in the face of adversity…

… we say okie dokie.

This past weekend was nothing short of a misadventure festival. Late decisions, terrible (endearingly?) navigating, & a series of small misfortunes that could have spelled doom for an enjoyable time. Nevertheless, smiles persevered.

It’s not often that taking a road trip with just one other person goes so well… despite quite a few attempts to derail it from the ever cunning, resourceful life: Seriously, enough lemons already.

Saturday started off innocently enough, with a decision made, a nice lie in, and the inevitable influence of boater time when the moment of leaving arrived. Slightly behind schedule, I met Mr. Deeds an hour north of me, and off to the Wind we went. After a quick stop for some delicious bahn mi, we crossed the Bridge of the Gods (my first time in a vehicle!) & I proceeded to attempt to determine the following directions from a thrift store kayaking guidebook… which apparently wanted us on the water immediately—making a right off of WA 14 will bring you directly to the water—right into the Columbia, in fact. We made our way through the deep mud of the take-out, even though we lacked the massive lift that the mud-covered locals sported, and decided to backtrack to the local brewery (paddlers are predictable) where we’d spotted rafts as we drove in, in the hopes of finding a shuttle.

I meandered through the brewery, not seeing who I was looking for amidst a sea of otherwise dirtbag-gy looking folks, and families. We were just about to head for the put in, with the hopes of perhaps finding someone there, when Greg bounds around the corner. After hurriedly agreeing to run shuttle for us, we ask for beta from their earlier run. And thus ensues one of the best retellings of a river run I have seen to date, complete with an interpretive dance fest extravaganza. About halfway through, Danger looks at me with a bit of incredulity, and shakes his head a bit. Greg finishes his epic retelling, and we hem & haw a bit more as to whether to try to bomb a run in or not. As if to caution us further, the clouds above knit together as a furrowed brow, threatening rain, and an earlier twilight.

Deciding against an evening run, we mosey on back into the tavern, & find our group of dirtbags. Kaitlin proceeds to shriek, and upon deciding that waiting for the booth to clear will take too long, dives under the table & wriggles through some legs to give me a gigantic hug. Collectively, we amble out into the twilight of the seemingly impending rain, and pile into the bed of a pick-up to watch some of the earlier carnage on Greg’s phone. It was just as his interpretive dance retelling had foreshadowed: Juicy.

After making a few loose plans ( Beer -> Camp ) we headed to where we thought the campsite might be… a locked F.S. gate in the way prevented us from fulfilling our original plan, and (put those bolt cutters away!!) continued down the road to see what could be found. Barely a half-mile down the road we pulled off & discovered a clearing perfect for camping, with a tent already set up. Cue our meeting of Dave from Alaska, who was out enjoying the gorgeous scenery of the PNW, and with whom we made camp that night.

We settled in round the fire after sorting camp, for beers and more stories of whitewater & otherwise.

A morning mist hung in the air when Emile rustled my tent around 6:30am. We packed up, and headed a bit further down the road to a trail down to a waterfall. It was beautiful, though not exactly runnable. Heading back to the truck, we tried to backtrack to where the put in for the Upper Wind should be. After a breakfast stop, and my continued struggles with navigation, we finally found it. “Too early or too late,” Emile says, as we’re standing looking at the river in the light rain, the only two at the put in. Eventually, more people began milling around, and we began registration, suiting up, and saying hello. Not too long before the race was meant to begin, we set off with safety, following someone who’d been down the river before…

Just past halfway through Initiation, I blundered into a nasty little pour-over hole on river right; I got window shaded so fast my shoulder & head hit the pour-over rock before I was flipped completely underwater. I pulled my way out of it, attempted a roll, and got a breath as a dropped in sideways to another ledge hole. Being low on air (and a little unnerved having read about a few scary swims the night before, big mistake) I decided to swim out, knowing that it might be a long swim without very much opportunity for air given the continuity of the run. I lost track of my paddle pretty quickly, in what felt like getting hurtled downriver & being stuck in the rinse cycle of the washing machine. Coming to a bit of a smaller area, I floated aggressively towards the nearest eddy, and tried to catch my breath, coughing out water. Almost immediately after, Priscilla, Jacob, & Nick pulled up in a raft, nabbed my paddle, & I hopped in. Emile had corralled my boat just a bit downstream on the left, and we made it over there. I found out just how tired my body was from swimming when I was trying to pick up my boat to finish emptying the water. The woman we were meant to be following is in the eddy as well. She looks at me and says, “You know the river’s not a joke at this level, right.” Well, what a lovely thing to say to someone after a rinse cycle in the river machine! Still coughing, and trembling a bit from both adrenaline & exhaustion, and now completely doubting my place in a boat, let alone on this river, I got back into my boat & pushed off. Big mistake. I hit an (seriously it was embarrassing) inconsequential lateral, braced without being over, and I’m pretty sure flipped myself, within a hundred yards of where I’d just pushed off. I think I set up for a roll, but everything felt like slow motion because I was so tired, and so pissed off already. I felt my boat drop into a ledge hole, as I swam out of it, and I popped up above the surface back paddling furiously until the words Priscilla was yelling computed in my head, “ROPE!” Looking to my left I saw it, and got pulled the last several feet into the eddy, my boat & paddle ghosting down river, with Emile chasing them.

Not a joke, not a joke, definitely not a joke. I wasn’t laughing, but my brain was definitely laughing at me; all the little ‘you’re not good enough’ gremlins swelling & growing louder… I’d never fucked up that bad on a river until then. Sure, I’d swum a handful of times, but they were generally innocuous swims, & often self rescues. And there’s been only one other time where I’d swam more than once on a river trip. I was pretty demoralized, especially since it seemed I was not only fucking up everyone’s trip, but I was fucking up the race that I was supposed to be helping with as well… The ‘maybe you should quit kayaking’ thought definitely popped into my brain. Along with the thought of how sad I’d be without it, and I knew I never could give it up willingly.

Setting safety with Nick on the shore beneath a tricky little boof turned ledge-hole at higher flows, I finally caught my breath, and got a bit more control of my gremlins. Rafting with Priscilla, Jacob, & Nick has been one of my favourite rafting experiences to date. But thinking about getting in a kayak on the water elicited a rush of adrenaline-soaked panic. We found Ross’ paddle, and then saw my boat, perched on a cliff halfway through the Balls (to the Walls). After a nifty maneuver of pinning the raft on a log to stay in that eddy, Jacob pulled my boat down, and Emile peered over the edge, offering to paddle it down to the eddy just downstream, so I wouldn’t have to seal launch halfway through the rapid (mind you it was not that intense in actuality, but to me it seemed insurmountable in that moment). I was all for it, and we assisted Emile’s climb down, lined the raft around the log, and made it to the lower eddy (where I felt silly for asking Emile to paddle it down, but also really, really grateful that I didn’t have to).

We tried to sort out who would paddle which boats for the rest of the river… had someone offered to paddle mine, I would have undoubtedly stayed on my perch in the raft. And it likely would have taken a decent amount of time for me to get back in my boat again. Instead, Nick, Priscilla, & Jacob pretty steadfastly refused to make me not getting back in the mamba a feasible option. “Okay, I think I can handle it.” I got out of the raft, back in my boat, tried to shake the anxious out of my hands, tried to make the gremlins just a little quieter. I’ve never been more in my head. Off we went.

I managed to make it down the rest of the river without much more incident; I had a nice little unintentional side surf in one of the holes, and then got flipped into an eddy by another, but hit a solid roll, and just tried to charge. At some point, I relaxed a bit, and was back to smiling. It’s incredible how manageable things seem with a positive attitude.

I could not be more grateful for the support that I encountered from Priscilla, Jacob, Nick, & Emile, who managed to blindly chase my ghosting boat through half the run. Thanks for your support physically, but also for encouraging me to not give up when my gremlins were at their loudest. Sometimes we need a bit of inspiration for believing in ourselves, and this was one of those days.

Our drive home passed without much incident, & with many laughs, despite the rain. Another big thanks to Emile for giving me space to verbally process the day… and for putting up with my tuneless whistling skills. (;

We pulled into Albany round 7pm, and began unloading. I had put my keys (which are attached to my wallet) just inside my trunk as I’d been tossing in wet gear. I then went to shut the door, so that I could put my boat up, and a sinking feeling hit me just as the door clicked shut… FUCK. Fuck fuck fuck FUCK. My whole car was locked, with just about everything I might need inside it. I think I just stood there staring in shocked disbelief for a moment, and then had a little giggle. Oh man, today is just one big struggle.

So, we head inside, and I proceed to make some calls. Around 9:45pm, the nice man from the towing company arrives, and we proceed to try to break into my car…which is apparently thief-proof… We succeeded only in getting soaked to bone, setting off the car alarm multiple times, and laughing pretty hard at this mild misfortune. So it goes, I suppose! After giving the towing man a hug, & thanking him for coming out, we decide it’ll just have to be sorted in the morning.

