Friday, September 06, 2013

First Descents Part II

Alright, here is part two of my trip! Part one is here if you missed it!

After a morning of sightseeing and a fabulous lunch, it was time to get back on the water. This time we went supping. If you, like me until this happened, don't know what supping is, it's stand up paddle boarding. And it's pretty darn fun! I didn't think I'd be able to stand up, but somehow I managed too and even got a little fancy. Because, why not?

This time on the water I felt calm, quiet, reflective. There was a mean game of sharks and minnows going on, but I just kind of paddled around and soaked up the scenery. It was exactly what I needed. Not that I was trying to be anti-social mind you, I just needed this time to just be, to think. My little brain was firing away - and maybe someday I will write more about all that was jumbling around in my mind- but I was thinking about being stuck. And not wanting to be stuck (which I have talked about before here). And so I paddled around, and took in the sites and just let my brain go until there was a sense of peace there.

The River Can Kill Stay Out
The warning we saw by where we put in!
Which was good. Because Thursday I woke up ready to go. Thursday. The last day on the water. The day we did our graduation rapid. I was feeling peace and anxiety all at once. We entered the water just below the falls we had visited Tuesday. It was both a little frightening and exhilarating all at once. Slightly frightening because there was a big rapid not far from us (not that I could have paddled up the river to get to it!) but also because of the warning sign by where we put in. Mostly though, I just felt ready to go! We had lots of awesome support in the water that day, everyone seemed in a good mood, so it was hard to feel too anxious!

We hit the first rapid and boom. I flipped. And you know what, it was a piece of cake. I did exactly what we practiced (tuck, pulled off the skirt and got out of the kayak) and grabbed onto a kayaker who was there just for that reason and was taken to shore. A. It wasn't bad at all. I pictured it being so much worse. B. I went in the river and didn't get killed. Clearly I am a superhero or something! I was actually relieved that I flipped because I learned it was so bad. This made going through graduation rapid so much easier - I mean the worst that could happen was I'd flip over? Not a problem! I was ready.

Can you see how big that smile is?
So graduation rapid. We did it one-at-a-time. It was awesome. Support staff and those who had already gone waiting at the end, those waiting to go behind you. Lots of cheers from both ends. It was fabulous! There was no predetermined order, just a who wants to go next? I was surprised by how early I went - not first, not second, but near the top. I can't lie, I feel kind of proud of this. I was just going to go for it and not let anything (mostly myself) hold me back! Just awesome.

The fun did not stop here though. We kayaked a bit more and had a lovely lunch. And back into the water. After lunch we had a chance to surf in a rapid. Aside from graduation rapid, this was my favorite part of the day. I did it 5 or 6 times? Each time I flipped over. But I went into the rapid knowing I would probably flip over. I wasn't going to let a small detail like that hold me back! It was so much fun ... I would have done it several more times if you know, the day didn't need to end or anything ;-) 

Practice rolling in a kayak
Rolling, rolling, rolling
After that we practiced rolling some more. Again, I would have kept going if I could have. I loved trying to roll. Aside from graduation rapid and surfing the rapid, this was my favorite part of the day. Okay, okay, pretty much the whole day was my favorite part of the day. It would have been fun to master rolling, but I'm actually okay with not getting it 100%. I made a good faith effort to try it and that felt pretty good.

Overall Thursday was a pretty fabulous day. Which was good, because it was also our last day, and that could have been heavy and sad. And yet it wasn't. It was fun and exciting

Then came Friday morning. I woke up early and did a last walk by myself. Just a last meeting with nature before coming home. The first group of participants left which was sad because it meant the end was really there. All of a sudden the week felt too short, like there wasn't enough time. It really wasn't, but good-byes are always sad.

Some of us had more time though, so we headed back into DC and visited two of the Smithsonian Museums. (which is also where I learned that the husband lost his job). So um, I probably wasn't all the way there at that point. Which is funny only now because I will forever associated the Smithsonian with job loss!

After lunch, I was taken to the train station where it was time to say good-bye to everyone. Again, sad. I was with some really good people on this trip. But I met up with another participant and we headed back out to the botanical garden, which was much needed. I love being in gardens - they're peaceful and beautiful. By this time I knew Eric had accepted another job offer, but I still wasn't feeling calm about everything. We met up with two others from the trip and had a few more minutes to hang out, until, of course, it was time to leave for real.

Again though, having that train ride was good for me. The trip was over, but I had some time before plugging back into the real world. I won't lie, I shed more than one tear on that train ride home. I had just left this amazing week and wasn't sure what I was coming home to - I mean, I was getting to go home to my husband and kids, which is enough, and oh did I miss them so very much. All I wanted was to give everyone some big old bear hugs! But, there was time for some knitting again. I sat in the observation car for quite a few hours and knit away. It was good, but seeing my husband Saturday morning was so much sweeter.

There's a lot I left out - lots of good conversations, lots of connecting with people in ways that I can't always do at home. (Not that my friends and family don't try, but they haven't been there so the conversations around it can sometimes be awkward and not smooth. And some people just don't want to talk about it, the conversation gets shut down - they aren't ready, or something in their personal experience makes it hard. I get that so much so, sometimes I don't want to talk about it either). Lots of stories were shared, not all are my stories to share, and so I hold them close to me. Even some of the moments that are mine to share, I'm holding close for now.

I'm so glad I got to go on this trip. It was incredible in so many ways. I hope to someday go on another First Descents trip, and of course, will encourage anyone else who can go on a trip through FD to do it. It was just amazing, in case you couldn't tell by all that I had to say about it!


For those of you not familiar, First Descents "offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors  a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same.n organization that provides trips like mine to young adult cancer patients." It is an amazing not-for-profit organization that is wonderful. Head on over to their website to learn more about them! 


  1. :) Sounds fantastic. I wonder if they have programs in Canada? Will go check now. ~Catherine

  2. Anonymous11:21 AM

    How incredible! I went kayaking a few weeks ago to celebrate the 2 year mark of the brain surgeries. Great pics!

  3. sounds awesome! I think I'm going to age out before I ever make it on a trip...


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