Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A River Guide's Perspective

For Ulani:
So that you might know, in the depths of your Papa’s soul, there is a wild, raging river.

And to the river guides, to anyone who has ever taught me about the river, & to anyone who has ever allowed me the opportunity to impart some insight to them: I am forever grateful & the pleasure was all mine. Good lines & go big.

“To someone who has not run a rapid before & questions the need to do so at all, the lure of this charging volume of water pouring toward your very own vulnerable, fragile body is difficult to explain . . . it gives an edge to living, a baptism that blesses with a reminder of mortality . . . once is enough for many, & forever not enough for some.”
-Ann Zwinger

     I drift along the eddy lines, the places where current and calm meet. Here the two touch and dance, whirlpools swirling down and boils rising up from the depths. Here, as everywhere, water seeks equilibrium, balance. Maybe this is why I find myself so drawn to rivers. They are all about seeking balance. Just as in life, along the course towards equilibrium I often find myself in the midst of seeming chaos. The rapids and cataracts, the waterfalls and explosions of whitewater, the eddy lines and their tango of whirlpools and boils. Here, among the waves and whitewater, is where I remember that magic exists. Engulfed by the currents and the colliding of water and rocks, my soul sings and I know what it means to be alive. In the heart of water’s struggle for balance exists this special place I long to be, to know, and to take people to. This is why I am a river guide.
     It never ceases to amaze me how life can just reach out a grab me sometimes, pulling me into something I know absolutely nothing about and yet simultaneously I feel more at home in than ever before. This was the case with whitewater. For 41% of my life now, I have been guiding people down the magical ribbons of rivers that lay themselves out across the varying landscapes of this country. From the steep mountain streams amidst the lushness of Appalachia to the rivers that carve away at time and sandstone walls in the desert Southwest, from a few hours in length to 16 days and everything in between. Each river its own personality and lessons to teach, yet everywhere water doing the same thing . . . seeking balance.
     I do not wish to romanticize things here or paint you some unrealistic picture of what being a river guide entails. The days are long and the work is hard, both physically and mentally demanding. I’ve been on trips where the temperature is well over 100 degrees and on others when it has barely gotten in the 30s. I’ve paddled through every kind of weather from snow flurries to wind storms to rain so hard I could not see past the front of my raft. All the while, no matter what the conditions, no matter how long of a day it’s been or what the circumstances are, it’s my job to get my guests safely down the river and have that trip be a positive experience for them. There are a lot of factors to juggle, and then when you throw in people, you just never know what you’re going to get.
     Anybody can learn to take a raft down a river, even the hardest of rivers. It would take some time, but learning the mechanics of steering and the intricacies of reading water are not some elite, unattainable skills. Like most things, they take time. What separates those who thrive at being river guides form those who can simply get a raft down the river is the ability to guide people. People are the wildcard. The river lives by a few set, unchanging principles, the first and foremost being to seek equilibrium. The same has never and will never be said about people. Every trip, I get to meet a completely new group of people. And it’s not that I simply get to meet them, but I get to interact with them. I get to facilitate one of life's great adventures for them, and in doing so I have the opportunity to connect with people. Now, just as in regular, everyday life, there are some people who simply suck. Every now and again, those people go rafting. But the vast majority of people show up excited and enthused and ready for an experience, and I consider it one of life’s greatest privileges to be able to share in as well as greatly influence that experience.
       Being a river guide does not build up my bank account. It has not gotten me ahead in life financially, nor has it ever offered any kind of health benefits or a retirement plan. But for all that it lacks compared to so many other professions, it easily makes up for and surpasses them in stories and experiences. Life is nothing without relationship, without connection, and there are four relationships we all need to foster: with ourselves, with others, with creation, and with our creator. How lucky am I that a trip down the river allows for all of these.
     I remember early on, it was my second season guiding on the New River in West Virginia, I received a letter in the mail. I had taken a family of four down the river one day and out on a climbing trip another. The letter was from the mom, and she was so appreciative. She told me how the trip had impacted their family and how much of an impression I had made on her teenage son and daughter. “Thanks for showing her that a climber/rafter/outdoorsman can hold an intelligent conversation. I wanted to share these thanks especially in regards to one the comments you made when I was expressing a little frustration with the lack of cell phone connection. ‘That’s the beauty of it’ has made me think over & over again about what the important things are. Thank you for bringing me back to the precious moments of living.” What a great memory to be a part of.
