Monday, June 13, 2016

Safe Space

I turn into the small dirt parking lot with my big white truck, pulling behind a long trailer bearing a large pink raft. The faded hearts painted on the bow of the boat were once sparkly, like the rain drops rippling on the serpentine-green pond to my left, but now they're more, muddy… I would say muddy like the brown swollen river raging through town about a mile away, but not muddy like that. Muddy like, like sparkles that have been well worn, rubbed into a kind of purple mush that speaks of the kind of Love that comes only through use, you know, that "Velveteen Rabbit" kind of Love. That pink boat could be "real."

My eight year old daughter, Charlotte and I get out and begin to sort through our various dry bags and mesh totes in the back of the truck. A young woman pulls up and parks near by, greets us and commence to do the same. We pull out wet suits, dry suits, helmets, life jackets and begin to suit up as two other women join us. The sky is grey, and a light sprinkle kisses the pond ever so gently, but the air is warm for an early June evening in Colorado.

Another car pulls up, and we all start to groan & shake our heads at the driver. He guides for the same company as we all do, his girlfriend is one of the women there with us. "What is he doing here?"  "No. He can't come."  "I knew he'd do this!" Some of the comments fly among the girls… Ryan gets out of his car, aware of his intrusion & defending himself adamantly that he isn't going with us. "See?" He says "Dry cloths!" Plucking at his Hawaiian print shirt  as my daughter joins in the "no stinky boys" assault. "Here," I say handing him my phone, "as long as you're going to hang around, might as well make yourself useful & take pictures."

We heft the raft off the trailer and over our heads to trek single file over the narrow slatted wood footbridge towards the pond. After a tangle with some branches we set her down & push her gently into the pale green water. Her name is Serendipity, as the faded purple sparkle smudge still reads- in those loved, real letters. The four of us women hop in, Ryan shore bound and Charlotte choosing to swim, and we paddle, a few proficient simple strokes, out into the middle of the pond.

None of these women are new at this, a lifetime of experience exists between the four of us, and interestingly enough, it's the new girls, the trainees, who opted out of this evenings escapades. To their credit, it's been a long week of training, with another long week still to go. But Kate, across from me in the raft, has been there with them every step of the way, myself almost every step, and the other two- well, they work hard also. I think, maybe there is something the new girls don't understand yet… they haven't met with much of the sexism in the river world yet. Our guide school is small, and half taught by understanding women. Those girls have been flipping boats this week, with Kate & I's help.

But for April and Chelsea, it's been a while… These girls are good guides. Flips happen, but they happen less when you're on it, and these girls are on it! It's another high water year though, June 6th and the River is over 3,000 CFS with a lot more snow up in them hills still.

I went nine years without flipping once. I was waiting for it, Every. Single. Day. When the day came, it was a rushing torrent of relief! Relief in having done the thing, followed by immediate relief in realizing that I could, and had indeed, climbed up ontop of my upside-down boat! I wasn't sure if I could… It had been so long! I hadn't practiced. I didn't have sisters to paddle out on a pond with…

That was 8 year ago. I have come a long way in my guiding career since then. I have in fact, surpassed my career as "guide." I spent 3 years as a "Head Boatman" two more as a "River Manager" and have now graduated to "part time," and do more instructing than guiding. I know I can flip a boat. I do it often. It is a skill I have confidence in now, but I did not always have that confidence. How I wish I had had a "Safe Space" to find that confidence in… No, I found my confidence in very vulnerable spaces, and can only imagine how much sooner I could have found that, had I had sisters & mentors to paddle out on a pond with me.

