Thick slices of humble
Cold slaps my nerve endings. The river's surge and pulse are overpowering.
Thin streams of light barely break the dark liquid and my boat, paddle
and self all seem to be spinning downward. With plenty to drink but nothing
to breathe, things are really beginning to shape up badly.
Like many times before,
I find myself and my kayak upside down in a hydraulic. But, this is
no mellow thrashing followed by a flush. This time, I'm stuck in a
big-water, river muncher and being flogged. There's little promise
for resurrection, but I'm out of air and push for it.
I set up and execute a
roll, only to window shade, my boat flipping upstream. Managing
just a quick gulp of air before smacking my helmet on a ledge, I
again find myself upside down in the watery storm. Two more feeble
efforts yield the same results. Failing there, I probe the hole's
bottom with my paddle for a back-door but come up empty. Visions of
throw-ropes begin to dance in my head. It's well past time to pull
the plug. I pop my skirt, abandon ship and decide to swim for it.
Only then am I able to get deep enough to flush out of the
recirculating water. I make it to shore and watch, battered and
breathless, as my kayak remains in place, thrashing in the powerful
hole, for several more minutes.
When I put myself back
in that place, I am paralyzed with fear. A chance encounter with an
invisible river feature had turned epic, and a swift stroke of
reality again bursts my bubble of comfort. The experience feels
more like a near miss than a heroic bout with nature.
But some lessons are
hard earned. A trip through the high-water, Salt River spin cycle
is by no means the only place I've been worked over. Once, I
watched a sunny July day become a howling storm at 14,000 feet.
Heavy winds and sheets of snow moved up the craggy side of that
peak. I had no choice but to lay in wait beneath the pound of
rockfall and buzz of electricity. The ordeal lasted well over an
hour. Eight months earlier, I popped several pieces of protection
while climbing beyond vertical sandstone a thousand feet off the
deck. As I swung from the end of that rope and wiggled over the
void, a wasp added extra humiliation with a sting strategically
placed on my Adam's apple. Most recently, I've subjected myself to
hard miles on the mountain bike at high altitudes. One particularly
cruel ride had me in the saddle for just shy of 10 hours. The
pay-off for covering more than 60 miles, many of them on the
Colorado Trail and above 11,000 feet, came in the form of seared
lungs, shaking legs and a bout of unpleasant
Each of these times, I
bemoaned my existence and eyed the actions that led me into the
traps with deep regret. To overcome the agony, I tried absurd mind
tricks, dreaming of Corn Flakes and Saturday morning cartoons. And,
more than once, I considered breaking down.
But looking back, I can
only say that there's much to recommend a good trashing. Painful
and frightening as they were (and will continue to be), these were
defining moments. Highlights, no, but definite climaxes. Only a
fool craves suffering, and there's little honor in being a marginal
kayaker or a half-assed climber. But over time, all that humble pie
adds up to a little something.
And though it stings,
adversity has always been a great ally. Personally, I've found it
to be the only recipes that can mend my ego and get me back on the
level. Most of all, these little, preventative doses of death
somehow renew an appreciation for life.
With this in mind, my
thanks go out to Black Rock Rapid on the Salt and the Yellow Spur
in Eldorado Canyon. The Snake Coulior on Sneffels will always have
a special place in my heart. And Blackhawk Pass, Indian Trail Ridge
and Sliderock were all welcome but bitter companions this summer.
With the cruelest season just around the bend, who knows what the
future holds? One thing is certain. One trashing has never been