By Grace Brulotte
Setting my paddle board into the river was sort of like submitting to the unknown. I watched the first set of rapids just beyond the Canadian Tire bridge and wondered what it’d feel like to be in them. My planned expedition, to paddle board to the Morrisey bridge, had been a long awaited adventure in my mind. It would be my first river experience, and would check off a much anticipated bucket list item. But as I sat there, staring at my paddle board as it bobbed with the current of the river, I knew it was my fear I had to conquer, not just white water rapids. Before I could contemplate my actions any further, I heard the dragging of the rocks under my board, and watched the shore drift away from me. Every one of my senses was heightened as I felt the board rock and sway underneath me. I felt excited, determined, and afraid all at once, which is what the adventurous spirit is made of.
My first section to the West Fernie bridge was fairly relaxed, besides a few small rapids. I had to smile as I looked up to the Lizard Range, a place which held many previous adventures for me. As I took in the beauty of my surroundings, the mountains that enclose the valley in their protection, the familiar trail I had walked so many times. Oh how different it was to be on the river instead of just watching it from the sidelines. All was so peaceful, so still, almost heavenly. Oddly enough, at that moment I thought of a quote from the movie Willy Wonka. “If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.” How true that statement was, especially in a place such as Fernie.
This daydream like state of mind was very abruptly interrupted by the realization that I was heading into some none too friendly rapids. My heart jumped into my throat and that familiar enemy called fear tightened its grip on me. I had no choice but to keep going, and yet the closer I got, the bigger the rapids seemed to become. All at once, my paddle board struck a rock that might as well have been a small mountain in my mind. My board rocked violently and seemed to practically fold in half. It was a life and death situation and I thought for sure I was a goner. In my panicked state I thought either myself or my paddle board surely wouldn’t survive! But then I realized the water was barely above knee deep… and I was being dramatic… The board sailed over the rock with a dreadful scraping sound, and within a matter of seconds, all was back to being calm and quiet. I had made it past my first obstacle, even if I did have a small heart attack in the process. I would have at least three more “almost heart attack” moments on this expedition, one of which resulted in a broken wrist. This made me come to the conclusion that while paddle boarding the river can feel like floating on a cloud at times, it can unpredictably transform into a roller coaster and a fire breathing dragon at any moment…
Tranquility returned to me, after my heart had a chance to recover that is, and I pulled aside to check off my long awaited bucket list item. I sat on the edge of the board and put my feet in the Elk River for the very first time. I had been born and raised in Fernie, my heart had belonged to this town for 21 years thus far, and yet I never had the chance to feel the cool water of the river flowing over my feet before. I felt like an innocent child experiencing something for the first time, and giggled as I kicked my feet in the water. As I sat there, looking at where I had come from, and examining where I was going, I couldn’t help thinking about how much a river can be compared to life. The current can be viewed as time, always pulling you forward. There can be moments of smooth, peaceful grace, where everything is as it should be. But just around the corner a rough patch can appear, and whether you like it or not, you must keep going and face what’s ahead. It can feel as though you’re going to be swept away in the rapids of iniquity. But if you can stand firm and keep your footing, if you can be determined, if you can accept your fear and let it drive you forward, eventually the calm will come. Just as quickly as the rapids appeared, they will pass away, and all that’s left is the memory of them, and the knowledge that you made it through. I held that little gem with me, that treasure in the form of a new discovery and a lesson learned, as I continued down the river. I learned to let go of every burden I was carrying, and allowed myself to just be. I could smell the sweet odour of the cedars to the left of me, I took in the majesty of the mountains to the right of me, and I allowed the river to continue pulling me to the destination ahead. The Morrisey bridge was in my view, and I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed by everything I had felt through the experience. Somehow I felt older, wiser, and more prepared to face my fears again in the future.
As the paddle board brushed up on the shore of the Morrissey boat launch, and Scott, my pilot for the whole expedition stepped off the board, somehow I wasn’t thinking about the wheelchair that was waiting for me at home. I was free from that weight that has held me down since birth. The prison doors which hold me captive 24 hours a day were opened, and my heart was free to fly. With each new experience I get to take part in, with each challenge conquered, I come closer and closer to the understanding of why I am here. You see dear reader, life is not about what can be had. Life is about what can be taken in, into your very heart and into your very soul. We are all on an adventure, an adventure which leads to facing our fears, and conquering rapids as they appear. My hope is that you can experience those victories that make life worthwhile, no matter who you are and what your ability is.