Reminiscing: River Waves

We go through life, hopefully living it to the fullest.  Every day is an adventure and every day is as good as you make it. There are ups and then there are downs, but for the most part, how we deal with those ups and downs are the most important.

Break those ups and downs into specific aspects of your life and you can examine even further how you deal with things, and how specific events can influence other parts of what you deem important.

Reminiscing

Yampa!I have been thinking a lot over the past few days about the ups and downs of my kayaking experience. Life can be compared to river flows.  Sometimes the river levels are high, and sometimes they’re low.  It’s how you get yourself (and your team) down the river in one piece and how you grow from the experience that really matters.

Last week, I drove up to Salida, Colorado for a Whitewater Instructor Course. I’ve been volunteering with Team River Runner now for two years but never had any formal instruction on how to teach. I wanted to help my local chapter more than simply being a safety boater and photographer.

The five-day course was challenging.  Jenny Right-Side, who used to paddle almost full-time, traveling the world in search of prime whitewater had experienced a lapse. That full-time kayaking experience went into hiatus in 2008 before I went overseas for work, and never really re-manifested itself.  Life got in the way.

I found myself on the first day of the course sitting among other instructor candidates who could be up to 22 years my junior and who paddle nonstop. This almost 40-year-old definitely had a hard time keeping up!  It turns out kayaking (like most sports) is like riding a bike.  You don’t lose the ability to rediscover the essential skills, but without the muscle it can be an extremely challenging experience.

The whole week forced me to look within myself and determine how badly I wanted this certification and how badly I wanted to redevelop those ace skills I once had, more than seven years ago. It made me think about my river experiences. The people I met, the rivers I paddled and how I continually pushed myself to become a better paddler.

Looking Back

I decided to go back and look at some of my notable surfing experiences, and note how I continually pushed myself to try bigger and more challenging waves on the river.

One of the first photos I found of myself was of my surfing a wave on the Black River in Watertown, New York.

Inner City Strife

This was in October 2005.  I had been paddling for four months, when the river levels in upstate New York went off the charts!  The surf wave, Inner City Strife was incredibly intimidating to me! It only formed at super high levels. There was a low-head dam just downstream from the feature. This meant mad rolling, ferrying and eddying skills were required to surf here.

The next photo I looked at was taken in the Spring of 2006. For my one-year anniversary of ever climbing into a kayak I decided to do the unthinkable and enter a surfing competition at one of the biggest and scariest waves on the Ottawa River, Ontario.

Big Cohones RodeoThis wave was much bigger than Inner City Strife and aptly named Big Kahuna. Getting on the wave was a challenge and staying on the wave was a challenge. But I thought, what have I got to lose?  Worst case, I flush off the wave and have to roll downstream. I think I got about five seconds on that wave…

A year later in 2007, I decided why not go even bigger? I know what you’re thinking.  How can there be anything on a river that’s bigger than Big Kahuna?  Enter Buseater. This wave comes in at some of the highest levels on the Ottawa River and could literally eat a school bus. You need to use a tow rope just to ferry onto the wave and then, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you just hang on for dear life.  The water was so powerful, it snapped my paddle in two.

This trip down memory lane truly reminded me of what attracted me to whitewater kayaking in the first place and why I keep coming back to it.  I’ve probably said this before, but when you’re on the river, the only thing that matters is each moment. How you’re going to manoeuvre a challenging rapid, making sure your mates on the river are safe, what is coming up around that river bend. There is no worrying about your mortgage, no trying to figure out what you’re going to make for lunch tomorrow, none of that.  Simply: Every. Single. Moment. Matters.

O = Ottawa

OThis is embarrassing to admit, but I was having trouble finding an “O” word to write about for the A to Z Challenge. I actually considered writing about Ostriches, which I had seen in the wild in Africa.

I told my husband that I needed an “O” word, and after a few inappropriate suggestions, and my claim that it had to have something to do with travel or adventure, he said “Ottawa.  Ontario”. Duh.