Upon waking up, the power’s out, & Toyota seems to require a slew of ID in order to make me a new key. The awkward bit is that all of my forms of ID are currently housed inside my car, with my keys. Oh man, oh man! He says he’ll try to help regardless, and we make plans to head over. I had turned Emile’s truck half on, in order to charge my phone a bit to call, and when we went to start it… the battery was dead. We look at each other, and had a giggle… seriously, what a series of misadventures! After pushing his truck into the street, and receiving a jump from his neighbor, we made it to Toyota, got a key made, and were shortly on our ways to work. I drove home, a gigantic smile on my face, not in spite of the weekend’s misadventures, but because of them, and because of the smiles that persisted throughout. Though it was inconvenient to have locked my keys in my car, it did afford me a bit more time to get to know Emile, to learn about mushrooms, and see the Japanese maple wonderland. Thanks for a wonderful weekend, and for giggling through the misadventures with me. Anyone of them could have easily made for an excuse for a miserable time. Thanks for being you, and for sharing your time with me!

Life, like a river at any flow, might not be a joke…but it sure makes it a more pleasant experience to be able to have a giggle, and say okie dokie in the face of adversity. I am ever grateful for the humans I’ve connected with who continue to inspire, support, and share in embracing that adversity with a smile.

. . .

I hemmed & hawed quite a bit whether or not to include what was said to me in that eddy between swims, because there was a high level of stress in the moment, and I don’t think that the quote is reflective of the human who said it. But, I decided to include it because in the end, what we say matters, in life as much as on the river. And you never know just how much of an impact your words (or actions) might have on those with whom you share them.

This post generated a good deal of conversation in many communities I feel lucky to be a part of, & for this I’m grateful. I wanted to very clearly state here that much of this piece is focused on my internal dialogue, & my gremlins, which were present with or without that eddy comment. It was not meant in the way that I interpreted it, which is welcome knowledge now & deserves to be shared, though it does not change my initial interpretation & the reaction of my little gremlins in the story above. To be clear: I have nothing but love for everyone who is a part of this story, communication gone awry aside. The point is, gremlins suck, & most of us deal with them at some point or another — I’m grateful to have people surrounding me who are supportive in their own ways — whatever those may be, whether they are mentioned explicitly, or not.

. . .

A special thanks to Ken Stevenson, whose words & actions have had a huge (positive) impact on me throughout the many wonderful years I’ve known him, and from whom I’ve borrowed the title for this story.

. . .

featured photo courtesy of kyle dorfi


3 thoughts on “in the face of adversity…

  1. I think while “What we say matters,” it’s of equal importance to bear in mind that “What we hear,” is also a large part of the communication process… Please keep that in mind next time you hear something you take offence to under duress, that perhaps you heard incorrectly? Something which is entirely possible after a swim in serious rapid such as Initiation at 7.3ft. In fact it is very likely.

    The boating community is small and tight nit, and we all strive to help someone in need – you chose to interpret a comment negatively that could easily be taken in variety of ways. Knowing the person involved, I would submit for your consideration that the interpretation could be slightly wanting in this instance. Further to your point, what we say does matter, and you have said a great deal in this blog. Just something to consider. Clean lines and happy days on the river… all the best.


    1. hi sam,
      thanks bunches for weighing in — you’re absolutely right! which was why this post focused on my inner voices, with the exception of two sentences & the addendum explaining why I chose to include it rather than leave it out; it affected me so much because that was how I heard it in the moment, and this post was about what happened both in & immediately after that moment. I really liked said person, especially more so after hearing her intentions, and her background, which makes the addendum all that much more important. This post though, was not about a comment that I heard negatively; at least that was absolutely not my intention. It is about the ‘not good enough’ gremlins that grasp at any sort of opportunity to root in & chorus louder, and it is about the attempt to quiet those gremlins, and is an expression of gratitude for those who are supportive in those moments of gremlin battling, even if it’s just with a smile.

      in an effort to be completely transparent here, I took a while to respond because your comment came across mildly hostile, & I really hope that’s not how it was intended — i’m rather fond of the boating community, and care very deeply about the humans that comprise it, which was a main theme of this post. I’m sorry if that did not come across to you; I’ve got nothing but love for all members of our community — one statement (misinterpreted, or even not!) would not change that. thanks again for reading, and for sharing your thoughts!


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