When I was young I had a pair of paddling shorts with a tag that read, “It’s always summer on the inside”. At the time I figured it meant that that shorts would be warm, but since then I find a deeper meaning in that phrase. In the winter I am drawn to go paddling for reasons that are intangible to those who have never done it. There is a serenity and peace of mind that comes from experiences that expose you to the elements and put you at risk. Even a short run on a familiar section of river presents increased levels of risk when the temperature runs below zero, and in our river valley, where the sun hardly shines, it is usually an icebox during the winter. Paddling in these conditions are risky even if you’re prepared. A little roll over can give you brain freeze and a swim chills you to the bones and can cause hypothermia far too fast. There are days when one questions if it’s worthwhile to paddle between the rocks when they are topped with ice and your gear is frozen in layers of ice like a candle created in hot wax.
It’s this exposure that provides the opportunity to learn. This is the first year that I have coached the youth of our kayak club past October. Usually they are taking time off and attending pool sessions, but we’ve decided they are ready to experience winter paddling and keep the training momentum going. When we’re doing these winter paddles they are not necessarily learning new techniques, or practicing difficult whitewater moves, but they are learning what it takes to push the limit and make progress towards your goals when times are hard. They are working on their grit, perseverance, determination, and decision making skills. They are learning to keep a positive outlook in harsh conditions, which I hope translates into their everyday lives.
On days when I’m out there floating down a river that would be frozen if it were to slow down, I have realized that my attitude is determined by my conscious perspective. If you keep positive thoughts in your mind then even the greatest discomforts can melt away. When I’m out there I know it’s always summer on the inside because I wear warm gear, but most important it’s the sunny perspective and warm thoughts.