Mountain Mama: Take It in the Face

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In this week’s Mountain Mama post, Ky Delaney shares how confronting rapids head on has transformed the way she deals with the dread of dealing with sweaty-palm situations in real life.

We scout the lead-in rapid to Bear Creek Falls on the Cheoah River. My stomach churns as I study the swirling water leading into holes, one after another, offset just enough to make a paddler scramble to get lined up for the next one. The rapid is busy and barely slows down before the river plunges twelve feet over the falls. I cringe as I imagine flipping in that chaos, my stomach pinches at the thought of rolling, panicky that I’ll miss my roll and end up in a worse place on the river.

“Take it in the face,” our animated trip leader spreads her hand over her face. “Don’t skirt around it. Don’t try to avoid the impact. Square up to each hole, punch it, and then get set up for the next one.”

I nod. That makes sense. My biggest consistent paddling mistake involves wanting to miss the hit of lateral waves or breaking holes. I worry that the hydraulic might flip me. Too often I throw in a back stroke, which results in killing my speed at the precise moment I need it the most to power through a feature. Or I try to avoid that part of the river entirely by paddling into shallower sections, full of rocks waiting to pin me.

We walk back up to our kayaks and put on our skirts. My palms sweat. I tell myself, “Take in in the face.” I repeat it when I want to paddle out of the flow, away from the first hole. It becomes my mantra as I spear my paddle through the trough of one breaking wave and boof the next hole. I am in the main flow, moving with the power of the current with enough momentum to maneuver myself from one hydraulic to the next.

I eddy out after the last hole behind a house-sized boulder before Bear Creek Falls. My trip leader gives me a high five. I’m beaming ear-to-ear. Squaring up to things that intimidate me gave me confidence that I could handle what comes my way. All the times I had avoided features that made me afraid didn’t serve me. The more I tried to stay away from the meat of the rapids, the more I ended up in squirrely rapids above sieves and took bumpy lines with nasty rocks that could pin my kayak. Ironically, by trying to avoid danger, I had put myself in harm’s way and often felt stuck there, my fear increasing.

That day I first paddled the Cheoah was almost exactly a year ago. Since then, I’ve made it a point to take fear head on, trusting myself to deal with any uncomfortable feelings that come up in other aspects of my life. Last week I had a court date to finalize my divorce, a process that’s taken years. There was the separation agreement to hammer down. Then the filing and serving divorce papers. I worried that my ex would be hurt. I thought it might disrupt the co-parenting arrangement. The fear of getting a divorce escalated and I felt trapped, married to someone without love. I felt powerless to end my marriage even though I saw no way to reconcile with my ex.

Then I came across a favorite Helen Keller quote about security being a superstition. “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” That quote had always resonated with me, probably because I was struggling with how to embrace risks instead of running away from anything that scared me.

I filed for divorce. When the court date approached to finalize it, I considered hiring an attorney even though the process was fairly mechanical at that point. I didn’t want to walk into that courtroom alone. I hated admitting that I had failed at being married, that my marriage was really over. I reminded myself of the lessons from that day on the Cheoah and realized that avoidance doesn’t reduce the dread of a particular situation. If anything, avoiding something gives it power, fueling the immobilizing hold of fear.

I wore a polka dotted dress that made me feel pretty and professional, capable and confident the day of my divorce. I waited in the lobby of the courtroom, waiting for the bailiff to call my name. The bailiff swore me in, the judge asked me a few questions, and then she granted my divorce. I swelled with happiness. I was finally free. I felt brave for opening my heart to love someone in the first place, I felt grateful for the child we created together, and I thought about the lessons I’d take with me about love.

I’ve realized that by allowing myself to experience whatever I’m going through at that moment, the bad or scary or intimating thing passes. Allowing ourselves to feel and embrace whatever feeling is transformative. On the river, that might mean basking in the bliss that follows styling a nerve-wrecking rapid from the calm eddy below and enjoying the river dance in the sun’s golden hue. In love, I’m finding that letting go of a failed relationship has opened my heart to the possibility of a new relationship – one that is wiser, more mature and honest. Nestled in the arms of my lover, I realized that I’d never had the chance to feel the glow of his love without first confronting the end of my marriage.



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