaction), it is when you did something that you thought that you couldn’t do, thought was beyond you.

I have paddled for 8 years. There are only a few memories still salient after years of kayaking, memories that float above the others that I identify as my achievements in kayaking. These memories are not from “Classic” Rivers, they are local rapids that I first saw as an incipient kayaker. At the time I identified them as rapids that were unrunnable, rapids that I couldn’t even imagine being navigated.

We all accomplish things that we think are unattainable, unbelievable. We live impossible lives, becoming people we used to look up to, people we used to be amazed by. This is earning it.

I work at New River Academy.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


The sister to the Palguin, but on the other side of the Volcano. Feels like if you took the Palguin out of California and put it into Colorado. For all you who do not boat out there, it just means there were a lot more rocks and wood in unpleasant places. The first drop:

Another View of the first

The next had hydrology that was hard to wrap your head around.

A portage, and finally: Boof to finish.

Photo taken by Paul from AK, boat courtesy of Pucon Kayak Hostel(See johnny kayaker?)
Another shot on the last. 

A good day on a good run. Worth two hours each way? Sure, a few times a season.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Middle Palguin

I am sorry to say this but Middle Palguin felt more like an obligation than a joy. It felt like a play that had been rehearsed. For some reason it felt empty. 
Pressure exists in the kayaking community to run this one and somehow it sours it. I can't describe it exactly but it was like a chore.
I wish I didn't have to say that. Perhaps it was just the people that I was with. It was taken for granted. Jake was incredibly hung over, and the other boys seemed like they just wanted a notch in their belt. It was sickening. 

I wish my experience on this one was filled with more gratitude. I will go back and give it its proper thanks and appreciation in the future, perhaps just on my feet this time.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Letting go

There is a moment of zen in flight. There is no worry, just a complete surrender to sensation. 

You have to find ways to surrender to that moment. You have to let yourself get there, overcoming your resistance to surrendering is an art.

Your mind can get stuck. It can get stuck on so many things. A rock, an eddy, a boil, the height, your boat, your skirt… consequences.

In order to run bigger drops you have to overcome, you have to become unstuck. But what mechanism do we use to become unstuck. Do we grow our ego to overcome? Do we become selfish to overcome? 

A story:
At the Nilahue we were confronted. A Mapuche woman told us we were trespassing, she yelled, she shook a stick at us and her voice trembled as she told us “El rio esta infierma, la volcan esta infierma, el aire esta enfierma. El rio es libre, pero no puede pasar por aqui”. The river is sick, the volcano is sick, the air is sick. The river is free but you cannot pass through here.

We did not get stuck. We packed up and went through a public access point to get to the river. Questions linger of our decision. Kayakers went there a few days later and she still would let no one pass, the kayakers declined to run it from the public access point. Was this our fault? Did we force another group to walk away from a drop? She asked them if they knew us. 

She holds onto her anger, her pain about kayakers running her sacred river. She said “No tiene Corazon, no tiene cabeza, no tiene respeta por el rio”. You do not have heart, you do not have brains, you do not have respect for the river. 

Like so many other things that would stop us, we ignored that woman. We came from 3000 miles away to go kayaking. We become selfish, ego grows.

Can we do this sport without being selfish?

It is possible but it takes work. Through gratitude, through respect, through humility, encouragement, passion, and sensitivity. It is a challenge and sometimes you lose your way, you make mistakes. This was a mistake. We shouldn't have passed through her land, we shouldn't have been so careless. I tried to repair it. I apologized and grieved and tried to have humility.

But in the end all we can do is repair our mistakes, apologize, let them go, and wait for the hit at the bottom. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rio Fuy

The Fuy is a crystal clear river that drains from the top of a lake, which makes it a pleasant, cool temperature.

The valley is stunning.

The action is continuous, with a few waterfalls mixed in. 

