And the sheer love of the sport! In the last month, I ran two of the quintessential south eastern rivers: the Ocoee and the New. And I had the most fun I have had in a boat in a very long time.
When I first learned to kayak out in Colorado all I wanted to do was run rivers. I chased the adrenaline and loved it. I pushed myself to get better as fast as possible. I pushed so hard that I went far above my skill level and paid for it. I ran Todd's Slot on the Taylor River and ended up upside down. A number of logical thoughts went through my head about what was going on and I decided to swim out immediately. I was quickly washed face first into an undercut boulder. I panicked. I had hit my legs so hard on something before getting slammed into the rock that I could not use them. As the saying goes, I pulled myself out by tooth and nail. As I pulled myself on top of this boulder I realized I was sitting in the middle of the river with no way to get out. I remember just crying. And crying. And crying. I am aware that most of us have had some type of scare at one point or another and that mine is not unique or special in the slightest. What it did however was teach me to have a great respect for the river and undercuts.
When I started racing I did not have to worry about any of these things. The consequences when training may be painful, but not life threatening. Having done nothing but race for the past two years I had put my Todd's Slot experience away. I heard friends talk about their experiences running rivers, but I was content to focus on my technical skills at the whitewater center.
Several weeks ago, Joel McCune asked if I wanted to go run the New River with the Davidson Outdoors group. I quickly jumped on the opportunity due to the fact that I trust Joel in a boat more than I trust the majority of people with two feet solidly planted on the ground. As I started driving up to the river with Joel and his girlfriend Em I began to recall my mistrust of rivers and extreme dislike of undercuts. That coupled with the knowledge that east coast rivers are riddled with undercuts did nothing for my confidence.
We all put on the river, Joel and I in slalom boats and the others in a mix of plastic play boats and a raft. I was a wreck for the first several rapids, which were really just big wave trains. By the middle of the river I was enjoying myself. I was reading and running everything in sight, playing in every eddy I could catch and enjoying the wide open space of a natural river with big water and waves. I had a blast! I even enjoyed just floating for the sheer sake of enjoying the pace of the water.
Two weeks ago I managed to get off work the day after the Hometown Throwdown and drive up to the Ocoee with another group of friends. This time I took a playboat and enjoyed bopping down the river with no fear of rocks. When we got to Hell Hole, which I had never seen, I thought it was the first wave. I did a spin on top of it and was totally disappointed. I then looked over my shoulder just before I was grabbed by the actual hole and thrown down in for a massive surf. LOVED IT!
I think these experiences count as a welcome back to the world of river running for me. Not only have I loved every second of it, but I am working on getting on more rivers just to enjoy them and, since my racer nature cannot completely be erased, use the natural features to learn new things. River running is where we all started so why not go back to it every once in a while to remember why we love what we do everyday. And for that matter, why not love what you do everyday – I do!