Taking the time to reflect upon our experiences on the river–whether it be a brief meditation at the end of a day of paddling, or an in-depth reflection on years worth of learning–can be quite rewarding. Oftentimes, the milestones we meet in a given day form mere tiny threads in a larger, intricate weave of personal breakthroughs, transformation and growth. Embracing the ways in which the river helps us to grow tends to foster further growth, not to mention provides excellent opportunities for gratitude. We’ve asked some ladies who have been hanging out on the river with us for awhile to share with us some reflections on how GAP has influenced their personal river journeys. We are excited to present you today with the words of Kristin Evans. Rock on, Kristin, and thanks for sharing!
- Please introduce yourself. Where are you from, what do you do, etc. I am originally from Ohio, but I moved to the South a little over a year ago. I now live in a cabin in the North Georgia woods. I am a nurse and am finishing up my Master’s degree. School and kayaking take up a good chunk of my time (there is no such thing as a quick kayak trip) but I also like to mountain bike and hike when I can. Sometimes the best day is curling up my comfy couch with my partner, two dogs, two cats, a fire and a good book.
- How did you hear about GAP? What motivated you to sign up for your first event? GAP first came to my attention when a link to the “Tending the Fire Within” winter retreat weekend came across my Facebook feed. I had heard of Anna and GAP prior to this just from being part of the Southeast kayaking community. I was drawn to the retreat after reading the description, “an introspective journey to your inner joy.” It was a bit vague but also spoke volumes. It also spoke to my being and is one of the most memorable weekends of my life. I learned a lot about trust and vulnerability in a visceral way that still ripples through my day-to-day life. While at the retreat, some of the women who were kayakers were talking about an upcoming event called Creek Week. My ears perked up and I was definitely intrigued and pretty certain it was way beyond my skill level. The women raved about how it was a wonderful, challenging and empowering experience. Anna gave me a basic description and encouraged me to come. I said I’d think about it. I was still pretty certain that I was not ready for class III+ – IV creeking. A few weeks after the retreat I was still thinking about Creek Week. I scoured the GAP website, reading and re-reading the description and watching the promo video. I talked to Anna over the phone and reviewed my paddling experience up to that point and asked her, “Do you really think I can do this?” I don’t remember her exact words, but essentially it was “Yes, absolutely.” I trusted her assessment and so I took the leap. I had a sense that what Anna and GAP had to offer was far beyond anything that I had experienced kayaking this far, if the retreat weekend was any indication. I wanted that experience.
- How did your first experience with GAP compare to any expectations regarding whitewater kayaking, paddling with women, etc.? Prior to showing up for Creek Week, my paddling experience was predominantly with guys or a mixed group. I had some amazing trips with the guys I’ve paddled with. I trusted them to help me get from the put in to the takeout in one piece with some paddling tips along the way. With pushing my limits every weekend and sometimes twice a week, there was always this undercurrent of nervousness and fear that I had every time I put on. One thing that never really came up was the mental/ emotional aspect of whitewater kayaking. My mantra involved “sucking it up,” being tough and showing no fear. By the time Creek Week rolled around, I had done a lot of tougher (for me) rivers and thought (hopefully) I had the skills to hold my own, but I did not have the confidence to match. I still approached the river in survival mode, just grateful to be in one piece at the end of the day.
I started Creek Week not really knowing what to expect. I had scared myself silly looking at the river descriptions on American Whitewater and had to make myself stop. We started by sitting in a circle and talking about our intentions for the week. That idea in and of itself was new to me. I had never thought about why I paddle, especially when I am afraid. It very much set the tone for me for the week. In addition to that, I felt encouraged and supported to try new moves on new rivers in a way that started to build my confidence to match my skills.
- What keeps you coming back? I absolutely believe in what Anna and GAP does for women – whether it is through kayaking, retreats, SUP, or yoga. The intentions and work towards building community, encouraging self-exploration, empowerment, courage and confidence are vital and necessary. In addition to it being a rewarding experience for me, I keep coming back because I want to support that good work in any way I can. Plus, it’s fun and I get to meet people and paddle with some badass women from all over.
- Tell us about your goals regarding anything that we practice at GAP: kayaking, yoga, SUP, meditation, positive self-talk—how has GAP helped you to set, approach, achieve, and grow with your goals? Prior to my first experience paddling with GAP, I didn’t really have much in the way of goals other than to keep paddling harder rivers. I didn’t really know why I was doing it, other than that was what it seemed like I was supposed to do and what the paddlers around me were encouraging me to do. GAP helped me figure out why I paddle and why I paddle rivers that scare me a little. From that first day of Creek Week and every morning that week I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” That question became more and more poignant as the week went on as the rivers got harder. Through experiencing the fear at the put in every morning, conversations on the river and working until I was exhausted, I realized that I do it because I need to experience that fear fully, in every vulnerable aspect, and then see myself to the other side of it. That is when I figured out what courage, confidence and empowerment felt like. Creek Week more than just improved my paddle skills (which it did immensely), it also changed how I approach paddling every time I put on a river and has carried over to my off-river life.
- How has GAP influenced any mental/emotional breakthroughs or personal transformations that you have experienced through time on the water? The first time I watched Anna paddle, it shifted my perspective on kayaking and how the lessons learned on the water affect my life. She has a quiet and deliberate grace no matter what chaos or challenge is before her, both on and off the river. Although she may not put it in those words, she strove to impart that to us during Creek Week. Since then, I have tried to emulate that when I paddle and to be mindful of my mental and emotional state in my day-to-day life. When I have been able to do that, I have found deeper connections with myself and with others, I find myself responding rather than reacting, and experiencing my life with more presence. Working towards cultivating that quiet and deliberate grace both on and off the river is a work in progress, but setting that intention is invaluable.
- What advice do you have for female paddlers who aren’t aware of/have never experienced the GAP approach? Please, just try it! It is unlike any professional instruction or experience you have had. GAP really is unique and you will get much more than what you paid for. Not only will you take you paddling skills to the next level, you will experience kayaking and yourself on a much deeper level. It is absolutely worth it.
- If you had to sum up your GAP experiences into a short mantra or slogan, what would it be? GAP offers courage, confidence and empowerment. You just have to be open to the experience.
- What are some of your favorite memories of a GAP event? I remember freaking out as I ran Toilet Bowl and Hammer Factor on the Green Narrows for the first time. I got way off line and Anna came to fetch me. She took me to an infinitely tiny eddy (It was pretty big) right above the drop into Hammer Factor. I was freaking out and tried my best not to flip and swim as I bounced all around desperately wanting to find a hold on the slippery rocks. Anna tried her best to calm me down, but I wasn’t having it. I went for Hammer Factor and I even got the angle right over the drop until I fell off the ledge and into the hole. I have no memory of this part, I was told that’s what happened. Of course I ended upside down but I managed to pull off a roll. I eddied out, still in freak out mode. I think I almost cried and I know I was shaking and there may have been an expletive or two. Then I got out of my boat, hiked it back up and did it again. Completely upside down. It was awesome.
Anything else you’d like to share? Thank you so much to the amazing women of GAP I have had the honor to paddle with and learn from– Anna Levesque, Emily Shanblatt, Stef McArdle, Adrienne Levknecht, Erin Savage and Angela Como.