Pushing it to the Max | Will I make it?

This past weekend up at a friends cottage on the Ottawa River we went kayaking.  I love kayaking and do it often on the Rideau here in Ottawa, however on the big river, there is a lot of water with bays the size of lakes and where the bays aren’t the water flows with the power that feeds many big hydro dams on its course.  

We started our paddle with a simple glide down stream.  A relaxing summer morning ride on the river was beautiful.  I pulled out my camera and got some pictures and the live’n was easy.  On the way back however those bays were worth their weight in gold and the fast moving parts were a test of fortitude, or at least one was.  I was paddling back using a technique where you can sort of ride on top of the water to paddle up stream.  Best when there are waves involved.  I was thinking that while I had to paddle and hard at points, it was no big deal.  Then came a point where I was a couple of yards to the centre of my friend who was a lot more familiar with the waters.  He was paddling his hardest and slowly making it up the side, I was seriously giving it everything when I looked at the shore to realize I was not advancing.  I was shocked!  It could not be that after years of kayaking and knowing this and that that I could not advance but the current was strong from the surface down to the bottom.  

I though OMG, I really might not make it.  This can’t happen.  I was being tested and there was a real opportunity for failure.  I might have to let go and drift back to the next bay, but this was the hardest section to paddle up and I’d only have to face it again but with the knowledge that the side is the only way to go.  

 Ottawa River

Ottawa River

So there I was.  Even maintaining position was tough and I had to do it with no advancing just to get over to the side.  Muscles were starting to burn and a late night by the fire and an early morning paddle started to matter a little more -everything mattered.  By angling the kayak I slowly made it to the side and then I thought I need something on the shore to hold on to but it was flat bedrock.  There was nothing there but to start again with all the strength I could muster.  A little tree went by but I would have pulled it out of the rock as the current was strong and the boat may have swung around– too big of a risk, keep going I thought, keep going, another small tree and the water moving like a movie of a sparkling road under a car beside me.  

The pressure eased slightly and I saw a little nook to pull into.  It had just enough to miss the current.  Inches to go and, and there, I made it, but it was too small to rest in.  It gave just enough to gather an extra breath and a split second to realize I can do it.  Breaking out again and seeing the success of my friend ahead gave me the confidence to believe I will succeed.  Forward on and in the end there were other tough spots and we drifted in to bays where there were old chains and rotting booms from the logging years long ago.  

It was a test.  The spirit in me, perhaps because of the place, got me back and for now water remains just fun and not defeating.  The thing that made the experience so great was the challenge of the water was real and it could have defeated me.  Being able to push myself that hard and winning was a character building great experience that I feel lucky to have had.  Living in a city and going to work every day tests one character but to have the test so defined and the results so clearly marked as a pass or fail, that’s an opportunity that we can only wish for.  That’s an opportunity that defines who we are and is a benchmark, as the days slip into years.  

Jamie Brougham