A Little Slice of Heaven: 20 Life Lessons I Learned on the Rogue River

If pictures speak 1,000 words, I'll let the first one in this post express the total calm and beauty I experienced on my river trip last week. I loved every unplugged second of it. Great food & guides (thank you Echo!), great people, great yoga, and endless little moments of laughter, connection and perfect weather. But the best part of all was letting myself roam completely free for an entire week. No to-dos, no make-up, no emails, no gadgets, no worries. It was truly a vacation for the soul.

Rogue River - Southern Oregon

Which brings me to this blog post. You know how much I love metaphors as life lessons (some favorites: domesticating jaguars, lifting the oars, panicking during a triathlon & living a sandboxed life); I couldn't help but gather 20 gems from my week-long river rafting trip (with my friend Julie's help during our drive home). I've only just scratched the surface - I'm sure there are dozens (if not hundreds) of other little life lessons that could be gleaned from the experience, so feel free to add others you can think of in the comments!

20 Life Lessons I Learned on the Rogue River

  1. Contrast makes the world go 'round. The crazy, hectic lives we lead back home made relaxing on the river incredibly fulfilling. Also: squatting to pee and finding a dying bee in my mop of river-dreadlocked hair gave me an entirely new appreciation for toilets and warm showers. And this, my friends, is why contrast makes the world go 'round. Highs and lows, happiness and sadness, the comforts of city life versus life stripped to the essentials are what keep things exciting.
  2. It's a lot harder to paddle back upstream than it is to just keep moving forward. No matter how much you may want a do-over for the rapids in your life, you've got to just keep moving. What's done is done. Find your place back in the current and let the river take you forward. And if you are going to paddle upstream, make sure it's for a good reason (like helping a friend), because it's a helluva lot of work.
  3. Sometimes you have to cut your baggage loose to get unstuck. On Day 3 one of the boats got caught in an "aggrivated perch" on a challenging Class 4 rapid where the force of the water held the boat locked against a giant rock. The only way for the two guides in the boat to set it free was to literally start cutting bags loose since they were anchoring the boat in the wrong direction. Finally, after freeing a few big bags and the coffee maker, the guides were able to wrest the boat free from the rocks. What baggage do YOU need to cut loose in order to keep moving?
  4. Sometimes you stand up with a stick in your ass. Literally. Have a good laugh and carry on with your day. This is probably TMI, but after peeing in the woods one day, I stood up and realized there was a stick caught between my cheeks. Stop laughing...it happens, okay?!?! I had a good hearty laugh and realized it was oh-so-metaphoric for all those days we wake up on the wrong side of bed. You might not have put the stick there, but you do have the power to take it out.
  5. There's no point in suffering from heat-stroke on a hot day if you have an entire river below you. JUMP IN! Sometimes I think we let ourselves get so hot, sweaty and miserable in our lives that we forget the answer to our problems can be right beneath our feet. For a day on the river, there's nothing a jump into refreshingly cold water can't fix. For a day off the river, look for those obvious opportunities to let loose or feel better. They are everywhere if you just open your eyes and look around.
  6. Sometimes the unexpected swim (after falling out of a kayak while going through a rapid) is even better than the ride you planned. Live for the unexpected adventures in your life. Let your mistakes be a part of the fun. Sometimes they are the best part.
  7. In moments of panic, don't jump ship right before a big rock. One of the kids on our trip was planning to go through a rapid on the inner tube. Right as he approached a big rock (that the tube would've bounced off of), his eyes got wide and he panicked. Instead of gripping the tube and hoping for the best, he jumped out and was left to fend for himself as a swimmer through the rocks. Our big goals almost always require confronting big rocks - hold on tight and have faith that things will work out.
  8. Stake out the big rapids in life and plan your course before going through. For the biggest rapids on the trip we parked the boats, hiked up to see what was going on, and went over how the guides would paddle through. A little planning went a long way toward reducing uncertainty and making sure everyone felt comfortable.
  9. On the other hand, sometimes the more you think and plan, the harder something becomes. If you hesitate for too long at the top of a cliff jump (or natural water slide), you'll scare yourself out of it. Just go!
