Monday, December 31, 2007

Best Paddle of '07

The end of the year seems to awaken the need to reflect back on the year as a whole. (Personally, I think reflection should be an everyday event, but I have a job that requires a lot of sitting around thinking...)
This has been one hell of a year for me. I purchased a house and got married in the middle of the year. I picked up the responsibility for my local kayaking club's Web presence, managed to keep up a blog, grew aquatinted with a new stick, ND discovered (and lost for now) a forward finishing roll. At work, I spearheaded a pilot to rethink the way my team produces content, wrapped my head around the realities of documenting open source software, and trained a new writer.
I also managed to do an awful lot of excellent kayaking. If I hadn't managed to kayak as much as I did I likely would have gone totally bonkers. Kayaking is my coping mechanism, my way of processing life.
There were many lessons learned over the course of the year, but most were of the personal kind that don't translate well into words. Nor do they make for very interesting blog reading.
So to reflect back on '07, I'll do something that will be more fun to read about than my reflections on what I think I know about what I learned about myself while paddling my kayak. I decided I'd actually try to choose a best paddle from 2007. I figured it would be tough to narrow it down to even a few paddles. They were all excellent in their own ways.
To my relief two paddles glowed brighter in my mind than the others:
* Paddling in Glacier Bay, AK for several days as part of my honeymoon (see here)
* Playing in the full moon currents at the mouth of the Westport River (see here)
The two paddles were as different as could be. In Alaska the water was calm and the paddling was mellow. We only had one day where we pushed for distance. On the Westport the water was rough and the paddling adrenaline fueled. We only took brief breaks from the action.
Yet they both represented a step out of my comfort box.
The Glacier Bay trip took was my first real back country excursion. I've done kayak camping before, but Alaska was on a different level. Once we left the ranger station we were alone in bear country. There was very little boat traffic and very few people. Our radios were only marginally helpful since we could not directly radio to the ranger station. It was spectacular, regenerative, and scary. I left that trip with a greater respect for nature and more confidence in our ability to survive.
The Alaska trip also represented the first leg of an even more exciting journey: marriage. After surviving the hazing ritual that is wedding planning (not to mention buying a house at the same time), I was pretty sure a few days in the woods wouldn't be much of a problem for H & I. We'd also done some camping and traveling together before Alaska, but Alaska was more intense. We also had relied on our traveling companions to do most of the planning, so we felt a little out of sorts from the get go.
The Westport River trip was the first time I really pushed things in racing currents. We had done some current practice the day before and the currents were arguably more turbulent. However, the space at Stone Bridge makes rescues easier. A paddler being washed out of the race at Stone Bridge will hit calm water in short order and beaches are easily accessible for resting. A paddler in trouble at the mouth of the Westport River is going to get washed into Buzzards Bay before the current lets them go and getting to a beach is either a long paddle or a fight against tough currents. The mouth of the Westport River also had more boat traffic than Stone Bridge. Taking a chance there was much more nerve wracking.
Part of what made the Westport River trip more exciting/fulfilling than the previous outing at Stone Bridge was also the group of paddlers with whom I was paddling. The group at Stone Bridge was excellent. They provided a lot of safety, good company, and opportunities to practice rough water rescues. However, the group on the Westport River was one that makes it easier for me to push my limits. We paddle together all of the time and that familiarity breeds an extra level of comfort. We all know how the others in the group paddle and approach risk.
If I had to choose just one paddle as the best, I'd pick Alaska. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'll get other shots at big currents at the mouth of the Westport River.
Enough looking back - on to some great living in 2008!

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