I found an old journal the other day, recollecting my life from almost ten years ago; and came upon this entry which speaks to me as much today as it did then of a weekend in Yosemite when I joined colleagues and friends on a leadership retreat when I was working at CareerBuilder, white-water rafting for the first time when I didn’t even know how to swim.
early August 2006, 3:20 PM
Mariposa Grove at Yosemite National Park
I begin this moment of reflection infusing my soul with the breadth of my current universe: sequoias, redwoods, and other tall trees that I cannot name. Our group has been split one-by-one, and now I sit alone, a slight wind in my ear, the sounds of the creek (I think) around me, birds chirping and leaves rustling, to fill in the gaps. Thoughts fly in and out, much of it centered on the love I’ve felt from my family and my friends, the adventures I’ve lived in 2006, and the growth I have witnessed within myself.
I can’t swim; at the very least, I have only jumped into the water only once in the last twenty-one years. The weeks leading up to this trip brought with them a quiet fear, one of those fears that one cannot quite put a handle on and one that does not take over the day-to-day, yet one that is ever present, one that you know is just a doorknob away from jumping out. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but I knew two things. I knew I would be scared. However, I also knew that I would not let that fear own me.
San Francisco is a wonderful place, one of my three favourite cities in the United States. We had dinner Thursday night at Wolfgang Pucks. I would not see Julie or Fergus or Ballzini. But this trip was not about my times with them. It was something else (the afterworld).
The next morning, we awoke at the crack of dawn. Several hours later, I stepped into the boat with three women I worked with and the old man who served as our guide. Should I have owned up to him the fact I could not swim? In less than 36 hours, my world would not be the same.
Fitted with a helmet, a lifejacket, and a paddle, Blue as our guide, we set out on the Tolemy River. As mountains dotted our surroundings, in many cases brushed with greens and browns passed by, we paddled our way downstream. We encountered several rapids on our two-day journey: one Class 5 (Clavey), and several Class 4+ and Class 4. The water was a splendid clear green and blue, with rocks and vegetation, and in some cases fishes and turtles, in full view.
Before long, I had worked my way into a frenzy, yelling an ear-popping “YAH!” each time I attacked the oncoming rapids. With each thrust into the river, my confidence grew, and I forgot that I couldn’t swim. I leaned heavily into my newfound nemesis, and demanded that I win and even conceding defeat if that be the will of the river. I didn’t lose.
Clavey and The Iron Door were almost a different story entirely. Drenched and visionless for brief moments of infinity, I was on the verge of losing and I thought losing consciousness. Several times, I almost lost my footing with the boat. And each time, thought I was afraid for the river to swallow me, with it an almost quiet but very discernible calm took hold of me. If I didn’t know better, inside I smiled. On the outside, I’m sure several pearly whites broke through to break the reality of my fright. But I survived, to live yet another day.
We camped on a beach the first night on Friday. I was tired, to put it mildly. Dinner (and lunch) were satisfying. Before long, I was passed out on a beach under the stars, my last thoughts of the Big Dipper and the rest of the beautiful night sky above me. I awoke several hours later for just a moment, enough to view the orchestra in the sky, the clearest I had seen it in years.
We had workshops at the lodge the last two days. As Hunter’s lecture unfolded and our discussions enlivened, I kept thinking back to the river and how the stress from our daily grind had just simply washed away with every slip into the rapids. As the water ebbs and grinds against the rocks, so it did each of us, taking what we did not want and did not need, leaving us with only the best of ourselves.
Too often do we let the minutiae of our day-to-day get in the way of what is really important, whether it pertains to personal or professional goals. Too often we let what is not important take over our lives. Too often we are more concerned with what we think needs to be done now versus what needs to really be done to accomplish our goals. Too often do we let what was done in the past dictate how we do things in the future…
Go Adventure. Go Travel. Go Live.
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