The one thing I forgot to bring inside overnight was frozen stiff when I retrieved it in the morning. The neoprene mitts that velcro onto my paddle were hard as cardboard. I cursed Smokey and Roman yet again for their insistence at an 8:30 start. At least my wetsuit was relatively dry and I could pour warm water into my stinking wet booties before squeezing them over my cold toes. No matter, my toes would be numb again once we were on the water.
This goal I’ve got of paddling 100 days in 2014 is not just to paddle 100 meaningless days. It’s a game of catch-up. I want to catch up on what I feel are the lost years of not kayaking. For most of those years, I didn’t even know kayaking existed! Now I have this burning desire to descend what I see in photographs are some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Of course many of these places happen to be class V, the most challenging whitewater to run. To do this, I’ve got to up my skills. And if that means getting suited up when it’s still below freezing to paddle the only river that’s flowing within a five hour driving radius from Santa Cruz, so be it.
As opposed to most every other endeavor in my life, these 100 days of paddling are not scheduled or even roughly planned. They can’t be. There’s so little water in California that it’s possible many of the runs I would want to do aren’t even going to happen this year. Or at least not for long enough for me to be prepared to run them. I’m okay with this. In fact, I prefer it because it further connects me to what’s going on in the natural world.
This weekend I got in my first two days, both on the South Fork American. Yes, it was cold, but at least it was sunny and I was in good company. My goal each day I paddle is to practice the skills I have not yet mastered or try something new, and never, ever forget to look around and appreciate where I am. Every day on the water is my own version of heaven, even when I’m so scared I want to pee my pants.