I am sitting at my office desk, trying to make sense of the world. Tragedy keeps striking, and it strikes without mercy. As much as I am at loss for words, I feel this agonazing thorn inside my heart, nagging me, questioning me, demanding answers. Why do we kayak when there is so much at stake? A life is so fragile, and the loss is so devastating when yet another friend passes on.
I know why I keep kayaking. The energy and the confidence the river has given me I could never buy for a million dollars elsewhere. It is not an easy road to choose, that is for sure. She is merciless, fiery and ready to teach us whatever lessons we need to learn. But she is also peaceful, smooth and merciful – she embraces all of us, with our different stories, backgrounds, goals and hopes.
Many people wonder how my family deal with me running waterfalls and pushing my limits in deep river canyons when most will push their inner boundary with a heart-measurer or added weights in the gym. My answer is: My family doesn´t really deal with it – I believe they are waiting. They are waiting for the news when it didn´t work out deep in the canyons of southern Chile, or even on my home-run on the Raundalselvi in Voss. They are scared. To the point of oblivion. Always. And they should be.
But we should never let fear dictate our lives. My family may fear for me, as your family does for you when you are out on the river. But they have no choice, your family and mine, but to accept that we are living life in a way that makes us happy. I acknowledge that this is a selfish ground to stand. I can take it. You as well, I presume. For what do you prefer: To sit still and dream your dreams away, feeling pieces of your soul fade away as the clock keeps ticking – is that life to you? It is not to me. And my family knows this bare truth. The biggest responsibilty I have in my own life is my own happiness. With happiness comes love for the ones around me, peace and harmony. It is that simple. And some of us need the forever ongoing challenges the river provides to make us happy. Simple truth x 1.
If I did not run into the river on my path of life, I would have been a worse person than I am today. The same goes for Josh. John. Juanito. Lulu. Beth. Five friends lost in 14 months. It is devastating. Heartbreaking and beyond words… but what bound us together was the love for the common road we all chose. The river. They knew the risk, even if none of us ever wanted to drown. Simple truth x 2.
It is such a cliché that we only live once, and you have to make it count, and so on. It is a cliché for everybody, family and friends, who have lost somebody to the power of the river. But at the same time – is it really safer to live a so called normal life? The chances of getting hit by a car while crossing the road or getting in a traffic accident is way bigger than drowning. And I have to admit it – I rather move on by drowning than getting killed in traffic. And I think you are with me on this one. Simple truth x 3.
There are always somebody that stand behind. The ones that were on shore, that went for search and rescue, the ones that did not manage to save our friends despite incredible efforts. To all of you out there: Thank you. For your effort, for your relentless will to keep trying everything – for your pain and despair – we are here with you. We shoulder you, even if you do not know us – we raise you up even if you can not feel it – your task and your burden was so immense – and it was never your fault. Never. We all know what we risk.
But I have to admit it, I do have the survivor´s syndrom. And I think I am not alone in the whitewater community. How many of us got lucky over the years? How many brush the swim off like it was notthing, walking away with a smile, but silently thinking: Fuck, that was close. I know I have done this many times. Too many? I don´t know. I don´t know how good luck and bad luck gets dished out by the river. I know that the one time on the Pascua in Chile, the river ran a few hundred thousands CFS – I should have drowned. I know that at least one out of the two times I was stuck under the same rock on Hospital Rock section of the Kaweah river in California I should have drowned. That time on Marion´s Creek run in New Zealand´s Hollyford – before I really knew how boof or paddle hard whitewater – I should have drowned. Thank you to the people that saved my life. You know who you are.
The fact is , there have been a few close calls. For all of us. There are many ways for us to look at those, though. We can get terrified – put ourselves down – stop kayaking – never again run class 5. Or we can look back, analyze, be honest about what went wrong and why – then get back on our feet and become better. I prefer the latter because it makes my life worth living. It makes me stronger, and it is a strength I take with me back into normal life. Every day. I know this is the same philosophy that Lulu, Juanito, John, Josh and Beth lived by. I know this because I talked to them about it. I know it because I can feel the truth of it in my heart, as I know they did in theirs. I grew up loving the sayings of “Memento Mori” and “Carpe Diem”. But I never knew that the consequences of living by those would hurt so much.
But people – I feel a strong urge to call out. Please – I know you feel like me. I know you need to push – I know you need the river to guide you in your life. But can you not just please step back a tiny bit – make the good calls. I know I am not really in a position to say this since I have made many bad calls. But. It hurts so much when we lose a member of the family. Every single one of you are special. Do what you have to do – push – explore – live – but also – reconsider, walk and leave it for next time. Please. Find a balance. The important balance. We all have a right to live and die – but live your life wisely. We might just get one chance. Simple truth x ever.