     On one of my most memorable trips, I took six blind people down the Lower Gauley in the fall. I don’t know if I had ever before or since been so gripped, so focused. The group was amazing, by far the best listeners I have ever interacted with. They asked me to describe everything in as much details as possible as we moved downstream. Before too long, they had attuned their ears so that they could hear specific waves and features that I was describing. At one point, as we were approaching a rapid called Canyon Doors, one of the guys reached out his right hand and finished my sentence for me,     “ . . . because all down the right side of the river there are huge cliffs rising up from the water.” Those six blind folks taught me how to “see” the river in a way like I had never before.
     Other memories come rushing in. Some being caught out on the river during a flash flood and navigating rapids at water levels not see before, and others a flood waters rising so fast that the safest way out was to hike. I’ve been lucky enough to have certain groups come back for trips time and again, and every time we pick up right were we left off, enjoying some time on the river together. I’ve hugged and held grown men and women in tears on the last day of a one or two week trip through Grand Canyon. Time on a river gets to people. Stepping into adventure with people and sharing experiences and meals and weather and stories and stars, it’s like nothing else I’ve ever known, and that is why I’ll do it until my body won’t let me anymore.
     “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” The quote by Loren Eiseley is one that I think of often. I feel as though I could go on and on about the many things I’ve learned from my time spent on rivers, but then, lessons are best learned through experiences, not words. So my hope for you is that you go and have your experiences. Go run the rivers and see where they take you and who they bring across your path. Spend time with the water, so that you’ll always remember that magic exists. Find whatever it is that makes your soul sing, and live it out. Just like the water, in your search for balance, onlookers will be captivated by the beauty you make.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Things I Want To Tell You: The 1st Letter


     My feet fall into their rhythm, one step after the next, the crunch of small rocks and dirt beneath them. My breathing falls into a similar pattern.  Inhale twice . . . long exhale . . . inhale twice . . . long exhale. These simple rhythms allow my thoughts to wander.  It is almost as if my body’s struggle allows for an effortless drift of my mind. At 4 a.m., other than the three foot circle my headlamp makes at my feet, there is nothing but darkness all around me.  Every once in a while, I reach up to click the off button, and then stare up and out at a sky bursting at the seams with stars.  Once, I’m lucky enough to time it just right, and, as I stare, a streak of light dashes brilliantly from right to left.  A piece of rock from somewhere deep in the universe had made its way to the edge of our atmosphere, and in its final display had met me right here, in this moment, lighting up my night sky.  Sunrise summits are a special thing.  They are something we have come to look forward to, your mother and I. There is just something about the excitement of crawling out of sleeping bags into the darkness and moving under headlamps, climbing thousands of vertical feet and struggling and breathing and the stars and the expectation and .  . .     
     This hike is all of those, yet also something else. On this sunrise summit, my mind takes very little time to wander.  Instead it moves directly to its subject.  I settle in to the rhythms of movement quickly, and my thoughts once again find themselves swirling around you.  In life, I have found there to be many things I have longed to tell people, but have either not had the chance to, or, more realistically, not taken the chance to tell them.  My thought is to preemptively take that chance now.  I haven't even met you yet, but there are just so many things I want to tell you.  What better way than a letter from the mountains.     
     One of my favorite things about words is how they can continually speak new insights to us.  Over time, as our experiences shape us, our understanding can change perspective.  We can grow.  And like the rain soaking deeper into the soil, so words and their meanings can permeate deeper into us.  It will be some time before the words on this page begin to speak to you, so until then, play.  Play and laugh and run around bare foot stomping in every puddle along the way.  Throw rocks in the river and dig in the dirt and let your imagination run rampant, taking you places no one else could ever dream of.  Let you first concern on this earth be to play.     
     You are beautiful. You are the most beautiful, mystical miracle.  The amazing thing is that so is everybody else.  The sad thing is that very few of them actually believe it.  Since the beginning of time, since the spirit hovered over the waters, since the first sparks of the cosmos, everything in the universe has intimately and intricately worked together to bring you here right now.  You and every part of creation around you are expressions of grandeur that ultimately defy explanation.  Life is both mystery and miracle.  You are a beautiful miracle.  Believe it, live like it, and then go help others believe it.  There are a number of people who will try and convince you otherwise.  People will judge you.  People will say things to hurt you, and their words will hurt.  Sometimes words can hurt worse than anything else.  People say hurtful things because they are hurting. So many people are hurt and scared.  So many people have never been told they’re beautiful, and so many others simply refuse to believe it.  Remember, you are a beautiful miracle. All of life is mystery and miracle. Believe it, live like it, and then go help others believe it.     