Jake on the same
 another riverwide ledge
The continuous section

We passed the regular take out to finish what we believe to be the first descent of this waterfall:

Jake on the same

Friday, December 16, 2011

The feeling of falling

Hands grip onto the rocks and push. The boat slides, popping off the rocks. The momentum carries you into the current and now you must set up. You see the curler and put your left edge next to it as you reach the lip. The lip is flat on the right, but you know that below lurks a kicker that would send you twisting mid-flight. You draw the bow of your boat to the left as water drops below you. The slide starts. You see the massive white explosion below. You curl up against your boat as if it provided some sort of security, some kind of refuge against what will ensue. It doesn't.
The kayak connects first and slams up against your body. Then your body gets pushed back, the water struggles against all parts of you. You check with your body to make sure that all parts are still intact. You are alive!

The feeling of falling.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Garganta del Diablo

The group

Jake on Garganta

The claro is simply an impossible combination of rock and water. On the hike out:

Friday, December 9, 2011

Day 37

Tires ground rocks further into the road. We left at eleven, it now is nine. Dust gathers like a threatening storm behind the truck, we escape it. We are on the logistics trip, we get a coaches run on the Claro, and we have to secure food and lodging for ten days. We sit down with Miguel to negotiate. Chilean words fly through the air, I grab a few and get stuck trying to decipher them as the conversation writes pages. I look at faces and catch a few more words, important words. Dos Millones. We have our price and the blanket slides over my head and Lama Marut puts me to bed with words of compassion. I think of it all and fill with gratitude.
Thirty minutes into a hike we are at the put-in, looking at the first drop of veinte Dos, a waterfall run that defies reality: clean drops separated by pools.
 Our boats occupy space between rock and water.
Our bodies absorb the result of this separation and we move forward, grasping at the art of flight.\

Day 37  in Chile. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kayaking Couples

The water swirls around my paddle, I look up as the fall colors envelop the forest. Rock ledges protrude from the canyon walls towering above. The rain gently ruffles the surface of the water as we continue our journey downstream. I drive my bow over boils and wait for the moment I cross the rock shelf. Blinded momentarily, I reemerge and continue, turning and looking upstream as the remaining group drops in.

The dance continues until the canyon opens up and concentration slacks. I drag my boat onto the shore and rumination begins. This day I had the opportunity of kayaking with two class V couples. This is a tremendous rarity. There are very few couples that can manage the intensity of a kayaking partnership.
Those in class V relationships speak to their benefits. "You do get to spend more time together" says Shannamar Dewey, partner of expedition photographer Darin Mcquoid. "There isn't any competition from other women" says Diane Gaydos, half joking. And that is true. There are very few female kayakers in the upper echelon of the sport, which makes women standout when they are out there. It also makes it incredibly difficult to find a girlfriend or partner that kayaks.
There are suprising benefits to dating a kayaker, "When you have a partner that kayaks, you don't have to think of interesting dates, you can just go kayaking" says Daniel Brasuell. But there are drawbacks as well.

"Well, a big drawback is not being able to exaggerate how cool you are" and "it is embarrassing to cry in front of your girlfriend" says Daniel. Diane confirms that Daniel is a huge wimp that cries almost every time they kayak. :)
The partnership plays a role on the water beyond just when one partner gets an embarrassing beatdown. It comes up when portaging. Because part of why we portage is our perception of how good we are, we can be influenced to portage or run something if someone we believe is at the same level runs it without problems. "I will look at a drop again if Daniel runs it, and his line may even convince me it is good to go".

There are other reasons not to date a kayaker besides confusing portaging . Darin spends about half of his year gone, whether running the high sierras or taking part in an expedition to unknown waters; it is a traveling lifestyle. This doesn't mean much time for the partner. On this trip they were fortunate enough to both be able to go. Diane and Daniel have been able to take several trips together, including Chile this past year. Though these relationships have worked well it doesn't mean that we should all run out and try and find a partner that kayaks. 
John Grace says "I just like to kayaking with the boys". Matt Smink agrees, "I am sick of hearing about kayaking, the last thing I want to do is go home and hear more about whitewater". Really guys? I think if there were an even number of females as males in the sport, your tune would change. 

We have heard from the men, but what about the women?

