I’m terrified, absolutely terrified to embark on this 225 mile journey into the heart of the Earth. I’m the only woman rowing a boat down the Grand Canyon, and the person with the least amount of experience behind the oars.
I must accept this challenge. I’m one year post divorce and I’m determined to step into the captain’s seat and prove to myself that I am capable and competent to finally oar a boat down the longest river trip in the world. I’ve tried before. Four years ago, I wanted to captain the boat on my last Grand trip. But within days my confidence was shaken by my ex nit picking my lines, my angles, my eddy wanderings and me bumping into other boats. He became increasingly unhappy and annoyed as we last descended into the canyon. It was on that trip where he decided he didn’t want to be with me, yet he remained silent about his decision for years, too many years. I needed to bookend that past four years of hell with a trip for myself to clean my slate and find my true self again.
Rowing a boat is just like riding a bike and the canyon breaks you in slowly. I begin to feel my oars in the water, find my rhythm and find my angles. I begin to remember these rapids and how to follow the water on its path, twisting and turning through each corner and eddy. The past begins to emerge and fall off of me like the layers of the shell I built around myself. I gave away my power on this last trip and I’m determined to get it back. With each oar stroke, I begin to sigh, laugh, yell hoot and holler louder and louder with each rapid I guide.
Soon enough, we approach the harder, more critical rapids and I begin to question my confidence. Hance is our first big rapid. We stop to scout and that gut wrenching fear enters my body. I sheepishly look at the water and feel completely over my head. The line has become harder, the stakes are higher. There is one move that must be made to break strong laterals and avoid the garden of boat flipping holes. I do not want to flip this boat. I have to make that move; I must break that lateral. The wind is so strong it counteracts your angles and diminishes the power of your strokes. I’m a small girl and unsure if I have enough muscle power to move my boat where I need it to go.
I enter the rapid, with the aid of my fellow passenger double rowing with me so I can break through the wave. We approach the critical moment and I yell, “GO!” He gets up and moves back to the front of the boat, ready for action. OH no! I actually needed three more strong strokes to get myself where I needed to be and and I watch with shock as I see the wave I needed to clear pass my right shoulder. Here we go…..I panic and, at that same moment, my oar is ripped out of my hand. I reach to grab it only to see a huge wave crashing towards me, and my boat is heading sideways into a hole. More waves crash into the boat. I ditch any effort at grabbing my oar and sit down in my cockpit hoping to not be thrown from the boat. We hit a more waves sideways and I’m sure we are going to flip. However, soon enough, we reach the bottom of the rapid. Upright and safe. I quietly grab my oar and am shaken. Visibly shaken. I have to do this 15 more times over 15 days. What am I doing here? And why did I think I was competent enough to row this boat?
No one can save me now. My Class V whitewater rafting guide of a husband is not here to save the day and take over. No one else can row this boat into the depths of this canyon. I am an imposter on this trip yet I can’t reveal my weakness to the rest of the group. Not yet.
We have 3 more big rapids that day that are all big enough to require scouting. I begin to hone in my focus, and dose myself with every Flower Essence I can find in my ammo can. I nervously laugh, a giddy, terrified laugh and inside I’m quiet, very quiet. Focus, please focus, don’t freak out. . I HAVE to do this and I CAN do this. I quietly row the rest of the day clean and calm. I’m gaining my confidence back and am able to relax, for a moment. Looming over me is still what’s to come. It’s only day 3 and soon on day 5 is Crystal, a level 8-10 rapid, depending upon the water levels.
I can’t sleep the night of Day 4 and have dreams of a huge wave, as tall as a building, surging up in front of me that you have to time perfectly or get munched. In my dream I don’t know how to time this wave and it’s all chance if you make it through. I’m up at 5am to practice my required morning yoga. I am again, quiet yet calm. Eerily calm that day. I botched Hance, yet this river is so forgiving we came out upright. I keep reminding myself that this river is forgiving and I’ve got this. If I flip I just go for a swim. No big deal right? It’s a big deal. Really, no one wants to swim in the 45 degree water.
Horn Creek Rapid is first, and it reigns in at a Level 8. Our scout provides the information that yet again I have to make a move across a wave with the boat. This is exactly what messed me up on Hance. I try to make the move, lose an oar, manage to regain it, yet we’re just heading directly for the hole I don’t want to hit. We hit the hole straight and with a sign of relief we’re through that rapid and remain upright.
