Guess what? I went white water rafting. Again. Last year, it was an 8-day white water rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. This year a 4-day trip to Canyonlands, Utah. Somehow, I think I’m an adventurous thrill seeker. And then I get out there, thrill seeking, and remember that I’m not.
I know what you’re thinking, “What the hell did Karen get herself into this time?” Lucky for you, I’m going to tell you.
First, let’s just get honest here. I don’t really even like white water rafting. I do love rafting. I love being on the water, whether it’s a river, a lake or the ocean. But I also have control issues and like safety and predictability. Know anything about that?
Point #1: Keep Pushing Your Edge…Get out of Your Comfort Zone
A little background: When I was a kid I was on the swim team, I loved the water and I spent most of my summer either at the pool, floating down rivers, swimming in lakes, or going water skiing. Then I joined the Navy and, as you might have guessed, still spent a lot of time in and near the water.
It all changed when I had an experience deep sea diving that scared the doodoo out of me… I experienced “mask squeeze.” It’s where your diving mask gets sucked on your face and gradually gets tighter and tighter the deeper you go. I wasn’t able to release it and was about 30-40 feet under the surface when I panicked.
In my panic, I thought I was going to drown and I couldn’t get to the surface fast enough. It freaked me out and I’ve really never been the same in the water. I still swim but my heart races, I feel the subconscious fear, and I have to focus on calming myself.
Point #2: Notice When Your Ego Pushes Back and Reminds You to Stay Small
Okay, your next question, “So, why the heck do you go on these trips, Karen?”
I go for a few reasons. First, I grew up in Northern Arizona and I simply love the canyons. They are magical, amazing, huge and mysterious, and I believe you really can’t fully experience them without being in them. So, I go to get in touch with the child in me that grew up in canyons. Second, I go to stretch and challenge myself to get uncomfortable, as I believe discomfort kicks my butt out of my comfort zone…and I value pushing my edge.
Point #3: Witness Your Belief About the Fear and Courageously Step Towards It
We spent the first day and a half with all seven of the boats attached to one that had a motor (essentially getting towed to the rapids). Other than finding very few ways to dodge the scorching sun, whether on the boat or in camp, I really enjoyed that part of the trip.
Getting to know new friends, chilling on the boat, checking out the canyons, floating in the water (with life jackets), going on hikes…all of these are the parts of the trip that I gladly pay my money and time for.
I apparently forgot about the primary purpose of the trip: white water rafting (the shaking of your head is unnecessary, thank you 😊).
After a day and a half, there we were, at the place where life jackets and helmets stay on. This is also the place where the lead guide talks to you about what to do if you flip, if you get caught under a boat, how to signal if you’re okay, and how to signal if you’re not. I don’t know about you, but this is when I remember that I’m not a thrill seeker.
I had three choices:
Get into a boat and row with others (riskiest), get in a boat where one of the guides is rowing (second risky), or stay in the boat with the motor (not risky). Although I secretively wanted to stay on the motorized boat, I also go on these trips to stretch, remember?
To challenge myself and to get uncomfortable. I went with the middle of the road boat. I’m not crazy, after all. So, the second part of day I spent being rowed through the rapids while watching others flip. I felt comfortable with my choice.
Point #4: Notice Where You’re Not Letting Go…Where You’re Still Staying Small
Day three (Do you hear the dramatic music?) was THE rapids day.
I was asked in the morning by one of the guides if I wanted to go in his “rowing” boat. I politely declined (#chickenshit) and told him maybe after the three BIG rapids. My partner decided that she would be brave and go in a row boat, so I was joined by a grandfather and his youngest grandson in my boat. Just the three of us and our guide. All good. Safe.
We cruised through the morning with our guide skillfully navigating through the rapids. Did I tell you she’s this tiny little thing, about 110 pounds, and badass to the core? She is. I was inspired to keep sitting right where I was while she did her thing. Right before lunch we got to the three BIG rapids. They are invitingly named, Big Drops ONE, TWO and THREE, as they drop about 30 feet in the river per drop (don’t quote me…it could be 3 and it could be 300…this is my story).
We cruised through Big Drop ONE and everyone pulled over to the shore so that the guides could scope Big Drop TWO. It felt ominous. Right before you dropped into the rapid, there was a big boulder right in the middle of the river. We apparently wanted to drop to the left of that boulder.
The big boat, you know, the safe one with the motor, went down the rapid first. We went second because we were the next “safest” boat and could help others if they got in trouble.
It was windy, and it took a few minutes to get to the boulder. But then the wind suddenly pushed us to the right of it. No!!!! Badass guide (yes, that’s her name) was able to pull us back to the left where we dropped into the rapid sideways, apparently not a good thing. By the time our nose pointed downward, we hit the first wave that felt like a brick wall. All I saw was the grandfather and his grandson fly forward and hit their faces on the front of the boat.
Fortunately, they stayed in the boat and though obviously dazed, they were able to get up (yes, all captured on my GoPro). That’s when we heard our guide yell that she had lost an oar. She told us to “Get Low!” as essentially, we were a boat that was fairly unnavigatable (No, that isn’t a word). We bobbed through and were attacked by the rest of Big Drop TWO rapids and then fortunately were retrieved and towed to shore by the boat with the motor.
Point #5: That Thing You Fear Will Typically Show Up to Challenge Your Fearful Beliefs
I know what you’re thinking, weren’t we on the safe boat?
Which is riskier: being in the safe boat and not being all in or being in the riskier boat that could flip and cause injury? Only you know your answer to that question.
Here is the self-awareness I gained in that 4-day period — I caught myself doing what I do…thrill seeking at about 90%. Because being “all in” is scary and I have control issues. I’ve gotten better since my “mask squeeze” experience, but not enough for me to voluntarily get in the “Risky Boat.”
I learned that not stepping fully in is riskier.
That sitting in a boat at 90% is not safe either. I can sit on the sidelines and not take risks, or weigh the consequences and be all in (at least to a point that feels like I’m pushing my edge).
Point #6: Staying in Your Current Comfort Zone is Riskier Than Stepping Out
That rapid was a metaphor for my life.
The interesting thing was that I felt really calm during all of the chaos. I wasn’t scared at that point, because all I could do was let go and trust. And through that, I realized that my insides (my heart and spirit) are much more trusting than my outsides (my thinking and rationalizing mind).
I needed that experience to show me that sitting on the sidelines is not necessarily the “safe zone.”
The rest of the day I joined the “riskiest” boat. I paddled, I let go and knew that I was supposed to be fully in the experience…even with my rapidly beating heart. It ended up being so much fun and, for some reason, felt safer than I anticipated. Maybe because, in the end, there really are no safe boats…only safe rides.
Point #7: Let Go, Step In, and Enjoy Thy Life and Thy Ride (As it was written…)
How do you play it safe? Where do you sit on the sidelines, when you know there’s a part of you that wants to jump in? If you could push your edge a little bit more today, what would that look like for you?