There’s an old saying, or maybe it’s a Chinese proverb, I don’t know, but it says, “no man ever steps in the same river twice for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” If you’ve been in the kayaking community for more than a week you’ve probably heard this. It’s almost a cliche but it does serve as a good reminder that with time and running water, things will change. It’s nice then to be reminded that some things do last. Some things do stand the test of time. I took a walk today along the banks of Spring Creek in Bellefonte PA. It was here in the fall of 1997 that I took my first ever kayak lesson. I learned to paddle in a slalom boat in this short stretch of class 2 whitewater. As I looked around the river it was obvious to me that a lot had changed, but a lot was still the same. Almost 20 years since I first learned to kayak the gates are still hanging over the rapids and the man who taught me, Dave Kurtz now in his eighties, is still out there paddling and still making kayaking accessible to kids who otherwise would never have had the chance.
After a short chat with my old coach, my former C2 partner and life long best friend arrived and we put on for an after work float down the creek where we learned to paddle. What was once a pretty challenging trip was now a relaxing float. We got to reminisce about old times while watching red tail hawks and blue herons flying above us. There were obvious spots where various access improvements or erosion control projects and dam removals had changed the landscape, but there were also parts that were very much the same. For instance, just down stream of the slalom course there is still a flat pool that’s about 100 yards long. We spent hours after school doing flat water sprints in this pool.
The world keeps turning and the water keeps running down hill. The river has taken me a long way. It was there for me in my adolescent years. It was there for me in my post war years. It has brought me many friends. It’s been there for me through love and through heart break, and today it brings me right back to the spot where it all began. In the most trying times of my life I always find peace, even if only for a little while, in the water that runs downhill. No matter what challenges I’ve found, I just keep putting one paddle blade in front of the other and when in doubt, lean forward and paddle hard.