Little River Canoe Trip Photo Credit – Wendy Pitts Reeves
There is no such thing as a straight path – to anywhere you really want to go.
Whether you’re talking about the path to love, the path to self-confidence, the path to success, there will be surprises and lessons at every bend along your way.
In fact, no matter where you want to go or what you want to achieve – your journey there will be messy and unpredictable. It will carry you forward in ways you will never really expect.
Sometimes you’ll spin around in circles, sometimes you’ll get stuck. Sometimes you’ll fly forward and sometimes you’ll just…drift.
Much like floating down a river, don’t you think?
That was just one of the things I thought about during our recent Secret Adventure for Courageous Women.
Last weekend, a small group of Courageous (and trusting) Women joined me for a day of Adventure, with no idea what we’d be doing. They signed up for the August trip, the kickoff to our 4th season, knowing that whatever we did that day, we would learn something interesting, meet some wonderful folks, and have – most likely – a boatload of fun.
And yes, that’s exactly what happened. :)
We took a long, winding canoe trip, paddling just over 7 miles down the Little River. This lovely river has headwaters that start way up high at Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and flows over 60 miles before emptying into what will become the Tennessee River.
The not-so-large and often unassuming Little River is the source of all drinking water for over 100,000 residents in Blount County, Tennessee, and brings untold millions in recreation and tourism dollars to this region of the state.
It’s a beautiful stretch of water.
If you live around here, you’ve followed that river a thousand times, driving beside it as most of us do when visiting Cades Cove for a family picnic or a Sunday drive. You may have even done a little tubing up at the “Wye”, a popular spot where locals cool off on hot summer days.
But moving with the river from its center,
with a paddle in your hand,
is a completely different experience.
This is a gentle river, a perfect place for those who want a day of peace, with just enough excitement for anyone just learning how to paddle a canoe or kayak.
And it has much to teach us.
Our guide for the day was Jon Michael Mollish, the son of River John, who owns a little bit of paradise in the form of an island downstream. Jon Michael grew up on that river. He’s an aquatics biologist for the TVA, so he knows everything there is to know about what lives in, under, on or around most of our southern waterways.
He was a terrific guide, patient with our inexpert paddling, brave during sharp turns and what rapids there were. At times, he stood waist deep in the water and acted like a human bumper shield, pushing us away from trouble and back out to safe water.
He poked around to find young dragon flies (they don’t look anything like their pretty adult selves) and used words like “cartilaginous”. (Say THAT three times fast!) He pointed out historical places and river willow and taught us the most significant source of water pollutant in the world.
(It’s not what you’d think.)
But in addition to the ecological, biological, and economical impact of a healthy river, there were other lessons waiting for us as well.
Here’s a few we took from our day.
Life Lessons from the Little River
1. You don’t really have to know exactly where you’re going, to get there.
Just keep moving forward. No matter how winding and wandering your path, you will eventually reach your goal, even when you’re not entirely sure what it looks like.
2. Teamwork takes practice.
Sometimes you’ll be a better fit at the front of the boat, driving the engine, making things go. Sometimes you’ll be a better fit for the back of the boat, charting the course, steering the craft. You won’t know that, though, unless you try both roles, and are patient with your partners – and yourself – while you figure that out.
3. Trying something new is good for you.
If you’re willing to step outside the safe routine of your daily life and try something new, you’ll be proud of yourself for trying it, no matter what you do or how well it goes.
4. Laughter makes everything easier.
If you’re willing to make mistakes with gusto, and hold on to your sense of humor, you’ll enjoy the trip (that is, your life) a lot more. :)
5. Hiring the right help makes all the difference.
Having the right guide on any journey makes a huge difference in the quality of your experience, the speed at which you learn, and the ease with which you arrive. That applies to everything from learning how to float a river to learning a new language to building a business.
6. You can always turn a negative into a positive.
If you’re creative, everything is a lesson, and even mistakes become a work of art.
One boat perfected their signature move, The Twirl, as they twirled their way through every rapid we crossed ;-) How often do you feel like you’re just spinning in circles, going nowhere? Just go with it, and you’ll straighten right back up again soon enough. Eventually, you’ll find that you’ve actually made progress – though you couldn’t tell at the time.
Another Courageous pair got better and better at getting stuck on rocks – and getting off them again. Doesn’t that happen to all of us? We get stuck on those same rocks all the time. We get overwhelmed and shut down. Or we run into a problem we (think we) can’t solve.
The key is to avoid the rocks when you can, of course. But when you can’t, just figure out what you need to help you get unstuck, and be on your way.
One pair zigzagged from one bank to the other, like a drunk driver weaving down the river. That’s what happened when my paddling partner graciously offered me a chance to be in the back of the canoe. (I do so much better in a kayak!) Thank heavens she had a sense of humor!
Sometimes owning a business feels a little like that, as we careen from one idea to the next, one opportunity to the next. But with time, and practice, we will eventually get the hang of it, settling down into a path that flows forward with ease.
And if I can just get back into a canoe soon and get a little more practice under my belt, I might just get there myself! So I’m thinking of repeating this experience in early October. Let me know if you’d like to come. We might even throw in dinner and a campfire on the island next time.
In the meantime, be patient with yourself. You’re doing better than you think you are, and the river – that is time, circumstance and experience – is carrying you towards your goals too, in it’s own winding, messy way. Just keep paddling, and enjoy the journey.
You’ll get there soon enough.