Saturday, January 14, 2017

You Go First - Follow the Leader

In August of 2014 I was the Head Boatman for a private family Grand Canyon rafting trip. There are a number of responsibilities that come with being the head boatman, but the main responsibility is the head boatman would typically go first through each rapid and also have the final say on how a scouted rapid would be run if there needed to be a consensus.

The benefit of following someone else into a rapid is you can simply follow the same entry into the rapid if all goes well.

If the lead boat has some trouble you can alter your route to avoid the same problems. The lead boat can also signal back to the others challenges in the rapid to avoid that may have been hard to see until in the rapid.
In Northern California near Yosemite National Park is a very fast and challenging river called the Tuolomne. It’s recommended that before you run this river on your own that you go with someone experienced because it is so steep and rocky it can be difficult to see the route if you are unfamiliar with the rapids.

Some of the more challenging rapids in Grand Canyon have huge holes (reversals) that are hard to see when first entering the rapid. A less experienced head boatman might choose to scout many of the rapids in Grand Canyon just to be sure of the best route and not be surprised by the potential problems a rapid may present.

It could turn in to a big problem if the lead boat had a boatman that was not familiar with the river or the rapids if they chose to just run most of the rapids and not scout the big ones in advance. In challenging whitewater runs like the Toulomne or Grand Canyon, it just makes sense to have someone with experience lead the way if you are not familiar with the river.

So do you have a “head boatman” in your life when you venture into unknown territory? Having been a professional mentor and coach since 2005 I have noticed there are a lot of good mentors and coaches, and unfortunately, a lot of bad ones too.

Sometimes the problem lies in the client who chooses not to make the changes identified by the mentor and they blame the mentor for their lack of success.

Sometimes the problem lies with the mentor essentially being unqualified. And one of the best ways to determine if a mentor is qualified is if they’ve gone first, and have done the work and made the changes you are looking to make. Very much like a good head boatman on a river trip, they go first. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Forever Eddy - Sometimes We Fight!

In the Kenny Loggins song, “Don’t Fight It” the chorus says, “Don’t fight it, it’ll do your heart so good.” Sometimes we need to fight. Sometimes we need to stop fighting by letting go or by compromise. So Kenny gives us good advice for certain situations.

In a previous blog I mention when I first learned to row, I wasn’t very old or very strong so I had to learn how to work with the river instead of fight it with my strength.  And since learning how to row I’ve had the awesome opportunity to run most of the very best rivers in the western United States.  In all these excellent rafting experiences I have found a few places where there are some legendary eddies.

An eddy is a section of a river near the bank that reverses course and flows upstream. Usually found just below or along a rapid. I consider eddies on a river to be like the brakes that allow us to stop or slow down if needed.

I once had a coaching client who said they just felt like they were spinning in circles and getting nowhere with their business and investments. I immediately pictured in my mind a raft cycling around and around in one of these legendary eddies and unable to get out.

One of those legendary eddies is affectionately called “Forever Eddy.” It’s found near the end of a really wild rapid in Grand Canyon called Granite Rapid. 

This rapid forces the guide to run the right side of the rapid along a sheer cliff into some big waves.
Then the guide must attempt to move towards the middle of the river through big waves to avoid Forever Eddy which is found on the right hand side of the river about 3/4th of the way through the rapid. If the raft ends up in Forever Eddy it can take many attempts to get back out into the main current.

Forever Eddy shows up right after some pretty big waves as you can see in this photo. Just past the cliff and this huge wave, the raft comes very close to the edge of Forever Eddy. The tail waves in the rapid tend to push the raft into the eddy if you the guide isn't trying hard to keep to the center of the river.

Fortunately, I’ve been lucky not to get caught in Forever Eddy. In my 2014 run it was close. But whenever I find myself working my way back out of a particularly strong eddy there is a certain technique I’ve found that really helps raise my chances of getting out on the first attempt.

First, I allow the boat to drift upstream,  to the top of the eddy as far as I can to give me more distance to try and row back out into the main current before being forced back into the eddy.

Second, I position the back of the boat pointing slightly upstream, knowing that when the boat hits the main current going the opposite direction of the eddy it will push the raft downstream and start pivoting in the wrong direction. If you allow the boat to pivot this way it will usually get pushed right back into the eddy.
Third, just at the moment the back of the boat starts to hit the main current going in the opposite direction of the eddy, I put the upstream oar handle under my leg and grab the downstream oar with both hands. This way I have twice as much pull on the downstream oar which usually keeps the boat from pivoting around and getting pushed back into the eddy.

