Sunday, July 26, 2009

Zen and the Art of Kayak Rolling

I have always had some sort of sport that I focus much of my extra attention on. Recreation is a very important part of my life. Some have religion, some have art, I have outdoor recreation in one form or another. I think we all need something to help our spirits transcend the beat-down of daily life. For me, it is usually one sport at a time and I focus like a laser.

Right now it seems that post cancer and during recovery, whitewater kayaking is it. I "paddled" for many years before we had kids and stopped because riding was getting my attention. I am a rider, but I think I have always, first and foremost been a waterman. The call of the surf, the river and the sea are a siren song for me. The feeling of getting a boat or board up on a plane, when you are moving so fast that the water becomes almost a solid and the rules of interaction between you and it change is irresistible to me.

Water is a basic element. It holds the wisdom of the universe. Tom Robbins said, "Water invented humans as a means to transport itself across land." I buy that. I know that I have learned a lot from my time spent in and around the water. Much of it could be encapsulated in the basic magic trick of rolling a kayak.

Rolling is one of the strangest things that you can do. Think just about the physics of it, An upside-down kayak is just like a ship with a keel. The center of gravity is below the surface of the water by the pure fact that your body is hanging from it. Then using an ancient and amazing series of body language you flip the boat upright. That sounds interesting, but there is more to it than that.

Just like in so many challenges, the psychological aspect is much more daunting than the physical. Unlike the teachings of Yoga, meditation, or the basic human need, the first thing that rolling requires is the ability to hold one's breath; like a surfer being help down by a wave. Like and action hero finding sunken treasure. Like Jim on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom fighting an 800 pound 10 foot crocodile. You have to hold your breath under the stress of wondering when you are going to get to breath again, while performing a wicked series of unnatural, upside down movements.

When a beginning kayaker learns to roll they usually start in a pool. It is warm, calm, and there are people near by to help out. Once they have the basics down, they have a "pool roll." The next step is to go to the river acquire a "combat roll." For anyone, their first combat roll is a joyous moment. Since the alternative is swimming out of the boat, through a rapid, getting banged up and cold, emptying the boat, finding all the lost gear, and getting back in the boat. Just rolling up is a much preferred alternative.

The next step is to acquire a 'bomb proof roll." In other words you can roll just about anywhere, anytime, with or without a paddle. That is to become a Jedi of the kayak roll. It is to become a master of ones fear and basic desires; one who has the patience to wait or the foresight to jump on the moment to act. A master has the ability to face the dragon calmly and with a rational mind. A master knows, even upside down and backward where they are in a complex rapid. A master of the roll can go years without swimming. They become more and more proficient in their paddling. More and confident. However, the reality is that all kayakers are between swims. The master knows that ultimately, the river is in charge.

River running- kayaking, for me are analogous to life. After being a master of the roll, I am back to being a student. In the past few days of paddling, I have swam a couple of times. Two swims, many rolls. What stands out for me is the swims, not the rolls. I am not mad at myself. I am excited to go back to the basics. To work in the pool until my body, my muscle memory finds that bomb proof roll. And that, for me, is recreation.

Thanks for reading

Sunday, July 19, 2009

It was a good day

I got out and ran Chili Bar yesterday. What a great day! Adrienne, and Brett went and so did Deanna. It was as hot as it gets in Coloma and when it gets like that, the only place to be is on the river. A dry top with capilene was too much clothing so I rolled over a lot. I also rolled up a lot.
We stopped to pick blackberries a couple of times. They were sweet and juicy down by the river where the plants get constant water.
There was a bit of carnage with our group, a swim or two... no names mentioned. But everyone stayed safe and happy.
We rescued a guy from another group that had swam and cut a big chunk out of his ear. It was weird because the other people in his group didn't do anything. They just let us do the rescue. Young kayakers... they don't have any sense.

