Perched on the abyss, I was about to drop into a black hole ringed by surging white water. There was no turning back now. Paddle hard. Be aggressive. Follow my guide's line. As an avid sea kayaker I was eager to try white water for the first time. And where better than in the foothills of the Andes, the natural border between Chile and Argentina, where melt water from glaciers feeds the class IV Rio Manso.
I knew white water was a whole different skill set, but I was confident some of my sea kayaking knowledge would cross over. Turns out I was a little over-confident. On the second set of rapids I went in the washer. Hard. Separated from my kayak I was dunked time and time again. Panic set in and I swallowed a fair bit of water before finally washing out the bottom of the rapids. I was in over my head and this was going to be a long, long day. At first I had felt a bit foolish paddling around on top of an inflatable kayak, but now I was glad I hadn't been able to convince the senior guide to let me take a proper white water kayak.
But with another 15 kilometres to go there was no choice but to continue downriver. Back in my kayak I drifted along on the calm water before the next rapid, catching my breath and feeling pretty defeated. But I realized the mistake that had sent me into the drink. I was afraid. And that fear caused me to hide from a wave I should have gone headlong into. I knew I needed to go high side, but fear sent me in the wrong direction.
The next set of rapids quickly approached. My guide Martin talked me through the route and the dangers to avoid. He paddled ahead and looked back with a nod before he dropped in. I followed closely and paddled hard to maintain the line.
Hours later we pulled up on the bank of the Chilean border. Back on the estancia, an Argentinian ranch, we all enjoyed steaks from local meat and chatted over a few glasses of Malbec. I had paddled through half a dozen more rapids, narrowly missing rocks, plunging into holes and powering across whirlpools. Fear is a healthy emotion that can keep us safe, but too often it holds us back from reaching our potential. I had pushed past what I thought was my limit and did something I didn't think I could. All because I left my fear behind that day on the Rio Manso.
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