     Take risks. Do things in life where there is a very real opportunity to fail.  Successes and accomplishments get all the attention, but the true substance is in the risk.  The value is in putting yourself out there, in doing things that make you nervous, no matter what they are.  There is no such thing as “trying” something.  Trying focuses on the outcome, but when we allow ourselves to do something, we can fully engage in the process, the journey, regardless of how it turns out.  The unavoidable is temporary, but lessons from the unavoidable are everlasting.  Embrace the journey.  Be a learner of life.  It is of far more value to be a learner than to be learned.     
     Don’t bother with happiness.  Chase after passion, love, grace, peace, mercy, truth, adventure, hope, wisdom or any combination of the above.  Let happiness come find you. 
     Always remember where you came from, where we all came from.  We were formed out of earth and breath, intimately connected with the Creator and Creation.  Nature is not a place to go, it is home.  Be at home in her, and treat her as such.  Too many of us have forgotten our beginnings and have lost our way.  Go to the wild places, to the rivers, the mountains, the forests, the deserts . . . and listen.  Take time to be still in them. Be a stranger to no season.  Keep your ear to the earth and let it teach you.  We live in an empowered place, and the truths and mysteries of the Creator exist throughout what he has made.  Live with your eyes wide open to the wonders surrounding us, and help others to do the same.     
     The wind is deafening at times, nearly knocking your mother and I off our feet.  The vast expanse of the Chihuahuan Desert runs out in every direction below us.  As the sun slowly creeps up over the horizon, we watch the landscape change as its rugged features are traced and highlighted.  The arroyos, the canyons, the mountains, and the glistening ribbon of river, all are coming into view.  From here, at the height of the Chisos Mountians, with a pink, purple, and orange cloud streaked sky for a backdrop, we throw our arms out wide and scream with a wild joy, because we know you are here with us.  And so now, each day we will lift our voices to the Creator on your behalf, that all of his creation will embrace you, and that you will embrace all that life has to give.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Choose Love, Not Fear


     I sit and I listen to the river, the steady melodic flow, the building and breaking of waves.  I stare at the currents dance and swirl.  This is what I do when I need to think.  This is where I go when I need to process. Or maybe it’s actually where I go and what I do when I want to stop thinking.  When my mind is racing and the thoughts are too quick to grab onto, I have found that the rhythms of the river ease their pace, giving me a chance to catch up and catch my breath.  Often times I feel similarly about our world and its frantic pace: news flash after sound bite after reactionary comments to the reactionary comments.  I can’t keep up, and honestly I’m not sure how anyone else does.  Maybe I’m just a little slower than most.  Maybe I’m trying to process something that is not meant to be processed?  Maybe I’m supposed to simply down it like a fast food burger and fries while I’m doing 75 on the interstate, blaring talk radio and simultaneously snap chatting and updating 4 social media statuses at once.  The only problem is that’s not how I want to live.  I want to live slowly, deliberately. I want to chew and taste my food, and I want to chew on my thoughts as well. And when I’m done, I want to speak, not out of reaction, but out of relationship, out of love.  Sometimes we speak to remind others and sometimes we speak to remind ourselves.  Right now my hope is to speak for both.
     On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided in a 5 to 4 ruling that gay marriage was legal.  Interestingly enough, that is not what I’ve been thinking about.  It is the aftermath, the reactions, and more specifically the hate filled rhetoric that has sent my mind spinning. 
     To be completely candid, I do not like to call myself a Christian.  There is simply too much in American Christianity that I do not agree with or believe in.  In so many ways, Christianity has become more cultural than spiritual, more often the default as opposed to an intentional, deliberate way of life.  On the other hand, me and JC, we get down.  I have no problem whatsoever referring to myself as a follower of Jesus.  His life and message have had an undeniable impact on me and the way I see the world and my relationship to it.  The way I seek to live out my time here has fundamentally changed due to his life and teachings.  And yet here is where my mind feels as though it gets away from me.  The message I hear from the Christian culture around me does not match up with the message I read in the four books of the gospel. I mean, it’s just four short books, less than 30 chapters each.  One of them has less than 20 chapters.  So how is it that I am so far off in my understanding of its content? 
