I’ve posted quite a bit this summer about my climbing escapades in the Sierra, but I’ve actually spent more time kayaking. Thirty three days this year in fact. Days 31 and 32 were last weekend, on the north fork of the Feather River at the Feather Fest.
The Feather Fest can be described as any of the following: A bunch of boaters flocking to a dam controlled reach of river to play in its ephemeral two day release of water high enough to kayak and raft. A family festivity with dogs, kids and the Coleman stove. A college party with an unhealthy dose of binge drinking. A competitive class V downriver race and a class II slalom course. An awards ceremony where the winners may be whipped by a dominatrix and forced to drink chocolate milk from a beer bong. Oh, and let’s not forget it’s a fundraiser for American Whitewater, the nonprofit that helps negotiate releases of water from dams so that we may have water in our rivers to play!
Last weekend was my second time at the Feather Fest. Last year I jumped in head first; I raced slalom, I ran some rapids, I drank, danced, met dozens of new people, shut the party down in the wee hours of the morning and walked barefoot down the highway back to my camp in the dark with a broken flip flop. I had so much fun that I could barely get back in my kayak Sunday morning for one last run on the class III Rock Creek reach.
This year, I went with the primary goal of kayaking, not partying. Not to say I didn’t indulge in a few drinks and conversation, but my focus was on paddling Lobin, a section of class IV whitewater. I also wanted to reconnect, if only briefly, with people I have met over the past year of kayaking. It’s a relatively small community and I’m relatively new. It’s smaller than the climbing community I’m most familiar with for sure. And they don’t know this, but they have become my surrogate family. All of them. Even the immature ego driven boys of the bunch. I think of them as my young cousins and hope they grow into more respectful young men.
Part of what drives me to go to these gatherings is that from the first time I joined a group of kayakers, I felt at home. And I kept getting that feeling, over and over on every river trip. And how often do you truly find your home? Some people find it in a partner, some are at home in their work. I’m at home in the water. I’m at home watching boats bob down the river in a disorganized rainbow. Even when I’m on the periphery of rivers or river people, I feel at home.
This year I sat at the finish of the downriver race on the class V Tobin run and timed finishers as they came in. They don’t know it, but each of them is a hero to me. I don’t have the skill yet to run that reach and so I look up to them. For they not only run it, they race it, as fast as they can, and come charging into the finish line panting and exhausted. There were two women who raced this year. I’m pretty sure I have at least a decade on both of them, but they too are my role models. They don’t know this either. There were even folks who came who don’t paddle, but support those of us who do, and they inspire me. So I guess I also discovered that, in part, I went to the Feather Fest to be inspired. And it worked.
Now I want to paddle more, and a friend put a crazy idea in my head to try to hit 100 paddling days in 2014. Well, it actually doesn’t seem crazy at all to me. It is exactly where I want to be. How to make it happen? I seem to have made other outrageous things happen in my life, like sailing across the Indian Ocean on one hour notice with someone I didn’t know and walking through the Himalayas without a map or a guide, so this seems entirely possible.
Of course, most people are secretly thinking, “When does she work, and how does she have the money to do this?” Yeah, that’s right. I haven’t had a steady job for three years now. I have very little income. My boating partners are appalled that I am lacking some basic safety equipment. Some things aren’t easy, but no shit, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
The last few years I have had plenty of opportunity to practice Aparigraha, the fifth Yama of Yoga ethical guidelines. It means non-hoarding. Things will come to you when you need them. Of course, this is almost a mandatory practice when you are poor. You make do with less, and I find myself both wanting and needing less. I imagine this practice will continue to guide me, along with the other Yamas and Niyamas, along with the feel of the rivers, the encouragement of my friends.
One hundred days is a nice round number, and somewhat arbitrary. What I’m really seeking is how to fit myself in more where I feel most at home in the world. Somehow, I know that there are people out there who completely understand this. Many of them were at the Feather Fest. And knowing that, I am more at ease to create my own life, however ridiculous or reckless it looks from the outside.