Growing in a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Tahoe awarded me a lot of unique experiences in my childhood. Practically being raised in the outdoors, my friends and I had a long list of hobbies that made our mothers cringe when they heard the stories of our escapades. We were always trying to push the limits so when I found a new hobby that even some of my most thrill-seeking friends were hesitant to take part in, I knew that I had hit the jackpot.
I was first introduced to whitewater kayaking sometime in the first couple years of high school. I didn’t fall in love with it right then and there, but it certainly sparked an interest in me that led to much more later. When I got a summer job working at a local kayak shop right after graduating high school, my passion for kayaking truly exploded. Over that summer, I spent every day I could out on the river. I would kayak, raft with my family, or spend all day jumping off the Ponderosa bridge and swimming around in the deep pool below talking with my friends about all of the experiences we’ve had and the ones we look forward to in the future.
As I spent more and more time on the river, I grew to love the soft lap of the water on the side of my boat, the sun beating down on my neck and arms, the feel of the paddle in my hands, and the roar of an upcoming rapid. I learned to read each element of the river, to see where I wanted to guide my boat and know which holes would suck me under and never let me go again. Every time I went down the river, I learned something new about the water and about myself.
One of the greatest things about being in white water, is that when you’re paddling toward the next rapid, plunging into a 10 foot hole, and getting tumbled by 1,600 cubic feet per second of water, your head is totally clear. All of a sudden, the midterm you have next week, the fact that you don’t have a job, and that fight you had with your girlfriend have no importance to you at all. All you can think is, “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.” In my opinion, those are the purest thoughts anyone will ever think. Whenever I leave the river, my mind is clear and my spirit is cleansed. I have absolutely no worries in the world. I’m just happy to live to see another day.
Going out on the river day after day, I have learned what it is like to have my life in my own hands and have no room for error. If there is one thing that my experiences have taught me to believe, it is that nothing can clear my head like the imminent threat of my own death.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.