     Throughout all four gospels, Matthew, Mark Luke, and John, there is one phrase that Jesus said to his disciples, his closest friends and pupils, more than anything else. “Be not afraid.” Of all the things he could have stressed and gone over multiple times, it was to not be afraid. What that tells me is that the people Jesus spent time with, and that people in general during that time in history were not much different than you and I and everyone else today.  The single, biggest motivating factor and influencer in people’s life, be it 2,000 years ago or today, can be and to often is fear.  Fear can be both paralyzing and hyper-reactive.  It paralyzes our mind from intentional, deliberate thought, simultaneously engaging our fight or flight impulses to their max. 
     I have heard a lot of fear based talking from Christians as of late. “The legalization of gay marriage will fundamentally destroy and erode the traditional structure of family which is the building block of civilization.”  Are we really going to place the blame for the current state of “family” in America on homosexuals and LGBT rights advocates?  I believe I could make quite a compelling argument that heterosexual couples, both married and unmarried, have done far more to damage and negatively impact the state of the family than anyone else.  For a number of years now, I have worked with youth who are struggling with addiction, self-destructive behaviors, extreme aggression, and sexual misconduct, and I can tell you, it is not because their parents are gay.  It is almost exclusively because their parents simply sucked and/or continue to suck at being parents.  The divorce rate in America among non-Christians is somewhere just under 50% according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.  Among Christian couples, they found the divorce rate to be round 42%.  Brokenness in families abounds throughout this country, and it is not because of homosexual men and women who are deciding to enter a committed, monogamous relationship through marriage.  Fear causes us to point the finger, when instead if we really took the time to look at the situation, we would find ourselves right at the heart of the problem.  “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye.” (Matthew 7:3)  For those who want to point the finger and cast judgment claiming perversion and debauchery I would warn you to first look at your own community before judging the one across from you.  Pornography and human sex trafficking are industries that exist in the world today largely, if not solely, due to American’s appetite for them.  Considering the fact that the vast majority of Americans (83%) identify themselves as being Christians, perhaps the perversion is not the speck we see in our neighbors eye, but instead the log right here among us.  
     The loss of religious liberty has been at the forefront of discussion as well.  In the state I currently reside, the Attorney General issued a statement to all county clerks and judges that they do not have to perform gay marriages as long as they refuse on the basis of conflicting religious beliefs.  When the Pharisees plotted to trap Jesus with a trick question and ask him if it was lawful to pay taxes to the government, his response was not what they expected.  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)  It seems to me that if you are going to work for Caesar then you probably should do what he says, and if you really have an objection to it, then find a new employer.  I have no issue with someone objecting to participating in something that does not go along with their religious beliefs.  But I am wondering why these Christian county clerks and judges are not objecting to participate in other parts of their jobs though.  Shouldn’t there be objections to participating couples filing for divorce and/or divorced people remarrying?  “But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for unfaithfulness, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 5:32)  What about the fact that it is completely legal for parents to give up their rights to their children simply because they do not want them anymore?  I have had a number of students whose parents gave them up to the state without any legal ramifications.  Where are the Christian clerks and judges up in arms about this?  Jesus had the utmost regard for children, saying “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”    
     I heard a man on the radio talking about how he feared that his pastor would be thrown in jail for refusing to marry gay couples.  As a high school United States History & Government teacher, I would tell him to take a deep breath, and refer to the “separation of church and state” clause.  The government does not tell religious leaders how to live out their beliefs within their houses of worship.  This is why it is perfectly fine for a Catholic Priest to not allow my wife and I to be married by the Catholic Church because neither of us are Catholic.  The same applies to Jewish Rabbis, Evangelical Pastors, the Mormon Priesthood, Muslim Imams, and so on.  Another woman proclaimed that this was just like the religious persecution that the Pilgrims fled and went on to talk about how this country was founded on religious freedom.  She was at least partially right, I guess.  The most recent ABC News poll shows that 83% of Americans identify themselves as Christians with 13% claiming no religious affiliation, leaving 4% for every other religion.  I would make the argument that it is extremely difficult as well as unprecedented in the history of mankind for a group that holds 83% of the majority to be persecuted.  Having people disagree with you does not make you persecuted.  Having to learn how to live civilly with people that you do not agree with does not make you persecuted.  In the 200 plus year history of our nation, the only two people groups who could and sadly sometimes still can legitimately claim persecution are Native Americans and African Americans, both of whom were, interestingly enough, persecuted by Anglo Christians. (One could also legitimately argue Mormons being a third persecuted people group, although they were not subject to it as long since they escaped away to Utah, which at the time might as well have been on another continent.)
