At times you feel stagnated, and other times you are gripped. Part of the challenge is that as we move up we gain responsibility, both in safety, and in choices. Each rapid becomes a complex system where we have to weigh the cost and benefits of an incredible amount of information. We have to think about fun, how running this rapid will affect the rest of the day, what safety we might need, what order to go in, and none of this includes actually scouting and running the drop successfully.
I often think about the entire process of becoming a competent whitewater paddler. We are constantly working with less than perfect information, and we generally mitigate this by substituting experience and heuristics. If we knew exactly how an eddy line would turn our boat, and how a rock displaces water, we wouldn’t hesitate about what rapids to run. If we knew exactly how group dynamics shifted the experience of scouting and running whitewater, we would always know who to go with on what runs. But we don’t.
We are constantly balancing fear, lack of knowledge, experience levels, interpersonal interactions, expectation, weather, gear, and logistics. Whitewater is a sport that rarely makes me feel prepared, especially when someone asks me “what are you paddling tomorrow”, and I can’t answer them because I don’t know who can commit, what the weather will actually do, how excited I will be, or any number of other variables that inevitably impact a choice. This is what a beginning paddler faces; a myriad of challenges that we try to take on one by one, but inevitably as the learning curve grows, we deal with many simultaneously.
You need to keep your head on the long game, the joys of the sport. Paddling is the most spectacular sport, but requires a great amount of dedication. We take the lessons as they come, as hard as they are, and realize that when we get beat down or have a bad time, we can make a better choice. We can learn from that moment and realize the imperfection of human judgment. It’s one step on the lifelong path towards highly refined judgment. There may be a beat down or two, getting lost in the woods, a hike out, but those are the days you learn the most, and the rest of the days are pure bliss.