A few weeks ago, I found myself with my friends Bobby and Bridget walking in rural Mexico with seagulls flying overhead, cracked desert floor beneath our feet, and the smell of saltwater in the aire. It was day 147 of our Source to Sea journey down the Green and Colorado Rivers and we were about to reach the ocean.
The trip had taken us from 11,000 feet in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming to the Sonoran desert. Along the way, we were able to travel and watch a river transform from an alpine lake, to a steady trickle, to a meandering desert oasis, to roaring rapids of the Grand Canyon, and, of course, a whole lot of reservoirs.
Paddling a SUP allowed plenty of time for self-reflection and, although I never had the “Aha!” moment that I often hear about from my thru-hiker friends, my life has certainly changed and I am grateful to the River Teacher for all the lessons I have learned. Here are a few of these learnings.
Commit fully: let your passions overtake you and work hard at them
When I’d tell friends and strangers about our trip, I usually got a reaction along the lines of: “that’s a hell of a long time to SUP for…” Good point. It was. I’m the type of person who either gives something 110% or doesn’t try at all. I don’t really see the point in doing something unless I’m going to do a great job. While this was certainly a long trip, I never saw it as anything other than living on the river. I’ve learned that to be “successful” (how one defines that word is up to each individual), I need to live, breathe, and dream about my passions. I couldn’t just SUP for a few hours each day. I had to think about it as I laid in my sleeping bag, talk to everyone about it over burrito dinners, and appreciate all the bumps in the road. Commitment is tough. But it’s always worth it.
Open your heart: ask for help and embrace vulnerability
I went on this trip with almost no SUP experience. It was also my first multi-month long river trip. There were countless unknowns that we would encounter. I surrounded myself with people who enjoy and seek out new experiences. Asking these people to help me proved to be one of the most important elements to having a successful expedition. Whether it was setting up the tent, taking down the groover, or doing the dishes, I continuously asked other people to help. Throughout the trip, I relied on friends to drive long distances to deliver us food and other supplies. For some reason, it’s never easy to ask for big favors, but everyone was so psyched to help out. In the Grand Canyon, I would always have someone setting safety for me at the bottom of a rapid. Bridget and Bobby were usually right behind me watching my carnage and ready to pick up the pieces. Opportunities for vulnerability present themselves to us every day. I plan to take as many of these opportunities as possible. I’m proud of that.
Take time for yourself: always recharge and find peace in your mind
I just did some quick math and I’m pretty sure I spent somewhere close to 1,000 hours of this trip by myself on my SUP. I’m an introvert and I often find myself living in a loud world. Since returning, I haven’t been alone for longer than a few minutes and it has been kind of hard. The river taught me the importance of always creating an intentional space to not only relax but to sit alone with my own thoughts. I think we can all benefit from doing this. My Hala Rado and I have a close relationship. BFFs!
We’re not that different: everyone uses the same water
Although I’ve been out of the news cycle for almost half a year, I recognize that our country seems pretty divided. Water brings us together. It comforts me to think that a rancher in Wyoming uses the same water as a migrant worker in Mexico. In between, they’re connected by anglers, houseboaters, and, of course, stand up paddleboarders! The Green and Colorado Rivers not only feed America, but they work hard to give the Western US happiness, recreation, and memories to last a lifetime. Everyone we met along the way was stoked for our Source to Sea trip and offered help in their own unique way.
Embrace the challenge: it’s what you’re there for anyways
On the river, I often joked with friends about how the trip was easier than anything else I had done. And there is some truth to that. I didn’t have to go to work and I had a great excuse to stay out of touch with anything that gives me stress. I woke up, drank coffee, paddled downstream, sat around a campfire, and went to bed. Easy enough, right? Kind of. There were some tough days on the river. It snowed, it rained, it was really really cold, we paddled into the night a few times, and I missed my friends and family. Mostly, the fatigue of continuous exercise for almost 150 days started to take its toll. However, there was never a point when I thought I wouldn’t make it to the end. Developing a determination and appreciation for difficult circumstances is a key element to pulling off a trip like this. I went into it looking forward to a good challenge.
As I reflect on my journey, I’m sure that I will continue to learn lessons from the river. Before the trip started, I wrote a post for Hala and mentioned: “...not a day has gone by where I don’t think about the river. It lives in all parts of me: in my brain, in my body, when I’m awake, and in my sleep.” This is still true today. Simply put, the river is part of me. When I’m not SUPing from Wyoming to Mexico, I’m an outdoor educator. I always try to learn from my experiences and encourage others to do the same. Oftentimes, in order to learn, we need to be vulnerable and intentionally place ourselves into unique, challenging environments. This can be done a thousand different ways. I hope you find inspiration in learning and seek out a new adventure for yourself and for your community!
Post By Nick McEachern.