First Descents Day 1

Currently, I am on a retreat with other cancer patients in Merlin, OR.  The trip is put on through a group called First Descents and helps cancer patients get out and live life post cancer treatment.  Truly LIVE life… in a way I think I took for granted before my diagnosis last December 2016.  They help learn a new skill and push yourself to a limit that you maybe, otherwise wouldn’t have even tried.

I arrived yesterday around 4 pm at a lodge deep in the woods, next to the Rogue River. When I arrived, I was greeted at the door by Cocoa and kinda shown the ropes and where stuff was.  Shortly after, we were fitted in wetsuits, helmets, “skirts”, kayaks, etc… to prepare for the following day and each given nicknames… mine is Starfire… naturally.   Next we were asked to pair up with a roommate and choose a cabin.   My awesome roommate, Mama Beast, chose a cabin right next to the river for us.  Absolutely breathtaking.  Shortly after we had dinner and were explained what would happen today… we were all tired from traveling so we were set free early to go to bed.

This morning, I woke to the sound of the river and fresh air on my skin.  It was amazing.  I began getting ready and headed up to the lodge where breakfast was being prepared by the amazing staff and cold breakfast items were already prepped. We had breakfast and then took a short walk to the river around 9:15, careful not to look at the sun… because today also happened to be the day of the Eclipse.  Once we reached the river, we started learning about what we would be doing on the river today.

I think my favorite part of the day was the eclipse.  There is something magical about preparing to do a new extreme sport in nature with people who have struggled through similar struggles… and during an eclipse to boot! Conveniently, someone was playing Pink Floyd during as well… and anyone who knows my music choice, knows… I was right in my zone.  Unfortunately, most of us didn’t bring eclipse glasses… the few who did though, were glad to share and their glasses got passed around amongst our group.  I think we had 4 pairs of glasses and 1 welding shade between 24 of us… and I am pretty sure every single one of us got to experience the eclipse!

After the eclipse finished, it was time to start getting comfortable with the kayaks and our “water legs” if you will.  We were told to get into our kayaks and we learned how to put our skirts onto our kayaks.  If you have never kayaked, a skirt is a neoprene waist band that covers your entire torso and goes over the lip of the kayak.  It is very difficult to get on but… keeps water out of your kayak so, it is very much worth it.

I need to add that prior to today, I had only ever canoed… and only once… and I barely got to paddle… and we never went over… because, that is what you avoid, right?  You don’t wanna go over!  Well, when you learn to kayak, the first thing you do is go over!  We were brought out individually, into the water and shown what it would be like when your boat flipped and that if you can hold your breath and wait a moment, if you are kayaking with an instructor, they may be able to flip you back over.  Apparently, some people can actually flip themselves back over… I really don’t think I could but, I will add that to my goal list.  Anyway… of subject… after we learned to flip back over in our kayaks, it was time to learn to escape the kayak once it flipped…. which we all excelled at.  We did it twice each, once with and once without the skirt attached.

Next we learned to row our kayaks.  We were split off into groups, my group was lead by Gnomeo and there was 4 of us.  We learned to row in the Slow Eddie and the Fast Eddie(probably spelled those wrong)… slow Eddie is a calm patch of water.  Fast Eddie is the current.  We learned to row with and against current, we learned to turn our kayaks and to follow the leader.  Finally, we got to float a short ways down the river while holding onto one another’s boats before it was time to give up for the day.

We came back to the lodge and had appetizers and some free time to clean up and chat before dinner. Finally we had dinner and dessert followed by our “fire pit”, which due to fire hazards in Oregon, was created from pool noodles, solar lights and a hula hoop.  It was adorable!  Our fire pit time was amazing, we got to chat about what brought us here to first descents and about our struggles with diagnosis, etc.  It was a great time to connect with our new friends. That concludes Day 1.

So, I told you guys the logistics of our day… but, I want you to know it was amazing!  It is amazing to meet other people who struggle with similar situations and to watch one another beat something they have never accomplished before.  I can’t tell you the joy to watch a friend who you can sympathize with, do something that so rewarding.  To know what they accomplished… and to accomplish it yourself as well.

Also, the chef’s and staff from both First Descents and Sundance Kayak School are amazing, they have gone above and beyond to ensure that we are safe both on the water and here at the lodge.  They are never impatient and always willing to answer questions… and the food is great!  Also, you might notice this post is without photos, we even have an awesome photographer who follows us in his own kayak.

Anyway, I am safe and sound in Oregon having the time of my life.  Tomorrow morning we hit the river for a “real” kayaking trip(not just learning) and I can’t wait to tell you all more!