Thursday, February 27, 2014

No Super Powers Needed

We were on the ride into work one morning and Kim was in her usual morning trance scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest when she came across this kayaking T-shirt.  She distracted me from my driving long enough to hold up her phone and show me the picture.  Now I can read a traffic sign or license tag at 800 yards but everything on the phone is a blur at less than 12 inches so I just took a quick glance at the screen.  All I could make out was the top line in big white letters on a black shirt that said “I Kayak” and underneath was a somewhat fuzzy outline of a kayaker running some rapids.  Everything below the center mass was a hazy mix of letters that I couldn’t focus on nor should I have been trying to do so driving through the morning rush.  Rather than strain any longer or risk running into the idiot in front of me putting on makeup I just told her to read it to me.  The bottom line was a few simple words that posed the questions “What is your super power?” 

Now kayakers don’t have super powers, regardless of the fact that it does take some incredible skill sometimes to do some of the things we do in a piece of plastic, wood or composite not much wider than the chair you are probably sitting in right now.  Some of us like to push the envelope a little and take our craft through places and conditions that would make the average person pucker their butt just thinking about.  The first kayak that Kim bought me had a sticker on the inside that said “Not designed for use above Class II rapids”.  That didn’t stop me from taking it on the New River down a quarter mile class III, although I spent about half the distance with the boat way out ahead of me and my bottom scraping every single rock as I slide helplessly down the ravine.  It also didn’t stop me from hauling the boat back up the mountain the following day to give it another run.  After two disappointing attempts I decided the manufacturer was right and it was time for another boat.  That same boat wasn’t really designed for long distance or open water either but I had a buddy paddle it on a 150 mile trip one year.  The following year he made a four mile open water crossing in it during a nor-easter on the Outer Banks.  There  were times on that trip I would look across from my sea kayak and waves would completely block him from view but every now and again he would pop up on a wave, head tucked down, paddle wind milling away making just as good a speed as I was.  Skill, luck or stupidity as some might say but whatever it was we sure had fun and we are better for the experience.  You can’t learn something or get better at something without pushing the limits having both victories and defeats.  If we don’t fail sometimes we can never win.  Failures are the stepping stones to success.

We didn’t live to paddle another day because of super powers, we made it through because we weren’t afraid to get out of our comfort zone from time to time and push the limits.  With any challenge in life you will never succeed if you back down every time things get hard.  That little sticker inside the boat might say you can’t do something but you can’t always take it at its word.  Just because someone says something can’t be done doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, it just means they couldn’t do it!
In just over a month I will again embark on a long and arduous journey.  A journey that some said couldn’t be done, because they themselves couldn’t do it.  It hasn’t always sunshine and rainbows but we are better for the experience.  Some even went through Hell, but they are back!  No super powers needed, it is all about perseverance.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Not the End of the Journey

We finished up our journey on Sunday just short of our intended destination.  The wind and waves were just not in our favor.  Even with the short finish, we still FINISHED our journey.  This trip was a complete success and something that each one of us is very proud of.  We raised more money than we ever dreamed of for our first year.  That is totally due to the contributions from some generous sponsors, family, friends both near and far, and strangers that we may never know.  Together we are all making a difference and next year can only be better!

I wasn't able to post to my blog every night like I had planned.  There was just so much to be done each night that I couldn't keep up with everything and some things had to fall to the wayside.  I will try over the next month to post some things that give you an idea of what we really went through.  It is very hard to describe and it will take me some time to put it all into words, but I hope you will come back and read about our journey and it will inspire you to take up challenges in your personal life.

This was only the beginning, we are already planning next year!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Winds of Change

You never know how things are going to turn out.  One minute everything seems perfect and then the wind can change and you are in a battle.  We made it through a diagnosis of cancer, through surgery and through treatment.  We were going for the second or third CAT scan on Kim’s thyroid to check for any new growth.  We had done it before and things had always come out fine.  This time though there was a fluke.  See the technician running the CAT scan machine ran down a little bit too far and got the upper part of Kim’s lungs in the scan.  When the radiologist read the scans they saw some spots on her lungs.  Now for anyone who has been through cancer and is in remission, spots on anything in any kind of scan is serious business and reason for panic. 
The doctors decided to give her a full body scan early.  She wasn’t due for one until one year out from her surgery but because of the spots they felt it was best to go ahead and take a look at everything and see what was going on.  The scan revealed some good news and bad news.  The good news was, there didn’t appear to be in abnormal activity going on in the lungs.  The bad news was they found a suspicious spot in the upper thigh of Kim’s left leg.  Again we began to worry.  This time around our care team handed her off to a whole new set of doctors who quickly scheduled her for a biopsy.  It came back in conclusive.  After a long discussion it was decided that the best course of action was to remove it, after all now she had a history of cancer, so you couldn’t be too careful and you needed to treat anything as suspicious.
Now every surgery has its risks and this one was not without.  One of the things that they told her was this tumor was wrapped around the muscle in her leg and there could be damage as they tried to untangle and remove it.  It was a risk we had to take to make sure a potential time bomb was removed.  The surgery had some complications and they had to remove some of the muscle.  In doing so they also damaged some of the nerves.  They had removed what they thought to be a danger, but in doing so had caused a whole new set of problems that she would have to live with the rest of her life.  It left her without feeling from her knee up to her hip in her left leg.  Also with the removal of some muscle it weakened her leg to where she has some limited mobility.  It is one of the prices to pay to make sure she makes it to another day.
Our day paddling started out beautiful.  We were moving along at record speeds for us.  Two hours into the day we had made 8 miles.  Before noon we had covered over half of the 21.7 miles in today’s leg.  Spirits were high and we paddled on without even stopping for a second break.  But then the winds of change came a blowing.  With some headwinds gusting at times to what was forecast as 25 knots, we paddle on.  Against the wind we continued.  We actually amazed ourselves by arriving in camp by 2pm.  We had completed the mileage in 5 hours.  The only thing we could say was, amazing!  We have been riding on a cloud with the excitement.  I am convinced there is nothing this team cannot do.  We have proclaimed ourselves paddling gods and goddesses.  But we must not let it get to our heads.  We must be vigilant because things can change around any corner.  But today we revel in the accomplishment we made.

