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.

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.