Nothing in this world is black and white.
As we grow older we realize that the either/or question is fallacious, it is a always a combination, or things lay on a spectrum. Things are more complicated than we think.
We will start with that assumption: Things are complicated.
I have made many friends over the years, but as time passes I call fewer and fewer times to hang out and more and more times to achieve a common goal; typically kayaking something difficult.
This is a dilemma. You do things with friends, and that becomes entrenched in your relationship with them. When you hang out with them you do this thing, and if you are not doing this thing you are not hanging out with them. This dilemma I think is something people should be aware of because you don't just have friends in a vacuum. They are in a context. You may be saying "Seth, duh, you do things that you like with your friends, your blog is obviously too simplistic to be of any help to anyone". Hmm, thats true, condescending imaginary reader, but wait... Think of a friend that you only know through an activity.
For example: I have played Ultimate frisbee for several years at what I consider to be a high level. It was intense enough that most of the friends that I made during my time on the team were, you guessed it, people on the team. Now when I run into those people we have almost nothing in common except for ultimate, which I am not a part of at all anymore. It is crippling to these relationships because despite our time together I never really connected on a deeper level with these people. If I see one of them we get out a frisbee and toss it around for awhile out of habit, nothing more.
What kind of friendship is this? It is completely contextual and somewhat meaningless outside of its context. Is that okay?
Well if all you and your friends have is an activity, then once that activity is gone, you lose your friends. This I think is at the heart of why it is hard to be injured, because you realize how contextual some of your relationships are, you realize that you don't call to chat, you don't call to see a movie, you call to achieve a common goal. I do say some. There are a number of people who I talk to despite the lack of kayaking, and that is awesome.
Going back to the premise of this post, things are complicated, I am not saying this is a bad thing. We can't go around expecting to make best friends out of everyone, nor is the friendship that we create out of kayaking or any other group sport moot. They are important, fulfilling, and real. There are many people that I call only to kayak but I am really excited about seeing them, and kayaking is our excuse to hang out.
Galen Licht points out something deeper. He believes that the chaos of whitewater gives us the rare opportunity to forge our relationships. It gives us the opportunity to move closer to others, to know them in a way we couldn't outside of whitewater. I believe that this is especially true for multiday trips where we have time to talk to one another, time to deconstruct the reality around us and see what others see. In fact you will get to know people faster in that contest than any other, and if you don't, I guess there just isn't that much to know.
I suppose it is just another aspect of paddling. There are so few that do it that you necessarily just find people, anyone, who will kayak with you. These people don't necessarily meet our needs and perhaps we don't meet theirs but we have the common goal of kayaking, so we manage to work it out and get out there. There will always be people that we connect with and others that we don't, and the river just makes it more pronounced. Galen is right, the greatest relationships come through the river. I know my paddler friends better than anyone, and paddling will always be a connection, whether we do it anymore or not.
One of the fabled friendships in California whitewater history is the trio of Chuck Stanley, Lars Holbek, and Richard Montgomery. They made it through some pretty tough situations, have you seen what they portaged together?! That shit was crazy, but seriously they ran some amazing stuff. If you go over to Richards house on the weekend odds are that Chuck is going to be over there making a mockery of something. I can take some solace in the fact that a few friendships forged on the river will last a lifetime. We will all be sitting around a barbeque 20 years from now laughing at all the stupid decisions we made because we thought that we were 'cool'.
Sometimes kayaking is about the friendship, and sometimes it is about the river. Hopefully we can go deeper into both, but that just isn't always in the cards. I am grateful for the moments where I feel like I am exploring other people as well as rivers and I am accepting of the times where it seems like it is just me and the river.