Recently, I returned from a vacation in the woods of Alberta, Canada. While I didn’t bring back souvenirs, I brought home something more substantial—another triumph over the disease that wracked my body for almost two decades.
For years, Ken dreamt of paddling a multi-day kayaking trip in the northern reaches of our continent. My consistent reply: “Go without me.”
This past spring, after he researched a provincial park’s three-day canoe circuit, he asked me why I didn’t want to go. My answer was automatic: “My body’s fragile. Physically, I can’t do that.”
It was then I recognized that I still harbored—albeit, lurking in some remote cranny of my mind—a view of myself as a feeble, sickly person, even though I’d been healed more than eight years earlier. I guess it isn’t surprising that being chronically ill for so long left an unseen scar, but this out-dated self-image was holding me back. I needed to banish it for good.
To move forward I needed to take two steps: one, to decide that I wanted to embark on this journey and accept its challenge; and the second, to reframe my attitude from “I can’t; I’m weak” to “This is an adventure; I’ll try it.”
And it was a splendid expedition. We kayaked or hiked 32 miles. We reaped the blessings of great weather (with the exception of one thunderstorm), few mosquitoes and even fewer people. We paddled four large lakes, three ponds and a lazy river. With the help of special carts, we schlepped our boats, laden with supplies, up and down grassy, sometimes muddy, trails.
The days were long. We woke before 5:30 a.m. and kept going until well after 5:30 p.m. (one evening, we didn’t find a campsite until 9 p.m.) Wimping out wasn’t an option: I had to propel my boat, help portage the kayaks, set up camp at day’s end and break it down each morning.
For that time, I immersed myself in nature. I focused on how it felt to slice my paddles through the often glassy waters. How colorful dragonflies hitched rides on my yellow boat. How the clouds drifted across the blue sky. I watched grazing bears on the slope across the inlet where we camped and the repeated laps of a curious beaver eyeing us while swimming along the shore. At night, the loons serenaded us with their haunting melodies.
I didn’t dwell on work, household chores or writing blog posts. I lived completely in the present. Enjoying a body that works as it was meant to. Conquering physical challenges (exhaustion, blisters) and mental ones (a once every 20 years infestation of tent caterpillars that overran one campsite and trail).
I discovered I’m stronger than I believed. That I’m capable. Resilient. And, that all the effort and time I spent rebuilding my health in the aftermath of debilitating illness have been worth it.
In the future, I hope we’ll challenge our inner voices when we turn down opportunities to try something new. Is it because we aren’t interested? Or are we feeding ourselves old, stale scripts that keep us from fully experiencing life?