I’ve always held fast to the idea that spending time in the wilderness offers the clarity of thought that comes with having to make fewer inane decisions, being insulated from the incessant distractions of information bombardment and technology access, ridding oneself of the trivial urgency that demands the same level of excitement from you as those who are demanding it, and enjoying a sweet communion with the Creator in untainted Creation.
The usual result of wilderness clarity for me has thus been the ability to think through problems more clearly so I can see the obvious answers, and step back from the small stuff and allow my creativity to be invested into pursuits that have more meaning and impact.
However, paddling the Smith River over the past three days has unearthed more questions rather than answers.
We had the type of campfire discussion tonight that only happens (1) after you’ve had some time to unwind and be alone with your thoughts for a few days, and (2) when you are imminently facing the prospect of transitioning out of the Wilds and back into the World, which for us shall happen tomorrow.
With all eight of us being driven entrepreneurs who have pursued a “startup” lifestyle for the majority of our professional careers, the question of “impact” (as in, what sort of legacy do we hope to leave) rings loud in the backs of our minds with uninterrupted continuity.
The answer to “how shall I have impact” is thus not so easy to come by when mired in the depth of our trivial decisions that characterize our workday.
But out here, the answer is clear: we value our relationships with our wives and kids. We strive to be servant leaders and are willing to pay the cost that comes to our personal agendas in order to do so. We wish to cultivate our spiritual health and relationship with God. We will forgo material wealth in exchange for the health and welfare of ourselves, our families, our employees, and our immediate circle of influence.
How to architect that immense challenge is not easy, but it’s not rocket science, either.
It’s simply a problem of allocating time.
“You don’t always have to paddle.”
Rob came up with this brilliant response to my campfire question of “what did you learn on this trip that you can take back with you?”
The idea behind it is that the river is going to take you. In some places, it will take you downstream quickly. In other places, it will take you downstream slowly. When a headwind blows, the wind may overpower the river and you may actually go upstream. But you don’t always have to paddle. You’ll get there (somewhere) eventually.
Rob noted that when he stopped paddling to look up at the high cliffs, he was able to meditate on a deeper level and consider some of the people that have had an impact on his life. That’s powerful. Too often, we paddle on with the idea that “I have to get there!” with an end result of self focus, and an end goal of self-aggrandizement that comes with being driven to “accomplish something.”
When I stopped paddling, I heard crickets. Sometimes all it takes for us to observe life’s beautiful subtleties, hear wise counsel from your conscience, or rest and heal, is for us to realize that we don’t always have to paddle.
A frosty cold dew soaked our crew this morning, but I’m thankful for the L’Amour juniper that kept me dry.
We left the Crow’s Foot mid-morning as the unfiltered sun began to bake the limestone and dry the meadow grasses.
After a continuous run of about seven and a half miles, we took our first break at Paradise Bend a.k.a. Cow Crap Central. I struggled to find a bare spot to sit and quadruple-dosed my water treatment chemicals in an effort to avoid the inevitable giardia lurking in the river mud.
We continued on in the afternoon heat keeping our eyes out for bears near Parker’s Flat (which was closed to camping due to bear activity), but came up empty-handed today.
The eagles didn’t disappoint and we saw several throughout today’s float, in addition to osprey, kestrel, kingfishers, geese, and several duck species.
After a final stop at Staigmiller, we made a final run to our camp and arrived at Rattlesnake Bend in the late afternoon, another 15 mile day under our belt.
The fishing was good and we roasted brown and rainbow trout, along with two large whitefish, over the fire, seasoned with Spike, Real Salt, and copious amounts of Ghee.
As we get ready for bed, the skies are black and clear – we can see the Milky Way – but the winds are swirling, an unseen osprey is circling overhead in the dark and screeching eerily, and the Smith River burbles on.
I am camped in my bivy sack under a giant fir tree on a high bank adjacent to a soul-soothing river plowing its way to the Gulf of Mexico next to a massive limestone cliff, and I’m very well aware of my own insignificance.
And that realization – as humbling as it is – is refreshing and freeing.
That’s some Smith River therapy right there. It’s good for the soul.
Tomorrow we reach River Mile 60 at Eden Bridge, our exit.
// Enjoy live dispatches and photos via satellite from this trip online at http://www.ryanjordan.com/smithriver2014 and receive updates via @bigskyry at: