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!”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Just Like The Chinese Dog Leg

I learned to be a river guide on the Stanislaus River that flows west out of the Sierra Nevada Range in California. The section we would run has been under water since the late 70’s unfortunately. It was an excellent section to raft as it was considered an intermediate river with forgiving rapids. Meaning mistakes would rarely damage equipment and generally not present life-threatening situations.

One of my favorite rapids was called The Chinese Dog Leg. In the middle of this rapid the river became boulder choked and divert the water to the left. So the run would start on the right hand side of the river and then you would work your way back to the left at a 90 degree angle to the river channel. Once you were past the boulders, you had to make a hard pull back to the right towards the center of the river or you would run into the left hand bank of the river.

If you can picture a Letter “S” laid out in front of you and you approach it from the bottom of the “S” and work your way to the top. That’s the direction this rapid would take.

As you worked your way from right to left, it was important to bring the right side oar into the boat because the chute was so narrow or the oar could hit the rocks that were on each side of the channel. Hitting the rocks could really mess up the run, let alone risk breaking an oar.

A few years later we were rafting the Klamath River in northern California. None of us had run the river before and we had a basic idea about what to expect. My dad and I were rowing, as well as a friend of my dad’s named Lynn who had never run the Stanislaus, but had some experience on a few other rivers.

On the last day of the trip my dad was in the lead, I was in the second boat, and Lynn was third. I was holding back my distance a bit from my dad because Lynn was a ways behind me. As I came around a sharp corner I came on a rapid that was full of rocks and I couldn’t see my dad anywhere. There was no time to stop and scout or do anything but search for the right channel to run.

My first thought was that there was nowhere to go. Then it occurred to me that this rapid looked very much like the Chinese Dog Leg that I had run so many times before on the Stanislaus.

So I set up the same way and ran it in similar fashion and had a nice run. By the time I was coming through the end of the rapid I noticed my dad had pulled over and tied up so I did the same. I tied my boat up as quickly as I could and ran up the river bank as fast as I could to give some hand signal directions to Lynn.

As he was approaching the rapid I could see him looking right at me, but he didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to tell him. I found out later from Lynn that it was because about 8 other passengers on the trip followed me and started waving and yelling as well. He couldn’t tell I was even there until it was too late. (That’s another lesson for a later blog.)

Lynn did not have a good run through that rapid. He never experienced anything like Chinese Dog Leg before and ended up crashing the boat into the boulders that blocked the middle of the river and tipping the boat way up on its side. Fortunately the boat didn’t flip, but everyone was thrown out of the boat and we all had to act quickly to launch a rescue of people and the equipment.

The name of the rapid is Little Blossom. Named after a technical, boulder choked rapid on the Rouge River named Blossom Bar. I have multiple lessons learned from Blossom Bar as well. But we’ll save the Blossom Bar lessons for a later post as well.

Check out the following link for some nice photos of Little Blossom:

There are a number of lessons we can learn from this experience. Perhaps you can think of a few of your own. The main lesson I want to share from Little Blossom is that sometimes we want to shelter others from learning by experience, though at times they can be difficult to face. It’s not that we should want to put someone in harm’s way, but we should allow people to try. And that should include the opportunity to fail.

I think we send the wrong message when every participant in youth sports gets a trophy. In life there really are winners and losers. There really are people who break the rules and cheat and still win the game. There are many, many times when there is not one right answer. Life is filled with “multiple guess” experiences and we just have to make our choices based our best information and get on with it.

Can you imagine if you went to sign up for a sports team and the coach told you that the team will only play the games that have a guarantee of a win or the team will refuse to play? What’s the point?! There really is very little room for improvement or challenge with that kind of attitude.

If we shelter others from challenging experiences, they may never get a chance to run a “Chinese Dog Leg” a few times where the consequences are not as serious. But the lessons from the experience and the mistakes made could be excellent in helping them prepare for the times when the stakes are a lot higher.

I like the acronym that is used for “fear.” I’m not referring to the more common “false evidence appearing real,” although that is a great one. I’m talking about “fail early and responsibly.”

So make the decision to allow yourself and others to take some risks and have the opportunity to learn and maybe even fail. It’ll probably pay off in more critical situations later in life.

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

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pushing To Lava

In July 2010 I was lucky enough to have another chance to raft the Grand Canyon and row for my sister-in-law’s trip. The year before in 2009 I finally had my launch date after a 16 year wait. (The private permit system has since changed to a lottery which means you’ll probably have better odds in Las Vegas. That subject is worthy of it’s own rant/blog/whine, but not now).

This trip was one where the entire group of 18 was family. One of the things we would do every evening is have a little devotional to add a spiritual feel to each day. We each took turns sharing a thought at some point during the trip. My opportunity was on the last evening of our trip, just before taking out at Pearce Ferry, just a few miles upstream from Lake Mead.

I started my devotional message by asking everyone if they happen to notice that from the very beginning of the trip I would rarely row backwards in the flat water sections, mostly using a push stroke instead. Most said they did notice but didn’t know why I would do that.

Anyone who has ever rowed a boat generally learns pretty quickly that the strongest and least strenuous stroke is to pull backwards with straight arms and use leg muscle more than arm muscle.

So why would I spend most of my time pushing? I had two reasons. The first reason was I could see the canyon in front of me, so I didn’t miss out on the spectacular views, and I have always preferred to see where I am going.

But the second reason is really the most important. I was “pushing to Lava.” Lava Falls is the meanest, and one of the most difficult rapids in Grand Canyon. From the day we launched at Lee’s Ferry I had Lava on my mind.

Back in the early days of recreational river running, a man named Nate Galloway came up with the idea of turning his boat around when negotiating rapids. Until then, conventional wisdom was to row backwards, always. Nate decided to turn around. Today it’s unusual to see someone intentionally running a rapid backwards from beginning to end.

Since you are typically facing forward when negotiating the rapid, your backwards “power stroke” is not available to you as you hit large waves. Lava Falls is a series of waves, really big waves, one right after another.

A good boatman/woman knows that in order to maintain momentum through waves, especially big waves is to keep your oars in the water and push as hard as you can through each wave. If you stall out in a wave, the likely result will be to flip the boat as the faster water behind the boat pulls the boat down. I wanted to have as much pushing ability as I possibly could when running Lava.

This same lesson can be applied to everyday life. What are you doing now on a regular basis to be ready for the challenges in the future? Are you strong enough to push through the really big waves of life when they come? They may be waves of opposition and challenge, or they could be waves of opportunity. Luck favors the one who is prepared.

A great business philosopher, Jim Rohn, would say that you can be very sincere and hard working and still end broke and embarrassed. We’ve got to do more than just hope for the best when we reach our “Lava Falls” moments in our lives.

Think about all the challenges and opportunities that could come your way and determine what preparation should be made to take full advantage of the opportunity. Or be fully prepared for the challenge. Better to be prepared and not need the extra preparation than the other way around.

By the way, we all had a great run through Lava and I ended up not needing to push as hard as I anticipated I would need to. And if I ever get the opportunity to run Grand Canyon for a sixth time you can bet that from Lee’s Ferry on down to river mile 180 (Lava Falls) that I’ll be pushing my boat most of the way.

Photo #1) Approx. Mile 243 - Below Separation Canyon, July 2009
Photo #2) First Camp, July 2009
Photo #3) Lava Falls, July 2009
Photo #4) Lava Falls - Right Side Run, August 1982
Photo #5) Upset - Pushing Through the "Wall", August 1982
Photo #6) Hermit - Right Down the Middle, August 1982

© DTE Consulting 2012 “Helping You Do The Extraordinary”