One of the great things about being a guide is that we get to meet people from all walks of life. More often than not, we’re giving people their very first experience with whitewater. This is a really special thing–getting to see people overcome their fears in the first couple of rapids, whooping and hollering through the next couple, and finally pure joy while riding the roller coaster wave train through the last one. Through the day we get the opportunity to teach some paddling basics, perhaps gently encourage the few anxious souls, maybe answer a few questions out of left field, and just generally get to know our customers a little bit. The social aspect of rafting is one of the biggest draws for people simply because it’s so much fun and you get to share that with friends all at once.
Every once in awhile though, we all need a break. No matter how you make a living, you probably have some way of stepping back, slowing down, and regrouping. For me, it’s kayaking. Big surprise! You’d think that spending time on the water would be near the bottom of the list for someone who spends almost 7 days a week guiding raft trips but kayaking with a few friends is an entirely different experience. The scenery on the St. Louis river is exceptional and the rapids fun, however when we get a day off it’s time to head elsewhere. Usually someplace challenging and beautiful all at the same time. Minnesota is home to some world class whitewater. Most people pass over a river while driving on Hwy 61 and might hop out to take a picture of a scenic falls. These are nice pictures, sure, but we know them differently, more intimately. Slipping through narrow canyons, charging through big rapids hidden from view to all but the few boaters willing to explore. These are the places I strive to find. These are places thoroughly disconnected from civilization. It’s just you, and the river. If you’re willing to put yourself in these places you’ll be free to experience the laws of nature in their raw form. Water, gravity, and rocks. It’s that simple. There’s no judgement, no rules, no time clock, no boss. You’ll find challenges both physical and mental, but the rewards are beyond measure. Most paddlers I know have their own personal reasons for pursuing these experiences and what they take away from a day on the river is different for each person. I suspect one common theme however is the concept of doing something real. Our day to day lives are spent making decisions about what to wear, what to eat, what to watch, but none of those decisions have real, immediate consequences. Kayaking difficult whitewater has it’s risks, but without them it wouldn’t really mean that much.
It may seem odd to title these posts “Seeking Solitude” and proceed to tell stories about paddling with friends, but that’s one of the beautiful things about kayaking. It’s both a solo and group sport all at once. You can be out with your friends on the river, but they can’t do much (Physically speaking. They can definitely help when your mental game is suffering!) to help get you to the bottom of the run. So stay tuned to hear about some adventures finding solitude with good friends on the beautiful rivers of Minnesota.