Yet again, I find myself sitting on a Westjet plane, seat 34E on another long haul flight, the difference here however to previously is that I have a very different perspective on my life.
Today (24.08.16) marks the end of the Canada expedition. For me, 1 whole year has gone into planning and preparation, for others even longer, but overall, the hard work has paid off. I can now officially say that I have paddled 369km of Quiet Lake to Big Salmon River to the Yukon River in the time of 10 days and 9 nights, all of which spent wilderness camping with only a satellite phone to keep in contact with the outside world. At one point of the trip the nearest road to us was 100 km away- pretty darn well remote!
So, here’s 5 things I’ve learnt from this process:
1. Silence though sometimes deafening, is a beautiful thing.
– I remember, one time, sitting at camp no. 5 we’d had a very unusual day of weather and the temperature in the evening was falling short of 30*c. We’d had a swim in the river (I say swim, more like a competition of who could stand in the ice cold river the longest- Emily won 😉 ) and I sat with Tom, Oli and Richard, while the others cooked for the night, and watched the river flow while the sun beat down on us. And for a brief few moments all I heard on that high bank was nothing. Nothing but me and my idle thoughts and the rushing Salmon river passing by. It was truly incredible.
2. Whether you have a porcelain throne or you have to squat, I’m strangely now comfortable with either- though a proper toilet is always preferred!! 😉
– Small anecdote for this one- camp 2 had the most wonderful view from the loo. It looked out on the oxbow being formed. With an island in the middle with long trees which situated eagle’s nests on the top- not a bad view from the bog!
3. The little petty things in life really don’t matter. Cliché I know but 100% true.
– Not once while all 14 of us have been on this trip have we had an argument- quite a statement ever since we’ve been with each other for 2 weeks straight. That’s not to say no one has annoyed each other, there was a couple of times I was a little short with a couple of people, but we all understood that in that environment you just had to drop it, take a breath and move on, something I’ll take on for daily life.
4. Never (unless there is some miracle) will I be a “morning person”- I can sleep anywhere at anytime and I really enjoy sleep!
– Each morning wake up time would vary between inhumanly early 0515 to lie-in 0630. Yet though we’d had a good 8-10 hours sleep (which got easier as the days went on) was still pretty hard to wake up to, yet, we all did anyway. Prising myself away from the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag was quite an accomplishment in my eyes, especially when you knew you’d have 50 km to go until you could crawl back into sleep.
5. I Can Do Anything I Set My Mind To.
– I only truly realised during how much self- doubt had surrounded me coming into the expedition. I shan’t pretend everything was hunky- dory all the time, for the first couple of days of the trip I was riddled with anxiety of whether or not I was good enough to do this trip- causing myself sometimes to be ill- something I’ve never experienced before. However, my turning point was on the morning of the 2nd day paddling. It had been a pretty rough first night camping, waking up every couple of hours, slightly cold due to the lack of food I’d eaten that night. However I’d gotten out of my tent and stood up to look over the Big Quiet Lake. The sky was a pink and lilac haze over the valley’s mountains reflected in the lake. I remember thinking to myself “I’m here. I made it. You can’t turn back now. You can’t not do it.”
Steadily over the next couple of days I ate more and more, that anxiety was washed away by the Km paddled and I even went up for 3rds for dinner on some nights!
I realised that I don’t need anyone’s but my own permission to do anything I want to do. Though, support of others is a wonderful thing and luckily I had wonderful support at home through Mum, Dad, Fin, the rest of my amazing family, Stan, and friends. Also out on the river without the laughs and songs from those fantastic people on the exped the situation may have been very different! But really I did this, I used my physical and mental strength to paddle up to 68km in one day. I wouldn’t change a single aspect of this trip. And quite frankly, I’d do it all again (though I was also quite happy for some R&R in Vancouver after!).
This has been a bit of a zen-moment-of-reflection blog, but I’d really like to thank all those involved with this Exped and the training, especially the staff, Dave, Chris, Kat, Mark, Dave E and Max (and Emma during Scotland) and my fellow Paddlers Emily, Richard, Tom, Oli, Ryan, Ben and Dan for making this once-in-a-lifetime trip truly memorable.
So how about Austria next year? Or New Zealand?!