Now that we are in 2018 and I’ve realised I have not managed to write many blogs last year I decided to reflect on a year which started pretty tough, has consisted of significant ups and downs, but has been improving and finally ended on a real high.
I saw in 2017 surrounded by some of my closest friends in North Wales, in keeping with tradition from the past couple of years. However, this time I didn’t really feel like I was there as I struggled with my mental game more than ever. It is hard to feel excited for the future when you are not sure you should have one, dwelling on a stupid mistake which you only survived out of luck?
I lost my best friend in 2015 and haven’t really felt like myself since. I quit my job to travel the world because life is short, but also in the hope that I could overcome my demons. I’m sure some people believe that I run away from my problems. To some extent they are right, but having a distraction allows me to deal with things slowly and therefore means I can get out of bed in the morning. Whatever the logic, things did not pan out as expected (they rarely do!) and after a series of unfortunate events by the end of 2016 I was feeling worse and not better.
I spent my time in the UK surrounded by my friends and family, keeping busy and trying to continue with life. My plans for Canada were falling into place, with a rafting job lined up in Quebec and a quick trip to California booked in the interim.
My time in Cali was incredible. Despite turning up with no kayak or any form of transport, I got to do some incredible kayaking courtesy of all the awesome people I met. One of my favourite things about kayaking is the community and California was no different. I was made to feel right at home and I was super happy to be able to return in November.
I even tagged along on an impromptu road-trip to Washington for the North West Creeking Competition. Whilst there we organised a trip to the elusive Clear Fork of the Cowlitz. The guidebook promised “the best damn day kayaking you’ve ever had”. 10 hours, 3 decent rapids and a lot of wood portaging later we begged to differ! It makes for a good story though and I think everyone needs a good suffer fest every now and again to appreciate the good times more.
Working in Quebec was a rewarding challenge. It was lonely being unable to understand or join in with conversations but my French improved significantly due to the immersion. One of my proudest moments was when I told a joke in French to my clients and they all laughed. The Rouge was an incredible river for kayaking. When I arrived it was 600cms and was an awesome big water playground with some of the biggest waves I’ve ever seen. As the levels dropped, there was different fun to be had with surf waves, slalom lines and, once the water was low, the waterfall section which was the setting for the final race in the Quebec Whitewater Series – 7 sisters slalom. Competing in and winning the series was one of my highlights from the year.
Learning to raft guide started off tough, especially with the unusually high water levels during the summer. Flip after flip in the washing machine left me wondering if I was ever going to improve! I also had a particularly low point when I hit myself in the face with my paddle and ended up losing a tooth and having to deal with insurance hell. However, there are many experienced guides at Nouveau Monde and I spent a lot of time shadowing them to learn and progress and by the end of the summer I was loving every day on the water and was almost as excited to raft as I was to kayak. At the end of the season I was peer voted Rookie of the Year for being the best first year raft guide due to my progression on the water and my commitment to learning French.
Once the season finished I headed to Upstate New York for Moose fest, where all my problems really came to a head. I’m not sure if it was the time of year or the stress of packing up ready to live on the road again, but I had not been sleeping well for a couple of weeks. I woke up on the Saturday morning and felt awful. I didn’t know why and I still don’t. There is no rhyme or reason to the days when I feel worse. I decided not to compete in the race in favour of a relaxed day on the river, but it still did not help. After taking off the river we headed to Agers falls to watch the show. Unfortunately, that show involved seeing someone get stuck on a tree. I had time to see that she got out of her boat unscathed before the world collapsed around me.
For some reason the next day I was totally fine again and had one of my best days of the year. I had two awesome runs down the Moose River with great company and smiles all round. This marked the start of a road-trip down eastern USA with some of the best people I could have asked for, especially given that I only knew 2 of them at the start. A great group, fired up on boating and with no egos to be seen. We had so much fun travelling and boating together and I really started to feel more relaxed, happy and back to my old self.
There were so many highlights during this time, both on and off the river, so I was very sad when it was over and we headed our separate ways. I started the long journey out west, stopping at some of North America’s most iconic national parks. I ran down the Bright Angel trail at the Grand Canyon, hiked up the tallest peak in Death Valley, from which you can see the highest and lowest points in the States (if you don’t include Alaska), and climbed most of the way up Half Dome in Yosemite in time for the sunrise. On so many occasions during my trip I was dwarfed by nature – made to feel small in such an awe-inspiring manner. It really helps with perspective and a feeling of peace.
On my return to California I was lucky to catch the 49 to Bridgeport section of the South Yuba. We had paddled it in reasonably high water in spring and it had been pushy but was also so far my favourite run in America. It was great to get on it again at a more normal flow, feel more in control and have a head-dry run. We also kayaked the Bald Rock section of the Feather river: awesome whitewater in an incredibly beautiful canyon, but the sketchy skree slope hike out in the dark was definitely the most scared I’ve been in a long time!
Following this I headed up to Washington to paddle the notorious Little White Salmon. Preceded by its reputation as a solid class 5 test piece of kayaking, I was a little nervous to say the least! Thankfully I had the best crew to run it with and was given some great beta for the rapids. It totally lived up to all expectations. On a relatively short section there are just so many rapids! I was very scared the entire way down but it was also such a fantastic section. I would love to spend time lapping it to get to know the rapids and get the lines dialled. I’ll certainly be going back at some point.
Since then I’ve been living and working on a farm on Vancouver Island. I haven’t done as much kayaking as I would have liked but what I have done has been great. Although I was sad to miss the festive celebrations back home, I managed to catch Copper Canyon at an ideal flow on New Year’s Eve, before seeing in 2018 drinking, playing games and being merry with friends old and new in Victoria.
I have a lot to look forward to in 2018. I have secured a job which will allow me to continue living the “kayaker bum” lifestyle for a bit longer and is going to take me to Chile at the end of January. I’m also hoping to spend my summer in BC to continue exploring what the state has to offer and will be visiting home for a few weeks in June for my sister’s wedding. For potentially the first time in 2 years I am very excited when I think about the future and am actually making plans further than a week ahead!
I have had a few moments throughout the year which have once again made me question my pursuit of kayaking. From helping rescue someone from a potentially life-threatening pin just before racing down an intimidating stretch of whitewater (and therefore royally messing up said race), to watching a good friend of mine swim through a sieve, the inherent danger of what I love will forever be at the forefront of my mind. However, the joy that kayaking brings me is not to be understated. For every bad day on the river I have hundreds of good, great and incredible ones. I am never happier than when I am in my boat.
So, for my friends who are wondering how I am really doing, behind the façade of my “isn’t my life amazing” Instagram feed, I’m doing pretty good. I am still not okay with what has happened and, if I am completely honest, I am not sure I ever will be. However, I am thankful for the amazing people and places in the world and am super excited to see what the future holds. Bring on 2018 and remember: it’s all part of the adventure.