by Mary Mills

Redemption starts with the heads games…and ends with a smile

Three years ago I went to Costa Rica with Endless River Adventures and had a wonderful time….except for the last day on the river.  Everyone has those days where things just don’t line up, when it might have been better to stay in bed.  Well I had just such a day on the Rio Pejibaye.

I think my roll decided to take a vacation back in the States that day and my skills went with it.  I found myself constantly upside down in easy locations and then swimming rather than rolling up.  After swim number five, I was discouraged to say the least. That swim happened on a rapid that is now known by the ERA crew as “Mary’s Rapid.” As you would expect, having a rapid named after you is rarely good.  After swimming the rapid that would become my namesake, I had an epic fit.  I was discouraged, I wanted off.  That was it, my day was over.  I begrudgingly stayed on the river because of threats of a jungle hike and the wrath of Juliet.  She made me get back in the boat, work on rolls and skills and finish off the day on a more positive note.  But a dark could hung over me. What nagged at me was how I ended up swimming five times?  I have a good roll, but once you have missed rolls and seem to have lost the skills that you normally possess, self-doubt creeps in and that of course amplifies your mistakes and makes you paddle stiffly.  That day on the Pejibaye was my last day paddling in Costa Rica that year, and that day became known in my book as “the day that shall not be talked about.” It was a failure in my book.   So this year when I signed up for the Thanksgiving trip, the Rio Pejibaye was on my mind.  I had been lovingly sent a picture of “my rapid” for the last three years to remind me that I had unfinished business in Costa Rica.

Enjoying kayak surfing at the BEach

The trip started out at Jaco Beach with incredible wave surfing. There are few things as fun as surfing huge waves in a kayak: flat spins, lots of rolls, sun, and the beach. What could be better?  We paddled the Savegre the next day with toucans flying overhead. Dinner at the Taco Bar, sunset and sunrise walks on the beach, the whole experience was just perfect.  Next we moved to La Fortuna and our hotel was near the base of Volcano Arenal.  We paddled the Balsa and the Sarapiqui Rivers.  Now my paddling was going better than it had ever been. I was putting in at the challenging upper put ins on both the Savegre and the Balsa and doing great.  The Upper Balsa can be described as the Upper Nantahala at about 1500 cfs; a non-stop roller coaster. I was in awe of the beautiful scenery and feeling quite confident in my abilities after having great runs on the new and challenging rivers and looking forward to a redo on the Pejibaye on Friday.

The Pejibaye

All too soon our last day of paddling arrives and driving to the put-in, I see the emerald green water that the Pejibaye is known.  It is a beautiful run, paddling through a lush, green canopy formed by the trees hanging over the river.  At the put-in, I was again offered the option of putting in at the higher put in.  Needless to say, this was the most nervous I had been all week. This river—while easier then some of the sections I had run earlier this week, was one I had a history with. I had failed so miserably last time I was on it. I knew I was now a better, more experienced paddler, but still it is hard to forget a day like the one I had three years ago; those days get burned into your memory.  But here I was, mentally preparing for my redemption run.  After cleanly running the first rapid, I realized how much my skills had improved in the last three years. This river had scared me to death and now here I was having the time of my life.  The lines were clean and I had no trouble navigating them. Roll practice in the eddies, boofs, super fun surfing, all started turning this day into a memorable one–a positive memorable one.  The doubts and insecurities I had felt were washing away.

All smiles!

A more difficult rapid was coming up with and some people got out to ride around it.  My skills were good enough to run it and for once I wasn’t the one having to get out and portage. I was psyched!  After cleanly running that rapid, I noticed both Juliet and Daniel smiling at me.

“Guess what rapid this next one is, Mary?” Daniel said with a grin. “Mary’s Rapid.”

So the time had come, I had not even flipped to this point and was ready to tackle this mental hurdle I had built for myself.  What I thought would be a terrifying rapid based off memories o the previous failure, was instead a laughing, smile-filled run.  At the bottom of the rapid, I could not help but reflect on just how far I’d come in three years.  All the instruction, practice, and time on the water had really paid off.   “Mary’s Rapid” was fun!

A high five for redemption!

A high five at the end of the rapid was the highlight of my trip.  It helped me realize I had finally become the kayaker I once hoped I could be.  Confident running new rapids, facing challenges head on with smile, comfortable in my rolling, and most importantly not letting previous head game issues interfere with the present.  I am sure that rapid will always be known as Mary’s Rapid to Juliet , Daniel, and me, but now the rapid will always signify overcoming obstacles, trying your best, never giving up, and success.  I am proud to have that rapid named after me.