In the legendary eddies this technique may not always work. I’ve heard stories of rafting groups dismantling their raft and climbing up the cliff and carrying the boat downstream to get out of the “Room of Doom” in Westwater Canyon on the upper Colorado River in eastern Utah. Check out this You Tube link to see how difficult a "keeper eddy" can be to escape. Also consider if the outcome could have been different if as soon as he hit the main current he used two hands to pull on the downstream oar.

If we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot get out under our own power, we’re going to need to get help and no longer rely on our own strength and technique to get out of a “keeper eddy.”

So I explained the challenge of a ‘keeper eddy’ to my client and then asked them if there was anything they felt like they needed to drop for now (putting one oar handle under your leg and put all your effort into one oar only) and if their situation was a lack of focus. (Focus can be an acronym that stands for Follow One Course Until Successful, by the way.) They felt like there were some things that could and should be dropped.

Then I asked if there was anything they felt was simply too much and it was time to call for extra help from outside their regular circle of people.  And we discovered there were some opportunities there as well, particularly with their real estate investments.

Usually on a river it’s not a good thing to fight the river. Normally it is better to use the current to your advantage, using both oars. Because in most situations, using only one oar means being out of control.
But there ARE occasions when fighting hard and using only one oar is exactly what must be done to free ourselves from the influence of the current if we’re stuck in a powerful eddy.

Life is often the same. Usually, we can have multiple projects and activities going on at the same time and usually create the results we want. But sometimes we need to drop everything else and focus all of our effort and attention on one thing and fight for it!

In parenting, we often refer to this as choosing our battles. Sometimes we don’t fight, and sometimes we fight hard. When we choose wisely the best course of action, we can “do our hearts so good.” Thanks, Kenny!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Life In-Between

When I first started rafting, it was all about the rapids. The flat water in-between was something I would just sort of endure.

Then I started to pay more attention to the scenery and characteristics of the canyons between the rapids. In some cases there was a lot of “between the rapids” when we would go miles and sometimes days without a rapid.

It was in those times of flat water that I made a decision I was going to enjoy the calm, sometimes as much as the exciting adrenalin filled rapids.

As the popularity of river rafting increased over the years, it became harder and harder to get private use permits on any river that was longer than a few miles. But there is still one major river in the west that hasn’t been too difficult to get a private permit to raft. And that’s Cataract Canyon through Canyonlands Nat’l Park.
I used to wonder why it was so much easier to get a permit for “Cat” as we would affectionately call it. Then I realized that the river isn’t as ‘commercially’ popular because the shortest distance to get to the rapids in Cataract Canyon is from Moab, UT and that can take up to 3 days of rowing flat water. Many rafting companies will minimize the time on this section of the river by jet boats to take their customers down to the top of Cat and then run them through in one day.

So I realized we could get non-commercial permits more easily because there wasn’t the same kind of commercial demand as there was on other rivers.

 The flat water above Cat for me is one of the little known gems of Canyonlands Nat’l Park. I just love meandering through the twists and turns of the Colorado River at a very slow pace. That's often lost when blasting down the river in a jet boat. 

Frequently while meandering the canyon the kids would jump out and just float along near the rafts and enjoy the peace and quiet of the cool slow moving river on a hot summer's day.

Or just make the one rowing work a little harder.

The views of the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, or the spectacular view from the river of Dead Horse Point are amazing. And from the river you get to watch the scenes unfold for hours, even days.
I’m a huge advocate of taking time occasionally to slow down and be still. In our hectic fast paced lives it’s almost like our lives are always rapids and no flat water. It’s only in the flat water you can really step back and observe the intricate details of the canyon and appreciate what’s around you. It's also a great opportunity to be still and contemplate your life's purpose and major decisions.

In the “rapids of life” we should be focused and single minded. But we can miss out on a lot of detail and beauty if we don’t have some flat water in-between and appreciate those times when the flat water may even go on for long stretches.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Or We Don't Go

I was recently speaking with a client who I’m helping get his new business designed and up and running. He “dropped the bomb” saying that he was down to his last $10 and his credit cards were maxed out.

How would you respond to that kind of situation?

First of all, if you plan to just give generic advice then you’re doing that person a disservice. You must see the problem from exactly where that person is, not some canned answer everyone gets.

Second, if you understand where they are personally and what brought them to this point you can start to provide very specific solutions.

So you might be wondering how this fits into a lesson from my river rafting experiences.

Most whitewater rafting opportunities are on rivers that run through narrow canyons. This means the areas for camping and off-river activities are often in small spaces used over and over again by river runners.