     Fear is based in the unknown, and maybe this is at the heart of why Jesus wanted us to not be afraid.  It is difficult, not impossible, but extremely difficult to be afraid of someone or some group of people if you get to know them.  Jesus spent a lot of time with people who most did not want to get to know: lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, the “unclean” according to religious elites.  And what strikes me is that he never talked with these people, these “sinners”, about hell or about how wrong they were.  Instead, he met them where they were, just trying to find their way through life, and he showed them he cared.  The only people he warned about hell, called hypocrites, and told to change from their evil ways were the super religious, the people who thought they had all their stuff together.
     I have friends who are gay.  I have acquaintances who are gay.  I have worked with and still work with people who are gay.  In no way do I claim to be an expert on the subject of LGBT issues, but I can say for sure that I am not afraid of them.  They are people, no different than me, just trying to figure out their way through life.  It is easy to objectify and vilify a group of people if you never sit down and share a meal with them.  Christians who fear what the LGBT movement will do to them and their way of life do not have any LGBT friends, just like Americans who fear what Muslims will do to them and their way of life do not have any Muslim friends.  When it comes down to it, there are two things we are instructed to do, two actions from which all other actions must flow.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)  Neither one of those commandments involve fear.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Finding Wilderness


     There is such an unmistakable, yet unquantifiable value to wilderness adventure. Spending time out in nature, pushing oneself physically and mentally, taking risks, venturing into the unknown. Over the years, it has become something I long for. It is a passion. And the more experiences I have on the rivers and trails and mountains and canyons of this awe inspiring earth, the more I realize how much I need them. My soul needs time in creation. My spirit needs adventure. These experiences make me a better person. They teach me lessons about life, about myself. They remind me how good it is to be alive. 
     My best friend Casey understands this as well. For the past ten years, it has been our understanding of this shared passion that has largely made our friendship what it is. We understand each others longing, and we love sharing adventures together.  After living on opposite sides of the country for the better part of a decade, Casey in Utah and myself in West Virginia, we found ourselves both back in Texas where we grew up. Over the years, we would travel across the country to meet up, doing river trips down Cataract Canyon out west, and the Gauley River back east, but often we would get to see each other only a few weeks to a month out of the year. Now, we were living in the same town again, both grateful to have ample time to hang out, but we found ourselves wondering, where is the adventure? We were living in New Braunfels, a town on the I-35 corridor between San Antonio and Austin, and though it is a beautiful place with some great people, wilderness is, without a doubt, lacking. Without realizing it, we had both become somewhat spoiled when it came to open spaces. In both Utah and West Virginia, wilderness abounds. Casey and I worked as river guides and wilderness instructors, and spent the majority of our time out in nature. Experiencing wilderness had become a part of life. So now what?
     Initially, I accepted to role of victim. There are no open spaces, no wilderness here, so there is nothing I can do about it. I resigned to putting that part of my life on hold. But as time passed, both Casey and I soon realized that our desire to spend time outside, our passion for wilderness, was not something we could just turn off. I began questioning myself. Why was I letting my situation in life dictate what I do with my life? If I am truly passionate about something, shouldn’t I be passionate about it everywhere? Casey and I would spend our evening hours enjoying cigars and a few beers and tossing out ideas. Then one day, it hit us. It was time for an adventure.
     About a month prior, Casey had heard about stand up paddling and how it was a big hit on Town Lake in Austin. He bought a few boards, and we started taking them on a flat stretch of the Comal River in downtown New Braunfels. It was great. We’d go out and paddle early in the morning, while the fog was still rising off the water, or under the glow of a full moon. The more we paddled, the more we talked about how good it is to be on the water. We reminisced about river trips of the past, down the Grand Canyon and Cataract Canyon and down the New and Gauley Rivers. For the both of us, there is nothing we love more than river trips, especially when they involve multiple days. The moment of pushing your boat into the water, disconnecting yourself form the hectic pace of the “real world,” and knowing that you have everything you need is like none other. It is the ultimate sense of freedom. For the next few days, week, or month, your world is only as wide as the river and its banks. Senses are fully engaged with the chosen few around you and the natural world abounding. And so, naturally, after a couple weeks of paddle boarding, we both asked the question, “When’s our next river trip?” I guess instead of “When,” the real question was actually “Where?” Where could we do a multi-day river trip on stand up paddleboards? Our answer was literally just up the road.
