“In big waves it’s easiest to catch a breath in the trough or low point of the wave instead of the top of the wave where it’s breaking” Dave said as we all encircled him brimming with excitement ready to start the whitewater part of our Cataract Canyon trip.

I was listening to the safety talk about what to do if we fell in the rapids, but my mind was also preoccupied wondering – will I really remember any of this if I find myself in this unfortunate situation? It’s the same thing I think with bear safety talks; I’m unsure how I will react if I encounter a bear on the trail even though I know what I’m supposed to do. Will I remember all of these breathing techniques, swimming techniques and hand signals Dave is talking about? I don’t know, but I’m trying to commit them to memory the best I can.

I wasn’t necessarily worried about the whitewater rafting, the OARS guides are so talented (yet anything can happen in rapids). What I was worried about is when I was planning on kayaking through the rapids by myself.

colorado river kayaking

Kayaking is an option offered by OARS on their Cataract Canyon trip and I knew that I wanted to try it. However, one problem, I was scared. I was teetering on that precipice of fear and excitement.

Fear – the F Word

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

I recently heard this on a show I was watching and I had to quickly write it down. It’s so true. So often we let fear win and wonder why we aren’t living the life we want, in the job we desire, lost the weight we wanted to, or in the part of the world we want to live in.

Why aren’t we living the life we want? Fear.

You must learn how to tackle fear else you’ll spend your life looking over at the other side of fear and be envious of the people there.

push through fear

One of the frequent questions people (normally other women) ask me about is how I overcome fear. I never quite know how to answer them. But I do know that something deep inside drives me simply because I want what’s on the other side so badly; confidence, self-esteem, newness, and even feeling younger.

Living in Discomfort and Pushing Through Fear

I know – getting to that other side isn’t easy – it’s uncomfortable to try to break through fear. However, discomfort helps you grow.

cataract canyon camping

Keep in mind, we’ve been pushing through fear our whole lives – getting on the bus and going to kindergarten, learning how to drive, moving to college, interviewing your high school heart throb Andrew McCarthy as an adult – but as we get older we get more afraid because we think we have more to lose. But do we really?

What Kids Can Teach You About Fear

I love speaking at schools to kids about international travel. Mainly because it’s refreshing to see their eagerness to try things. After a number of these school presentations, I’m convinced that we grow into fear; we lose the excitement, intrigue and curiosity as we start to coast in our midlife. I get it – coasting is easier.

Doing these presentations always reminds me that adults have to get back into looking at things with the attitude of “I’ll try it”, instead of “I can’t do that!”

Practice Getting Used to Fear

I do a lot of adventure travel, and I am not necessarily a brave person. In fact, when I try new things – like kayaking through rapids, trying slab climbing, or repelling down a waterfall – I’m scared. However, because my mind and body are used to doing things that scare me, I’m normally able to follow through.

Repelling a waterfall blue mountains
He said “Think like a guy – and just dont think.” And with that over the ledge of Empress Falls we went one by one. 80 ft repel with pounding water – I gave myself a pep talk the whole way down. When I landed in the waterfall and looked up from where I came thats when I could breathe in the pure joy.

That’s right – practice is important when it comes to overcoming and pushing through fear. Luckily, my travels have given me a lot of practice over the past 15 years! Just like running a marathon, you have to train and get your body and mind used to running for hours at a time. It’s the same thing with fear.

Grand Canyon in an Inflatable Kayak

Last year I practiced overcoming my kayaking through whitewater fear on my Grand Canyon rafting trip . It prepared me for another fear hurdle in the Cataract Canyon.

I often think about how I will feel if I don’t do something. Will I be mad at myself? Will I feel like I gave up? Will I wish I would’ve done it?

This is how I got my niece to bungee jump in New Zealand. When I asked her how she’d feel when she got home and everyone asked her if she bungee jumped and she had to answer ‘no’. That was what made her decide to tackle her fear and say yes to the iconic New Zealand plunge.

tandem bungee jump new zealand taupo

This is also how I was able to go through rapid 217 in the Grand Canyon in a Duckie last year.

What is a Duckie?

Duckies are inflatable sit-on-top kayaks that fall somewhere between a raft and a traditional kayak in terms of maneuverability. This makes them sort of like a small individual whitewater raft. Unlike a whitewater kayak – you can’t really roll a duckie. If the duckie tips, you will fall out and be swimming.

inflatable kayak duckie
A duckie is an inflatable kayak

I had been kayaking in a duckie through some of the easy Grand Canyon rapids at the end of our trip and was loving it – however rapid 217 was going to be much harder and I was unsure if I could do it. I was scared – really scared. The rapid was a difficulty of 7 and had a 16 foot drop. However, there was an easier way through it if you just stayed to the left of the rapid and hugged the shoreline.

Yet I knew deep down I would be mad at myself for retreating to the easier side of the rapid and skirting the hard part. Suddenly (after a few curse words) I found myself following the other kayak down the tongue of the rapid. Armed with the knowledge that I just had to keep the kayak perpendicular to the giant waves…I went into the chaos and heart of the rapid.

Success is the Recipe for Confidence

Once you accomplish the thing you are fearful of, your confidence grows, and you use the new confidence to push through the next thing. It’s like taking baby steps – taking on challenges and pushing yourself gets easier every time.

But if you don’t keep pushing yourself through fear, it’s likely you’ll lose the confidence that you worked so hard building up.

I look at taking on fear like training…training for a fulfilling life.
When you stop this process – that’s when you get old.

Challenging yourself can also be a bit addicting. That’s how I ended up back on a duckie on the Cataract Canyon 8 months later.

Cataract Canyon in an Inflatable Kayak

On my week long Cataract Canyon rafting trip, we split the rapids across 2 days taking on the Big Drop Rapids on day 1, leaving the remaining Class II and III rapids for the next day. We also did that so that people who wanted to kayak the last day could challenge themselves on these smaller, yet still very serious rapids. Thanks to my practice and success in the Grand Canyon, I was excited to attempt these remaining rapids in a single kayak.

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