After a long month of being stuck inside, my family and I decided to try something exciting and new on Memorial Day weekend: we rented canoes and floated down the Buffalo National River.
Other than my recent encounters with nature, my family had never been very interested in the outdoors. Besides our yearly ski trips when I was growing up, our vacations usually consisted of amusement parks, big cities and an occasional beach day.
So when I convinced them to try something wilder, I could see the uncertainty on my siblings’ faces. But my parents had floated down the river before, long before I was born, and after the seemingly endless lockdown, it was clear that we were all a little more willing to take a risk.
Now, I’m not going to lie. I was pretty nervous. From the moment we arrived, we watched canoe after canoe tip over, leaving their riders scrambling to retrieve their belongings. Our entry point was at one of the most intense rapids of the river. And if I didn’t have my boyfriend Will there to be my paddling partner, I’m not sure I would’ve been so quick to get started.
We eased our canoe into the water, struggling to keep our grip on the slippery rocks below us. Although my heart was pounding and I felt completely unprepared, we jumped inside and immediately started to paddle away from the rapids as quickly as we could.
As a swimmer, I didn’t expect paddling to be too difficult. I knew how to move water and swim in the right direction. How could paddling a canoe be any different? But as we started to dig our oars into the water away from the first rapids, I soon realized I was very wrong.
Every stroke I took, whether long and strong or quick and panicked, felt like it was getting me nowhere. Our simultaneous paddles were no match for the river’s strength, and within the first minute of being in the water, our canoe crashed into the shore.
We corrected our boat and started again, hoping we would start to get the hang of it soon. But when we reached the next rapid, our canoe went sailing in the wrong direction, nearly sending us into the rocks.
I found my frustration rising quicker than normal. How would we ever get down this river without crashing every time anything came in our way? And what was the point of these stupid paddles anyway? They weren’t getting us anywhere!
Seeing my annoyance, Will tried to calm me down, but my anxiety was overpowering. I couldn’t stand feeling out of control, at the will of the water. But we kept trying because, you know, what else were we going to do?
We continued down the river, each twist and turn resulting in another close call in our unruly canoe. Soon, I was regretting my decision to try something so daring, but everything changed when we approached our biggest challenge yet.
It looked like any other rapid, but when we got closer, we saw that the water was speeding around a dangerous turn faster than we had yet experienced. We paddled as hard as we could away from the rapid, but it was too late. Our canoe was racing towards the left side of the river where branches hung directly in our path!
At this point, there was nothing more we could do. Our panicked paddling was no match for the strength of the current. And when we finally reached the point of no return, we did what anyone would do: we improvised.
As one low hanging tree branch came flying towards my head, I tossed my paddle to the side and threw my head back. I felt like I was in The Matrix. The branch passed over me in slow motion, barely missing the tip of my nose.
And all of the sudden, we had cleared it. Our shock kept us silent for a moment until I turned around to look at Will. We burst out laughing.
We laughed at ourselves, barreling straight for a field of branches without turning and avoiding the area all together. We laughed at our own panic, bringing us close to jumping ship. But mostly we laughed at how we reacted. Our survival instincts had kicked in and we finally did what we should have been doing all along: just going with the flow.
How had I been so angry and annoyed before? So what if we crashed or spun out of control or tipped and fell into the water? Wouldn’t we just get right back on our canoe and keep going? Wouldn’t we have a great story to tell?
As we continued down the river we improved some, but we often paddled too much or too little, hitting a rock now and then or doing a 180⁰. But each time, we just corrected our canoe, laughed it off and kept going. We definitely didn’t leave the Buffalo National River as professional canoers, but we did make sure that we enjoyed every second.
Sometimes our circumstances aren’t within our control. We can do everything in our power, and life will still say no. So instead of worrying about what we can’t control, we should just sit back and enjoy the ride. When our situation is bigger than we are, why not go with the flow and make the most of it?
Have you ever found yourself out of control? Have your situations left you powerless? How did you make the best of it? How did you find joy in the unknown? Comment below!