I admit it: I haven’t really run for a while. Taking the necessary time off to heal my knees took a toll on my mental state, to the point, perhaps, of putting my healing into a holding pattern and forgetting the joys of trail runs. Staring into space, letting guilt, the loss of losing John to suicide swirl around in my mind and soul seemed to be the way I handled my mornings now. Instead of compartmentalizing in my meditative and healthy trail runs, I stared into space over a cup of coffee. I’d let my healing stagnate.
Then out of no where, one of the biggest… steps? Advancements? Hmmm
Let’s call it leaps in my healing happened in the strangest of places:
A river in Idaho.
The Main Salmon wasn’t a place I had heard of before last month, and I honestly pictured Idaho as a never ending horizon of potato fields. Wrong.
The path to Idaho started innocently enough: social media Instagram post from Anna on her “mindbodypaddle” Instagram. She happens to be a friend of mine from high school – and grade school. (Yep. The early 80’s)
The post involved an invitation for all women to participate in a 6 day rafting/kayaking trip on the Main Salmon river. Now considering Anna is a professional, I thought this wasn’t for me… but three magic words peaked my interest.
Without those words, I’d certainly have passed on this outing, but I scrolled back.
I had the perfect amount of experience: None.
It was all quite overwhelming. Just booking it was nerve wracking. I was at my mums’ new house, sitting with my new boyfriend, staring at the PDF files of information. Rafts. Ducky Kayaks. Class 1-4, tents, quick dry everything, paddles. I was getting anxious. What was i thinking? White water? Tents? I dunno… how the hell do you get to a town called Salmon? I’d need lots of time off. So many things that could easily have morphed into excuses…
But I knew I was going.
I just did.
So the day to leave for Salmon, via Boise, came. And only a few days prior, did I realize the day of my departure. September 4th: The day John died.
September 5th, the day that I flew over the sawtooth mountains of Idaho in a Cessna 206, bussed through the valleys to the river and put my feet in that beautiful river was the day I found him. September 5th. 3 years ago to the day. The day I, too, died.
Damn it, John. I know you had a lot to do with this whole thing. Damn it.
Before I knew it, I was meeting 15 other women who were to join me on this adventure.
We all hopped into our designated Airplane, and took off into the back country. No going back.
This was it.
First thing we learnt was how to fall into the water safely and how to go with the flow until it was safe to recover; we learnt how to get back in our crafts using our paddles as tools.
(Are you seeing what I’m seeing as healing metaphors? As acceptance of grief and the unpredictable patterns it throws at us? Well, it’s right there… seriously.)
So there I was. On a freaking river in Idaho. no internet, no nothing. Just a whole bag of quick dry clothing that still had the price tags, a crash course on kayaking, random snacks and SPF 100 sunscreen.
I opted to be a raft passenger on day one, just to watch the water, and follow the kayaks’ paths. Trying to see what they were seeing on the water. Just getting to know the waves. I was glad I sat there, thinking about John, about me being here, about how truly exhilarating it was to have no idea where I was going; all while knowing I was safe with this fabulous group of ladies, that soon became a tribe of river sisters. I know, hippy, but It’s true.
I knew I wanted to try an inflatable kayak, and did so on day 2. Amazing.
Day three I got my first chance at reading the water. Turns out, I have a lot to learn as I plopped into a hole (water vortices, that kinda traps you behind a rock). I knew I was stuck, but I wasn’t giving up. I kept paddling with everything I had, and with that, and Anna’s vocal encouragement I somehow got out. I was thrilled. A rush. A smile. Elation. Stoked. I wasn’t angry I got in there in the first place, I was proud of myself. For not giving up. I was happy to the point of giddiness. And this was all me. And the river. I was here. Totally present.
It rained. A lot. We paddled. We camped. We ate, did yoga, talked, slept as best as we could, and paddled some more. Each day a new fresh start, as exciting and as beautiful as the last.
There was a lot of sand in all the wrong places, but a lot of laughter at all the right times. When in doubt, layer up and have a ginger tea, and laugh.
When the sun came out, we rejoiced and frantically draped our clothes on every single available ponderosa pine branch at camp.
I’ll admit, I cried a few times on the river, in my kayak. I cried for John. I cried sad tears, and I also cried tears of elation for myself. I whimpered once or twice before a big rapid (big for me) but the current wasn’t giving me an out, so I dug my paddle in and just went for it. I got smacked a few times, and jostled sideways once, but knew what I had to do on the next wave to be better, so I did it. I started looking at the waves and telling them, telling myself, that they’re ok. “That wave is ok” I’d say. That wave is ok… if I stopped telling myself it was ok, it’s because it was a bigger one, and I’d better dig deeper. After I splashed through, that wave was also ok. I was ok. I hadn’t felt this “ok” since three Septembers ago. The day my old life ended. Now I know, for sure, wether I liked it or not, another life started that day. It just took a while to get going. It’s not always joyful, hopeful and peaceful, but it’s the only life I’ve got. Why not give it a chance to thrive. Your loved one’s memory will thrive alongside.
In life, like in the river valley, there will be twists and turns. Just like grieving. There will be days where you cannot see ahead, but you will paddle on anyway. Maybe around the bend, there’s smooth glassy water with some swirling eddies, a few ripples, perhaps some splashy boogie water… some twists may reveal the roar of strong rapids, hidden rocks, pour overs, holes…but you paddle as strongly as you can, and try to pick the best route for you. Some days it’s the easiest, some days it’s the roughest and the wave knocks you down, but not out.
There is no right or wrong in this valley; there is only your healing, your river, your paddle and kayak. If you need to stop paddling and enjoy the view, it might very be the best thing for you at that moment. Pull over onto the shore. Breathe. However, embrace the days where you want to play in the waves, because the river is waiting for you and will welcome you. As Intimidating as they might seem, those waves are ok. You’ve got this.
You’re going to be ok.
I mean it, I’m heading out.