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Exactly a year ago I ran some of the hardest whitewater of my life. It was a semi-intentional decision, influenced in part by the right time, the right place, and the right group of people. I had just finished a year of working for World Class Academy, where I spent almost 200 days in my creekboat. After graduation, I joined up with an amazing group of female paddlers in Washington who were charging. Their encouragement and faith in my ability were the two things most responsible for my stepping up my boating.

The best example of this was running Punchbowl and Metlako Falls, a 35 and an 89 foot waterfall on Oregon’s Eagle creek. We had been talking about Metlako all week, and while I did want to run it, especially with these ladies, I was scared. Nicole, Nouria and Katrina acknowledged my fear, but didn’t let me use it as an excuse. Instead, they encouraged me, even loading my boat and gear on the car, but ultimately left the decision up to me. To this day, sitting in the eddy above Punchbowl with four females is one of my all time favorite river moments.

This year I was excited to meet back up with a crew of ladies in Washington to see what spring would bring. One of my big goals for the spring was to compete in the Little White Salmon Race and at the Homestake Creek in Colorado. Then, the day before World Class Academy graduated, I fell.

For a last group paddle, World Class decided on the Lower Lower White Salmon. This run has only recently been opened up for recreation thanks to the removal of the Condit Dam in 2013. It is a beautiful, North West classic. At higher water, it has a big water feel, with fun waves and boil lines that form grade 3-4 rapids that carve through a basalt gorge. The hardest rapid on the river, Steelhead Falls, can be portaged on river left, though at some flows, you are required to line your boat, rather than carry it on your shoulder. While portaging Steelhead one of our students lost hold of his boat, and it went downstream without him. To remedy having one too few boats in our group, I was going to hike out. While hiking, we accidentally freed a few rocks. One hit the back of my neck, and the other hit my hip, knocking me off balance, and sending me tumbling down gorge walls. After rolling about 30 meters, I came to the end of the cliff and fell approximately 25 feet into the river below. Fortunately, I landed in an eddy and was able to pull myself to shore. I paddled away with a few bruises and a sprained wrist, feeling incredibly fortunate.

While physically I was unscathed, emotionally I was a little shaken up. Even though nothing had happened on the river, I was surprised to find that I wanted to take a step back. I decided not to focus on competing, but instead on enjoying whitewater. When my friend Morgan invited me on a last minute Grand Canyon trip with her company Outdoors Unlimited, I jumped at the chance. What better place to reconnect with the river than in the Grand Canyon?

The towering red walls span billions of years of geological time, and the whitewater, while not technically difficult, is a humbling reminder of the power of the river. As the only kayaker on my trip, I would paddle ahead of the rafts, running the big water lines blind, forcing me to rely on my own ability. Drifting through the canyon walls let me remember why it is I began paddling in the first place. Yes, to push my limits and challenge myself, but also to appreciate and enjoy our world; to feel a part of something, and to connect back.

Ultimately, Kayaking is about the place and the people. It is the shared experiences that make this sport so special. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take a step back and remember all the different aspects of kayaking I love. This spring reminded me that you don’t have to be on grade five whitewater, competing in a race or even in the Grand Canyon to be a kayaker and to take a sense of joy away from the river.