The Inland Paddler: Eagle Wisdom

Learning and Adapting in the 2018 Paddle Season

Anyone who reads this blog, or my social media channels or sees me at events, knows paddle surfing and downwinding have become my obsessions. Whether it’s on a SUP, an OC or hopefully, a surfski…I love catching bumps and waves.  I love seeing and feeling the progression, and I love learning and perfecting the technique. And I love the challenge. The great thing about those things – you can do them anytime. You can experience the elation (or frustration, sometimes) on any given day, not just at a special event.

Thing is, I live (at least for the time being) two hours and 15 minutes from the nearest surf break, and in an area not really known for excellent downwind conditions. Or “real” downwind conditions at all.

I have a challenge.

All those things do require a certain level of paddle fitness. So, I must train. To do that, means paddling on flatwater.  It means grinding out intervals and miles.

The end justifies the means, right?  Not to mention Hash Tag Love The Conditions. Love what you have.  Make it useful. Use the conditions. Sometimes that means playing on the micro-bumplets – even though you know the glide will be micro in size too, just to practice getting your stroke cadence up, or reading the water. Or it sometimes it means catching the boat wakes. Or practicing footwork like cross stepping or edging the board. Sometimes it means using your imagination.

And none of this has anything to do with racing.

Winds in the east…like something is brewing, about to begin.

The more I surf and the more I downwind, the more that’s all I want to do…but I am not giving up racing completely.  I love the social aspect of it.  I love the “journey” toward the race – the preparation, the training, the talking about the training…the sense of accomplishment that comes with training. But I noticed this season, the number of races I am keen to sign up for is way down.  And when circumstances – and the weather – conspired to have me do other things at the Carolina Cup and the Olukai and Paddle Imua – I didn’t mind. I am registered for the Gorge Downwind Champs in Hood River because it’s a week of downwinding that ends in a race. It’s the week of doing as many Viento runs with my best friends that’s got me excited, not the race itself.  I am training though, to be prepared for that week. But my attitude if not enthusiasm for competitions, well, it’s waning. There is a change in the air.

And then there is Chattajack.

It’s Year Five. The Belt Buckle Year. NOTHING will keep me off that river for that.

Chattajack is special.  It’s not just a race.  It’s a mutually shared experience like no other.  It is a challenge.  An ordeal. And at the end, with the medal in one hand and your chocolate milk in the other, it is almost spiritual. The sense of accomplishment is amazing. I cannot fathom not doing it.  That’s not something I am going to give up.

But yesterday, out on the lake, I struggled. I’ve been struggling with the workouts in the ski. Figured that it’s the difference in the craft, learning it, not being as comfortable.  But yesterday, dang it, my SUP workout just sucked. I felt tired and sluggish during the warm-up. In the meat of, I felt like I was pushing really, really hard but my heart rate monitor begged to disagree. I felt….well, old.

Then came all the negative self-talk. After a few weeks “off” just surfing and doing downwinders in the 5oth state, maybe I wasn’t fit enough to jump in at this point in the Paddle Monster plan, maybe age is catching up with me. Or…maybe I have some disease and my body is trying to tell me something…Maybe this…maybe that…then that inevitably lead to shame and embarrassment (why? There was nobody out there with me – It’s not like Larry Cain is spying on me or anything….) then more self doubt and then, penultimately,  WHY AM I DOING THIS????? WHAT IS THE POINT???? I USED TO BE ABLE TO PADDLE AT A HEART RATE OF __ AND NOW I CAN’T EVEN GET UP TO___!!!

For the record, this is a classic example of the mind NOT winning.  This is the mind going down that damn rabbit hole of ego, despair and pure-tee ridiculousness. It just got on the Worry Draft Train to hell.

About that time, I heard something above me.  A large bird, clearly a raptor. I squinted.  Osprey or…? Its tail was definitely pure white.  It turned and passed me again, and this time I got a good look at its head – all white.  My first Bald Eagle sighting of the year.  It swooped lower, I stopped paddling.  Then, from the trees to my right…its mate! Clearly I was getting close to their nest, though I could never locate it.

Somewhere in these trees is the home of one of Falls Lake’s nesting pairs of Bald Eagles

There is something special when you see these birds. Their comeback from near extinction has been remarkable. They are majestic. They are a symbol of, among other things, resilience.

I dropped to my knees and burst into tears.

I haven’t cried on my board like that in a good long while.  I had no idea why the tears were coming.

I am sure the fishermen nearby thought I’d lost my mind. Well, I guess in a way I had, and somehow, those eagles were reminding me of it.

No…no selfie of my crying…

As I finished my workout, I noticed the water became calm and glassy.  Fish were jumping all around me.  I heard the trill of a pileated woodpecker. I noticed the sun, emerging out of the clouds, playfully glimmering on the surface of the deep green lake.

It was a beautiful afternoon. Outside.  I was reminded of why I paddle. It’s not to get my heart rate into the 90 percent zone or break a new training record for speed or pace.  It’s to connect with the water and the other creatures that depend on it. It sounds hokey, but it’s true. I am a water person. I have to be on the water. I have to be outside.

Back to work…

It’s okay have a crappy workout

I let that shame and embarrassment go.

This morning, I decided to see what the Native Americans (and others) have to say about eagles and what they represent when you have encounters with them. Here’s a smattering of what I found on “eagle medicine”:

“If an eagle has appeared, it bestows freedom and the courage to look ahead.”

When the eagle swoops in as your spirit animal its time to hold your head high.”

Google entry after Google entry mentioned that the eagle represents flying above and looking at details in order to get a better view of the over-all big picture.

And then this one, which really hit home:

“True strength is displayed in the recovery process, not the initial action – Eagle”

So….here’s what I learned from that session

Yeah, it’s okay to have a bad workout when you can see that it is all part of the process. If every workout was easy or perfect, would we improve? Coach John Wooden’s famous comment about no one ever learning anything from winning all the time comes to mind.

Maybe I am overtrained a bit. Okay, back off, rest, look at the other programs on Paddle Monster and consult with your coach.  Rest. That’s where the strength comes from. Stop being a slave to the little line on Training Peaks or the graph in Garmin Connect that supposedly tells how fast you are training and getting fit.  Work some more on your base. All in service of your overall goals. Not anyone else’s. And have the courage to make changes that fit for you – whether that means paddling a different craft, racing, surfing or…whatever. Because that’s when the opportunity comes.

And don’t ever, ever, ever lose sight of why you are out there on the water. Should that happen, though, follow the eagle’s lead and fly high so you can get a good look at the overall picture and adjust accordingly.

We are not paddlers just because we race. We are not paddlers just because we do epic shit all the time.

We are paddlers because we paddle. And we love the water and love that we are all connected by it.


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