So these spaces are in some cases over-used or at least have an unnatural share of human activity during a river running season. For this reason, rules and specific guidelines have been established to minimize the amount of human impact but still balance that with the demand for use on that river.

Since there is a need to balance the desired uses of the river corridor with the need for environmental protection, the most popular whitewater sections of rivers are regulated by a permit system, The permit system usually limits the number of people who can go on the river at any one time as well as throughout the year and enforces specific rules of conduct and the required equipment for the trip.

When you apply for and obtain a permit you essentially promise to abide by the rules governing that permit. If you don’t, you may be heavily fined and may even be banned from applying for a permit in the future.

Most permits require the river users to carry EVERYTHING out and leave nothing behind on the river and especially in the limited spaces for camping. And one of the most serious problems with multi-day trips is the management of human waste. When they say carry everything out, they mean everything!

So who would want the job of taking care of the human waste system that has to be set up and taken down each and every time a group breaks camp and moves downriver? What if as a group we decided we just didn’t want to deal with that part of the trip because it’s not the glamorous and fun part of river running?

Back to my "broke" client: What if the only reason he was not making money in his business was because he had been simply avoiding the “un-glamorous” parts of his business development?

So I ‘called him’ on all the actions in his business he had taken up until that point and simply asked him if he had been avoiding the un-glamorous stuff. And he had to admit that that was exactly what was happening.

So I explained to him that just like on a river trip we have some unglamorous and quite frankly disgusting jobs that need to be done or else we don’t get to go on the trip. And there are activities in our businesses that are not as fun and exciting as others, but they still have to be done.

Keep in mind it doesn’t always have to be us doing those less glamorous jobs, but somebody needs to do it. And to be sure, if it is not us we still need to properly delegate and follow up. And it doesn’t just apply to business, but every important activity where we are looking for a specific outcome and requires some “less glamorous” effort.

So the next time you find yourself avoiding activities or parts of a project because they aren’t as interesting or glamorous, but you know they need to get done, remember this phrase, “Somebody has to do this, or we don’t go.” And I bet in most cases what you are dealing with won’t be as unglamorous as dealing with everyone else’s human waste anyway.

Avoiding the less attractive work means it may end up blowing up the whole project or anticipated experience. Or maybe even causing the failure of your new business venture.

So instead of focusing on the unpleasant task and avoiding it completely, resolve to just get it done and look forward to all the fun, excitement, and glamour that represents the entire experience or business development.

By the way, my client emailed just two days later telling me he had just made $5000.00 and his immediate cash flow issue was resolved. Not a bad result for choosing what needed to get done even though it was not so glamorous.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Near Disaster in Disaster Falls

Most people do not realize that Major Powell and his crew started their first exploration of Grand Canyon way up in Wyoming on the Green River, which is a major tributary of the Colorado River.

An excellent section of the Green River that Major Powell explored on his way to Grand Canyon is a section called Ladore Canyon. Ladore is a beautiful canyon of deep red rock walls and a couple of challenging rapids.

One of those rapids is called Disaster Falls. The rapid received its name because the Powell Expedition lost a boat in that rapid. Another little known fact is that the Powell Expedition lined most of the rapids throughout their trip as well. Lining a rapid means they take lots of rope and lots of muscle power to lower the boats down the side of a rapid with ropes to avoid having the navigate the rapid by oar power only. Lining is a very difficult and time-consuming way to go, but a lower risk way to go in Major Powell’s day as well.

Since lining a rapid is considered a last option in modern rafting times, an important skill in rafting when the water level is extremely low is the ability to keep your oars from jamming in rocks while negotiating the rapid. Sometimes the water may only be inches deep at the top (beginning) of a rapid.

In a shallow rapid, if your boat is sideways in the current, which is very common and necessary, you have to be very careful about the oar that is on the downstream side of the boat. If you take a stroke that is too deep, your oar can jam in the rocks below and break. Or worse, it can get pushed up right into the face of the one rowing. I met someone early in my rafting days that was missing his two front teeth because he jammed an oar and the handle end launched right into his mouth.

So back to Disaster Falls on the Green River. The most difficult thing about Disaster Falls in my opinion is all the current constricts down into a smaller channel and heads right for a huge rock which blocks the middle of that channel. And the biggest concern about that kind of situation, even bigger than jamming an oar, is that it’s easy to wrap the boat.