Oh boy, I’m now incredibly shaken. I can not keep loosing oars and freaking out. There’s more to come today, tomorrow and for many more days on the canyon. I don’t want to keep messing up. I have been shaken for years. Sad and heart broken, with little confidence in myself, my future, my ability to navigate life alone. I lost my ability to just be silly, happy, giddy, wild, brave and abandoned all fear of what’s to come. This is my life challenge, my metaphor to get through this vortex I’ve been stuck in.
A fellow oarsman names Dave notices that I’m shaken. I befriended him a few days prior, confiding in him that I have only rowed 4 river trips total in my entire life, and never rowed the scary stuff. I learned from my ex how to row on our first Grand Canyon trip 10 years ago and was actually terrified of water since childhood. I learned from an expert guide how to move a boat, read water, keep angles and most importantly, no matter what happens, hit the meat and hit it straight. Yet I never learned how to be confident under his watch because I always seemed to be doing something wrong.
We stop to scout Crystal. Dave takes off to the waters edge while the rest of the group heads for a high view point. The other oarsmen pick out lines, sneaking right then moving across the river, a zig-zag pattern. I know this is not how you run this river. You pick the most direct line possibly with as little moves as possible. I have zero confidence for making these moves. There is another line along the left wall that has the majority of water moving through it. Yet all of the water is moving into a sheer rock wall, past a gnarly eddy that I’d never be able to get out of and, to top it off, a nice gigantic hole at the bottom that covers almost all of the river.
I’m screwed. I’m beyond screwed and I’m pretty sure this is where I’ll be exposed as an imposter on this trip. Here’s this stupid girl that thinks she can row a boat because her ex taught her years ago, yet she hasn’t touched an oar for four years. Silly girl on a solo journey to clean the slate clean from years of being beat down by a husband that wanted her out of his life. I’m wanting to jump out of my skin and disassociate to another time and place. What am I doing here? This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever gotten myself into in my life.
Dave returns from the river bank. He sees the big line on the left, the one that runs close to a sheer rock wall, and threads the needle between the gnarly eddy and the big hole at the bottom. Oh God, this is crazy. I’m not sure I can do this. At that moment, an experienced guided tour shows up behind us and doesn’t even stop to scout. They know this river and they all take the left line. I watch them effortlessly follow the water, pull off the wall, pull off the eddy and sneak past the hole at the bottom. OK that’s the line. Here we go.
I return to my boat. I suit up. I put my helmet on and dose myself with more Flower Essences. Dave sends me off with his secret handshake and tells me, “It’s easy, it’s easy. You can do this. Just keep your oars in the water and hit it straight.”
My passengers suit up and tell me, “You’ve got this J, I believe in you.” And they do. They have trusted me so far and they’re trusting me again. They are my mirror as I now need to trust in myself. I pull out and set myself up in the middle of the line up. I begin to row forwards, into the tongue. All I have to do is break one wave to get to the left side. We slip into the tongue and easily slide over to the left. I point my boat towards the wall and give deep strong strokes away from the wall, we slide around the corner and I see the eddy slip past me, I straighten out and watch the gigantic hole pass by me on the right. Easy. It was so effortless and easy.
I start yelling at the top of my lungs! “EEEEEEKKKK! YESSS!” My boat is cheering and so is everyone else! I turn around to see Dave and he gives me the sign of perfection. Yes that was perfect. The most perfect line I ever could have rowed. “Look who’s Miss Confident now,” says Dave.
Yes, that’s exactly correct. Perfect, confident, present and incredible!! It was easy, so easy to step into the shoes that were handed to me. I continued to row that river with presence and confidence, and I rowed it well, even with finesse and style. I knew that I may fumble and make mistakes, but at the end I couldn’t wait to go back and try again. Next time I’ll do better and I can’t wait to captain a boat again.
I found my true happiness down there in the Canyon. My fellow trip mates admired for my bravery for entering this journey with such little experience. They admired for my confidence, my happiness, my focus and for just being exactly whom I wanted to be! Me, the happy, excited, confident and an all around bad ass person that I am. For myself however, by the end of the canyon, I found my inner peace. I realized that no matter what happens in life, I’ve got this. I can do this. There is no one around to bring me down and I’m 100% ready to live life to its fullest potential and give it my all.
Jocelynn Rudig lives in Boulder, CO where she enjoys exploring the great outdoors on skis, boats, bikes, rocks or on her own two feet. She's always up for adventure and challenge. Jocelynn is a Clinical Herbalist and wanders far and wide to gather as many plants as possible in their natural habitat. When Jocelynn is not outside, she’s performing and teaching Aerial Dance. She travels the world sharing her Aerial Dance knowledge. No matter where the world takes Jocelynn, she always makes time to find a piece of nature.