Back at Wet Planet for an annual tradition! I met this year’s first group of First Descents participants in the Columbia Gorge as they darted around the hostel collecting river gear for the first day on the water. First Descents is a very cool non-profit organization which makes it possible for young adults with Cancer to have fun and learn to kayak for a week, creating a very unique and bonding experience for all involved.
I began to learn names; Chica, Blanche, Alley Cat and Stryka were some of the first. I became known as Swish and climbed into the van with over 20 kayaks from Wet Planet’s fleet in tow.
We began in the pool where this amazing group of people began their journey into the world of whitewater kayaking. The enthusiastic and supportive vibe the group carried as a whole made me feel grateful that I would be a part of this experience. They cheered, they jested, and they jumped right in.
Everyone experienced the wet exit and the awkward and unnatural feeling that cmes when flipping upside down in a kayak for the first time. Most went beyond this, practicing several times. With each time, I could see them realizing that it actually was not all that hard or scary. They began to see that they were learning how to kayak.
Taking it to Rowland Lake, the group worked on paddling skills in preparation for Day 1 Grand Finale: Kayak Polo.
Stryka got vicious, Nomad got after it and Robstar even provided the group’s first real wet-exit. The game was not only full of laughter, but also significantly better paddling technique. Funny how even when the activity isn’t specifically getting comfortable in a kayak, that is the outcome.
Taking to the Klickatat River’s Icehouse section, a favorite local teaching stretch for the Wet Planet Kayak Instruction staff, the group completed their first river trip the following day. While there were several swims, everyone seemed to understand how great life can really get. Seeing Carnage’s smile reminded me how lucky we are to be able to experience such a beautiful place.
The week slowly moved on until somehow it was nearly over. The campers visited a farm at the base of Mt. Hood for fresh strawberry picking, got a few more days on the water and even rafted the famous Middle White Salmon in Husum, Washington.
Everyone seemed to be learning more about themselves everyday through their experience on the river. As an instructor at Wet Planet, I thrive on the development of confidence and passion through whitewater kayaking. This group of people perhaps showed it to me more than any other I’ve worked with.
Tonight the second week of First Descents in the Columbia Gorge arrives. New–and crazy–names, great people and probably some butterflies in stomaches! I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn this week!
Susan Hollingsworth – Wet Planet lead Kayaking Instructor