Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Girlfullness Goes Whitewater Kayaking

Cheryl receiving instruction from Eric on the Youghiogheny River in SW Pennsylvania

Maria focusing on her next move

Cheryl enters the rapids with Tara coaching

Devin surfing a wave

Cheryl and Devin resting in an eddy

"Hi, I understand there is a whitewater kayaking trip this weekend.....I thought I might come along!," I playfully exclaimed as I entered my son Devin's classroom at Ohio University where he is a second-year student. It was fun to see the students turn in union with surprised expressions and chuckles when they heard this voice projected from the doorway. It was more fun to watch them rotate toward the front of the room in anticipation of how their professor would respond to this unannounced guest. It was most fun to watch this respected, middle-age professor at the head of the class stammer, "Well......well....well I suppose that would be alright."

This was not the scenario I expected when Devin invited me to come to class with him Thursday afternoon. Our plans to spend the weekend together got shipwrecked when he was required to attend a 3-day whitewater kayaking trip over Parent's Weekend, but we were satisfied with having Thursday afternoon and Friday morning together. I explained to the professor that I was just kidding when I suggest that I come along. He said he felt bad that he had planned this trip before he realized it was Parent's Weekend, and assured me that it would be ok since the class wasn't full. Wow! Now I am surprised!

Friday morning I did a one-stop shopping spree at the local thrift shop to outfit myself with water shoes, swimsuit, and non-cotton clothing. The professor, Mr. D, and his assistants had already loaded a kayak, paddle, helmet, skirt, wetsuit, life vest, and tent for me. I climbed aboard at 1 pm as a passenger in one of two vans loaded with students and graduate assistants. An unplanned adventure ahead....all because I dared to be girlfully playful! This youthful feeling was supported by the welcome I received by some of the students who were amused that I actually wanted to come. They laughed at the thought of their moms white-water kayaking. I did wonder to myself why there were only 2 girls in this class.

I had never been whitewater kayaking before but felt excited about expanding my skills. I had some experience in big water like ocean bays and Great Lake shorelines, but most of my limited time in kayaking the last two years has been in small inland lakes and slow rivers. Now I would get familiar with different styles of kayaks and kayaking, have a guided trip to another area of the country, receive hands-on instruction with talented and confident instructors, extend my camping season with a full moon to boot, and savor time with my son without cell phones and campus commotion.

We travelled to southwestern Pennsylvania and set up camp on the shore of the Youghiogheny River. Saturday morning we suited up and I was thankful that one of the female students, Cassie, who has taken a class before, offered me a special shirt to wear for warmth under the wetsuit. We spent most of the day on the river. We learned to ferry across fast water; to eddy-in where there was safe, quiet water behind boulders; to peel out or eddy-out into the fast, riled current with intent and focus; to surf a wave with finesse, not power; to use the hips, knees and paddles to face gaping, roaring holes; and most importantly how to muster the courage to face it all again after recovering from a few long seconds upside down underwater.

On Sunday we practiced it all again. Maria, another female student, had never been in a kayak before this trip. She rolled with the dozens of unintended Eskimo rolls, smiling more as she gained proficiency and confidence. I admired her courage. I was admired in turn by Tara, a female instructor, who complimented me on my efforts to try something new and thought it was so cool that I came along. I admit, I was scared alot, and often.

I am grateful to Mr. D for taking a chance on an woman whose skills he did not know, to the instructors for patiently sharing their expertise and keeping me and my son safe, and to my son, Devin, for his bravery not only on the river but also on land where he could have been ridiculed by his peers for letting his mom hang out with him all weekend.

Also I am thankful for the students' exuberant and courageous spirits which brought me a little closer to my own youthfulness. I am thankful for my general fitness which let me enjoy 3 days of unplanned activity and lead a 17-mile hike on Monday morning after 4 hours of sleep. This is a lot to be thankful for, but really, to play, like decades ago, in a brilliantly authentic and absorbing manner, with curiosity and courage..... this is the gift. This is girlfullness and its' spirit runs deep and clear. Peel out, girls!