Recap by Jill Adler
Most active women will confess that they got involved with _____ (fill in the blank with skiing, rock climbing, canyoneering, kayaking, etc) because a guy took them. I’ll admit to the same failing when I tried mountain biking and paragliding (both sports I now avoid). But when I pulled into Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe in Bend, Oregon, after a solo ten-hour drive from Utah, I was there for me.
Sitting on the bank of the Deschutes River, the shop had everything you could ask for in water play: SUPs, tubes, clothes, dog float coats, touring kayaks and whitewater kayak gear. They also do lessons and excursions to places around Bend, and this weekend they were hosting a group of women eager to learn the finer points of navigating river rapids in a kayak. The program came courtesy of SheJumps. The non-profit organization was founded on the premise that you don’t need to wait for “some guy” to play outside and that was just fine by me.
SheJumps is a nonprofit based here in Utah but rock star women from all stretches of the U.S. comprise its core. They are dedicated to growing female participation in outdoor sports by running women-specific events. They offer basic, technical skills workshops to help women discover the outdoors on their own. The sports may sound extreme but they are perfectly approachable with knowledgeable and caring guides, hosts and peers.
The gaggle of six, mostly Oregon-based girls was introduced to our guides for the weekend: Mo, Lauren and Cait, our SheJumps representative. Cait, an avid whitewater paddler, had attended a women’s whitewater event in Tahoe, and was inspired to bring a similar event to Bend.
We spent Friday evening learning about gear and practicing bow rescues at the shop in a small portable pool.
Saturday, we paddled on the Deschutes to discuss proper kayak posture, paddle strokes and ferrying from one side of the river to the other. There was a tiny section of whitewater at the end of the day. Saturday’s drills were meant to prep us for the final day on the McKenzie River; a class II+ whitewater section. Boy, was I excited!
We piled into the Tumalo Creek van for the two-hour drive to the McKenzie. The lively conversation involved topics like the most magical travel experience you’ve ever had, farmers markets, and massage therapy. At the put in, Lauri announced she had forgotten her sprayskirt. Lauren, moments later, couldn’t find the van keys. Mo set to work building a skirt out of a trashbag and duct tape; the rest of us hunted for the keys. Twenty minutes later she found her keys: sitting right on top of her boat! In true girl style, we laughed but didn’t scold. With Lauri all taped into her kayak we were ready to roll, so to speak.
The weather was perfect, the water chilly but manageable in a drysuit or wetsuit, and our spirits were high.
We paddled downstream and gathered at the first eddy. I stuck close to Mo hoping to glean some gem that would magically turn me into the kayaker I wanted to be. She looked back and said, “There. That’s it. Now you’re doing it.” But in truth I was still apprehensive about the upcoming whitewater.
The next task was to eddy behind as many boulders as we could that were strewn throughout the coming stretch. I caught the very first eddy and beamed. I thought eddying was the one skill I did fairly well but there was still much to learn. My head and self-confidence were a jumble.
I went to eddy-out, into the current, but the rock was too close to my paddle and I flipped, then swam. Mo “rescued” me; shouting for me to grab her boat and keep my feet up in the shallow water as I bounced off rocks. I was ok. The only thing bruised was my ego. I caught up with my boat and apologized for the swim. She said no worries but I began to feel like “a girl”.
After wolfing down my lunch, I still wasn’t ready to get back in my boat. The largest wave train of the day lay ahead. The rest of the girls talked excitedly about their morning and their renewed love of kayaking. It was a glorious afternoon and I wish I could tell you that I rocked the wave train but I’d be lying. I swam that too.
We had a pile up heading into the biggest section of whitewater on the McKenzie and I was right on Courtney’s tail. I paddled left to avoid her boat and immediately succumbed to a side wave. I held out underwater for a bit but no one was going to rescue me. I pulled my sprayskirt and swam. Humiliated. But something good happened. I rescued myself and my own boat. I didn’t need anyone’s help.
I caught my breath and paddled back to the group. The other girls smiled encouragingly. I talked to Lauren and felt better as we approached the last section of rapids. I finally made it without swimming! The cheers from the girls matched the ones inside.
We climbed back into the van for the ride home. I sat quietly listening to the others whose energy was twice what it was on the way out. SheJumps is no miracle drug that will turn you into an instant extreme athlete. However, it does get you amped. It gives you a taste of what that life is like; it enables you to explore parts of yourself you weren’t in tune with while keeping you safe, and it plants a seed for continued adventure. It’s up to you to connect the dots.
I loved visiting Bend, meeting the folks at Tumalo Creek, and sharing time on the water with some really cool chicks. And I love kayaking whether I’m swimming next to my boat or paddling.
Photos by Jill Adler, Cait Towse, and Desiree Rinker