We take turns flipping the boat, and we all crawl back on each time, just to practice. Wedging our fingers into the floor lacing of the upside-down boat to get on the bottom. Flipping it back over & practicing getting in the upright boat... This is the hard part.
This is where one of the biggest chasms erupt between men and women in the River world. Men (in general) tend to have more upper body strength and a higher center of gravity than women. "Mantling" off the perimeter line into the boat is a relatively easy task for most men, and much more of a struggle for women. It is also the most common method that guides are taught to use to get in their raft. Slender women tend to be able to, but still struggle more with it than most men. But me? I am not slender, I am of good viking stock. Tall, blond, full hips, breasts that get in the way of everything, and a mommy tummy to top it off. In 17 years of guiding, I have never once been able to "mantle" myself back into my boat. (Mantling is a climbing term describing a move where you hoist yourself up onto straight arms to climb atop a surface, in this context you are using the rope that goes around the boat to hoist your arm straight upon, a rather dynamic hold to say the least.) So, I rig a strap across one of the center tubes (called thwarts,) of my raft every day, as something to grab so that I can pull myself in (oh, believe you me, I can pull! If there is something I can grab, I can get in that boat, & fast!)

Here is where I, and just about every other female raft guide I have ever known, hit the battlefield. I am obviously not the only woman to figure this strap method out, most do. But men just don't seem to understand. They look at our straps, and demand we take it off. They claim that it's an entrapment hazard (Oh, I could go on & on about that! But suffice it to say that in all actuality it is no more a hazard than the perimeter line, the thwarts, the lunch cooler, the frame on a oar rig, or the dry bags we guides clip into our boats.) They tell us we need to be able to get in without it, and that we are not allowed to rig it.

And here is where girls get scared. They take their strap off like they are told to, and now they are uncertain of their ability to get back in their raft. It's not that they can't, it just becomes harder, and their confidence falters, and that is a safety hazard. A guide needs to be able to get back in their boat as quickly as possible. (Yes, guides fall out sometimes too. We are all just in-between swims.) And a guide needs to feel confidant in their skills.

Years ago I assessed the cost/ benefit ratio of rigging a cross thwart strap in my boat and came to the conclusion that my need to get myself back in my boat quickly, far outweighed the small potential for entrapment the strap posed, when it came to the safety of my guests. And so, I put that strap on my boat, and have rigged that way every single day since. Yes, men have given me a hard time about it, women have asked questioningly about it, I patiently explain it every time. As I get older, rack up more miles and more experience, am better know in the River community, as my reputation grows with my career, my word seems to carry more weight. People tend to believe me now.

It wasn't always like that… When I was a young guide, everyone had opinions for me, and mine didn't count. Especially when it came to silly girly things like a strap to help me in my boat. Part of being a guide was needing to "man up." Raft guiding is still a male dominated field, but back then there were even fewer women, and we had to work twice as hard, be twice as tough as the men did, to get half the respect. Being the stubborn headstrong person I am though, I stuck to my guns. I knew I was right, I knew my guests were safer when I had that strap on my boat. I fought for it, I defied direct orders, I kept rigging that strap, and I am so glad I did.

Out on the pond the sprinkles stop, the sky is still grey but the temperature is pleasant. We take turns flipping the raft over & back over. We try different ways to climb up. We try mantling, thwart hugging, strap grabbing. We talk about what is easy or hard about each one. One of our four, Chelsea, is able to do the mantle. Kate is recovering from shoulder surgery and is extra concerned about her raft climbing ability with her compromised shoulder, but finds the strap to work just fine for her. We all agree that the strap is the easiest & quickest way.
We have created a safe space. A space where we, as professional whitewater women, can explore our needs for boat flipping and entry, what makes us most confidant in our abilities to get our boat over & get in it. No one is there to tell us we can't or we should, or we're wrong, or we're somehow less, simply because our center of gravity is lower… But they never think about that. They just think we should be able to do everything they can in the same way they can. One thing I think often gets forgotten in the race for equality is that yes, absolutely men and women are equal, but they are equal and different. There are things that women can do that men cannot, and vice versa. Equality requires diversity, and diversity should be celebrated, not belittled.

Within our safe space these girls were able to find that confidence they were looking for. Even my daughter was excited to try climbing on the boat all by herself, her little 8 year old arms had quite the reach to grab the floor lacings of the upside down boat, and with a lot of cheering she was able to pull herself up! She needed a little help to reach the strap on the right side up boat, but once she had it, she could get herself in then too! Not only was this space safe for professional women seeking to improve their skills and confidence, but it was also safe for a little girl to try something really big and challenging for the first time ever.

