I’m in love with adventure: I always have been and I always will be. And water is a big part of that adventure and of my life; this element has fascinated me ever since I was a little girl. It was hard at first, but somehow my wish overcame fear and I learnt how to swim. On my own, when I was 15. From then on, I couldn’t get enough of water: I sometimes joke that I could live my life in water if only I had food within easy reach, a water mattress, and a waterproof laptop.
Things got more intense in 2009, in late August, as I also fell in love with rafting. It was one of the most beautiful days of my life and I will always think of it fondly. Canoeing and scuba diving followed and it seemed that this picture-perfect watersport idea was nearly complete. One last challenge was lacking, though: kayaking.
My boyfriend had been very eager to try it for ages and I just couldn’t fight my fears – and of course – the temptations any longer, so we enrolled in a course to be held on Buzău and Bâsca Rivers in eastern Romania in late May.
Enthusiasm was starting to plummet as my first time of ever riding a kayak got closer and closer. When we arrived at our ‘base camp’ in Nehoiu and met our fellow kayakers and our trainer, I realized that I was the only woman in the crowd. What I had first thought of as fun was starting to become scary. Our first experience was going to be paddling on Siriu Storage Pond and learning the basic techniques. And the very first thing we were asked to do was getting into the water without a paddle, flipping our boat on our own and trying to escape from it – what an unconventional trainer we had! One of my biggest fears was trying to actually escape from my kayak. And I got even more frightened because my spray deck was brand new and very difficult to handle. I managed to get out, as my survival instinct kicked in. I didn’t enjoy it. I believe that I got off to a bad start anyway. I am a very independent person and I love my freedom, by taking it to extremes at times – I seem to reject any attempt to settle me down or to block my motions and I perceived from the very beginning that spray deck as sheer entrapment. Despite that and the pretty strong wind, I managed to complete the first day and I felt relieved. In a way.
I knew deep down that whitewater was going to be a whole different story and I knew that it was going to be pretty hard to paddle and control the boat when dealing with tricky currents if it didn’t feel easy on still water. I couldn’t sleep that night. I was trying to deal with so many feelings. I wanted to succeed and to learn to kayak, but I was scared to my core. I wanted to show the guys that I was more than a pretty face and that women are able to whitewater kayak, too. And then, I had a small ‘baggage’ of thoughts and questions carried along from home, which I was trying desperately to get rid of. I remember waking my boyfriend up in the middle of the night – ‘I’m so afraid’, I told him. He didn’t think that I was actually meaning it and went back to sleep.
Morning came and I was feeling really uncomfortable about it all. I was praying for something to lengthen the time spent outside the water. My brain reacted: why are you doing this? You’re IN LOVE WITH WATER. What’s different? Fear is. Fear makes it different. But when you love something with all your heart, put passion into it, and try living your dreams, you go on. So, I did.It was the scariest thing I have ever done and I’ve done some scary things in my life because I love taking chances. It’s my second nature. But after our trainer’s discourse on currents and eddies and… real dangers (that I was aware of, I admit) and after observing and trying to understand the water for more than one hour, it got unbearably scary. ‘I’m going to tell you what will happen – you will flip. That’s for sure’, my trainer said. ‘So you would better try it out because the more you wait, the scarier it’ll get.’ I went in and I tried my best to keep my calm, enjoy the water and focus on paddling and on the new techniques that I was learning. But the waters were high, dark, and very powerful. It is a whole different story when you paddle in a raft or in a canoe. You perceive things differently, from another level. In a kayak, you feel every stone, every tree branch, every current, and they’re all complotting to take you down! I had paddled in 4+ class rivers, but this 3/3+ class river felt like the most difficult of all. At times, I realized that I was powerless before the mighty water, that I didn’t have enough strength to control my kayak and the many rocks I got trapped in between made it the more difficult. At one point, I just had to stop, have a sip of water and a bar of chocolate and try to gather my thoughts. I knew that it was only the second day in a kayak and that I needed time, but somehow this sport wasn’t fit for me. And on the other hand, I didn’t want to give in without a fight. So, I completed the day’s route even if my kayak flipped as it slipped on a rock. I was happy that it was all over and that I was safe, but I realized that I did not have a good time in there. I only tasted the fear.
I also felt relieved that evening when the water level was too low for us to have another go. And I started to search for solutions. I was thinking seriously not to give up and to try my luck for the second time on the pond, to learn how to really control the boat, because I felt lonely on the water and half a stroke away from panic. I slept well that night. However, in the morning, questions got hold of me. And – like many times in my life – I made a decision on the spot: to abandon the course. I left breakfast crying. I didn’t perceive it as a failure, because going through the scariest day in my life had helped me become stronger and realize how brave I actually was and how insignificant are those small obstacles that we all encounter on a daily basis. I also had a talk with my trainer, because I didn’t want him to feel responsible for my giving up. He is exquisite as a teacher and a wonderful person. But he couldn’t do his job properly as long as I wasn’t ready and into it.
Several resolutions came along. I got rid of the ‘baggage’ carried along from home, I’ve decided to stick to the sports and adventures that I love, to continue practising rafting and improving my skills, and I’ve realized that being happy and really living your life means not forcing yourself to do anything you’re not completely into! And all of these – together with the important notions on the features of water that I’ll be using later on in my adventures – really made this kayak trip and the journey count! And most importantly, I gained new friends. Six of them. I already miss them.
As I started to write down my adventure story, my good mood returned and I enjoyed two amazing days trekking and horseback riding. The sparkle in my eyes is back and I have an even greater respect for the great kayakers of the world. Indeed, this sport is not fit for women, but there are a few who make it. It takes strength, stamina, and determination. And it’s probably like one of the guys told me – ‘You’ll resume practising it in the end, you’ll see’.