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Redefining what it means to be a good surfer

River Run

Like most of us, I’ve been cooped up at/or close to home for the last several months due to COVID19.  Change, fear, confusion, uncertainty, even optimism and hope are just a few of the themes.  In addition to COVID, there have been some other tough/personal moments as well, like my big-brother and sister-in-law moving 3,000 miles across the country.  A breakup, maybe two?  Reduced salary at work.  Back to back injuries, and some other random shit that I try not to complain about.  While I’ve worked hard to create this amazing life, I know that I am priviledged and that my ‘quarantine hardship’ is nothing compared to what so many others are going through.  I have my health.  I still have a job.  I live in a house that I love.  Outdoor space.  A garden to occupy my time and to nourish my body.  Waves and trails nearby.  My heart goes out to all who are suffering.  Also, I’ve taken time to look within, a journey I’ve been on for the last several years.  Sitting on my mediation cushion more frequently, and for longer.  Reading.  Studying.  Feeling.  Exercising my body.  Opening my heart.  And quieting my mind.

It was a quote that my teacher, Celeste Young at InsightLA, shared with me that I keep coming back to.  It concludes, “once you really see the unique opportunity that human life can bring, you will direct all your energy into reaping its true worth”.  These words inspire me to wake up every day as if life is a miracle, because it is.

So, when my homie Klaus invited me to raft 50 miles over 5 days on a river in Northern California, I had to say yes.  I had no idea what I was in for.  What river?  When exactly?  Where?  Who is coming?  Would it be a mellow float or Class 5 rapids?  What about social distancing?  Shouldn’t I be staying close to home?  Is this wrong?  Is this irresponsible?

Right, wrong, or indifferent, I felt compelled to say yes.. and I’m so glad I did.

I arrived to Klaus’s house North of San Francisco on Wednesday night around midnight.  He offered me a beer as he tidied the last minute things before being gone for a while.  I finally laid my head down around 2am after a hectic week of work and a 6hr drive up North.  I was exhausted, but I don’t think I slept a wink.  Too much caffeine.  Too much excitement.  I was up promptly at 7am and started to get organized.

Day 1

Klaus, tying down all our dry bags, coolers, and all of the gear.

After loading up the trailer, we headed about two hours North where Klaus had someone ready to shuttle us another few hours North to the drop point before setting off down the river, which strangely flows North.  The process took hours.  From a Subaru, into the shuttle, two hours north to the entry point, bathroom breaks, inflating the rafts, packing them up, snack break, safety talk, quick run to the local market, etc.
By late afternoon, we were ready to push off.  I went solo in the IK (inflatable kayak) while the ladies piled in with Klaus and Nate who were also carry all of the gear.  On day one, we floated for a few hours, got acquainted with the river, and found a nice beach to camp on for the night.

Day 2

By now, we had transitioned from 7 seven strangers with our lives in Klaus’s hands, into a full on river family.  We relied on eachother for food, safety, comfort, and so much more.  The routine was, sleep in, make breakfast, relax, push off, raft for 7-8hrs until we found a nice camp for the night, and do it all over again for 5 days.  How glorious!?

Bacon on a stick over fire, not much better than that!

Day 3

Day 4

Day 4 started out with morning swims, and bacon as per usual.  This was also the day where we experienced the biggest rapids of the trip (beginning with the one above which was way gnarlier than it looks).  The above rapid was followed by several technical and rocky sections including a Class 3+, or so I was told.  I flipped the kayak several times, but all in good fun.  Day three was also the day we connected with Barry.  He was rafting solo with his beautiful pup named Gracie and we had passed eachother several times on the river.  He was the only other person we saw.  I could immediately tell that Barry was an interesting guy.  His soft spoken word, his courage and expertise to be on the river by himself during this unusual time, etc.  I didn’t know much about him, but I said to myself, ‘that’s how I hope to be when I’m his age’.  I later learned that Barry and wife are the founders of The Shared Heart Foundation, committed to changing the world, one heart a time.  How beautiful is that?!

Meet Barry

Day 5

Our 5th and final day on the river was a special one.  I was setting up a group photo when our river friend Barry pulled up and joined our group photo.  After snapping the photo with a timer, we huddled into a circle, locked arms, took a deep breath and began a rolling Ohm.  That alone would have been enough, but as the Ohm concluded, Barry began singing a Native American river ceremony song.  The women on our trip knew the song and joined in harmony.  “The river is flowing, flowing and growing, the river is flowing, down to the sea”.  To be on the river, hearing this prayer, it took me to tears.  One of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced.  Thank you, Barry for sharing that song with us.
Here is our final float of the trip, and our exit.

In closing, I felt so alive on the river.  I still do.
That being said, it was pretty bizarre going from five days on the river, straight into the chaos going on right now.  And so, the question by Jack Kornfield remains,”how do we navigate the ocean of tears and the unbearable beauty that is life?”
Within one blink of the eye, I see so much beauty and so much tragedy all at once.  So, with the energy given to me by the river, I take this vow, “to not dishonor my soul with hatred, to instead offer myself humbly as a guardian of nature, a healer of misery, a messenger of wonder, and an architect of peace”.
With gratitude,
Andrew

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