OMG.  As if I didn’t think of my hometown! My brain is seriously fried right now with work and school!

So here it is. I was born in Ottawa, Ontario and, despite being an army brat and moving every three years, I have lived there five different times in my life.

Ottawa is the capital of Canada. It almost wasn’t, but lucked out in 1857 when it was determined that the previous capital, – Kingston, Ontario – was too small and too close to the American border.  Parliament Hill, a limestone cliff overlooking the Ottawa River (and Gatineau, Quebec on the other side) is home to our country’s parliament buildings: unique, gothic revival styled homes to our elected government.

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Here is a list of seasonal Ottawa tidbits you may enjoy:

  • WINTER: Ottawa is home to the world’s longest outdoor skating rink: The Rideau Canal Skateway.  It is usually open January to March, depending on the ice, and hosts Winterlude, an annual outdoor festival in the heart of downtown.

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  • SPRING: Ottawa hosts the Canadian Tulip Festival each year, which started when Princess Julianna of the Netherlands thanked Canada for its role in liberating her country, presented Ottawa with 100,000 tulip bulbs and continued sending more bulbs each year until 1980. Still, today, the National Capital Commission plants tulips all over the city each year, bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists to Ottawa annually.

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  • SUMMER: ByWard Market is where the action happens in Ottawa’s Lower Town.  It is home to Canada’s oldest operating farmer’s market (first market in 1827), multiple unique eateries, bars, and boutique stores.

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  • AUTUMN: The area surrounding Ottawa becomes a mosaic of vibrant reds, yellows, oranges and greens as the leaves change colour in preparation for their demise before winter. Gatineau Park is the best place to truly enjoy the autumn colours.

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Ottawa is a city of all seasons, and despite being the capital of Canada exhibits a small town attitude. There is no shortage of things to do and has a unique mix of history and culture.  I hope you get to visit my hometown sometime!

N = Nicaragua

NNicaragua is a country situated north of one of my favourite places: Costa Rica.  Despite some uneducated people warning me that Nicaragua was dangerous and that there was fighting along the border, I did some research and decided to take a day trip into the country from Guanacaste.

I’m so glad I did!

Nicaragua is a beautiful country, despite being one of the poorest in the Americas. I was happy to contribute even a little bit to their economy and to my guide. Tourism in Nicaragua is quickly growing, and I expect as more and more expats retire and visit Costa Rica, Nicaragua will be the next hidden gem. There is so much history, culture and fascinating architecture to experience.

One of the highlights of the visit was enjoying a local band play on the hill overlooking Laguna de Apoyo Natural Reserve.

Enjoy the photos I took from my short excursion!  I will definitely be back!

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M = Mountains

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I grew up in Ontario, Canada.  In fact, before I moved out to Colorado, I had never lived anywhere else. Mountains were never really a part of my life.  I knew they existed but had never been given the opportunity to experience them first hand.

I learned to ski at Horseshoe Valley Resort, north of Toronto. Horseshoe Valley has a difference in elevation of 308 feet. Another place in Ontario where I have skied is Calabogie Peaks, which apparently offers the highest vertical drop in Ontario of 761 feet.

My new home resort, Keystone Resort near Dillon, Colorado has a difference in elevation of 3,128 feet.  Just to give you an idea of what I’m used to and what I’m experiencing here in Colorado.

So, back to mountains. To be honest, I don’t know how I managed to live the majority of my life without being surrounded by mountains! My first time experiencing mountains was in Bosnia and then Switzerland. It was astounding to see them jut out of the earth as if they were the most powerful things nature had to offer.  It was terrifying driving switchbacks in Bosnia with no guard rails. It was exhilarating noticing the thinner but cleaner air.

When I cycled through the Canadian Rockies, I was really nervous.  I thought, how can I possibly get my little bike up those HUGE mountains?  But the mountains can be forgiving.  There are ways to get through them without going straight up. Valleys and passes assist us in being able to experience their majesty without as much effort as we might think.

