Mind In Boat

My mind and body are tested on endurance adventures, especially when the weather is not ideal.  It seems as if the conditions dictate my mood no matter how hard I try to break out of it.  I recently took a two-day, twenty-mile canoe trip down the Brazos River with a few friends and family members.  The format was simple: camp Friday night and then wake up and start paddling down the river.  We would camp Saturday night on the river and then finish on Sunday.  I had paddled the stretch before, so I felt confident about the trip.

Between unsuccessful campfires and almost setting the actual camp on fire Friday night, Saturday was sure to be much more relaxed.   We decided to skip breakfast to make it to Rochelle’s Canoe Rental on time for our 10am shuttle appointment, and we would catch up on the calories before we started paddling.  As we wound through valley roads with sights of hills, the river would occasionally come into view to tease us with its smooth waters.  Once we made it to Rochelle’s, we checked in, snuggled with some kittens, and then shuttled to the Highway 16 bridge below Possum Kingdom Lake.

In dire need of calories by this point, we unloaded our things and made breakfast before entering the water.  I quickly boiled some water and poured it into my freeze-dried meal, while two of my adventure-mates decided to make delicate banana pancakes.  I must admit that they were delightful, but it delayed our start time further into the morning.  Rochelle’s shuttles every hour, and we were still there when the next group of paddlers showed up at the entry point.  The employees were puzzled as to why we hadn’t started yet and mentioned that we had a long day of paddling ahead of us if we wanted to reach our goal of making it over halfway.

Finally, at a little before noon, we were on the water beneath an overcast sky.  Our blades entered the crisp water to propel us through grasslands on the west and cliffs on the east.  The posse was made up of two canoes and one single-person kayak.  As we approached the first rapid, Warren, solo paddling the kayak, realized he had lost his fishing pole a little upriver and made every effort to not descend the rushing water.  However, because there was only one logical path down the rapids, he was quickly rammed by Todd and Shay’s canoe and sent some of his belongings down the river.  Robin and I were already past the rapid and quickly altered our course to pick up the items and make it to the bank to assist Warren.  After some time spent searching for the fishing pole, we pronounced it officially lost and our boats were floating again.  We settled into a rhythm and our mile count increased proportionally with the time.

The rest of Saturday was as standard as it could have been for a canoe trip.  We made it approximately 12 miles down the river taking in the geographic diversity of the Brazos River before setting up camp at dusk.  Our bodies were drained at this point and hot food helped us refuel.  Although my body was tired, my mind decided to race through the night.  I didn’t get much sleep.  I enlisted the help of musical genius Ben Howard to help ease my mind, which helped me get a few hours of sleep here and there, however an airboat decided to bust my REM with a pointless midnight run down the river.  I was immediately put on edge as this was very unusual for a paddling river.  The best thought we had was that it was the Brazos River Authority looking for paddlers who were camped too close to the river.  Rochelle’s Canoe warned us that the flood gates might open during the night and to make sure we were camping on the high side of the river, which we were.  The river silenced as the boat traveled upstream, only to come back a little while later to interrupt any sleep we were getting.

Sunday morning came all too soon.  Blueberry pancakes were on the menu for Robin and Warren, but I quickly vetoed this as the last weather report I saw called for some sort of showers on Sunday and I knew we were limited on time before they arrived.  After some coffee and a quick breakfast, the boats were in the water.  The Brazos River is certainly beautiful, but it has long stretches of slow-moving open water.  Stroke after stroke, we tried to keep our spirits high, but we were in the miserable part of the trip where you want it to be over, but patience is critical.  In front of us were partly cloudy skies; behind us loomed rain.  Showers quickly engulfed us.  I recently came across a phrase that has helped me through times like these: “Mind in Boat”.  It comes from the book The Boys in the Boat, a story of a freshmen rowing team from the University of Washington that goes on to win the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  The phrase’s meaning is quite literal, but I have used it for many other aspects in life with good results.  I repeated it through my head as each raindrop fell.  I tried to keep my state of mind high and think about the positives of the situation.  Few things came to mind as the question “why am I on this river?” filled my head.  I kept paddling, increasing my pace with the intensity of the rain.  We cracked a few jokes about PSLs between the group, which provided temporary relief, but the weather remained.  As we rounded a familiar bend of the river, I knew a secret spot of mine was approaching on river right.  My boat took the lead and directed us through a narrow path that opens into an incredible pool surrounded by rock walls.  When I looked up through the ramparts, my negative vibes quickly evaporated.  As my body physically exited the boat to explore, my mind entered the boat.  This place means a lot to me and the weather conditions were not going to ruin it.  The group was taken back by the sheer beauty of the curved walls that have been shaped by water over some unknown amount of time.  The runoff from the rain had muddied the clear waters that I remembered, but it did not take away from the moment.  Our moods suddenly turned from solemn to joy and the rain subsided.  I found an answer to the question of why I was on this river and it was almost if our spirits dictated the weather change.

During these times, when the elements of life or the environment affect my mood, I must strive to put my mind in the boat, paddle through, but not forget to look around and take in the positive views of the situation.


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