One problem that Emily Meredith stated(she refuses to date kayakers) is that she doesn't want to "Be one of those girls". You know who: Pro-hos(excuse the term). In a sexually competitive environment where probably 90% of kayakers are male, those few females certainly have the opportunity to make their rounds, as is the saying in Alta "You don't lose your girlfriend, you lose your turn". That isn't necessarily a bad thing, humans are very sexual creatures, in fact we are one of of only two species that has sex without the intent to reproduce. Bonobos are the other, and in fact it is shown to reduce tension within a group and it is used to resolve conflict. So get out there ladies, ease some tension.
In some ways we don't really have much of a choice about whether we date a kayaker or not. There are many men and few women in the sport. If you decide to date within the group you have limited yourself to a handful of people(if you are a man). I can't think of a female kayaker out there that actually has a boyfriend that doesn't kayak. The bottom line is that love is a hard to find, even lust is hard to find. People are out there to find what they can get, and many have given up on trying to find a partner that kayaks. I think that there is a deeper issue here. Kayakers are undatable. They are dirty, travelling, pranking, self-interested people who don't have time to hang out with anyone but other kayakers. Shannamar said it best when she said "I would never encourage a non-kayaker to date a kayaker." Maybe no one should. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Planet of the... trickster?

A roving tribe of Apes looks for water. They travel through the forest, winding along the curvature of the land. They share food, water, and develop individual roles and cooperative behavior to minimize risk and tension. No, these are not bonobos, or chimpanzees, I am speaking of an Ape with a special affinity for water: The Homo Sapien Kayaker.

In some way we essentially move back in time for kayaking trips. As a small band roving around looking for resources, in this case whitewater, we revert back to primordial goo, we strip some of our cultural taboos in order to make the community work. This reveals and ties us to our roots.

Most, if not all, known societies have a system of belief. Some are called mythologies, some are called religion. It depends on who is doing the calling, I would say that christianity is as much a mythology as any norse "Mythology", but hey, don't tell the christians that. In each of these mythologies there exists a trickster. In greek myth, it is prometheus who steals fire and brings it to humans. In norse mythology it is loki, who spends most of his time trying to induce arguing among the gods for his own amusement. It has always puzzled me why this role existed so ubiquitously. Kayaking answers this.
When you are in a small group, there somehow always turn out to be a trickster. It is part of the camaraderie, it helps develop a sense of belonging and humility. It knocks egos down.
Trickery has many forms. Micah Kneidl recounted for me a tale of trickery: The players are Kneidl, Crockett, and Luke. The summer days in Idaho are hot, sunny, and long. Kneidl, being a conscious aesthete, was known for applying sunscreen regularly. He also hates mayonaise. On this day Kneidl goes out to the landing, the area where all the rafts are rigged for the day, and sees Crockett lubing up with some sunblock.
What he doesn't realize is that Crockett is trying to prank Luke. Kneidl saunters over, ready for his daily dose of sunblock. It is a ritual he performs each day. He squeezes an ample amount onto his hands, claps them together and begins to smear the goo on his back. To fully rub it in he employs the help of another guide while he uses the extra to work into his face. As he is having difficulty rubbing in the white, gelatinous substance his face turns quizzical. He opens his mouth "This smells like..." and trails off momentarily, long enough for crockett to fill in Kneidl's incling: "Mayonaise?".
As Kneidl is dry-heaving in the shower, his hate of mayonaise sinking deeper with each desperate attempt to rid himself of the disgust, Luke and Crockett start spreading the now infamous story of the mayonaising of 2005.
This is no isolated event. It seems that anytime a group of people get together, someone begins to scheme about how to undermine the trust and ease of the group. This must be how bootie beers were invented, the underhanded thinking of a trickster hoping to bring down even the mightiest of egos. On a recent trip a known prankster struck again.
I was Iced. I was at the put-in for the Gauley river, ready to enjoy some surfing and warm water when I picked up my PFD. Somehow it was heavier than normal. I opened the pocket in the front and felt around, Aghhh! A bottle of Smirnoff Ice had been hidden inside my green jacket and now I was obligated to chug it according to the rules of the Icing. Not only this but the loser of the game(anyone who touches a smirnoff ice that does not belong to them) has to get on one knee and chug as the owner of the Ice stands in victory over them, smirking as you slowly guzzle down thousands of bubbles of carbonation, only waiting to come back out moments later, and for hours to come. And now that you know the rules(You touch it, you chug it) you are playing too. Good luck. Watch out for odd looking bottles, chips bag tipped at weird angles, and for god sakes look under your pillow before putting your hand under it. The last thing you want to do is chug a smirnoff before bed, or more interesting bedroom activities.
And thus the trickster is born. If it happens here on earth, there must be a god in the ethereal world doing it to the gods as well. It only seems too inevitable that our ancestors would have been doing the same immature and yet necessary activity of pranking to keep everyone in check, and put it in their mythical stories as well.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Perception as reality