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Although they can be forgiving, they are also not to be messed with. When I climbed Kilimanjaro, I truly learned to appreciate that the mountains are boss.  We passed many people who simply couldn’t handle the altitude, returning down the slopes with looks of defeat on their faces.

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Since I’ve lived in Colorado Springs, the form of Pikes Peak follows me wherever I go. I can drive into the mountains each weekend if I want to. I truly feel as if “The Mountains are Calling”, and I truly feel as if it’s where I belong.

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L = Lake

As a child and Lgrowing up, there was one place that was my absolute favourite place.  The lake. My aunt and uncle had a cottage and every summer the entire extended family would spend time up there, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature. Some of the family weren’t big fans, but for as long as I can remember, the cottage was my favourite place to be.

So much in fact, that I always dreamed of having a cottage of my own, living on the edge of a secluded lake with steep wooded shores and an abundance of wildlife, coming and going.  My memories of canoeing with my aunt, learning to waterski with my uncle and cousins, marshmallows on the bonfire, cliff jumping, playing Mille Bornes and Monopoly when it rained, or just hanging out on the dock in the dark watching the stars, and once watching something burn up as it entered the atmosphere.

Now I admit, there were things about the lake that I didn’t like.  I didn’t like that grass and seaweed and other things would grab at my feet while I was swimming.  I HATED the fact that I couldn’t see what was under me in the water, and those dock spiders weren’t as cordial as they may initially seem….  But here I am. Almost 40 years old and I STILL want a cottage of my own.

Maybe one day, Jenny.  It’s definitely part of my retirement plan. There’ll be no living in the city once I’m done working!

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Learning to waterski at the cottage!

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Canoeing in my Outdoor Rec highschool program “Ventures North”

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I miss that Sesame Street towel! You’re never too old!

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I caught a fishy in Frontenac Provincial Park!

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Peaceful solitude at Lac La Pêche

J = Jamaica

  Jamaica was our most recent adventure. Usually when we travel, we travel on budget and a way where we can see as much of our destination as possible.  

This time we decided to try something different.  An all-inclusive resort was on the itinerary.  Nine days of doing anything, or nothing, eating and drinking as much as we wanted. We stayed at the Sandals Royal Caribbean and had a wonderful relaxing time!

The people in Jamaica were so friendly and laid back.  Nothing seemed to be a bother either on or off the resort property.  Of course if I lived on a tropical island in the middle of the Caribbean, I would be pretty relaxed too!

Sometimes, you just need to take a break and remind yourself what life’s all about. 

   

             

I = Iceland

II was intrigued by Iceland. It absolutely inspired me. I decided to spend two weeks in Iceland with my mom, travelling around the entire island and see what it was all about. What an incredible experience, and what stunning and gorgeous countryside.  This is a place of dreamers. There is so much majesty, you can’t help but feel the magic and imagine the generations of Sagas that tell wild and crazy stories of the country’s history.

I learned history, I tried local foods, I saw gnomes and trolls, I peered over waterfalls, I stood beside active geysers, I tasted million year old ice, I rode Icelandic horses (don’t call them ponies), I ate puffin (sorry birdie, had to try the local fare), and I met some of the friendliest people.

Enjoy the photos!

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H = Hectic

HI had this great idea about the A to Z Challenge.  I was going stay on track. I was going to find 26 great, outstanding, fascinating things to talk about and share with you.

Then I hit the letter “H”.

At first, I was going to write about my experiences in Hong Kong.  But I can’t find the photos from my week and a half there, staying with my dear friend who taught at the Kowloon YMCA.

Then I thought I would write about my 96 hours in Hungary (Budapest to be precise), and then realized that due to the morning train from Zagreb, Croatia and the beer cart rolling around at 8:30 am (It’s 11am somewhere, right?), that I don’t remember enough about my time there to accurately share my experience!

Then I went out of town for the weekend. I didn’t have access to any of my photos and I couldn’t think of another “H” thing to write about. Then, I realized that I was only two weeks away from the end of my current semester at Johns Hopkins University.  I’m taking two courses AND working full-time and I started to panic.  And since I didn’t have any photos to give you anyway, I hid from the A to Z Challenge.