Wrapping a boat is worse that flipping the boat upside down because it can be virtually impossible to free a boat that wraps on a mid-stream rock. Personally, I’d rather flip than wrap. A wrap usually occurs when the boat hits the rock sideways and the current upstream of the boat flows inside the boat and pulls it down and then around the rock and then the current pins the boat against the rock.

To compound matters in Disaster Falls, there are two sections called Upper and Lower Disaster Falls. Upper Disaster Falls has the big boulder that can be difficult to avoid. Lower Disaster is not as challenging but still requires good navigation skills.

In a low water run through Disaster Falls I made the mistake of digging my downstream oar in too deep as I entered the rapid. I remember very well being so focused on that big rock and avoiding it that I took my attention off the fact that the water was getting very shallow.

I remember just as I was digging in deep to make my move to avoid the big rock I realized too late that I had just made a huge mistake. The oar jammed and snapped just above the blade. Now I only had my right hand (upstream) oar remaining to maneuver the boat and I’m heading sideways towards that big midstream rock. Anyone who has rowed a boat knows that one oar makes navigation almost useless. I was now at the mercy of the rapid.

Knowing the difficulty that a wrap could bring I quickly decided that giving up and waiting for the inevitable would not be good. I decided I needed to do everything I could think of to avoid a wrap.

With my one oar I turned the boat with the front headed towards the rock instead of being sideways when we hit it. Once we hit the rock I pulled as hard as I could with my one good oar and we were able to pivot around the rock instead of wrapping around it.

Had I given up when the oar jammed and broke assuming the situation was hopeless, Upper Disaster Falls could have turned out to be much, much worse than it did.

In life, we sometimes feel like there is no hope and that we should just give up. But if we choose to keep on trying while we still have an opportunity to do something, we may find a more favorable result. I didn’t know if hitting the rock front end first and trying to pivot would work. But I learned early in my rafting experience that if I kept working the oars even when it wasn’t looking good that many times I was able to get just enough movement to avoid a bad situation in the rapid.

Winston Churchill is famous for one of his last speeches repeating the phase, “Never give up.” I believe he was expressing the same thought I learned rafting Disaster Falls that as long as there is something you can try then don’t stop trying and don’t give up.

Winston Churchill learned to never give up in a world war. Fortunately I was able to learn it in a rapid. In both cases, disaster (excuse the pun) was avoided because the choice was made to never give up.

© DTE Consulting 2012 “Helping you to Do The Extraordinary!”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Breathe When There's Daylight

Whenever we go rafting and have completed the rigging of the boats and everyone is ready to go, we take the time to go over the safety lecture. There are many safety measures that are important to remember. So repetition is a good thing. In the stress of an emergency moment it may be difficult to remember what to do. 

One of the safety measures discussed has to do with the unforeseen moment when you find yourself outside the raft in a rapid. That event usually happens when you get knocked out of the boat by a large wave, or if the boat flips from a large wave or “hole.”

In the safety lecture we talk about making sure you orient your feet downstream to be able to push off of rocks and other obstacles you may encounter. We also recommend just holding on to your lifejacket and relaxing whenever possible and not try to swim as the current is typically very strong in a rapid and not worth expending any energy unnecessarily trying to fight the current.

What most people do not realize until it happens to them is when you are swimming a rapid you do not bob up and over the top of each wave. What really happens is you get pulled through the middle of the wave. So the experience is more like getting hit in the face with waves over and over again, one right after another.

That can be alarming and make it very difficult to breathe if you panic. So in the safety lecture we continually stress that if you find yourself outside of the boat in a rapid to 1) orient your feet downstream, 2) hold onto your life jacket, and 3) breathe when you see daylight. Then we remind everyone that help is on the way from the rafts that are running the rapid together. That’s why one of the most important safety rules is to raft together in a group. Always travel with at least two boats.

In the safety lecture the very best thing we can do is to keep it simple. If you can just remember “breathe when there is daylight” then you can settle down and start breathing in a sequence that actually makes it quite easy to have plenty of air in most rapids.

In life we can often feel like the waves of adversity are coming at us at such a pace that we feel we have no time to do anything to remedy the situation. Even though our point of view makes it appear that it’s just wave after wave with no time to breathe, in most cases there really is space in-between waves of adversity where we can take the opportunity to evaluate the situation (breathe) before the next wave.

In many cases, if you are able to calm down, take a few minutes or hours to evaluate what’s really happening, you’ll find you can survive the situation, and more importantly, find that help is really not far away at all. And be sure that you don’t try and go it alone.