I was recently talking to a friend with a little girl Charlotte's age and she was commenting about how much competition she sees between girls, not just little girls, but women too. The competition between her & her best friend, between their daughters. How a little competition can be healthy, but how all too often it's not healthy. I want to create more safe spaces where women can build each other up, can help each other out, can support each other. Where we don't have to compete, but we can all win. A safe space where we can all feel beautiful, successful, confidant. A safe space where we can share ideas, practice skills and all come out feeling better about ourselves. I didn't have any of those safe spaces in which to grow my whitewater career… and I can only imagine where I would be now if I did have them. I can only imagine where my daughter will be when she is my age. And I am so incredibly grateful that I am able to provide that safe space to other women now. 

The light begins to turn a saturating evening orange as we load the raft back onto the trailer, the mood content, confidant and grateful. We all agree that this felt so good, and that everyone feels much better about taking out high water raft trips, that having this safe space was so essential, and that we want to create more safe spaces for women to excel in. The orange light accentuates those smudged hearts on the bow of the boat, as well as the smiles on all our faces- from the smooth chipmunk cheeks of childhood to the fine leathery lines made by years of smiling in the sunshine. Love, there is love here. Love is why I boat, and Love is why I share my Love of boating. For in the end, Love is all that is real, and Love is what make us "real."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The First Lost Tooth

It finally happened, that first wiggly tooth, the one that has been loose since August, it came out! Lets back up a little bit... back to August, when we were on the Gates of Lodore, a five day stretch of the Green River on the border of CO & UT. That was when Charlotte first noticed she had a loose tooth, it was very exciting as it was her first loose tooth! Now here is the funny part, there was a woman on our trip who is getting close to that grandma age but has no grand kids, and so of course Loved Charlotte. She asked me if she could play tooth fairy, since this was after all, the first loose tooth! I agreed to indulge the fun, but then found myself grimacing when a $5 bill was the only available funds... ouch, for just a loose tooth... that was going to set the stage for inflation! So I quickly explained to a very excited Charlotte waiving her crisp $5 bill that the Gates of Lodore tooth Fairy doesn't get allot of kids loosing teeth in her Canyon, so when one comes through with even just a loose tooth she gets a little over excited and leaves a bigger than normal present for not even loosing a tooth yet. Whew! The story seemed to work! She even likes to tell people about the overly excited Gates of Lodore tooth fairy...

Fast forward to mid November- the Rio Grande was running at almost 700 cfs! While this may not seem like allot of water, it is, for that River, during this drought period. The Rio Grande has seen dismal flows over the past three years: peaks around 600 cfs, average flows around 250 cfs... it has been a rough three years. Whats happening that there is water now you ask? Well, water law is complex and bizarre... basically now that Colorado is done irrigating for the season it is finally sending the water it owes Texas, down to Texas. Fair? Not really, but at least Texas can store that water in Elephant Butte Reservoir until they can use it next spring. And crazy people like us take advantage of the flows to get some "high water" November Rio Grande boating in!

We packed up all our cold weather camping gear, a quiverfull of boats, gave Charlotte's school an absentee notice and headed down to New Mexico! We got into camp well after dark (not hard to do this time of year,) but thoroughly enjoyed a frosty evening around the campfire. Grandma and a friend met us bright & early the next morning, Grandma happily ran what would have been a long and heinous shuttle for us to do, in exchange for a day with Charlotte! Alan, our friend Stefanie and I then launched onto the 16.5 mile class IV Taos Box... one of my favorite stretches of water in the entire world! And one that I hadn't been on in over three years, due to unrunnably low flows. The day was chilly, windy, and Blissfully Beautiful! A breathtaking sunset during de-rig iced the cake of our day, and we drove to Santa Fe for warm food, cold beer and a warm bed.
A beautiful day in the Taos Box
The end of a beautiful day on the Taos Box...

The next day Grandma and one of my old high school girlfriends Abbie, rallied with us to run the racecourse, (the half day class III stretch of the Rio Grande.) The sky was cold & grey in Santa Fe, and I layered my mom to the tee, worried about keeping her warm. As we drove toward the River though the sky began to clear and by the time we were getting ready to launch, it was sunny and warm!