A lot of people live hectic lives. Many are able to balance them successfully.  Others have difficulty. I am one who has difficulty but appears to have it all together. The truth is, I don’t. But I make it work. Sometimes to make it work, I do what I did this weekend. I just get away from it all. I dump it all from my mind and I do something completely different and unrelated. Then I return to reality.  And realize that I just put myself another three days behind schedule on EVERYTHING else in my life that I had to get done. But hey, it was a fun weekend.  And I’m happy. And that starts with H, too.

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Another thing I did when I was supposed to be doing homework. Origami. It didn’t work. So I doodles butterflies on it instead with highlighters meant for highlighting passages in smart people books.

G = Garden of the Gods

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When I moved to Colorado Springs, the first ‘touristy’ thing I did was visit Garden of the Gods. Despite all the other super cool things about Colorado Springs (Pikes Peak, Cheyenne Mountain, The Stargate, The Olympic Training Center), Garden of the Gods is perhaps one of the most popular attractions in the area. Even TripAdvisor rates it #1 of 140 things to do in Colorado Springs!

So, here’s the story: Garden of the Gods was formed millions of years ago due to some crazy upward activity around a fault line. Today, massive red rocks jut out of the landscape as if they either landed there from outer space or pushed their way through the earth like large, solid rock daisies.

The name Garden of the Gods was given back in the mid 1800’s by two surveyors who, while discussing how the land would make an ideal beer garden, proclaimed that it would be a garden fit for a God. Later, railroad tycoon, Charles Elliot Perkins purchased the land surrounding the features in 1879 to build a summer home. When he died, his heirs handed the land over to the City of Colorado Springs with the caveat that it always remain open and free for the public to enjoy.

Pictures do not do this place justice.  There is a silence uncanny to urban areas.  Birds have made their homes in the outcropping of rocks.  People walk through the park daily, alone with their thoughts, or amazed by the beauty, or sharing this treasure with family and friends.

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F = Fear

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There are a lot of things in the world that you could be afraid of.  Some people have irrational fears of things, while other fears are logically based on a past experience. One thing I have learned over the years is that fear can hold you back.

Being afraid to move to a new city. Being afraid to search for a new job.  Being afraid of getting up in front of people and delivering a speech. Being afraid of climbing a ladder. The list goes on.  But if you constantly live in fear, you are not living, truly.

You can be afraid of things, it’s a natural reaction, but it’s how you allow fear to control your life is what’s the most important.

I recall when I applied to college.  I was accepted into both colleges I applied at.  Advertising and Public Relations at St. Lawrence College, and Recreation Leadership at Loyalist College.  Going to Loyalist College would have meant that I would have to move, find a new place to live, find a new job, and make new friends.  I was terrified of the change, considering I didn’t even own a car. I chose to stay in Kingston and go to St. Lawrence.  In the end, the diploma from St. Lawrence likely better served me in my future career as a Communications Advisor, but at that time, all I could care about was the unknown and how scary it seemed.

Since then, I have learned to muscle my way through irrational fear.  I am not a fan of heights. Even seeing someone on the edge of a cliff gives me physical butterflies. But I learned to skydive.  I climbed that ladder on the side of the Mayan ruin in Tikal, Guatemala. I’ve rappelled off of platforms and down rock faces.

Here’s a video I want to share of me kayaking over Pozo Azul waterfall in Costa Rica. No one who has run this waterfall can say that they weren’t afraid and no one should blame me for the 10 minutes I spent in the eddy above psyching myself out, saying “Okay, NOW!”  “This time for reals. Go!”  “Okay, NOW!”  “No seriously Jen, do it!”

At the end of the day, if you hide from those things you are afraid of, they will define you. But, by the way, there is a difference between fear and a legitimate sense of a bad idea.  I’m not saying you should just jump over the edge, but I’m saying you should carefully calculate whether your fear is legitimate or psychological and determine which way to go with those feelings.