Learning Confidence on the Owyhee
This spring, I was invited on a three day trip on the Owyhee River, or the “Grand Canyon of Oregon”. The river runs for 50 miles through the high desert of Oregon, through deep canyons and open hillsides covered in sagebrush. When we went, the river was pretty high but not quite flooding. I was invited by my boyfriend, a class V kayaker with tons of river experience. He would be kayaking the river with his brother while the rest of trip (all people that I didnʼt know) rowed rafts.
When I first heard about the trip, I assumed I would ride on the raft with my boyfriends parents. But then I thought it more, and I realized I really wanted to kayak it. Sure, there was a few class 3 rapids and I donʼt know have a combat roll and yeah, Iʼd never kayaked every day of an overnight trip before, but I thought I could do it. But as we got closer to the trip, I started to get more scared. My mom kept reminding me that there were big rapids and that the water was high.
On the day we put in, I was scared, but logically I knew I didnʼt really need to be. In my head I knew that the worst thing thatʼs likely to happen is I swim out of my kayak. And I know how to swim in whitewater, itʼs not that scary. If anything went really wrong, my class V kayaker friends would be there to back me up and help me chase down any gear I might lose. I was also comforted by the fact that I could get out of my kayak and ride on a raft for any big rapids.
On the first day, everything went perfectly and I kayaked every rapid perfectly. On the second day, there was bigger rapids. I got more and more nervous, and decided that I would wimp out and ride on a raft through the two biggest rapids. I tried to closely follow the raft that I would ride on and waited for them to tell me when were above the big rapids and had my boyfriend lead me through every rapid. But then, suddenly, we came around a corner, and I recognized the landscape and the rapid. It was the first class three rapid that I had watched a gazillion YouTube videos about how to run weeks before the trip when the anxiety was setting in. But it was too late- the raft was already at the bottom of the rapid and I was at the top. I had a moment of realization where I decided to never trust anyone else to read a river map for me ever again. As it sunk in that I was going to have to paddle the rapid, I was overcome with anxiety. I caught a small eddy and told my boyfriend, who hadnʼt abandoned me to throw some loops in a surf hole like his brother, to pick a good line and watch me closely and listen for me to scream when I tip over. But to my surprise and great relief, I paddled the rapid perfectly. The waves were huge and the currents were strong! Maybe my line wasnʼt perfect, but I didnʼt tip over or hit any rocks. I was so relieved, and totally proud of myself.
For the rest of the trip, I paddled every rapid, even the other class three ones. I had just needed a little push outside of my comfort zone and then a little success to give me confidence. As I continue to learn how to kayak, the thing that I struggle with most is overcoming that anxiety and gaining confidence. Iʼm learning how to talk myself down and focus on what I know I can do. Kayaking the Owyhee taught me that lesson, that I need to trust myself and not get caught up in the “what if” and the anxiety. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is take a few deep breaths, drink some water to stay hydrated, and tell yourself that you’re badass and you got this.
All words and images copyright California Women’s Watersport Collective 2019. All rights reserved.