  10. People are fascinating if you get curious. Take the time to get to know people. Ask what they do for fun, what lights them up, what the best part of their day was. People are so much more interesting than the answer to the routine "so, what do you do?" question -- stretch yourself and make the effort to really get to know people. It's worth it.
  11. Itching mosquito bites only makes them worse. As tempting as it may sometimes be, don't engage or encourage unwanted things or people in your life. Let them be.
  12. It's okay to let go sometimes and let someone else do the work. For a good majority of the trip, I sat high up on one of the oar boats in a spot that we dubbed "the princess perch." It was piled high with bags, and I used the inner tube as a pillow. For once, I didn't care that I wasn't the one paddling - I was perfectly happy to relax and let someone else take charge. Mission Relax & Slow Down = SUCCESS!
  13. If you always sleep in the comfort of your tent, you'll miss the stars. I slept outside on the last night under the glow of moonlight with zillions of stars poking through the leaves of the trees, and it was absolutely gorgeous. Sure, I got a few DOZEN mosquito bites, but it was well worth it.
  14. Friends are like life jackets. Sometimes you don't realize how important they are until you fall into the water and they're there to keep you afloat. So be good to your friends even when you don't NEED them. Especially when you don't need them.
  15. Keep your tent zipped if you want to keep the bugs out. Don't get sloppy about who and what you let into your life. Better to keep your tent zipped than to sleep with ants and mosquitoes at night. That said, also be open to letting new people and experiences into your proverbial tent.
  16. Being unplugged - truly, 100% gadget-free unplugged - is like giving your brain a clear, calm beautiful day on the river. Emails and commitments are like little pebbles that pile up in your brain. Obsess over them and they become big rocks that cause big rapids. Make sure you give yourself frequent breaks from the pebbles of your life.
  17. Get the right people on your boat (or your river trip). Whether you're spending a day or a week (or more) with people, the ride will be much more enjoyable (and your paddle crew more effective) if you pick the right people up front. Our trip was awesome, largely because of the people and river guides who were on it with us.
  18. You can do all the planning in the world and you'll still forget to pack your river pants. I had a packing list. I had a checklist. I started packing a week in advance. I laid all my clothes out before neatly packing them in my duffel bag. And guess what? I still somehow managed to leave one of the most important items of the trip at home. Sigh. Thankfully, my friend Julie forgave my stupid error and let me borrow her extra pair of pants.
  19. Getting there is half the fun. The road-trip up to Oregon took about nine hours each way, and my friend Julie and I laughed, vented, shared and played little games (like taking turns listing proudest life moments) through redwood forests, small towns and big curving mountain roads. It was incredible, and I'm so glad we left ourselves extra days to enjoy the ride there and back.
  20. Life on the river is not about what you do, how you look or where you live. It is about who you are, how much fun you're having, and the connections you make with nature, with yourself, and with the people you are surrounded by.

Special thanks to Susan Fox, an incredible life coach and yoga teacher, who organized the trip and led two daily yoga sessions with the group. There is something magical about doing tree pose while staring at a river bank lined with lush green trees, moving into triangle and looking up to see a bald eagle soaring across the blue sky, flipping into waterfall pose (a backbend) with the sound of rushing water in the background, then later ending with savasana (corpse pose) by relaxing onto the hot rocks warmed by sunlight as we finished our practice. The yoga (and entire trip) was truly a little slice of heaven.

Namaste. :)

River Rafting - Group Photo


P.S. Hat tip to Grace Boyle for recommending the AWESOME book I started reading on the trip. Shantaram is a 900+ page door-stopper novel/memoir about a recovered heroin-addict who escaped over the front wall of an Australian prison (after being committed for armed robbery) who then fled to Bombay where he set-up a free medical clinic in the slums and started working for the Indian mafia. Crazy, right?! Grace also sent me an overview video from the author, Gregory David Roberts, a fascinating man whose book is a total page-turner must-read about life, love, regret and redemption.

P.P.S. Two great (free!) e-books came out while I was gone - check 'em out: