Hello everyone! The last week has been a whirlwind. We made it to Memphis where we ate southern BBQ and connected with one of our River Ambassador schools. More about that on tomorrow's blog! We left Helena, AR this morning and we hope to make it to Vicksburg, MS by Monday. Still on for a NOLA arrival before Thanksgiving.
I've been thinking lately about why people go on long expeditions. Trips like ours seem very romantic: we travel by our own power, get to watch the sun rise and set, and totally immerse ourselves in nature. All of that is true, but people rarely talk about the small, personal struggles of going on an expedition. If you're lucky, you'll get to shower three or four times over the course of several months. Between hygiene, hunger, sun blisters or frozen fingers, there is little I can truthfully say to convince you that going on an expedition is a wonderful, fun experience. Do you want to spend your next vacation wondering if your cheese is moldy or if your back will ever stop hurting from sitting in a boat all day?
If expeditions are so uncomfortable then why am I here right now blogging on my phone in the middle of a canoe on the Mississippi River? Why did I want to do this trip in the first place? The reasons are subjective to each individual, but I will give you a glimpse into why I have gone and will continue to go on long adventures.
First, a quick background! Hi, I'm Natalie. I'm from Miami, FL, I like to dress up as a giant dog, I express my feelings through music and wrestling, and I love a healthy dose of competition. I started going on canoe trips when I was 15 through YMCA Camp Menogyn because I was burnt out from arts school and needed to discover other hobbies and interests besides music. So began my love for outdoor adventuring! I went on a series of trips that culminated in a 50-day canoe trip in the arctic tundra with 6 other women, one of whom is currently on this trip (Hi, Lee!). Through Menogyn I met my good friend Ann Raiho, who attended St. Olaf College with me and proved to be a wonderful partner in crime. As graduation neared, Ann and I felt the usual pressure to get jobs and become "successful" young adults. As with many life transitions, I experienced anxiety over where to go and what to do. Was I supposed to have my life figured out by age 22? No way. But the pressure was there. Ann approached me one day with a book in hand and said, "Read this, we should do it." It was Erik Sevareid's book, "Canoeing With the Cree", in which he recounts his paddling journey from Minneapolis to the Hudson Bay. Sold, count me in. Sounds awesome. I wanted to go on that trip because I had very little direction in life and maybe, just maybe, some epiphany would fall from the heavens and smack me in the face while I was paddling north. I was searching for something that I could not articulate at the time. On that trip I learned how to see an idea to action and share my passion for the outdoors with those around me. That trip was the start of Wild River Academy and led to this Paddle Forward adventure. But that's a different story!
One thing I noticed/notice while on trail is that uncomfortable situations push me to grow as a woman/human being/alien robot in disguise. My white, middle-class bubble greatly values comfort. And why not? Comfort is great. I love a hot shower and a warm bed just as much as the next person, but if we are always comfortable then how do we grow to understand ourselves, our limits, our weaknesses and strengths? Living outdoors has taught me that I can overcome physical and emotional challenges and that I have to be adaptable because things don't always go as planned. These are great life skills to have. It is important for me to seek out uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations to grow fully and understand more about myself, other people, and my environment. The lessons that I learn on trail are applicable to 'real life' in that they encourage me to be the strong, knowledgeable, happy person that I strive to be.
In addition to growing as an individual through outdoor experiences, I also learn a lot about my big-picture goals. Before I got into a canoe to paddle down to New Orleans I thought, "Alright trip, show me something!" Then I paddled for a week. Then a month. Time went by and, without intentionally thinking about my life, I one day came to several life conclusions: I want to start a semester school. I'm great at marketing and communications, maybe I belong in an administrative role. I just might be an introvert. Without fail, every time I step away from my life to paddle for a few months I reach a point of realization. It doesn't happen for everyone, but a lot of my co-expeditioners have experienced the same thing. They sit in the canoe and after weeks of monotonous paddling they say, "I just learned this about myself."
I realized what I had gotten out of the trip and how to communicate those lessons and realizations to those around me about two weeks ago. Now I am ready to return home with my newfound knowledge. I am at peace with myself, this journey, and our mission. I hold an understanding that I did not possess before and I am no longer searching, but simply enjoying the last leg of this life-changing adventure.
I could not have predicted what life lessons I would learn on this expedition before departing, and I'm sure there are some realizations that I have yet to discover. I came on this adventure and will continue to go on adventures because they mold me into a better, more understanding and capable person. Thanks to the skills I acquired through outdoor expeditions, I feel well-equipped with the confidence and awesome life skills necessary to make a difference in this world!
What's your story? Can you think of an experience that pushed you to grow and realize something about yourself?