Looking out over the ocean in New Zealand there was a power in the realization that I could go anywhere and do anything with my life. Arriving in Uganda to paddle the White Nile River I remember feeling nervous about traveling on my own and then being greeted by the warm, welcoming smile of Henry, a local driver sent by the rafting company to pick me up. In Mexico I fell in love with the heart of a magical village by the river. In Costa Rica I’ve spent a lot of time laughing with the local guides and drivers. In Ecuador I love chatting with the local artisans in the markets and eating the best chocolate on Earth! I still remember the feeling of pure bliss riding in the back of an old pick up truck under the southern stars after a day of paddling in the breathtaking Chilean Andes.
I’ve paddled in 14 countries and 33 united states including Hawaii; Here are the top three benefits I’ve received from combining travel with a paddle!
In my twenties I got on a bus with an adventure travel company that I had only met once, and traveled from WV (after Gauley Season) to Mexico with $300. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know exactly how I was going to earn money to make it through the winter. A reasonable person probably wouldn’t have stepped onto that bus because there was plenty to fear. Luckily there was a passion for life inside of me that was stronger than the fear. I took a leap of faith and ended up working as a raft guide, video kayaker and river manager for that company and stayed in Mexico for almost a year. I got to paddle great rivers, see breathtaking places and make a lot of friends. It also launched me into full time river rat status! Since that experience I have rarely let being reasonable get in the way of an adventure.
The human brain is wired to assess threats and opportunities, so as we go about our daily lives we are continuously assessing people and situations. We may believe that someone is a threat based on what others have told us, how we grew up, stories in books or media or simply because we don’t know them. Human survival has relied on our ability to assess threats and it does come in handy. Having said that, when we falsely perceive someone as a threat everyone ends up suffering from misunderstanding and disconnect. One of the best things about traveling with a paddle is discovering that people who look different and have a different cultural upbringing share the same passion for paddling. Our shared experience on the water allows us to share off the water, connect and build community across borders, races, cultural backgrounds and belief systems. It allows us to connect as humans, as watermen and women. That connection makes it more difficult to fear and judge one another. We realize that we are more alike than we are different and that has always given me hope for humanity.
Paddling helps us to let go and learn to go with the flow. That is one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned from kayaking and SUP. Travel takes it to the next level and gives us opportunities to apply going with the flow off the water. Anyone who has traveled has experienced things not going as planned whether that be a delayed flight, getting sick or weather/water conditions that aren’t ideal. No matter how much you plan in advance, things are still bound to change. As the saying goes, ‘the only constant thing in life is change.’ The more we resist change and try to control everything the more we suffer. As I’ve traveled the world via paddling, changing plans and weather have allowed me to experience the kindness of strangers, the resourcefulness of the human spirit and the confidence to know that I can choose the lens through which I see situations.
All three of these benefits point to the big benefit of experiencing freedom. It helps that when you’re traveling you have left your daily responsibilities behind - another benefit of taking some time away. I encourage you to take the leap of faith and allow yourself the experience of freedom through travel with a paddle in 2017!
Mind Body Paddle offers some great opportunities with camps and classes for women including:
Girls at Play/Canyons River Company Main Salmon Paddle/Yoga Wilderness River Retreat in September
Mind Body Paddle Mountains to Sea Women’s SUP Camp, Western North Carolina and South Carolina Coast, October Sept. 30th – Oct. 7th.