Chattajack Notebook: Connected by Water

So burning stars
are all we are
Ignited from within
It’s your heart and soul
It’s your flesh and bones
don’t you let it go
You’re the star I’ll find
Bursting through my sky
Taking all control

“Heart and Soul” -Built by Titan

I’ve never really understood the phrase “Leave it all on the water.” One interpretation, I suppose, is you leave your 100 percent effort, your all, and then when it’s done, it’s done.  Or maybe it means your competitive drive. What ever happens on the water, stays on the water and you can be nice to the person or persons who almost sank your canoe at the race start or the person who passed you for the win after drafting your ass for the last three miles. “Hey, I left it all on the water, so let’s go drink a beer together.”

And those are all valid interpretations. And good things to do.

The reality is though, we don’t really leave everything on the water. And that’s a good thing too. We learn from everything that happens out there. And in the 32 miles of Chattajack, lots of things happen! In the end, no matter if we finish, if we make the hard call to stop or not start, if we hurt or if we feel fantastic, it makes us better paddlers and better people. We get validation of how strong mentally and physically we really are and we get feedback and motivation to improve for the next time.

Photo credit: Rick White

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 650 paddlers entered the water Saturday. And that means there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 650 amazing, heartbreaking, heart tugging, individual stories of this year’s trip down the Tennessee River Gorge. Some of those stories are tales of triumph over difficult conditions. Some are tales of pushing through self-doubt, fears, injuries, illness, or emotions. Others are revelations of how training, experiences and honed skills made you fall in love with the conditions and master them.

It’s through these stories and experiences that we are all connected.

Ultimately, it is not where we fall in the placings. Or who we were “better than.” It’s the smiles we gave each other. The hugs. The cheers both on and off the water. Words of encouragement. An offer of an extra water bladder that you gave not to a competitor but to a fellow paddler.

Photo Credit: Nathan Champion

It’s the things that also happen off the water as well. Making sure you get selfies with as many people as possible. A moon pie eating contest two days before the race. Giving someone your blanket because they are crashing after crossing the finish line because they are worried about their paddle partner.  Bringing a favorite Edmund’s Oust sour to share with someone at the after party. Or giving someone you hardly know an antique ink bottle you found a the bottom of the river, right where the race starts.

Those 32 miles result in deep, life long friendships that aren’t dependent on how fast you were, how well you placed, or what you were paddling.

You don’t leave those friendships on the water.

The race is, of course, different things to everyone. And sure, times and places and beating a nemesis – that’s part of it for lots of folks.  But it’s not the only part. One thing, though, is universal: the hardest part of Chattajack is leaving everyone after the race.

So, as we learn from this year and start to think about applying those lessons for next, maybe we should work in a little more time to paddle with those friends we only see once a year. Just because it’s fun.  Just because we love them. Just because we are all connected by water.


Cover photo credit: Rick White