(c) DTE Consulting 2012 "Helping You Do The Extraordinary!"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Know Your Limitations

I started river rafting when I was 14 years old. I had the opportunity to join my dad on a Sierra Club trip he was leading in Grand Canyon with a commercial river company named Wilderness World. It was the first year the Sierra Club had changed their river trip policy to not use commercial companies that used motors. Wilderness World used oar power, no motors.

A few days into the trip, to my alarm my dad was talking to the guides about getting his own equipment. The ability to row a boat through the rapids in Grand Canyon seemed so technical and difficult to me that I thought my dad was crazy.

By the next spring, we had two boats and my dad, my brother Greg, and I were heading up into the Sierra Nevada mountains to run the Stanislaus River. We took one boat and met one of the managers of the river company ARTA near Angel’s Camp, CA to borrow some equipment we didn’t have yet.

Check out the following link for some nice black and white photography of the Stanislaus River:

My dad was teaching my brother how to row and pretty much my dad was learning himself as well. We had a book about whitewater rafting by an author named McGinnis that we used to help us figure it all out in theory. I was a passenger for each trip we did.

My dad was able to obtain a permit to run the Rouge River in Oregon for a summer launch date. I thought they weren’t even close to ready to take on a 5 day trip on the Rouge, so I stayed home and worked.

They came back with stories of a great trip, except for some trouble in a pretty technical rapid called Blossom Bar. More on Blossom Bar in later articles.

The next season, we spent a cold Spring Break on the Stanislaus improving our skills. My dad didn’t think I would be up to rowing yet, so he had a friend of my brother’s along to learn as well.

By the time we started our Spring Break week of rafting, I had spent a lot of time studying the McGinnis book and thinking about how it all worked. Since we now had three boats, I took a few turns at being one of the guides. One thing about the Stanislaus is it was considered an intermediate river, but a somewhat forgiving river also. It was an excellent training ground, but sadly, has been underwater since the mid 70’s due to the completion of New Melones Res.

In the off-season, prior to our Spring Break “boot camp” trip, I realized that I was just not very strong and if I were to row I would need to figure out a different way than to “muscle” my way down the river. I was a pretty scrawny kid at 16 years old.

I decided I was going to figure out how I could use the river as a partner, and not the adversary. Once I decided it was a partnership, I realized I could row. It became a game of finesse and not about how strong I was. I recognized my limitations and figured out ways to use the river to my advantage.

It the years since it has been interesting to watch other guides trying to let their strength be their #1 advantage. My observation has been that the bigger the river, the bigger the problem that kind of thinking becomes.

Besides, why make the river your adversary when it can be your friend? Just look for the routes the river gives you and the way the force of the river can move you where you want to go instead of fighting against such a power.

In our everyday lives we can adopt that same attitude. Why not figure out ways to use the challenges, obstacles, and opportunities in cooperative ways whenever possible.

In today’s US economy and with the struggles it presents, we have a choice to fight against it or learn how to use the economic realities of the current situation to our advantage. Do you just drift along and do nothing while your employer moves closer and closer to your layoff or being out-sourced? Do you just complain and fight the current tax laws or figure out through study or other experts how to take full advantage of those very rules?

Take an honest assessment of your current situation and identify what you don’t like. Then, look at how you can use the available resources and rules to your advantage. If you focus your attention on “it’s not fair” thinking, you’ll be stuck. Any honest reflection of life will tell you that in many instances, life is not fair. It’s what you choose to do next that makes all the difference.

If I say, “It’s not fair that rock is right in the middle of the channel!” that won’t make the rock move no matter how unfair I think it is. I just need to focus on how I can use the power of the river to get me by that obstacle and moving safely down the river again.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve moved way beyond the Industrial Age and into the Information Age and our school systems have been struggling to keep up. So we go through our years of schooling to learn how to be good employees in industrial age businesses, and many of those jobs have moved on to other parts of the world. It’s like running out on the field to play soccer, only to find out it’s full contact football. Only those that figured out it’s football rules are the ones not getting hurt. You can complain about the unfairness of the situation all day long, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re in a football game now, not in a soccer game.

Another way to say it is, “You joined this river trip and there’s only one way to go and that is downstream. Every other alternative is even harder and more dangerous.” So instead of “checking out” and just complaining, learn what is coming downstream and what you can to do now to be prepared for what lies ahead.

We can do this and still maintain our optimism, and more importantly, our integrity. There are a lot of cheaters out there, but we don’t have to join them. But we would be well served to know what game we are playing, who isn’t playing by the rules, and just what the rules are.

The game and the rules are best left for another blog. Stayed tuned.

© DTE Consulting 2012 “Helping You To Do The Extraordinary!”