I thought I was pretty good. Darn good actually. I had been whitewater kayaking full time for years. But I was about to learn what it means to believe in myself.
It happened in Chile, on a river called the Futaleufu, one of the most beautiful, remote and difficult rivers in the world.
On my first day there, my friends and I went to the Terminator section.
The run starts fairly easy. We stopped to look at Terminator rapid to plan our route. Terminator is class 5-5+ on a scale of 1 to 6 where 6 means you will probably die. It still is the biggest rapid I’ve ever run. But I saw the route and I ran it exactly according to plan, so well I barely got
wet. The rest of the run has a bunch of hard rapids,
but they seemed like child’s play. I was feeling great.
The next day we headed for the easiest section.
Right at the put-in is a rapid that begins with a big
wave, maybe 10 feet high. I tried to surf this wave, but I flipped.
I rolled up quickly then lost my balance again in the big waves and
flipped again. I was out of breath from paddling hard. I tried one more roll and then pulled myself out of my kayak.
I found myself swimming in the middle of a wide river, in big waves and ice-cold water. I was not getting many breaths and couldn’t see much either. My efforts to swim were weak compared to the power of the water. After being carried through a mile of whitewater I made a last ditch effort to get to shore and made it. I hung on to a rock for a few minutes, coughing and too tired to drag myself out of the cold water.
None of my friends had seen me swim because of the big waves. But they noticed I was missing, then found my boat and paddle, then searched for me or my body. Meanwhile I walked back to the put-in and down the road. Finally I met some other people who were on their way to look for me.
In kayaking, to swim is humiliating; it’s the mark of the beginner. I was devastated.
The next day I was tempted to mope in camp. But I decided to jump back on the horse. I had just been reminded to respect the river (not for the first time).
I got to Terminator rapid that day in a different frame of mind. I had the memory of my successful run two days before, but also the fresher memory of the swim – maybe I was just lucky the first time? But then I thought to myself: I can do this. I know I can. And I did.
When I get nervous performing as a singer/songwriter, I think of that moment at the top of Terminator. I think to myself, I CAN DO THIS. I KNOW I CAN.
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