The teen years were crazy, without a doubt and of course there was the strange time before becoming an official “teen” but not a kid either. This is how I feel…have felt…for awhile now. “Not quite”. I’m definitely not a beginner paddleboarder. Or mountain biker. Skier. Hiker. The list goes on. I’m also not remotely that fearless badass chic that is exceptional and expert and all the things that many of my friends are (ladies and the guys too). It’s next level and it’s admirable. And it’s not me.
So as I approach this summer and an upcoming trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho I’m feeling all kinds of emotions. Excitement, fear, anticipation (in a good way) and anticipation (in a nervous way). For those of you who are unfamiliar with this river, it is considered one of the best multi-day whitewater trips in the nation. It’s rumored to be spectacular for scenery and equally great for serious whitewater paddlers. Let’s be clear–I’m not paddleboarding this trip (or at least not the III/IV sections which is most of it). I am sitting on a raft that will be oar-rigged with an expert oarsman at the sticks. However, especially at higher water it’s got numerous rapids that will flip your raft if you don’t nail your line and without question, I don’t want to swim.
Let’s back up though, because this post is actually not about my upcoming trip. What I’m considering right now is the space I occupy as a Tween. Like I said, I’m not a beginner paddler. In fact, I teach the beginners (both flatwater and whitewater) and if I can boast for a second, I think I do a pretty good job at it. I’ve had the moments of “head swell” too. Just last week you’d have thought Sam and I were champions with a couple families watching us from the riverbank as we cleaned a class II rapid on the Santiam. I’m talking real cheering. One lady literally running down the riverbank as she pumped her arm in the air “way to go!!” If THAT doesn’t make me feel a teensy fabulous I’d be a liar.
On the other hand, I swam 5 out of 6 times the following week, upstream in a swirly set of rapids and with the water running a little higher it put me just inside my comfort level (because I know this set of rapids empties into a pool and eddy). All good, but it wouldn’t have taken much more to make me uncomfortable. I remember my level of anxiety on the Pacuare just 4 months ago. I was following—well we’ll leave names out of it– a great paddler down the river like a baby duckling. Here’s a woman who paddles incredibly and even though I know she has her fears, she tamps it down and goes for it. This isn’t a post about comparisons. I’m not saying my traits are bad or wish I could be anything different than what I am. I’m simply stating my odd relationship with activities and where I “fit” in a world of outdoor recreation and how I challenge myself.
I am not excited by “easy”. I’ve discovered and rediscovered this many times when I start to believe I don’t like big waves or technical trails. There is nothing at all wrong with flat water paddling—or paved, double wide bike trails or groomed, Nordic skiing on flat trails. All of these activities have their place, are fun and I engage in them frequently. To genuinely get me excited however, I want a thrill and I want to work for it.
Here’s the truth though: when people flatter me with comments of my accomplishments on the river, I find myself feeling like a hack. There’s a voice inside my head that’s telling me I’m a scaredy cat and I’m not “all that”. I can’t really hang well with the experts but I want a kick too. I imagine, just like when I aged past 12, I’ll find my place, and I’ll evolve too. Will I ever be the fearless paddler of Class IV’s? Hell no. Do I care to be? Not really. I envy the variety and opportunities those capabilities open up, to see amazing sights, but as far as a skill set I just want to have fun and challenge myself within my “edge of comfort” level. Maybe I’m not alone in this and I’m not as “tween” as I think I am. Either way, for me and for anyone out there, keep on keeping on if you’re following your passion. I am.
Thanks for listening. See ya out there on the Frisky Ripples!