What one hundred days of whitewater taught me
By Haven Livingston
To kayak one hundred days of whitewater in the course of one year may not sound like an extreme or lofty goal, until you understand the circumstances.
The first and most prohibitive factor was location. Living over three hours from the nearest available whitewater river was not going to help my cause. Sure, if I lived in Reno I could visit the whitewater park nearly every day of the year if I wanted. No big deal. The second barrier was that I was too broke to buy a dry suit, which is essential for winter paddling. The third factor, well, all the rest can fall into the general category of: that’s just a hell of a lot of days, especially in a drought year!
Setting goals for ourselves is what keeps us going. Look around you. The people who have big dreams and annoy you with their ever-scheming ramblings are also the ones who come back with rabbit hole tales from strange and heroic (or humbling) adventures. Without goals it’s too easy to stick in the same grind and refuse to admit that we are bored with it, or worse, afraid to change it.
It had been a long time since I had set any athletic goals for myself and when a friend dropped the idea of logging 100 days of paddling in one year, I stole it and ran. The number 100 carries an air of achievement, with lollipop shine, but the purpose was practical; I wanted to be a better boater, faster.
I wasn’t one of the lucky few who started kayaking before I could walk, though I have become friends with many who did. Watching videos of my friends bouncing down crystalline class V runs in remote granite gorges gutted me. I knew my skills were light years away from that. The only way I could imagine reaching that level was to kayak more and with the purpose of progressing in at least one skill on each day of paddling. The details would work themselves out along the way.
My year was filled with logistical and emotional challenges, but in the end I logged 115 days of whitewater kayaking and did become a better kayaker. I’m not exactly running the gnar yet, (except one 30 foot waterfall!) but I am a lot closer and still having fun doing it.
So, how did I do it? More importantly, what lessons did I learn that can help you achieve your own wildest dream goals? Here are a few tips on what to expect along the way; it’s not all sunshine and glory, but it’s worth the deep sense of accomplishment in the end. Even if you don’t reach your end goal, you’ll never again have to wonder what would happen if you tried.
Dream plan: Maybe you want to climb El Capitan, or sail to Baja or keep up with your daughter in her next SUP race. It’s okay to set your goals a little higher than you think is possible to achieve, it will make you strive harder. Keeping track of what you already do is a good place to start. I counted up my kayaking days from the previous year and projected how much more time I could spend the next year. Looking at the long term picture puts things in perspective when the goal seems overwhelming. Build in recovery time and other activities to prevent burn out.
Cashed out: Think you’re too broke for new equipment or travel? Think again. Craig’s List and used gear shops are great for second-hand equipment. For big ticket items, try crowd sourcing. My dry suit was a collective birthday present from friends and family who gave cash gifts to an online registry. To save on gas and vehicle costs, carpool with friends or check ride share boards (Craig’s List). Don’t forget to pitch in when your friend is the one driving!
Time-less: If time, not money, is your limiting factor, tap into vacation and sick leave or rearrange schedules for more consecutive days off. Offer to be furloughed two days a month or consider asking for a leave of absence and realize that you can still have a great time with a little less income. Cancel a few subscriptions or meals out to make up the difference if you have to. Money can be earned, time cannot. If you can’t live without the work, take it with you. In the evenings after boating I would camp out with my lap top in friends’ living rooms.
Community: The more people you tell about your endeavor, the more support you’ll get, and the more harassment if you stop. Sharing photos or blogging about your challenge will allow friends to virtually journey with you. Other boaters who were following my posts would know exactly how many days I had paddled and holler encouragement to me on the river. Some even made bets on how far over or under I would be. Non paddling friends congratulated my progress and told me about their own aspirations.
Education: We in the West are fiercely independent, but if we can manage to swallow just a little bit of our inner John Wayne and take a class, we could learn a lot, a lot faster. One friend told me he swam eleven times his first time river kayaking. A weekend of whitewater classes could have saved him a lot of bruises, to his body and his ego.
I was too cheap to spring for a class, so I took a workshop and sought out the best mentors I could find. Caution; expert athletes can be terrible teachers. I choose to paddle with friends who are patient, fun and give me constructive critique. They never question my decision to scout or walk around a rapid. If you are beginning in a technique based sport, e.g. kiteboarding, golf, competitive swimming, or advancing to expert levels of any sport, seek professional instruction. If you’re already at the badass level, mentor someone else. You never know how much you don’t know until you try to teach someone else.
Friends will miss you: For me to succeed in my 100 days I had to spend more than 100 away from home. That meant missing out on a lot of events and time with friends. It’s a trade-off though, because facing challenging or scary moments with new friends quickly creates bonds that last a lifetime.
Celebrate! Plan a party for when you reach your goal and be sure to invite anyone who contributed to your success. Friends new and old can come together and who knows, you may just even inspire someone else to set their dreams into action.
What comes next? Avoid post-achievement-depression. Don’t expect to set dream goals back to back. Let one big goal lead to smaller and more quickly achievable goals. I paddled over 100 days in 2014 and am feeling pretty good on class IV. 2015 will be a fun year of becoming solid on class IV and adding back activities that I missed last year, like climbing and gardening. Whatever the goal, make it yours and always, always make it fun.
FACTOID: Before you strap a leash on your riverboard or SUP and head to the nearest whitewater, hook yourself up with a river specific quick release waist belt. Leashes open the door to dangerous entanglement hazards on a river. When you become separated from your board leashes can catch on rocks. Surf style leashes leave you dangling by the ankle and unable to reach down to release it with the current pushing you underwater. Ankle release straps are a no-no in rivers; currents are stronger than you think! Check out NRS waist belts for a better option.