I am paddling down to Garborator, a world class wave on the ottawa river. It is flat. This river is more like a a series of lakes with ramps that connect them. As I paddle, I see a man speaking, yelling almost. He is really hyped up about something. Then I see that he actually has a camera in his hand facing himself. He is documenting his exploits, whatever they are.
We make it to Garb. We are watching as Dane Jackson, Emily Jackson, EJ, and Nick Troutman show the family dominance of the industry. I swim through Garb for fun. As I am walking back up there is that guy again yelling to his camera, by himself.
This is not abnormal. Kayakers running around developing media to show the world what they are doing.
Then there are the people that see it. They think that these media producers are those at the top of the game. They are. These people are amazing, but there is a particular type of person that makes it to that level, the type of person that also hypes their level and product.. Due to these media projects they become a product too.
You can feel it.
When you see them you know who they are. It is like going to safeway and looking at soda. When you see a brand called Great Value there is no response. Then you look at Coca-Cola and there is some reaction that is programmed. It feels special.
That is what happens when you see the media hyped kayakers. They are special, you watch them because you already know them. You watch what they do because you have seen how good they are. You want to see what made them that way.

But for every 1 media hyped kayakers there are 100 that can do almost what they can do, or perhaps have done more for the sport by teaching or being a steward for the sport.
Perhaps that 5% difference in skill level merits the perceptual difference. Perhaps I am just bitter that my ego is being crushed or that I feel strange around these "Stars". I think that when you make it out to these places you realize that there are many people out there making a difference and the people that produce media doesn't always match exactly what the scene is really doing.
I am not trying to lower what the pros do. They are amazing. I am just saying there must be the  awareness that they are the tip of an iceberg that is mostly under water, under the radar, and they float on top.

Friday, August 26, 2011

West Virginia

I lost my boat. The first thing that happens to me on my big journey is I lose my boat.

I walk into the airport, skulking around. It is impossible to be inconspicuous.

"What is that?". The clerk looks at me and she busies herself by pushing random buttons on a screen.

I knew this question was coming. I had trained for it. I have read blogs airport clerk person! I have you fooled!

"It is a waveski"

It isn't really a waveski.  No one knows what a waveski is though, so it is a waveski. There is no category for them to find it in so they have to make a judgement call. Sometimes they are dicks and sometimes they are nice.




"Really? I have never even heard of anyone paying 200. 150 max. Is there anything I can do?"


Erik on the phone

"Can you come get this, I guess I am going without it"

And thus, in completely ordinary kayaker fashion: logistical failure, the trip had begun.

The people you meet on a plane
We all do our own little sociological studies on the plane. I found that middle aged men are much more willing to converse than college girls. I also found that it is impossible not to daydream about stewardesses, despite the logistical nightmare it would be to get with one of them. Nightmare, seriously. But there you go, thinking about it anyway. What else is there to occupy your mind with? I mean... I love the movie Rio as much as the next guy, but those leggings?

Thats what I get for not bringing a book.

I am in Dumbo, the gigantic ear flapping elephant, a plane. There are eight TVs and the safari begins. The tour guide does a little shuffle up front.

Fight club.

I can't help but imagine the plane splitting in two after a collision with another plane midflight. The air masks come down and I calmly put mine on then put my neighbors on, just as instructed. The plane is rapidly descending into oblivion. I turn around a grab my chair seat, awaiting a water landing while softly squeezing my flotation device. Air is ripping through the cabin as the seats behind me are riped into mid air. Somehow we pull ot of it and land in the water. Then we all get to slide down the inflated slip and slide. Now I really wish I had my kayak. Damn it.

