That River Called Life, or what pushing rubber has taught me.

“Isn’t it so, oh friend, the river has many voices, very many voices? Hasn’t it the voice of a king, and of a warrior, and of a bull, and of a bird of the night, and of a woman giving birth, and of a sighing man, and a thousand other voices more?”

-from Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

I’ve heard people say that only dead fish go with the flow, or that going with the flow isn’t a plan but an excuse for an exit strategy. These people are obviously not whitewater paddlers. They don’t understand how rivers work, or life for that matter. Allow me to elaborate using an analogy straight from Mother Nature herself. Salmon are born in the headwaters of rivers and streams, and when they hatch they follow the flow of the stream and out into the ocean. During their time in the ocean the salmon mature, eat a lot and grow large. After a few years out at sea the irrepressible urge to reproduce kicks in and the salmon group into large schools to migrate back to the headwaters where they were born to spawn and die. These are basically zombie fish swimming against the current only to die, many in the mouths of Kodiak bears. See now, going against the flow isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it?

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The good old days, guiding on the Bow River

One thing any paddler will tell you is that fighting the flow of a river is a losing battle; if anything, it’s best to go with the flow and use it to your advantage. You paddle down a river using the current to set yourself up ahead of the rapids; this allows you to follow the best path through the whitewater. The pools and eddies, calm areas in moving water, are places where one can stop and relax. This is an extremely simplified interpretation to running rivers but it can be used to illustrate how going with the flow is the key to a good life. Now I get that some people reading this may think I’m missing the point; they don’t want to maintain the status-quo; they want to be different and change the world; make humans better and just rage against all the besotted, inarticulate, ignorant and banal nonsense which is now conventional and accepted. Fine, I understand and agree, but fighting against the current tide of vacuous culture does not mean being angry, or loud and self-assertive, because mostly you get ignored and it goes nowhere. Let me use a tried and true raft guide analogy… If you spend all your time paddling upstream against the current all you’ll accomplish is getting exhausted and eventually get flushed downstream; now you’re floating down a raging river completely fatigued and unable to cope with the turbulent waters ahead. Next thing you know you’re caught up in the current and you get taken for a ride through some rapids unprepared, you end up being trapped in some hydraulics, your boat is shattered on the rocks and you go for a long swim, or even drown. Doesn’t sound too appealing at all (I pretty much terrified my clients with that story, but it got their attention and made them listen to my directions).

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Life is like a river, you never know where it will take you (eat your heart out Forrest Gump). You can’t live every moment trying to control everything. Sometimes you have to just stop and relax, take time to watch life go by and figure out the best path to accomplish whatever it is you’re striving towards. The river, like life, might take you for an unexpected and precarious journey but if you paddle hard forward into the flow and find the right current you’ll end up just fine. Stop, resist, fight the flow- you’ll be overwhelmed and perish. Also, stop frequently along the way and enjoy immensely, no point in racing towards death. Personally, I don’t acknowledge the work hard, retire and then enjoy life axiom. I already retired from the ages of 18 to 35 years old. I did all the amazing things I could, from snowboarding 120 days a year, paddling all summer, travelling, and partying hard. I made a lot of mistakes and burned many bridges, but I regret NOTHING. I’ve learned a lot too; all those mistakes have been reconstituted into wisdom and experience. Now I’m embarking on a different course with an education, career and the love of my life. Sure, I’m almost 40 with no actual retirement plan, but I’d rather eat dog food when I’m a senior citizen than having spent my entire youth toiling away at some tedious job(s) on the premise that I’ll only start enjoying life all decrepit and broken at 65 living in Florida! Dying in a morass of boredom and bewilderment while shuffle-boarding in Depends. Hell no!

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Raft Guide Training, Petawawa River, Ontario
Going with the flow doesn’t mean relinquishing all control to fate, to the contrary, if paddling and raft guiding have taught me anything it is knowing how to harness the flow of a river and using the current to my advantage with subtle technique and some foresight. When you get into trouble or unknown territory all you do is pull out of the water, relax and scout the next set of rapids. When you’re ready you just get back in and paddle. I perpetually go with the flow, whether it’s in relationships, with family or business. So far everything is, to quote The Dude, “copacetic.” If only it would warm up so I could start paddling and begin publishing stories about new adventures, then my life would be sublime. So, stay tuned! Peace.

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