Doing more physical activity than required is unusual for me. I almost always take the easier and less steep trail, the lighter weight and the less competitive sport, not because I am lazy, but because I doubt my athletic abilities in comparison to my peers. So when I heard myself tell my canoe partner that we would finish the final stretch of the river, it was like someone else speaking.
It was our 11th grade retreat. We were at the Russian River near Santa Rosa, California. Our naturalist guides had warned that the final leg would be significantly more difficult to navigate. The winds increased as we approached the Pacific Ocean making it harder to control our canoes. I wanted to do it. It was my opportunity to set and reach a non-academic goal and still maintain a measure of control.
Perhaps there is truth to the saying “winds of change.” I would learn that once goals are set, the path (or lack thereof) to reach them is often beyond control. And that’s okay when the final destination is somewhere you can learn from.
The river, as Gustavo—a history teacher and my canoe partner– had predicted, was wider and it became more difficult to keep the canoe aligned. I never pushed myself so hard in my life. Gustavo suggested we pull the canoe onto the shore and rest. Some other adventurers had done the same. We congregated on the river shore.
I like being in control. When I am not, I like having options. At that moment, my options were limited to sitting on the grass behind tipped canoes positioned to break the wind. Funny, but I was comfortable. I knew that I could rely on our naturalists and teachers to guide us back to camp. I stretched my legs in front of me and looked at the river on my right. It was so wide that it made all the other places that we had canoed seem as thin as cracks in pavement. I wasn’t worried. I was just there .
I did finally make it to the beach, just not by canoe. A friend and I turned our canoe around and headed back to camp. Although the wind was in our favor, it still pushed us to the side of the river and caused our canoe and one other to get stuck in the reeds. The other canoe’s naturalist Tim suggested we turn around and wait for a car to come and get us. We docked under a bridge, hiked up a hill and started walking.
We walked for about a mile. When we reached a crossroads, we stood on the side of the street. I wasn’t quite sure what we were waiting for, but I felt safe. I felt safe with one person I knew and one stranger who I trusted. We didn’t have cell phones and I almost liked that. We contemplated hitch hiking, but Tim didn’t think it a safe idea. As we walked and tried to avoided cars speeding a couple feet next to us, a blue car pulled over with its hazard lights flashing. Usually I don’t jump into strangers’ cars, but this was C.C., a member of our naturalist group who was heading to the beach to pick up more kids. I was in.
In Judaism, there is a prayer that you say called the Shechechianu when you see something new and beautiful. I whispered it to myself. I accomplished a personal goal. I eased up and just let something happen. It seems the winds they had warned us about had blown away a bit of my need for control.
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