After paddling we went back to the ranch and grilled more steak and chicken than we could eat. Also had roasted potatoes, corn on the cob cafe mahjaic style, a huge salad, roasted red bell peppers, lots of ice water and a bit of beer as well. Doc KT came and joined us after work and then they went to the art walk in Pville while Brett and I cleaned up and caught up on 2 years of not seeing each other.

KT and Aidee came back from the art walk and we had some New York Super Fudge Chunk.
A perfect day all around.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gettin' Out

After a month of fevers and fatigue, I am feeling better. I am sure the high doses of prednisone are doing the trick and I'll pay for that later. It is 5:45 and there is a steely glow over the blond grey valley where the sun will look over the canyon rim. It has been hot. The weatherman says 104 in Sac valley but my thermometer said it 107 on the patio yesterday.
Right now there is a down canyon breeze knocking doors shut and shaking the tops of the live oak. Cold air dumping down to the valley following the snaking path of least resistance that we call the South Fork of the American.

A month ago I was paddling her. I sure liked it but she seemed fairly indifferent to the caresses of my paddle and boat. The recent illness set me back, but I am ready to go back again soon. Phil loaned me a cool new playboat called the All Star. It has been sitting under a tarp in my yard begging me to take it out. All I can say is soon, jackass, soon.

The ChickenHawk is up in Bend visitng the clan up there. She also went to visit Dave, Suzi and Joey last night. Life is good. The kiddles are camping with Nana and Papa and their cousins. Life is good. I am back at work. LIG. Work is busy. LIG.

I made a killer dinner for old neighbor Seth last night. Tri tip, BBQ corn smothered in melted butter, salt and pepper, and potato salad. His kids and wife are out of town as well. We went over and I got to see the new house they bought a year ago when I was sick. Life is Good.

Tonite I am going out with KT. Bill is out of town. Looking forward to that. LIG.
Ok so it is a slogan off a T shirt but it is working for me.

Mr. Waddles and Mr. Wag Tail are up now and asking for the morning meal. They are the ducks that came to stay at our house this summer. They are really cute. Two males. This is California so they can't be married but they act like they are. I'll post a picture later. I'm gonna go feed them and get on with my day.
Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Big Eddy

You can tell something is up when I am not blogging. Either that or life is too boring. I've got a combo of that going on right now. I went back into the big house, that's what I am calling the hospital now, on June 13th. I had a fever and bad cough all weekend so I went and checked in with Pneumonia. I got rid of that in four days and went home. Since then I have been battling fevers, fatigue and lung issues. I believe it is toxicity induced pneumonitis, something that is a rebound from last september's bone marrow transplant. The treatment is prednisone and that is what I am doing with tacit doctor approval. They have not officially diagnosed it yet but it makes the fevers go away and I can deal with life a bit better. My lung capacity feels like it is at about 20%. I can walk, slowly. I went down our road (a fairly steep hill) and it took me about 20 minutes to hike back up with about four stops to catch my breath. I used to be able to ride up that hill in the mid gears. I am a long way from that now.

There is more to this. For the last 4 weeks I have been mostly in the house feeling sick and debilitated. The kids are out of school and the ChickenHawk is wrangling them really well. They have gone on camping trips and have been playing in the pool. I have been trying to participate as much as possible but I don't have enough energy for camping and much of the time all I can do is watch or, just go take a nap. This is a hard place to be. It is like looking at my life through a glass wall. I am painfully aware of my absences as a father and a husband. It drives me nuts.

Work is kind of the same thing. I want to be there doing my job but I just cant quite muster the health or the energy for the last week. I am almost there but not quite. And the illness is not really being treated yet, just diagnosed, it is not feeling like I am moving forward. I feel like I've been stuck in an eddy for a month.

All of this brings me to a realization. My life has changed in so many ways that I often don't feel like it is my life. What I mean is that the transition from normal person to cancer patient to recovering cancer patient has got my head spinning. I need to embrace the latest version of me and stop worrying about how I used to be. To that end, I am in search of cancer support groups and friends that have been through what I have. I need some new peers for this unwanted identity.