Dealing with loss

I’ve been debating whether to say anything publicly or not about recent events because of the sensitivity of the subject matter.
As these types of situations go, human nature is to blame something or someone and go on a rampage to bring that thing or that person to justice.
If you are a kayaker, especially a kayaker in the southeast you know that this has been a challenging year on the community.
We have lost 3 amazing members of the community and while I’ve had varying degrees of friendship with all three, it is hard to quantify how large of an impact they left behind.

I first met Maria Noakes at the “Green River Takeover” last year, I caught a shuttle to the top with Maria and some other friends, sitting in the back talking to her was incredible.
She had such a passion and a contagious excitement in her voice, it didn’t matter what subject she discussed everything that we talked about was delivered with a smile and in a graceful manner.
I paddled with her several times last summer and every time I ran into her on the river I was met with her preeminent smile that was impossible to forget.
We grieve for her young men and her husband left behind, and by recanting stories and sharing memories we honor her life and her passions.

Burton and I had trained together for the past 2 years for the Green Race and did many practice laps together.
He was impossible to miss because you always could see his smile tucket somewhere under his glorious beard.
My favorite Burton memory is in 2016 his start time was right before mine and right before he started he looked at me and said, “Make sure not to run me over at Gorilla”.
We both laughed for a second and he exploded from the starting line, my next thought was that I couldn’t match that speed so there wasn’t any worry.
When I dropped into Zwicks I saw Burton out of the corner of my eye to the left, he had gotten blown wide and I went by him without incident.
Dropping into the notch I made several mistakes and flipped in the eddy before the launch pad, one of the times I rolled up Burton came flying through and hit my stern.
At the finish line, we had several laughs over the irony of him warning me to watch out for him and then him catching me and plowing into me in the eddy.
Burton was class, on the river, off the river, it didn’t matter. He made you feel welcome if you were a new boater and I always saw him in the Green with a new face that he was showing down for the first time.

Matthew was always quiet, I met him several times at Sunshine last year and hung out in the parking lot with him and a few others.
He was a young charger and could slice a boat like crazy, he always would back up things he talked about.
If there was a move on the river that he was recommending, it was because he had perfected it and wanted to share it with others.
He struck me as very quiet and humble, linking together impressive moves on the water and act like it was just a normal day.

Now, what is the common theme with these three tragedies?
That is the problem, there is none.
Maria had run the Cheoah hundreds of times, Burton was toward the end of the gorge at Linville winding down a perfect day, and for Matthew, it was just another day on the Green.
While this is hard mentally to swallow, this is the risk that we deal with associated with our sport.
This doesn’t sit well with us because we want to lash out and blame something, whether it’s old equipment, poor paddling companions, or paddling group size.
Now with risk, there is always mitigations, and we should strive for that as much as possible.
But speaking for myself, I have done more risky things than this numerous times.
If I can’t find paddling partners I’ve hiked my shuttle and ran rivers solo back to my car.
I’ve done several remote gorges that were more difficult than Linville, and been running laps on the green for 5 years now.
At any time over the past 7 years one of these incidents could have happened to me, and we don’t like to think about this.

This is a tough pill to swallow and makes us think about our own mortality, we load our gear up and head to the river without a second thought, fully expecting to have a phenomenal day on the river with our friends.
Risk is elemental to this sport and synonymous with the community, we push ourselves and others around us to progress and hone our skills together and as a group.
None of these three were boating above their skill level and had DECADES of combined experience paddling whitewater.
While this is something we don’t think about, everyone on the river is capable of being the victim of a freak situation.
This should not drive us to stop pursuing the things that bring us joy, but these topics need to be addressed from time to time to remind us that each river trip is a gift to be cherished.
So while we have lost 3 incredibly valuable members of the paddling community, we honor them by not pointing fingers.
We honor them by keeping eyes on other paddling groups around us and having as much fun on the river as physically possible.
Share the stoke, be kind to others, and keep paddling!

Comments on “Dealing with loss”

  1. SJ
    May 24, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Thank You for deciding to write ,Well Said my fellow peddler well said .
    I feel your loss on and off the water , your shared memories bring honor to each one as we read your words .
    Talking about loss to tbose who maybe feeling it’s sting is never a bad thing not is there ever a bad time.
    Your perspective is spot on !
    I’m dealing with major loss right now ontop of the death of my mother and the loss of my father and several other family members
    I need to get back in a boat but am feeling trepidacious for so many other reasons than you mentioned ,grief can do that I guess .
    Gear is out ,plans are made now to just muster up and grab that paddle and take that first stroke . . .
    I thank you for opening this up speaking from experience and from the heart .It will be taken to heart on and off the water by all who take the time .

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