10 LESSONS I LEARNED FROM PADDLING TO ALASKA
"Believe that you can do anything you set your mind to. Your passion should be your path and your path should be your passion." ~Rosita Arvigo
I love Cinco de Mayo. Not because it’s a great excuse to drink multiple margaritas or eat excessive amounts of tortilla chips and guacamole, but because it’s the anniversary of the beginning of one of my most profound experiences. May 5, 2016, marks the six-year anniversary of the day I took my first strokes out of Anacortes, Washington and launched a journey of the sea and soul—all the way to Alaska.
This adventure contained some of the most magical and life-changing moments of my life—along with some of the most miserable ones. Turns out a lot can happen in 66 days and 1,148 miles. Once underway, in my aloneness, through all those days and miles, I had plenty of opportunity for soul-searching.
These were some of the lessons revealed along the way.
Lesson #1: The sea will teach you patience. I didn’t want to push through my expedition like I so often pushed through life, yet, being a “type A” personality, I often struggled to sit still long enough to genuinely soak up every experience. I pushed my luck on several occasions—and had my ass handed to me each time. Lessons are often repeated until they’re properly learned and I think this particular lesson was manifesting itself in a variety of forms. Had I simply stayed put on those particular days, or listened to my intuition and called it a day when I should have, I could have avoided much grief and drama. The sea was teaching me patience—and I still have much to learn.
Lesson #2: There are no mistakes, only lessons. Growth is a process of trial and error. Sometimes we just have to work through the process of experimentation to achieve the lesson that is presented at the time.
Lesson #3: Acceptance and trust:
On the trip, I had to accept the weather, the sea state, the camp I had chosen, the presence of bears. I had to accept my wet clothes, my fears, my aches and pains, and the fact that I had many miles to go. I had to trust in the order of things, the disorder of things, even the chaos… to go with the flow, whenever possible, because isn’t that what kayakers do, after all?
Lesson #4: There is no better “there” than my “here.” My memoir reveals why I’ve always been a runner: running from one problem, one situation, one catastrophe to the next. Through all those moments of soul searching while paddling the Inside Passage, what I’ve finally “gotten” is that there will always be another there that is better than my here. That when my there becomes a here, I’ll simply try to obtain another there, that will, again, appear a better option than my current here. It’s about staying grounded, living in the moment, and appreciating what I’ve got.
Lesson #5: Focus on one day at a time. At first, I found the logistics of preparing for a 1,200-mile trip to be beyond daunting. In order to wrap my brain around all the minutia of planning a trip, I broke the expedition down into seven legs that were structured around six resupply ports of call that I would paddle into to retrieve supplies I had mailed ahead. This worked well because it broke the trip down into manageable chunks. A two-week chunk seemed much more do-able than a three-month chunk. As I worked my way north, I realized I could only focus on one day at a time—the day I was currently facing. Nothing else really mattered. Paddling for one day is not that difficult. You pack up camp, make sure you have enough calories to sustain you for the day, shove off, paddle, sight-see, click off the miles and then seek out another stellar campsite to take in a beautiful sunset. Repeat. One section at a time. One mile at a time. One day at a time. One magical moment at a time.
Lesson #6: The best lessons are learned in solitude. I love paddling solo as much as I love paddling in small groups. I chose to go solo on my Alaska expedition because I knew all those valuable lessons I had to learn would best be acquired in solitude. There’s a special clarity that comes with silence. When you travel solo, the experience is all yours, and no one else’s. There is a heightened awareness that comes with going into the wilderness by yourself. It’s what I refer to as the burden of self-reliance. And with that comes a heady sense of freedom to be making your own decisions, relying on your own abilities, your own strength and courage.
Lesson #7: That insatiable curiosity to know what’s around the next corner is what will keep me going. No matter how utterly exhausted I was, no matter how bloody my hands were, no matter how much my cold, miserable wetsuit felt like putting on wet underwear every day – I still kept going. I had to know what was ‘out there.’ That’s what got me out of the tent each morning, that’s the mojo that kept driving me forward. (Well, that, and my ridiculously small bladder.)
Lesson #8: I learned that everything in life, no matter how challenging, is there to point us toward healing and growth. I wouldn’t realize until a long time after I’d completed this journey that it was the same courage and strength that guided me through the IP that would guide me through the tumultuous seas of everyday life.
Lesson #9: If you know you’re capable of anything—because of who you are—you will always reach your destination. In other words, believe in yourself and know that you can do anything you set your mind to.
Lesson #10: The answers lie within you. I realized that all of life is a question. How we live it is the answer. The answers lie inside each and every one of us. But we don’t always know the questions. Sometimes we need to simply ask. Other times we need to sit quietly, look inside, listen to our hearts and TRUST in ourselves.
The meaning of my journey changes and morphs over time, but these lessons, and many others that I learned, continue to inspire me and remind me to step outside of my comfort zone whenever possible. What are some of your most poignant lessons that came from challenging yourself in the great outdoors?