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An Unexpected Journey

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” Shunryu Suzuki

Recently, I’ve been delving into mindfulness and Zen Buddhism, particularly the concept of maintaining a beginner’s mind. This philosophy of openness and curiosity resonates deeply with me at this stage in my life. Just over a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be here, putting in the hours and effort to compete in the Chattajack 31. When I say compete, I harbor no illusions about my standing. My competition is with myself alone—learning a new skill, mastering it, and subjecting myself to a rigorous test to measure my progress and endurance.

My love for adventure racing sparked this journey. Paddling began as a means to enhance my performance in adventure racing. It’s a tactical sport, one I had barely touched in my life. Initially, I spent maybe 20% of my training time in a boat. But that evolved into longer and more challenging sessions. On New Year’s Eve, I devised a plan to hit all the public landings on Lake Keowee. I paddled from my home to Seneca and back to the north end. Despite the temperature never rising above 32°, I persevered, soaked and freezing, completely self-supported.

At one point, I called my wife. My speech was slurred from the cold, but I reassured her I was fine and would continue. We agreed I would get out of the boat, walk around, and call her at each landing to ensure hypothermia hadn’t set in. By the time I reached Falls Creek, I had lost my motor skills and couldn’t operate my headlamp. It was then I realized the gravity of my situation—any mishap would mean I couldn’t perform a self-rescue. I had my Garmin InReach Mini, but emergency services would take too long to reach me. I called my wife again and paddled to the next landing to exit safely.

That day, I fell in love with paddling and the challenge it presented. Pushing myself on the water became a new passion. I had always loved pushing my limits on land—running up hills, chasing trails, or riding my mountain bike. But kayaking was different. My time in the military, particularly in the Marines’ Amphibious Raid Company, had soured me on aquatic sports. Cold water, sandy beaches, and swimming in the frigid Pacific had left a negative impression. But with an open mind, I found joy and happiness in paddling—something I never expected.

Now, I’m 160 days away from the Chattajack 31. On the evening of May 1, I eagerly awaited the registration to open. At midnight, I frantically entered my information. Within minutes, the event was full, but I managed to secure a spot. A couple of weeks later, I found the perfect boat—the Epic V8 Tourer river layup, a versatile model reinforced with Kevlar for durability. It’s a boat that suits a Green Beret, ready for the challenges ahead.

With an open mind, I’ve discovered new possibilities and found excitement in learning new skills. Every day, I pour my effort into improving, enjoying the journey despite the frustrations. Embracing the beginner’s mind has led me to new, thrilling places, and I look forward to every step along the way.

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