Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Paddler's Journey - book update

I finished off a rough draft of my kayaking memoir, A PADDLER'S JOURNEY, a few months ago now. Since then I've sent it out to a number of folks to read and review and I've gotten some very encouraging and helpful feedback. I'm still waiting to hear back from some people, but the consensus is that it's fun and accurate, though a few folks thought it could be a little more personal. I've been busy pitching my novel to agents, but now I'm ready to get back to the memoir. I've got some good ideas for revisions and hope to be able to complete them in the next month or two.

For me it's a tough to balance the personal information with the kayaking information. I want stories that are fun to read, understandable to non-kayakers, and contain a little of the wisdom gained through the experience. It seems a little silly, but I don't want it to be all about me. My whole point is that my experiences may be unique in their particulars, but my experience in general is typical. The book is about what all paddlers get out of the sport and I want people to see themselves in the adventures and relate to what I've gone through. I don't want to impress people with how cool I am and what great things I've accomplished. At the same time, people do like to learn about the author and be invested in their story. They  like an insight into another person's world. Like I said, it's a tough balance.

In that vein, here's a little excerpt from the book about my experience as a beginner on the river. Even though I had a roll and plenty of surf zone experience, my learning curve in whitewater was steep and challenging, the same as everyone's, My first weekend involved lots of rolling and an injured shoulder - I wasn't sure I wanted to come back for more. This is what happened on my third day on whitewater:

Once everyone was on the water and headed down river, I noticed two things that were different from my previous river paddles. First, this wasn’t a class. Gilbert gave me some guidance, knowing every rock in the river like the layout in his pantry, but I wasn’t expected to blindly follow him. Everyone else was busy having fun and zipping around. It wasn’t about learning anything particular or practicing skills; it was paddling for its own sake. People looked out for me but only in the way they looked out for each other, not the way an instructor hovers over a student. I could do what I want; if I screwed up, no big deal.

Second, the scenery was beautiful. The run started in a quiet campground with a min-gorge of white granite walls, and while the road was nearby, it was always out of site. The river wound through a deep canyon, with riparian forest at the river’s edge giving way to brown, grassy hillsides above. This was kayaking in the wilderness, and once I felt comfortable enough to look up from the whitewater, I enjoyed every minute of it. I was hooked.

Another thing that greatly eased my mind was the fact that I wasn’t the only person flipping over. Even the most skilled members of the group were playing around, sliding up rocks and trying to get their kayaks vertical. In the process they frequently failed and flipped over. It was a part of the sport, nothing to be ashamed of. I played around too and flipped over more. Sometimes we rolled just because it was so damn hot. In the first big rapid I collided with one of the other guys and we both flipped over and rolled up laughing. This was fun.

At the end of the day I still sucked as a whitewater boater. It felt unnatural and I often leaned the wrong way or reacted too slow. It didn’t matter—I enjoyed it all. I lacked the skill to help in any significant way, but I hadn’t been a burden. I did what I could and had fun with the rest of them. That’s all they expected of me, that’s all anyone wants on an adventure. Maybe I did belong on the river. Too bad the season was over.

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