CHAPTER 9 - Upside Down in the Yukon River
Excitement gave way to fear and questioning. I felt a real joy and sense of anticipation when considering a new challenge. When that challenge involved breaking in one’s passport for the first time, I felt those feelings more strongly. When it involved taking on a race where things going sideways meant I would be on my own, perhaps for twenty-four hours in a land where grizzly bear are as abundant as humans, all feelings were magnified. A lot. Finding this race, or it finding me, created a sense of romance as I sat mesmerized and quite comfy in front of the computer. The thoughts and images of the frigid, potentially deadly Yukon River, still mostly untouched by man’s advances, captivated me. They touched something primal: a desire to test myself and to disappear into this wild land.
“I want to see the frontier...before it’s gone,” Kevin Costner’s character in Dances with Wolves had said when queried as to why he would volunteer to a post so deep in Indian territory. It was very much the same for me. The pilot light of adventure had been re-lit in me a few years prior, and I planned to supply it with an abundance of fuel, assuring it would never extinguish again.
I wondered if perhaps the gold rushers had felt the same pull? Clearly, there was an aspect of need, financial gain, an ability to provide for one’s family, perhaps even “strike it rich!” that did not exist in my attraction to this wild place. However, even with these outside factors in play, there had to have been a sense of adventure pulling these gold rushers west. The allure of gold must have combined with an opportunity to experience this untamed land. The realities would prove to be far less romantic. The gold I was pursuing was intended to feed the soul, not the bank account. Hopefully, like those miners from so long ago, it would not be a fool’s gold. It was entirely possible I was in over my head and didn’t realize it. Opening up my email, reading the confirmation that they had actually accepted my application into the world’s longest kayak race, I was hit by that very thought with the matter of factness of a cold northern wind. Romance suddenly took a backseat to reality.
Palms getting clammy, stomach souring, and armpits moistening, my mind began to chirp in. The battle was on. Devil on my left shoulder, angel on my right. If you are to date the unknown, to attempt to tame elephants, be prepared for a similar eventuality. If able, embrace it, for it is a sure sign of the undertaking’s credibility. Too often, we retreat. All too commonplace are phrases like “If I had only done this when I had the chance,” “I’m not a runner, I couldn’t do that,” and “Who starts a business at my age?” So quick to encourage the dreamers in our lives, so slow to embrace the dreamer within. Fear, trepidation, a suddenly elevated heart rate, all are signs that we are taking on a worthy challenge. Do not be paused into inaction. It is the mission of the angel on your right shoulder to cheer you on, see you through. The devil on the left seeks to derail, eliminate momentum, knowing that once you are able to gather momentum, much like a snowball headed down the mountain, you eventually will become a force unstoppable. Those that have accomplished much are of no more talent than you or I, they simply have become better at recognizing all of these things and moving through them quicker and more proficiently with each success. No one is immune from fear, doubt and the like; some are just better at dealing with it. I was a rookie, and this race was a big stretch. Staring at the acceptance email in front of me, I was struggling with the devil’s incessant chant of, “Now what the hell ya gonna do, Mr. Big-time wannabe adventurer?!”
There is an old story, which I remember only the gist of. I hope you’ll forgive me as I butcher it, but the message is what’s really important. An invading conqueror, upon reaching shore and unloading all his forces, ordered the ship to sail away, giving strict orders not to return. His troops, dismayed and confused at their only means of safety now gone, inquired of the captain what he had done.
“It is quite simple. We win or we die. There will be no retreat.” The story continues that given no easy way out, outnumbered, on foreign ground, and unsure of what lay ahead, the troops’ victory was assured because they had no option of retreat nor failure.
While filling out my application weeks prior and reading the race description, feelings of doubt had nagged me, but filling in the credit card info and hitting “send” was my version of the captain sending the boat away. If the race director deemed me worthy and accepted my application, than I was committed. No retreat.
“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” –Unknown
I am sure that many before me and countless others after have visited the Yukon River Quest website, interested in the information and stories found there. I was not interested, I was committed; devil on my left shoulder be damned. Yukon, here I come.