But that doesn't happen.

The men smile and women look away in the airplane, except the stewardess. My mind wanders... Is there a movie on this flight? Is society really decaying? I feel the itch for entertainment.  Unfortunately I will not be receiving any from the blonde college age chick next to me as she refuses to make eye contact with me for the first three hours of our flight, despite our obvious similarity in age and attractiveness. Turns out she is 19 and wants to be a lawyer. Her mom is a lawyer and is sitting right next to her, doesn't speak a word for 5 hours. Captivating people. Everyone loves lawyers.

The cabin shakes as we fly, turning everyone into jello. The girls shakes next to me. She is napping and her whole body reverberates with turbulence. Jello.

Thankfully I can replace these hopeless republicans with television. The people on TV can fulfill my human need for stories and gossip, to feel like I am part of a greater culture, a part of a group of individuals.

We land. There is a kayak in the lobby. I try to steal it but it is bolted, like a fixture. It is an advertisement for West Virginia. "Wild. Wonderful" West Virginia. I snarl at the kayak. Stupid kayak, let it in here but not my kayak. Stupid airplane people, hate kayakers. Stupid air.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This Time

A new life approaches. I leave for West Virginia in eight days. I have not kayaked in several months, with the exception of a few test runs in July. My shoulder feels fine, but questions still linger.

Is the risk worth it?
There is unmitigated risk in kayaking. You can attenuate risk, but you cannot eliminate it, even by paddling "easy" whitewater. People die everywhere, all types of kayakers die.  Four expert kayakers have perished this year. What is all this worth?

We build friendships. The people we kayak with are people we love and would put our lives at risk to save.

We face our fear, fully and with as much grace as we can create. 

We solve problems and develop confidence. 

We build community. 

We feel like we are a part of something. 

This is the Quincy team. I just attended Cody and Morgan's unwedding. A modern twist on a traditional invention. Sometimes I question what the value of the relationships we form on the water really means outside the context of whitewater. This question was just answered for me. 

They mean a lot. Whitewater isn't some vacuum, it is a rich environment where trust is built, where camaraderie and rapport burgeons. Its roots dig deep. I want them to be deep.

There is an openness and understanding that cannot really be spoken, cannot be conveyed exactly with words. The affinity is there, it seamlessly ties us all together.

Despite this richness, it doesn't answer the question. There may be great reward for our journey on the water together, but it doesn't negate other ways of connecting, doesn't make it inherently worth doing.

Do we really have a choice? Or does the choice choose us?

We all have intuition. We can fight it, and some people become quiet adept at ignoring it, pushing it away, drowning it with alcohol, religion, and lies. But eventually we must face it, if we are truly attempting to be happy and compassionate in this life. This intuition makes decisions, it lives beyond reason and emotion, it is a fusion of both.

We feel it, and in an attempt to understand it we come up with logical arguments to back up our intuition. We have spent hundreds of years developing the ideas of rhetoric to make it seem more scientific. We can identify Pathos, Logos, and Ethos. We can do studies, write books, and cite evidence. 

Eventually it comes down to who we are, our intuition. It makes choices and it is up to us to follow them. 

I love kayaking. I love kayakers. I love rivers. I love the rain and a hot day in the spring. I love diurnals, gauges, and sticks in the sand.

I love fear. I love looking at a rapid from the top, questioning my motives and wrapping the spray skirt around the deck only to find out.

The choice to kayak is not moot. There is gravity in the decision. The risk is real. The rewards are too.

Kayaking is not worth death, but it is worth doing. My intuition tells me that. 

It is a strange cycle. I want to kayak so my friends are safe. I want to be there with them. I want to kayak so my friends will push themselves. I want them to kayak so I am safe, so I push myself. 

I can't really imagine quitting because my friends, my family, are out there doing it. I want to be with them. I want to learn from them and help them, and I want the same from them. 

