Whitewater Canoeing with Wild Women Expeditions (Part Two)

It has taken me some time – two and a half months to be exact – to write this post and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working for me.  As I started to outline in a previous post, I had a lovely weekend paddling with Wild Women Expeditions back in June and would do it again in a heartbeat.  I’ll even tell you why further down this post.  So what took so long?  It comes down to two of my…ahem…endearing quirks:

(a) I want this write-up to be perfect.  I’ve been working for Wild Women this summer.  I didn’t want to let them down by writing a “and then we did this and this and then that” post which is exactly what my four discarded drafts sounded like to me.  Women who participate in Wild Women trips have spectacularly transformative experiences.  I don’t want a woman searching for Wild Women Expeditions and after finding the website and various social media outlets, stumble across a dreadfully boring write-up from me.  Yes, I put this pressure on myself.  It’s why it’s classified as one of my quirks.

(b) At the time I didn’t feel like I fit in with the rest of the women.  I can say without a doubt that this has absolutely nothing to do with how Wild Women runs its trips and everything to do with a construct of my mind that I’ve dealt with (or not, depending on how you look at it) most of my adult life.    Let me explain.  I make a point to be different, not in any sort of dramatic way but enough to stand out.  Sometimes this difference is brought to my attention by someone else, but often it’s just me.  I lived in Boston a long time as a New York sports fan.  If you know anything about the rivalry between the two cities, I don’t need to say anything more.  Here in Toronto, I’m the American or the woman with the unexpected last name.  As I moved up the ladder in my previous professional life, I was frequently the only woman or in enough of an unusual position that isolated me. On the outside I wore the differences like badges of honor.  On the inside, I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t feel right.

For the Wild Women whitewater canoeing weekend, I was neither new to moving water nor did I feel expert in my paddling skills as you will recall.  I wasn’t a participant nor was I guide.  I struggled internally where to classify myself and I let that make me feel like a bit of an outsider.  What has allowed me to write this much is I now understand that I need to internally accept my differences as much as I externally talk about them.  We are all unique and it isn’t necessary to classify oneself.  “Fit in” by celebrating our differences.  Voilà! No one said my transformative moment had to happen during the trip.

On to the paddling!

Canoeing in moving water is better than flatwater? It’s all a big MITH, folks.  I kid.  And yes, my spell-checker works just fine.  Gail Shields, our extraordinary instructor for the weekend, spent Saturday and Sunday teaching one of the most logical lesson progressions I’ve ever seen  for a skill.  If only all of my skills courses over the last two terms could have gone so smoothly.  Gail integrated lessons on Momentum, Initiation, Tilt, and Hold from the flatwater of the bay  at Paddler Co-op to the gentler current at the bottom of the last set of rapids to the heavier current further upstream to paddling down the rapids in 48 hours and no one felt rushed.  Between her teaching style, the excellent demonstrations from our WWE guides, Jenny and Christine, and ample time to try all skills from both the bow and stern, we were set up to succeed.  I feel fortunate to have learned from all three women.

I found myself in the stern for most of the weekend as my partner felt more comfortable in the bow.  I gave the universe the nod it deserved for forcing me to step up in the area I felt least confident.  We found it surprisingly easy to work together.  We’d never met before this weekend and had no mutual bad habits to overcome.  I shouted commands and encouragement so that she with her back to me could hear ordinarily soft-spoken me over the noise of water rushing beneath us.  One by one, all of the river morphology lessons I had learned in SRT, whitewater rafting, and during my canoeing lessons came together and I started to relax, enjoy, and understand the big picture.  Yet another surprise.  I love whitewater.

By Sunday afternoon, it was time to put it all together.  My partner mentioned that she wasn’t comfortable about running the rapids.  She participated in scouting each section of the rapid we would paddle, identifying good lines to stick to and hazards to avoid.  We all knew the plan: follow each other duckie style, leaving at least a boat’s length between each canoe.  Gail would head down first and then serve as safety at the bottom of the rapid in case any of us tipped and swam.  After some gentle persuasion, my partner changed her mind and agreed to run them with me.  In under a minute we had started down the rapids, navigated a bumpy line I probably shouldn’t have put us in, and were high-fiving with our paddles at the bottom.  What a ride!

As I reflect on my experience during the weekend, my primary role may have started out as photographer and learner of the ways of Wild Women Expeditions.  In the end, my true purpose  was encouraging and coaching me and my bow partner down our first set of rapids in a canoe.  I’m proud of myself and proud of us.  Ah, another transformative moment.

For more information on all of Wild Women Expeditions’ adventures, check them out at: http://www.wildwomenexpeditions.com/.

Up for discussion: Have you had a transformative moment? What was it? 

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