We strapped Charlotte's new Fun1 kayak to the bow of our little raft, and off we went! It was sooo much fun to see a little bit of water in the Rio! I went everywhere I normally (normal in the last three years,) couldn't go! Charlotte sat on her upside down kayak, riding the bull. Grandma and Abbie paddled, we giggled, squealed, whooped & hollered, nostalgia ran high with the fun. I think the last time I had run the Racecourse with Abbie, we were 19 years old...

Charlotte concentrating on wiggling her tooth while running "Big Rocks" rapid.
All of us girls having a blast!
The tooth! Wiggling that tooth while stopped for a snack...
Charlotte sat up on her perch incessantly wiggling her loose tooth, and at one point Abbie said "Can you twist it from side to side?" At which point Charlotte said, with fingers in mouth, "I can! Look Mommy! I can twist it from side to..." Not finishing her sentence, Charlotte suddenly had a very odd look on her face, somewhere between surprise and concern. Grandma exclaimed "Oh! It came out!" Sure enough, Charlotte held up her tooth between her thumb and fore finger and grinned an unsure, slightly bloody grin. "Here Lovie, let me see your tooth." I said, quickly standing up to reach for her hand across the length of the boat. I grabbed the tooth and tucked it quickly but gingerly into the zipper pouch on my lifejacket.

Charlotte still had that uncertain look on her face, half smile, but maybe close to tears. I can imagine, though do not remember, that the emotion of loosing ones first tooth is somewhere between excitement and sorrow. Grandma asked Charlotte if she was OK, Charlotte said yes, and continued to grin that bloody, uncertain smile.

Alan had just paddled on ahead to the rapid Sousehole, just around the corner, so that he could get out & take photos of us coming through the rapid. At this point we too were around the corner and ready to run Sousehole, tooth safe in Mommy's PFD pocket, Charlotte turned back around & holding on, we had a fun splashy ride through the rapid! At the bottom I yelled back up at Alan telling him the good news, to which Charlotte excitedly echoed "Yeah! Daddy! I lost my tooth!" "Cool!" He replied.

The girl and her tooth!
I of course had to get out my camera at that point and get that gaping grin shot! Grandma kept asking Charlotte if she was OK, Charlotte kept answering yes, but you could see that she was indeed processing the whole event and all the feelings, both physical and emotional. She kept saying how weird it felt on her tongue, and that she could fit her pinky in the space!

Running Sousehole now toothless...

...while tonguing that new weird gap.

"Daddy! I lost my tooth!"

Uncertainty... new emotions, new sensations...
Sousehole is the last rapid on the racecourse and after that is a whole mile of flat water called the mellow mile, which Charlotte had wanted to paddle in her Fun1, (hence the reason for strapping it to the bow of the raft.) So at this point we unloaded the kayak & she launched on her own craft, following Daddy's sage guidance. Charlotte paddled that shiny new green edgy chinned machine like a pro! It was her first time paddling it in current, and she seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself. At one point Alan asked her how she was doing to which she replied "I feel weird." "Why?" He asked. "Because there is blood running down my throat." And at that, she paddled on...
"I feel weird..."

Paddling her first whitewater in the Fun1.

High Five for Growth and Adventure!

This day, November 14th 2013, was a bit of a coming of age for Charlotte. The first lost tooth always is. It is that loss of infancy, baby teeth leaving the body to make room for those big kid teeth that will be with you the rest of your life. The realization of growing up, the undeniable physical evidence. No matter how much she googoo's and gaga's and crawls around, the fleeting baby years are gone... never to come back again. And the child grows: in beauty, kindness and compassion, in height, strength and wisdom. For this River child her first lost tooth coincided with other growth too, that boat on those waves, her hands and her hands alone in control, the drive, the desire, to grow and to strive. Every loss is a gain of growth, just as every ending is a beginning, and the circle of Life is never ending...
Charlotte, Mommy, Grandma and Abbie at the takeout.
The circle continues... children grow. Then they grow up, and their children grow...
What a perfect day for Charlotte to do so much growing!
My Mom watched me (and Abbie) grow upon this River too...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sharks and Minnows

Every winter in small boating communities like the one we live in, you can invariably find a "roll session" happening at the local swimming pool one night a week, where people bring their kayaks to practice rolling and have a warm place to keep their paddling technique in shape over the winter. Roll session is a Monday night winter ritual in our family.
A happy standard winter time Monday night for our family!

Charlotte started going to roll sessions when she got her first kayak at 3 1/2 years old- a Fluid Vaya, a fantastic kids sit on top with full whitewater capabilities. She enjoys roll session, sometimes more than others. Some nights she wants to spend all her time just swimming, and it can be a challenge to keep her in her boat, though for the most part we find a good balance between paddling practice and swimming privileges.
An early roll session in the Vaya

Paddling the Vaya down the Green River

What is so great about the Vaya is that it can take her so far without having to worry about anything involved with a decked boat, (wet exiting, using a skirt, learning to roll, etc...) which is why we opted to get a Vaya as her first boat. Now the quintessential kids kayak is the Jackson Fun1, and we knew that eventually she would transition into one, but were in no hurry to get her one. But then, as life works in the funny ways it does, one popped up last week in basically brand spanking new condition for an unbeatable price, so we jumped on it! 

When Monday night rolled around, Charlotte wanted to take her new boat to the roll session, and as soon as she got in that edgy little boat she took off like a rocket! Learning to paddle a bigger more conservative boat gave her the upper hand advantage when getting into a more sporty boat for the first time. She was turning on a dime and had speed like I had never seen her get in the Vaya. Charlotte was having lots of fun getting to know her new boat, but like always needed some swim time.
Taking off in the Fun1 for the first time!

Having fun with a friend during some swim time!
getting back in for another round of paddling!

After a few rounds of swimming/paddling rotations it was getting on in the evening & she hit that wall of "I don't want to paddle any more." Just then, all the other boats in the pool suddenly started sprinting from one side to the other, with what looked like one chaser. Her interest suddenly peaked by the excitement and laughter, I told her to paddle over and ask what game they were playing. Brandon, the owner of RMOC, and organizer of the rolls sessions explained to her all about sharks and minnows and how to play. Everyone starts out as minnows, except for one shark. Every boat the shark bumps becomes another shark, that can then chase other minnows. The goal as a minnow is to get to the other side without becoming a shark!
Concentrating! Playing hard!

Charlotte got super into the game and spent the last half hour of roll session thoroughly engaged in paddling, chasing and dodging, spinning and sprinting, sharking and minnowing! I don't think she has ever had quite so much fun at roll session as she did that night. I think it was a combination of applying acquired skills to a more responsive craft, coupled with the excitement of being a part of a game, and being able to play that game! As for me, I find it so rewarding to watch her skills blossom and the fun factor grow right along side them. Also... hurray for sharks & minnows!

Monday, October 28, 2013


Rowing... I Love to row. I mean don't get me wrong, I love to paddle too: rafts, kayaks, canoes, paddling is great! But I LOVE to row. There is just something so magical about that dance between you, your oars, your barge and the current... it's that necessity of intimacy with the current that is reminiscent of sweep boats, where angle is the only dance. The kind of intimacy that is somehow different from team paddle rafting, different from agile maneuverable hard boats. The kind of intimacy that leaves you vulnerable to the mercy of the current, forces you to dance solo with every flux of the current... 

 It would seem that I am not the only one to experience these feeling,  Charlotte Loves to row. Even as a 16 month old baby, her favorite place on the raft was sitting on my lap, holding the oars while I rowed.
16 month old Charlotte rowing with Mommy, Arkansas River CO
San Juan River, UT- 2 years old

Arkansas River, CO- 3 years old

As she grew she started pushing on the oars herself, even pushing Mommy's hands out of the way.
This summer, Mommy's lap was dismissed too, and Charlotte began to actually Row. I sit across the cockpit from her so I can still grab the oars, but let her do all she can.  Now bear in mind that this is a 14' raft we are talking about, often loaded with days worth of food and gear. It is a big heavy boat. While Charlotte is quite strong for a five year old little girl, she is still a five year old little girl. Yes, she moves that boat, not allot and not fast, but she can move it! Maneuvering is harder, but if her angle is right & she starts early enough, she can catch an eddy!