We are a family out there. We have to support each other as a community, as relatives. This is the calling of whitewater. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

One by one

A short story

And suddenly it was gone. Evaporated. The moisture picked up and went with the wind. And what was left? Emptiness and freedom, a clinging to one's own self.

There was a time where Walt believed he was walking with a balloon, soaring high into the clouds. It was attached with a small string that clung to his ring finger. It floated high into the sky, pulling up into the heavens, reminding Walt of the possibilities. He would lay in the grass and watch its dance as it lept into the unknown.

But time changed that balloon, it pulled harder and harder, until finally he turned around to see his balloon. No longer did he admire its lightness, its unbearable grace and glee. He turned around to find it in the grass; it was full of water. He has been dragging it. He did not know how long.

He looked at his finger. A ring had dug into his finger's natural crease, red and irritated. He thought that it might heal, that if he didn't look it would go away; most things did.

The balloon was red and had a pinched end. It was smaller than he remembered.

He had been carrying it for awhile. He had been lonely before, but somehow the balloon was his companion. It went where he went. It did not pester him like the others. It was light, not much to carry.

Walt looked down at his worn shoes. The leather was dry and it looked like dirt had been finely sifted onto every crevasse. They fit well. He wanted to keep walking, but his balloon...

The balloon was firm in his hands. The water shook around.

When did this happen? He started to piece things together. There was a day when it no longer pulled into the sky but just waited. Floating there like a dandelion seed. It waited for him to pull on it's string. If he stopped, it stopped. These days he would push it out in front of him, hold it in his arms, being careful not to scratch its surface. He kept it in shade during the warmer months, keeping its surface intact. He was happy that it had met him at his level.

It began to pull sometime. It was vague. The distinction between floating and pulling seemed nearly impossible to pinpoint. He tried.

He had to fight with it sometimes to get it to go where he wanted. It would get caught on things, waiting for him to untangle it.

Then the pulling, the dragging, the pain.

He didn't know what to do with it now. He wanted it gone but, he set it back down in the grass. The sore on his finger had some time to rest now, it would be okay for awhile. He turned to start walking and as he tugged the string he felt no resistance.

It had exploded. A thousand tiny scraps lay limp on the ground.

He searched quickly trying to pick up the pieces, determining which was to blame for the walls giving out. He picked up this piece and that. He saw stretches and marks. He felt the brittle walls and the edges of the rips. He looked and looked, putting the pieces in his pocket as he examined them.

The water from the balloon!

It was gone. Evaporated. The moisture picked up and went with the wind. And what was left? Emptiness and freedom, a clinging to one's own self, for there was no one else there with him.

With his pockets stuffed full of memories he turned and walked, the creases in his shoes growing deeper. His finger finally free to heal and nothing but the open road in front of him, without a thing to hang him up.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A response

I just picked up the latest Banks mag, a kayaking publication out of Banks, Idaho.  A letter to the editor was brazenly opposed to the "Nihilistic" kayaking attitude and literature that is coming out of todays professional kayakers, using as the quintessential case.

In this post I am evaluating the claim that kayakers are nihilistic.

Nihilism is a philosophy which disregards the idea of meaning in human lives. There is no path that is objectively better than any other path, and actions don't have a moral or karmic aspect to them. Nihilism is a denial of things, an extreme skepticism of the world. It is questioning and undermining of structures and humans regard for their own knowledge and intuition. It can even go as far as to the belief that knowledge is not even possible, that for all we know nothing is real or true because those are merely concepts that have been constructed by others, which in fact are based on arbitrary definitions. Seems like a good place to start as a kayaker.

What would a person with these values do if they were a kayaker? Well, it seems like if you have an extreme skepticism about epistemology, you may be more likely to run really hard rapids because you would be so skeptical of people saying that they are unrunnable. A nihilist might ask "How can you possibly know that it is unrunnable until someone has tried and failed, and even then it is not proof that is unrunnable. It is proof that one person could not run it". Also, if there is no inherent decision that is good or bad, then we must conclude that we should do whatever feels good to us, because what else would really matter? There is no reason to suffer if there is nothing to gain through that suffering.

