March 26, 2014 by Will Johnson
Soon, maybe I’ll discuss something other than paddling on the blog. Not that other subjects aren’t worthy or interesting, but right now there’s too much good news from the waterfront to keep to myself…
Miller Kadarabek had another great weekend of competition at the US Open; I hope I’m not embarrassing him with all the press! Miller placed 3rd in U18 C1 and 7th in U18 K1 against a field of youth racers from across the country. While many slalom events on the Nantahala are held on a course well below Nantahala Falls, the US Open course was staged on the falls–and was therefore significantly more difficult. Miller stuck to his guns, and let neither rain, cold, nor hard moves keep him from shouldering his boat and putting times up on the board.
Nantahala Falls is one of the Southeast’s most iconic rapids, and is braved by thousands of aspiring paddlers every year. While calling it exceptionally hazardous or difficult might be a stretch, I vividly remember my first run down the falls. After beaching our canoe well upstream of the rapid, my partner and I trudged down the path on river right shaking in our wool socks and sandals. Eyes glued to the river, we barely heard our trip leader throw around phrases like “truckstop eddy, top hole, tongue, and bottom hole” over the roar of the water. Should we actually run it? The walk back to our boat was silent. With stomachs full of pop-rocks and coca-cola, we giggled as the river tugged us downstream from the safety of the beach. We crashed through the entrance wave train and caught the big eddy on the left. The only way out was downstream, over the horizon line and through the mist. Then we were moving again, without the giggles. On the tongue, the top hole churned to our right. We accelerated with a war cry into an explosion of white.
Franklin popped up next to the boat, paddle and painter in hand. I joined him, and we lugged our swamped boat to shore. Blue lips framed wide grins. Flipping was the natural consequence of a bad line, it was a risk of running the rapid. But we weren’t disappointed. We dumped our boat and got back in.
Why wouldn’t we smile in defeat? What did we really risk when we left the beach and committed to the rapid? Cold water immersion? Encounters with rock-adiles? Fatally wounded pride? Would it have been better to avoid all that swimming nonsense and just walk the rapid?
JP Bevilaqua at Camp Merrie-Woode wrote a short piece “Advocating for Adventure” yesterday on the CMW blog, which you can read here. I’d rather you read his post than try to summarize it myself, but JP points out that summer camp and outdoor adventure offer opportunities for youth to make decisions weighing risk and reward in a supportive, nurturing environment. From making choices and accepting resultant consequences, campers learn and grow. But are the lessons learned at camp that meaningful if they stay packed up in a trunk all fall, winter, and spring?
So back to Miller. He is taking an interest he knows he can safely, familiarly pursue at camp into a wider world. With no objective guarantee of success, he gets in his boat and does his best. He could have slow times. He could flip and swim in front of a crowd. He could win a bronze medal at a US Junior Team Trial event. How is he to know unless he’s brave enough to peel out in the first place?
I know Miller isn’t the only camper who carries High Rocks beyond the property. He is one of thousands of boys who do and have. Here, boys are sent into the unknown. They ride horses, run rapids, build fires, and clean toilets. They meet new friends. They win and lose games. And when they leave Camp they might not ride, climb, or paddle. But they just might lose with dignity, accept different folks without reservation and judgement, and treat life as an adventure to be embraced and enjoyed.