"Hands off Mommy!" San Juan River, UT- 4 years old

"I can push this boat!" Arkansas River, CO- 4 years old
"The Captains seat is mine!" Green River, UT/CO- 5 years old
Owning it! Green River, UT/CO- 5 years old

We have have a smaller boat too, a little 10.5' Hyside Minni Max, but until last week it had been just a little paddle raft. We have always threatened to get a frame for it, and maybe it was some sort of attempt to fill the void eating our souls from not being on the Grand Canyon (due to the government shutdown,) but for some reason we finally pulled that trigger & bought a little custom frame from Salida Riverboat Works for it! After both Mommy & Daddy had taken it for trial runs while Charlotte was in school, she got off the school bus, right into her PFD & down to the eddy at our house where she rowed all around. She practiced picking things (rocks, Mom,) to aim at and bump into, spinning & turning, pushing & pulling. Boy could she move that little boat! It was just so much smaller, easier for her to maneuver and move!
Proud little oarsman! First rounds in the little boat at the home eddy.
Practicing her two oar turn in the home eddy.

Come the weekend, we rallied to float from town down to our house, a fun little class II stretch. Charlotte & I on the little green raft, Daddy in his canoe. I put the convertible oar rights my Dad had requested for our non-Grand trip on the little oars so that Charlotte didn't have to worry about her blade angle. Training wheels, I know some people Love their oar rights, but they really are just training wheels, and this is the perfect application for them!
Putting the oar rights on & getting ready to row!

I rowed us through the first little cobbly wave train, and then turned the oars over to Captain Charlotte! We bumped a few rocks, we got stuck a couple times, but all in all Charlotte was doing Amazing! To be honest, I had expected her to only row a few flat parts, and planned on rowing all the little rapids myself, but she was having so much fun & doing such a good job that I let her keep rowing. After her first little rapid, Charlotte looked at me elatedly & said "Mommy! I rowed a rapid! That was a class II rapid!" Coming around the corner after the next little rapid, a fisherman on the bank beamed at us saying "Now that is the neatest thing I have seen all day!"
A very content and competent young lady.
Rowing the rapids!

I rowed the next set of rapids, as they are a little bigger and one is just so rocky at the top it's hard to get through. Though in retrospect, I think she could have done the last one (Bear Creek, the only named rapid on this stretch,) just fine.

At one point Charlotte lost focus & we did a good bit of bouncing down the side of the river getting stuck, but fueled by gummy bears, she she got right back on track! Her biggest challenge (as is everyone's,) was angle. Contrary to most people learning to row, she actually found two oar turns to be easier than using only one oar. Though I think part of that might simply be that the frame needs adjusting, the oar towers are just too high, it takes allot of effort to keep an oar out of the water when your handles are at head level! Regardless, we did allot of work on two oar turns which is actually a very complex move that most adults struggle with. It is pushing with one oar while simultaneously pulling with the other. It's kind of like that whole pat your head & rub your tummy thing... Anyways, she was getting it! She was very excited at how fast it turns the boat, and was really able to put the boat where she wanted it once she got that turn down.

We talked allot about reading water, what her plan was, where she wanted the boat & how she was going to get it there, all in all she had a great concept of reading the water & where she wanted to go. It was just a matter of learning what she could do with her oars to get the raft there! As far as eddies go she was catching them just fine, but finding getting back into the current a little more challenging, rafts act a little different from kayaks...
Looking at our line, reading the water, talking about what to do.

I rowed a few more times, mostly to bust out some flat water & give Charlotte a break, plus one more of those super rocky entrance rapids... but all in all Charlotte rowed at least two thirds of that 4.5 mile run! She also completely exceeded my expectations, again I really thought she was going to row just a couple of flat stretches, not most of the whole run & a ton of little rapids! Once again, my daughter has blown my mind... What an incredible experience to be rowed down the River by my five year old daughter, and knowing that this is only the first of many many more miles to come...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Gates of Lodore VS The First Day of Kindergarten