In the prologue of egcreekin Evan states "The love of kayaking has overcome my desire to make money, go to school, or do anything but go boating. This is my life." This would not be a nihilist statement except that he says "Do anything but boating" which really limits what is important. This is a vote for nihilism because it is only if all activities are of the same essential value that kayaking would become the number one priority, because it doesn't really serve any societal or familial purpose. It has very little purpose outside of self satisfaction, which is the proclaimed reason that Evan does it, otherwise there would be some other things that are important, which never really shows up in his writing or movies. In Evans recently released movie clip a kayaker turns to the camera and says "Sorry mom if I don't make it to the bottom but this is really fun". So, to this kayaker, dying is okay, as long as he is having fun. This statement and lifestyle certainly lacks a sense of values, if death is okay if it is fun, then life is only really worth living if it is fun.

These seem to be the biggest supporting arguments for nihilism. It would certainly be difficult to argue that these kayakers have any other sort of philosophical standpoint. The anonymous writer of this letter to the editor has a point. But, so what? It is not a given that nihilism is bad, or that people who are nihilist somehow inhibit our society. In some ways nihilism frees you to follow what you love, regardless of societal pressure. If people followed their passion like these kayakers do, if people had the means to, we would be living in a world with tremendously skilled and interesting people. These pro kayakers may be limited in their capacity to find meaning in everyday life, but they make it to these places and express their essence while moving through the water. Despite their seeming lack of attachment to their life, they are happy, living each moment like it is their last, which is commendable.

We need to be able to see past ourselves and wish well onto others who have found their passion; whether it is using kayaking to explore nature and relax or to if it is to challenge one's self to an unprecedented degree. These kayakers deserve respect for finding solace in something, for finding moments of happiness.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Memento Mori

My lips are splitting. The skin on my shoulders and hands darken with each passing day, the hair lightens. My thermarest sinks into the ground each night. The hair on my chin grows long and soft, awaiting its vicissitude by way of razor.

Sunlight hits the tent and soon the heat fills my sleeping bag. It is time to wake. The waters loud whispers reverberate through the door of the tent, always bringing our mind back to its power, its proximity. It is here, and so are we.

We put boats on our shoulder and feel the effects of yesterday on our backs and mind. Our gear, still wet from the day before, slips on effortlessly, stretching over us like the sun over the water.

What are we doing today? Do we need food? Gas?

Questions swirl around camp as the day begins. The question that is always the last to arise... When was the last time I showered?

This shirt is dirty and I only brought two. I am tired of PB and J and I haven't even had one yet. We are on the road, and have been for a little while. Not long enough, because I am not home sick yet. I am not making cursory reasons for a hasty trip home.

I need to check e-mail. I need to write things down. I need to pay bills.

We are on the road on the good part of the trip. We are meeting people, boating new rivers, boating familiar runs. Boating a familiar river is like returning to an old teacher to show them how much you have learned. You are teeming with pride, awaiting its embrace, excited to show it your new moves, your new confidence. It shows you where you have been and what you are now. You change, and with you the river changes too. You see it differently.

We see friends as well. New friends, old friends. But time passes and we near the end of our journey.

Perhaps the most difficult thing is leaving. Leaving what we have found. We say goodbye to everyone. We have moments to remember them by, moments we shared a connection. We are not guaranteed another visit, another paddle down the local run, another chat around the evening fire, another shared meal . We live in those moments as friends, as comrades, and split as such. It keeps us honest, keeps us seeking.

We cannot become attached. To be attached is to suffer, the second noble truth: Dukkha Samudaya. The best we can do is enjoy the moments that we have together on this journey. Perhaps at some time in our life we can settle, we can start to put together routine, put together a life that feels complete.

Not here. Not now. Not while eating a cream cheese bagel out of the back of a truck in the middle of Nevada. 
We face impermanence. This life is momentary for us, it can be nothing else for we are moving. There is no tomorrow until it comes. We have gratitude for everyone we meet and the experiences we have now because of this impermanence. We know nothing is guaranteed, so with each waking moment we smile and know we have been blessed to paddle one more stroke, meet one more friend, open our eyes one more time. This is the life we live. 

I am grateful to all those that I meet during my travels, thank you for opening your hearts and homes to us.