After 3.5 years of kayaking, the inevitable happened. On Sunday I found myself a little bit stuck: I was in a weir.
The day had not being going very well for me; we had headed to the Kent in the Lake District with one car. We were 4 quite experienced paddlers, and although none of us had done the Kent at the high-medium it was rising to, there was little cause for concern. After taking my first swim of 2016 on S-Bend (embarrassing, but meatier than I recall), I wasn’t the happiest of paddlers but reluctantly got back in my boat.
I haven’t been totally happy paddling for some time, and that was rearing it’s ugly head once more. In our circle of kayaking friends we call it The Fear. It’s paralysing, frustrating, illogical and embarrassing. It has sucked the joy out of so many rivers since I had my first bite of it in Scotland last Easter, and it’s iron grip is incredibly hard to shake.
But back to the weir… Strange though it seems, I am actually quite happy I got stuck. At the time I was lucid and didn’t panic, it felt more like switching to survival mode. Fear wasn’t really a thing, it was more instinct and flashes of things I’d heard you should do when stuck in this position. I sat there underwater, paddles raised trying to flush and found myself right-side-up from a sort of half back deck roll. I surfed, got surfed some more, then on realising the 20 metres either side of me to the banks was just a bit too far, I did what every self-respecting kayaker does from time to time and swam. A friend who had stayed close by to watch over all this from just beyond the towback shouted to kick off from my boat and I did just that. A hard swim later and I was back on dry land.
I shouldn’t really look back on something like this and be happy it happened should I? But I just can’t help it. I have had the fear on and off for almost a year now, and it has followed me to France, Scotland, Wales and back to England. It has toyed with me and kept me back for so long, and being stuck in the weir, I was finally being forced to confront it properly. I was stuck. I couldn’t just walk away, not get on or sneak round this one. I had missed the thrill of doing something new that is par for the course when you start paddling: everything is new and everything feels like a huge achievement. I’ve been stuck on such a huge plateau for so long, that even though I was in a feared-weir, I felt like I was doing something new all over again, and coming out of it ok was actually an achievement.
It felt so good to know that I wasn’t entirely useless on a river. There was no screaming or flapping, and in my head I knew I was looking for options and thinking things through, rather than just opting to swim and hoping someone else would get me out of the situation. It was a moment of ‘ok, how do I get myself out of this’, rather than ‘nherohgeruiognjegjkf help meee’.
I think what I’m trying to say is that, I had forgotten what it felt like to be in an unfamiliar river situation, and having had so many bad thoughts about my abilities, it was actually a pleasant surprise to find myself thinking. It was a two-swim day, but I am grateful for this swim. It was a lesson I needed, and I am making a promise to myself to try the new line, a different move or a weird eddy from now on. Because being scared on things you can actually do isn’t going to get you anywhere. I need to shake The Fear and throw myself, fresher-like, into it all again. Nothing is worth missing out on the joys of rivers 🙂
Face up to the learning curve, embrace the swims and have confidence in the skills your experience has given you, whether you realise it’s there or not.
“I would always look for the hardest lines in any rapid. Especially if the line had some verticality to it or a tricky boof. This mentality prepared me for when I would approach a rapid where the only line was the hard line. Making easy rapids hard is the safest and best way to progress.”
Jared Seiler, Demshitz
This weekend? I think I’ll surf some stoppers and make some strange eddies.
Baby steps Hannah, baby steps.
Oh, and thank you always rescuers!
Words and pictures by Hannah James-Johnson