A few months back we were invited on a 4 day River trip through a section of the Green River called "The Gates of Lodore." I immediately said yes, without realizing that the launch date August 19th, was also the first day of Kindergarten. Once this fact was revealed to me, I immediately withdrew from the trip, my social programing screaming "you can't skip the first day of Kindergarten, it's the first day of Kintergarten!" Well, I beat myself up over it for a while... a few weeks actually, so I started asking other Moms, other River Moms, other boaters that aren't Moms, Moms that are Kintergarten teachers... they all said "GO!" Slowly I broke through my cultural programing and came to the realization that I remember nothing about my first day of Kindergarten, but I sure as heck remember everything about every multi day raft trip we did when I was a kid. And so, we were back on board & ready to roll, with the schools blessing and gratitude for an early absentee notice even. So, we started off Charlotte's school career right, truant! Truant in lieu of the educational pursuit of life and adventure, and what an amazing learning adventure it was!

A facebook meme a friend posted just after we returned from our trip.

Even before our launch day we found great learning experience! While spotting the trailer backing down the boat ramp, my attention was distracted just like I was a curious Kindergartener,  by a small hopping motion out of the corner of my eye. Immediately leaving my post as trailer spotter I squatted down to pick up the tiniest little toad I have ever seen! I showed it to Charlotte and we talked about amphibians & how tadpoles turn into frogs & toads. She continued to play with her new little friend, hopping along the shore while the trailer got parked & unloaded.
Charlotte playing with her tiny amphibian friend.

Day one Charlotte kayaked the whole day! OK, so it was only a 2 mile day, but it was perfect for her to kayak! Nice "real" flat water, unlike the "flat" (not) water on our home River. Charlotte & Alan (aka Daddy) practiced eddy turns, talked about paddling technique and reading water. When we got to camp she parked her own boat, pulling it all the way up onto shore & out of the way. She was very proud and made sure I saw her great parking job.

Kayak lessons with Daddy.

Sand castle erosion & geology lessons!
That afternoon, the three of us went exploring down stream from camp and found the most amazingly beautiful little beach where we frolicked for hours! Splashing, playing, jumping, running & rolling, building sand castles upon the cliffs of Dover only to watch the lapping River waves reduce it to rubble, calving glaciers of sand off the edge of the little beach with our feet. We talked about geology, erosion, how the water affects the sand, how the canyon we were sitting in the bottom of was formed, how the gates of Lodore (which we could still see from our camp that night) came to tower over the low fertile fields which the Green River meanders through before entering it's cataract. Somehow I don't think Kintergarden covers geology, but we are simply rolling with the curriculum of life!

Leaping into Life!
I am not a tent person. I just really like sleeping out and don't really like messing with tents. In fact I don't even own a tent. Charlotte owns one though, and quite enjoys the little kingdom within her tent. Night one I told her that if she wanted to sleep in her tent then she had to learn to set it up herself. Super excited about the prospect, she was an eager student and did quite a remarkable job of learning to set up her tent! In fact, by the end of the trip Charlotte was setting up and breaking down her 2 man REI backpacking tent mostly all by herself, and was so very proud of her new found ability!

Day two was a big rapid day, with a class IV in it... I'm comfortable with Charlotte running class III, she has done allot of it, and a "very" little bit of "very" low water class IV. But the idea of "Hells Half Mile" made me nervous, even though I was assured by a friend who guides there and is a Mom herself that it is fine at low water (our trip was indeed low water,) and that they take 6 year old's commercially. The scout seemed relatively straight forward, though I knew that all the water was pushing where I didn't want to go... I implored  my friend Michelle to ride on my boat just so she could grab Charlotte if need be. Running the rapid I was so gripped! More gripped than usual... something about having my little one on my boat in a big rapid that I don't know like the back of my hand (much of the whitewater Charlotte runs are rapids that I DO know like the back of my hand.) Tempering my overly amped heart in throat- was Charlotte; giggling, squealing and saying"Weeeeeeee!" Of course we made it just fine, and honestly, I think Mommy was the one learning this time.
The crux move in "Hells Half Mile"

Charlotte spent a good portion of day three in her kayak again. This time tackling some class I and easy class II wave trains, still practicing catching eddies and exploring all of the fun little coves and crevices where rafts can not go. She was Rocking it! She seemed so comfortable in her boat, getting it exactly where she wanted it when she wanted it. Wave trains became an object of delight instead of fear, I could hear her shouting "Weeeeeee!" while paddling through them. All in all Charlotte paddled a full 5 miles of the trip, and loved every minute of it.

