It’s Sunday morning in January in McCall, Idaho, and I’m kicking away at the snowbank alongside my yurt in an effort to excavate my creek boat from where it’s been wintering underneath. My hands are already frozen from attaching my kayak stackers to my roof rack in the bitter cold, and now my toes are freezing too. “Why did I agree to this?” I mutter to myself as I tug on the grab loop of my Mamba while continuing to kick out a big enough opening to wrangle it through. In flurry of ice shards, she finally breaks free and slides on out, down the snowbank. I hoist the Mamba onto my shoulder and half-run down the icy path through the trees to my car, somehow managing not to slip. I still don’t know why I’m doing this, but I said I would, and I’m about to be late.
A couple hours later, Devon, Josie and I are floating in an eddy in the Little Salmon River, about to ferry across to set up for the first rapid. I’m giggling because this is crazy. The river is low, it’s January, everyone else in the county is up on the mountain skiing today, or snowmobiling through the woods. There’s no real reason to be here other than the fact that it’s a chance to be in our kayaks, and a chance to be together. We start to be-bop our way down the river, and I feel the amazing force of the water carrying me. The river doesn’t seem to mind whether it’s at 300 cfs or 3000 cfs. It’s still moving, breathing, doing its thing, and here I am just along for the ride. Sunshine streams into the canyon, and I realize that it’s been days since I’ve felt this strength of sunshine on my face. The temperature is rising; I wouldn’t doubt if it’s a full 15 degrees warmer here than it is down the road in snowy McCall. We have slipped out of our typical winter wonderland into a private little pseudo-springtime paradise. I drive hard towards a boof rock, and feel my soul lift up along with my boat as I catch some air.
I love the fact that it’s just us three ladies here. Devon and Josie are two strong, open-minded women who share my simple elation to be in a river, no matter the circumstances. I like how easy the day feels: there’s no politics, no competition, no stress. We’ve got each other’s backs, and we’ve got the sunshine.
We are so enthralled with the Little Salmon that we take advantage of our Monday off to return the next day. The river delivers an equally satisfying dose of paradise. We lounge at a sweet little surf wave, practicing surfing in creek boats—the first time I have in awhile. We discuss what to name the wave…something about three women, something with all our initials, something about how this day is so incredibly rad.
There’s still a couple hours of daylight when we return to McCall, so we don cross-country skis and take Devon’s puppy-dog out for a spin on the trails. I’m still learning to skate, and Devon offers some helpful tips about how I’m gripping my poles. Let go, she says, don’t grip so hard, or your hands will get tired.
That’s good advice. Lately I have been clinging hard to certain things in my life that I know are about to change. I only have one semester left of graduate school, and sometimes I catch myself mourning the end of it, even though it’s months away. I may or may not be leaving Idaho when that happens, and I feel myself resisting the potential change. I don’t want to leave my yurt, my friends, my work, these rivers. But I’m not going to grow from the process unless I loosen my grip a little bit. As Anna always reminded me, the river runs downstream, and you’re going to get there, one way or another. What matters is the experience of moving downstream—were you decisive about your moves? Looking where you wanted to go? Life is going to keep moving, and the more I relax into it, the more energy I will have to embrace the changes.
Kayaking teaches me to make the journey a good one. I see a boof, I go for it. I catch the wave, and let it hold me. I cheer on my friends, I run the next rapid. Kayaking has made me strong, in a way that makes me strong in life, too. Sometimes it takes a wintery weekend cruise down a creek to remind me of just how capable I am, with the right spirit, the right attitude.
I hope that you can all remember this about yourselves, too. On and off the river, you can do it. Just loosen your grip a little and free yourself to enjoy the ride.