Find Your Path — Lessons Learned While Kayaking

Yesterday I wrote about how I began kayaking and about a perfect day I had on Pine Creek, through what’s known as the PA Grand Canyon. I’d done that trip twice and both times it was sunny, the water levels were good and I had a great time. This past weekend I did it for the third time.

For starters, the sun wasn’t out at all. It was cool and dreary with a little rain. Second, the water level was lower … which meant more rocks were exposed. We had to be on guard constantly, so we don’t hit one and flip over or run aground. In other areas, there was hardly any current, so we had to paddle more instead of being carried along by the water.

Though I had dressed in multiple layers, it wasn’t long before I was cold, tense and tired … in other words,  NOT enjoying the day.

Once you chose to do this trip, you are stuck on the river for two to three hours until a campground where we had parked a vehicle. There is no turning back (unless you want to paddle upstream) There is no cell phone service, so you can’t call for help. There is a bike path along the river, so you could walk and carry your kayak, but that’s not an option I wanted to try.

As I vacillated between being tense through the rocky areas and wishing for more rapids so we’d move faster. I entertained myself by thinking about how much kayaking resembles other areas of life. To get somewhere you have to fully commit. There’s an ebb and flow to making it work. Sometimes patience is needed … other times ferociously paddling is the only thing that saves you from unwanted consequences.

When coming up to an area with rocks everywhere … I never knew which way to go. When I was on the right the left always looked better or vise versus. With time, I realized since water takes the easiest route, most times the best plan was to allow my kayak to go with the flow. That took me to the deepest water and the least rocks. I’d look ahead and paddle gently on one side or another to make small adjustments to avoid hitting rocks directly.

Sometimes in life, when we aren’t sure which direction to go, we need to allow ourselves to be carried by the energy around us … as we contribute small efforts to keep ourselves from colliding with danger.

On calm waters, if a large rock was sticking up in the direction I was headed, I discovered I didn’t need to paddle frantically to try and avoid it, instead I dropped my oar in the water on the side of my kayak that I wanted to turn towards. Usually that resistance and the water going around the rock was enough to turn my kayak slightly and avoid hitting the rock.

How many times do we panic about an obstacle in our way … when all we need to do is make a few small adjustments and we can easily get around it?

Around turns, the water generally flowed up against the bank. Those times going with the flow would have had a bad ending. I had to paddle hard to counteract the strength of the current and stay away from the bank. A kayak hitting a bank with strong currents usually means it flips over.

There are times in life when things are headed in a direction we don’t want them to go … then we have to give our all to change the course. Going with the flow could cause disaster.

The most interesting observation I made was when I tried to follow the route the kayakers ahead of me took because it looked easy and/or it worked for them. Most times when I did that, I ended up hitting a rock or getting sprayed with cold water from deep rapids or running aground on low areas in the river.

After doing this a time or two … I began trusting myself and following my instincts about the best path for me. I leaned on the principals I’ve described above. To my surprise, though I still had to stay alert, I ended up enjoying the day more and I avoided a swim in the negative 60-degree water.

When everyone and everything is going in one direction and it’s working for them, it is so tempting to follow. But how many times have you tried that … only to end up frustrated and feeling like you are banging your head against a rock wall?

Today … listen to your instincts when faced with a decision. Be smart … observe life around you first. Try to get a feel for the ebb and flow of what works. Take time to think, ponder, pray and/or meditate.

Then trust yourself and take the path that is best for you.