Saturday, January 5, 2019

Kayak Lesson: Expedition Mentality, Part 1

I am no longer a kayak instructor. In all honesty, I no longer kayak, though I occasionally get out in the canoe with my family. But kayaking is still a part of my life in that it helped shaped who I am, and a lot of the lessons learned through kayaking are applicable to many other facets of life, and I do my best to remember what I've learned in one context and see how it can benefit me in other places. I thought it might be worthwhile to point these out and encourage others to use what they know to improve what they do (and maybe who they are).

Expedition Behavior: We're all in this together

Let's say you're going on a kayak expedition. That could mean two weeks exploring a remote coastline, or a multi-day first descent of a river in South America, but it could also mean an after-work paddle on your local lake with a few friends. The same principle applies to each: everyone on the expedition is responsible for the team and we take care of each other.

If someone's food bag gets raided by raccoons, you don't let them starve the rest of the trip - everyone shares a little food because it will help them (and they will be strong enough to help you if you need it). If someone's foot peg breaks, you share your repair supplies to fix it. That's true if the break was a fluke accident or a poor decision. It's even true even if their boat is old, cheap, poorly maintained, and they forgot to bring their own repair kit. Regardless of the cause of a problem, be it chance or self-inflicted, everyone does what they can to solve it so the entire group can continue and hopefully thrive.

Some people on this expedition will be stronger than others. They'll have better skills, more experience, and better gear. Maybe that's because they worked harder to prepare, maybe it's because they have rich parents who buy them lessons and equipment. Those people will bear more of the burden than others: they'll tow the person who gets hurt, they'll explore the route and be first down the gorge. The good ones will do the extra work without complaint because they know it makes the team more likely to be successful, and they often realize they got where they are because sometime in the past someone better helped them out. It's a circle, not a line.

Now, you might like some of the people more than others. You might not want to go on another expedition with someone who constantly makes bad choices and shows no effort to learn or help others. You might want to spend some time paddling alone with the risks it entails. But while you are on an expedition, in the middle of the struggle, you know you have a responsibility to everyone else and trust everyone else to come to your aid if you need it. That's what expeditions are all about.

Life is an expedition. Sometimes it feels like we're on our own, but that's never really true. We buy our groceries from other people, drive to the store on roads built by everyone's tax dollars, and read interesting things on the internet posted by people we will never meet in person. You can try to define your tribe as an independent group, but they are really just one pod within the larger expeditionary force. Most people will treat their neighbors like an expedition member. The challenge is to treat the stranger the same way, especially the ones you will never meet. The mother in Detroit who still has to buy bottled water for her kids to drink while she showers with her mouth and eyes closed to avoid ingesting what comes out of the pipes. The father from Guatemala who has to decide if it's better to risk his children being killed by gangs in his home country or taken away and stuck in an internment camp while seeking asylum in the U.S. Life is a very hard journey for some and those of us who are having an easier time of it should use our skills and resources to help out those in need. That's expedition mentality.