     The San Marcos River flows for 83 miles, beginning at a spring in the town of San Marcos and making its way to the confluence with the Guadalupe River just outside the town of Gonzales. We began looking at maps and trying to figure out logistics. There were a few roads crossing the river in between San Marcos and Gonzales, but the majority of the land on either bank was private ranch land. This meant that access was limited, which meant the chance remoteness was increased. The next thing we had to figure out was what we would take. On most long river trips, when taking rafts, you bring a lot of everything. Unlike backpacking, weight is not an issue. There is always room for more beer. On this particular trip though, we would have to strap everything on to the front of our paddleboards. For those who have never spent time on a stand up paddleboard, simply getting comfortable with balancing oneself can take some time. The challenge of taking minimal gear intrigued the both of us. On top of that, we had no concept of how fast we would move down the river. We did not have a clue what kind of mileage we could do in a day, what the rapids would be like, or how realistic it was to stand up and paddle for eight hours a day. Unlike kayaking and rafting, if we were to move downstream, we would need to be standing. The more we thought about it, the more we realized how many unknowns there were, which in turn got us even more excited about trying. After all, it is the unknowns and the risk that make it an adventure. After a little more planning and some food and water caches being hidden under a couple bridges, the morning of our launch had arrived. My wife Laura drove us the to Sewell Park, on the campus of Texas State University in downtown San Marcos, with the idea that she would come pick us up in 4 to 6 days when we arrived downstream in Gonzales. It was time to launch, and both of us were brimming with excitement. We had longed for some adventure, and we had found it.
     The next three and a half days were absolutely amazing. There was the thrill of being out paddling with my best friend, not really knowing what to expect. In the research we had done prior, we found very little info on multi day stand up paddleboard trips. Nothing we could find showed signs of anyone ever attempting to run the length of the San Marcos River on one. Near the end of our third day, we passed a older man sitting in a small fishing boat still tied to the right bank. He was wearing jeans and boots, an old button down work shirt, and a cowboy hat, the typical attire for a South Texas rancher. He was enjoying a cold, evening beer, and as we approached, he nodded. “Howdy fellas. Where you boys headin’?” “Evening sir. Trying to make it to Gonzales,” we replied. “Gonzales” he repeated, “well take care, and watch out for moccasins.” An hour or so later, Casey and I had found a sandy spot on the left bank to camp for the night. Sure enough around the bend comes the rancher and his fellow old timer. They were checking fishing lines they had set up earlier. As they passed, Casey and I were given another nod, and as they puttered off with their small prop motor, we could hear the rancher telling his old pal, “See, I told ya I seen some young fellas on surf boards.” The next morning we found out why he felt the need to warn us about the water moccasins. We saw over thirty in the span of 3 hours!

     Like any good adventure, the trip was a mix of struggle and awe, laughs and bruises. There were time when we forgot we were in semi-arid South Texas, finding ourselves surrounded by a thick canopy of trees and vines. Wildlife was abounding. We saw hawks and herons, hummingbirds and owls. The twitter and chirping of cardinals and swallows often competed with the gurgle of the ripples and waves. There was that undeniable peace that is found when surrounded by nature. By the end of the day, we were exhausted. Our shoulders were sore, our hands were blistered, and the arches of our feet were tight from standing and balancing all day. As I crawled into my sleeping bag at night though, I felt good. The good that comes after you know you’ve pushed yourself. Not knowing what was around the next bend, or where we would camp or it we would make it to our food cache, the adventure was invigorating. And looking back, I think what made our paddleboard trip the most rewarding for the both of us was that we had to search for it. We had to be inventive. Sure, we had been in way more remote settings dealing with way more extreme and riskier conditions, but we went out and found this adventure. Instead of simply sitting back and thinking about the places we weren’t, we actively engaged in the place that we were. I once heard it said that, “All great journeys answer questions that you didn’t even know to ask before you began.” I found one of those answers during our trip. Wilderness is out there. Time with nature can be found if looked for hard enough. I hope that I never stop dreaming about adventures in for off places, but I also hope to remember to embrace the place that I find myself in today. The truest of adventures is the one I find within. Nature, from the grandest expanse mountains to the shade of a backyard oak, is the setting and the facilitator of self discovery. As the wilderness prophet John Muir once suggested, “Keep close to Nature’s heart . . . And break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”