Charlotte also spent a good bit of time on the oars. She has always loved sitting on Mommy's lap and rowing, even as a baby. As she has gotten older she has started actually affecting the boat with the oars, moving it, and even maneuvering it. She now sits on the captains seat as well, as opposed to mommy lap. It's all her, no mommy hands on the oars. Night two Charlotte actually pulled the raft into camp (essentially) all by herself. I was impressed! She had to angle the boat through a wave train and *PUSH* into the eddy. She had been rowing for quite some time at that point as well, so I was surprised that she had the energy, let alone the strength to get that big heavy 14' raft into that eddy! WOW!

 Another big thing that happened on this trip was a moment that I had been waiting for for years, a moment that I blogged about two seasons ago in the post Inevitability and Fear. Well, the inevitable finally happened... Charlotte took her first swim! It was just flat water, my friend Michelle was rowing. Charlotte & I were both sitting up on the bow with our feet hanging over the side. We bumped a small rock and Charlotte did a very slow motion slide/plop! At first she looked wide eyed and surprised, then immediately began laughing! She swam right back to the boat and grabbed onto the spare oar. I pulled her in & we both tumbled down in giggling fits. I congratulated her on becoming a member of the elite "Green River swim team," and we talked all about her experience; how it felt, what she thought, how she reacted, what made it scary, what made it fun, etc... All in all that first swim was a perfectly glorious and beautiful experience, and I am so very grateful!

About to jump off the bow for a swim!
Swimming back after visiting another raft.
I felt like I was watching Charlotte blossom on that trip, like I could see her grow before my eyes. I never had one moment of regret for skipping that "all important" first week of Kindergarten. I did however have many moments of humbling gratitude for being on the trip, many moments of absolute awe at watching the strides that Charlotte was taking. Some things small, like jumping off the raft instead of slowly sliding in, swimming away from the raft to Daddy's kayak, other rafts & back again, instead of only hanging on to the perimeter line. Some things big, like kayaking miles on her own & taking care of her tent by herself. I watched her confidence grow in leaps and bounds! I mean, we learned things about the natural world around us: big horn sheep, crayfish, tadpoles, milk thistle, peppermint, poison ivy, pictographs, geology, hydrology, cartography, etc... We sang songs, counted things and read books, talked about letters and words. She also spent much quality imaginative time playing with the fairies of the canyon. I think though that what really prepared her for the upcoming massive life event of starting school, more than anything, was simply that growth of confidence and independence, that sense of accomplishment.
Cartography lessons! Where are we on the map?

We walked into Kindergarten the next week, still her magical "first day." So what if it wasn't everyone's first day, it was hers. My only trepidation was immediately quelled. I knew that Charlotte would catch on to the rules & catch up with the class quickly, but I was slightly concerned about her having that "awkward new kid" social syndrome coming into class a week late. As it turned out though, she instead pulled a "fashionably late rock star" maneuver. Some of the kids in her class she already new from daycare and other various places. They had apparently been asking about her all week, anxious for Charlotte to show up, so when Charlotte did show up, there was a chorus of "Yay Charlotte! Charlotte's here!" Whew, no awkward new kid social syndrome! I think most of my Mommy fears are completely unfounded... at lest that's what the universe generally shows me to be true anyways.

We are about to take another leave of absence from Kindergarten. In fact tomorrow Mommy & Daddy set out for a 23 day Grand Canyon trip and Charlotte, equipped with the months curriculum from her teacher, will be spending the time at Grandmas house. I am a firm believer that the "school of life" can be just as much of an education as any class room. I am sure that Charlotte will learn just as much during her visit with Grandma as I will in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and more than she would have learned in our daily routine of school & home. I think I'm a believer... "Adventure IS the best way to learn!" Oh, and the Gates of Lodore wins Hand's Down to the first day of Kindergarten!