Reflections from the Cockpit
"Joy of Learning"

I decided to name this month’s reflection as the "joy of learning" rather than "I messed up again." Let’s face it, most of our learning comes when things do not happen the way we planned. It appears that mistakes and learning go hand in hand. If that is the case, why not make the best of the learning experience and enjoy the ride? It is better than getting frustrated or even worse, not taking a chance out of fear of messing up.

I was reminded of the "learning through mistakes" process on my recent birthday in the middle of June. Those that know me well know I usually plan things out in detail. I also like jumping into things with a "learn as you go" attitude. (It is my Gemini personality at work, planner vs. let’s just go do it.)

As of June 1st Hadley & I are residing about twenty miles north of downtown Seattle. For years we have wanted to explore the Pacific Northwest. Now that we live here we can get to a seemingly unlimited number of paddling locations. One such place that was high on my list was playing in the fast moving waters of Deception Pass. Last September we drove over the bridge and stopped to look at the area for future paddling. I couldn’t wait to get down in the current and paddle.

Back to my birthday. The eve of my b-day before I drifted off to sleep, I thought it would be a very memorable birthday if I did my first Deception Pass paddle when I turned fifty-five. About 9:00 AM my paddling buddy showed up and asked where I wanted to paddle? (I am keeping my friend’s name out of this for reasons you will soon discover.) He thought I was going to pick one of the local lakes. I handed him a print out of the tidal current schedule for that day at Deception Pass. I don’t think he had Deception Pass in his list of options for the day. I said we could start at slack tide if we hurry.

Since my only visit to the area was the previous September, I only knew of the parking lot on the South side of the bridge. We packed up quickly and off we went. My front door is seventy minutes from the parking lot. We unloaded and I told my friend we carry the kayaks down the trail to the water (he had never been there before). The trail is a downhill path about 2 to 3 tenths of a mile to the waters edge. My buddy asked, "is this the easiest way down to the water?" I replied "as far as I know." On the way down we were both dreading the uphill return trip.

As we continued down the slope on my birthday pilgrimage we passed a nice couple on the trail. The woman asked "why we decided to carry the boats from the parking lot up by the bridge rather than driving down to the one by the water?" Without skipping a beat I responded with my quick New York wit and said, "because I am an idiot." The trail we were on ended in a parking lot full of cars and schools buses. We continued to the water where we had a great time playing in the pass. The tidal current was already moving after slack and it picked up speed in a very short time.

As we paddled back to the beach my partner told me he would never let me forget that we carried the boats much longer than necessary (that’s how guys are.) Even though I did feel foolish about the carry I was so full of excitement that I really didn’t want to spend time exploring put-in points. I wanted to get to the water. When the lady told me about the other parking lot I immediately remembered how it was to be a novice again. I realized that I am a novice to my new surroundings. I felt a wonderful sense of excitement combined with a dash of nervousness about the unknown. I thought about the students in my classes and appreciated the feelings they must feel when taking classes.

The last time I read the statistics the average age for the active sea kayaking population is in the late thirties or middle forties. My students are usually professionals out of school for many years. They are very qualified and competent in their careers. Then they show up to take a class and they feel like they are back in kindergarten. It can be very intimidating and embarrassing. I try my best when I teach to make the experience a pleasant one and I hope the other instructors do the same since going back to school is not easy. I encourage all paddlers to look upon the learning experience as a ride in the amusement park. There will be excitement, fear, the unknown and sometimes embarrassment when going through the learning process. That process can happen anytime we try something new. It can occur when we drive to someplace new and we get lost. I often feel it when I get a set of instructions for a computer or a new electronic device. Heck, I haven’t figured out how to set up my voice mail on my new cell phone that I have had for five weeks.

My message is simple. We are always learning. We are forever students in some way or another. Rather than focus on how I messed up, look at it as how much I am learning. Most importantly it is a shame if an opportunity to learn is passed up because one doesn’t want to make a mistake or feel like they are incompetent. The joy should be in the learning.

As for my anonymous paddling buddy who said he would never let me forget about the boat carry. The reason his name is withheld is because of my eventual reply to his playful threat. I told him "there is only one thing dumber than me carrying the kayaks down that trail, the guy on the other end following me." I have not heard about the carry again.


Wayne Horodowich


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