Why do I paddle?

More specifically, there was a question that was recently posed to me, “If you don’t race, and you don’t fish, and you don’t playboat, then why do you kayak? What’s the point?” Honestly, the question caught me off guard. Not so much because I didn’t have an answer, but rather because my reasons for paddling, and for being on the water in general, have changed so much over the course of my life.


Heading back in after a hefty cardio set.

To be completely truthful, I came to realize that my reason for doing pretty much anything has changed, and this question made me step back and think. As someone who finds herself regularly in contact with elite athletes from multiple disciplines, I can completely understand the curiosity behind the original question. Have I raced? Absolutely! I’ve raced on foot, on two wheels, and in the water (with and without blades.) I used to define myself by my competitive nature. Not anymore. Other than against my own personal goals, I have ZERO desire to compete with anyone besides myself. At one point in time, I would have been the first to boisterously and unabashedly announced to anyone who would listen that I competed/participated in outdoor endeavors to win. I wanted to have the satisfaction of knowing that I was the strongest and fastest person in the field; I wanted to be the best. Anymore, those reasons are little more than passing memory of what I use to want, or of who I used to be.

in thought

Taking it all in on the Caney Fork River. Photo credit: Bridgett Howard.

As someone who seems constantly on the move, my off-the-cuff response of, “to slow down and soak it all in”, can take folks aback. A more honest and truthful answer, however, is along the lines of, “I paddle for me. Not for anyone else; just for me.” True story. I go to the water because being there is vitally important to me. In her recent TEDx talk, Emily (Jackson. You know, the world champ kayaker? Yeah, that Emily!) touted the necessity of “…working towards what is most important to you regardless of what other people think.” Sage advice for anyone. Too often in this adventure called Life, we forget to take time for ourselves, but it is by taking care of ourselves that we are able to care for others. More often than not, it’s easy to willingly sacrifice that in our own lives which makes us whole, and which allows us to be our best self. While this seemingly selfless act of always putting others first may appear innocuous and for the greater good, it is not. By constantly putting the desires and apparent needs of others ahead of our own, we are not taking care of ourselves.


Sunset in the Tennessee River Gorge.

For me, being on the water is how I reconnect with myself. It is a time to recharge and “reset”, if you will. Whether paddling on familiar waters or exploring new and longer wilds, it is in the motion of the water and the cadence of my stroke I am able to settle into the world around me. It is there that I am able to absorb the sounds, sights, and smells that are the sum total of the rivers, lakes, and forests. My mind is finally able to be still while my soul dances with joy. Ironic, I know. I am happy around water in general, and I take great joy in introducing folks to kayaking; anyone who knows me can attest to that fact. However, my peace is most frequently found when I’m paddling long days, and when I’m camping out of my boat. This is where I find the most enjoyment. I choose to be on the water. Specifically, I choose to paddle a touring boat because, despite what others might think, this is what is important to me, and what affords me opportunity to be my best self.


The water and forest sending a bit of love out to the world.


Introducing folks to kayaking via a bit of urban exploration in downtown Chattanooga is always a treat!

Are there those who would scoff? Absolutely, but guess what? It doesn’t matter. Our job should be to train our hearts and minds to not listen to the nay-sayers; rather, our job should be to focus on what is important to us. Emily’s mantra of living live without compromise – of not letting others determine what is best for you – is a simple, clear and beautiful way of life, yet so seemingly unattainable for many of us (myself included). That she and so many others have this concept figured out at this point in their lives is a gift. Should those of us who have yet to obtain this mindset berate ourselves? Definitely not! Comparing ourselves to those around us will never accomplish anything.


Early morning in the Tennessee River Gorge.


Sunset on the water.

So why do I paddle? For me the answer remains fluid and takes me back to what Emily so eloquently spoke of in her TEDx talk. Live (your own) life without compromise. This (obviously) resonates deeply with me. Why do I paddle? I do it for me. I do it because the movement is cathartic. I do it for the rhythm of the water cleansing and smoothing away life’s rough edges. I kayak for the routine of loading the boat, and packing the gear; of prepping for the launch and settling into that perfect cadence, and the feeling your muscles make with each stroke. I paddle for the end of the day at dusky dark or later, when you’re wrapping things up and taking off the water, either to camp or to your truck. I paddle for the feeling of slipping out of wet gear and clothes, and into dry ones while either getting ready for the drive home, or more preferably sitting down by a campfire. For all of these things I do it. I kayak because I can’t NOT kayak. I don’t have to have a destination, or a fishing rod in my hands, or a training computer strapped to my arm. For me, being in my boat is not about any of that. Personally, kayaking and all that it embodies is the totality of everything right. It is necessary, and it is a part of what makes me whole. My time on the water is my gift to me, and it affords me the opportunity to be the best person I can possibly be.


Preparing for a long day in the Tennessee River Gorge.


Early morning on the Caney Fork River.

Why do you paddle? While you’re thinking on that, make sure you spend some quality time on the water.  In the meantime, happy and safe boating to you and yours,


P.S.: A serious shout out to my friend Dave Wilson for giving a gander to what I thought was my finished piece.  He helped reel me back in to better organize my thoughts.  Thanks for your time, Dave.  It was most appreciated.

Photo credit: WildSideTV

Hanging out with AbbyDog on the Duck River.  Photo credit: WildSideTV


Urban adventuring in downtown Chattanooga.

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