Against All Odds

Today we came across a lone Cyprus tree.  It was the first I had seen along our journey.  It was not the most magnificent Cyprus that I have ever seen, nor was it the runt of the litter but it stood out among all the other trees.  What made this tree stand out on its own was the fact that it was right in the middle of the river.  As I approached the tree I stopped paddling so I could take out my camera and snap a few pictures.  As I drifted by the tree I turned my boat around so I could capture it from the opposing direction and the beauty of the whole bend of the river opened up to me.  It was one of the most beautiful places we had seen over the past three days.  As much as I wanted to stay and soak in the energy that this place was projecting, I knew we had many more miles to cover and time would not allow me the pleasure of an extended stay.
As I continued along my way I could not get the thought of that lone tree out of my mind.  I started to notice other Cyprus along the banks.  There were some beautiful specimens of the species with branches of green arching over the water giving relief from the sun to a weary paddler.  None drew my attention more though than the lone tree standing in the middle of the river.  As I continued on I noticed other Cyprus trees that were dying.  Their branches no longer green and their trunks dry and decaying they stood silent along the banks of the river.  They gave no shade, they no longer expelled life giving oxygen.  The roots of the once mighty trees were the only thing keeping them from being claimed by the flowing waters of the river.  They too would one day lose their strength and nothing would remain.
 My thoughts once again went back to that lone tree steadfast in the middle of the river.  I began wonder why it was still there.  How could a tree begin to grow from seed or seedling in the middle of a flowing river?  It had probably seen floods, droughts, fires and storms in the 100 or more years its roots had been firmly planted in this earth.  Yet how did it survive against all the odds with all that flow of the river going against it?
I then began to think how those trees are so similar to people who are diagnosed with cancer.  There are many that battle and struggle to stay alive but never make it.  There are those who have everything going for them and so much around them to help them in their battle, yet they too succumb to their diseases.  But then there are those few, the lucky ones, who against all odds through hell and high water survive.  They survive because they have a strong will to live.  They survive because God shows his mercy upon them and grants them another day.  They survive against all odds to stand as a living testament to the power of faith and hope. 
As we travel on this journey with new friends we have spent time both on and off the water talking about different things in our lives.  We have shared stories and memories of friends, family and loved ones.  We have begun to bond as a team.  Each and every one of us no matter what our initial desires or motivations for making this journey, have now become one in our mission and have dedicated ourselves to making this journey to remember all those who are battling or have battled cancer.
One of the things we do each night is have a candle light ceremony where we light a few candles in remembrance of those who have battled cancer and are no longer with us, and those who have battled and are still battling today.  Monday night was very emotional for us.  After we read the names, we each went around and spoke about those who we are padding to remember.  Everyone had a story.  Everyone told of someone they loved who were no longer with us.  Some spoke very freely.  Some were hesitant.  Some struggled to get out the words.  We all cried.  But most of all we remembered. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Battle Continues

We were a little anxious and nervous as we got in the car and headed off to Raleigh very early in the morning.  Somewhere along the way Kim made the comment that she never though it would come down to actually having to do this.  I had all kinds of thoughts racing through my head.  I had been on journeys like this twice before, but never in a million years did I ever think I would be making it with the love of my life.

We pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car.  We were joined by our children, my parents, some friends and a whole lot of other people that had come for the same or similar reasons.  With hugs, kisses and well wishes the time had finally come.  I helped Kim to prepare as best that I could then let go her hand and sent her on her way.  I turned my back for only a moment and caught glimpse of her as she slowly went out of sight.  It was now up to her how this day played out.  I could only hope that if she got into trouble the hands around her would keep her safe.
I didn’t see her for most of the day.  My thoughts were always with her and I could only hope she was safe.  I glanced around every turn to see if I could get a glimpse but minutes turned to hours and I found myself getting more anxious with each passing moment.  Finally I caught glimpse of her and knew it wouldn’t be long before I would again be at her side.  When I finally caught up with her she was a little worn but holding her own.  I knew we had made it through a very hard day but it was just the beginning of a very long journey.
Today she is a three year survivor!  I love her more than I can ever express and I thank God every day for giving me the strength to help her through this battle.
Today we began another journey, though hard in its nature can never be as difficult as the one we started three years ago.  No one can ever truly know what it is like unless they have gone through it themselves or been a caregiver for someone who has. 
The journey today began much like our journey three years ago, although not nearly as much was at stake if we faltered in our mission.  We had a few bumps along the way but everyone is doing great.  We couldn’t have asked for better weather and we can only pray that it holds out for the next eight days.   We got off to a little late start, but quickly gained some ground and by the end of the day we actually finished two hours earlier than what we had scheduled.  Family and friends were at the landing to give us a hand and fill our bellies with something hot to eat.  Once everyone had left and dusk turned to night, we stood around in a circle, said a little prayer, lit some candles and one by one each of us read some of the names of those we were paddling to honor. 
One by one we disappeared into our tents and all is quiet on the eastern front.   There are more battles to be fought tomorrow.  Spirits are high and we eagerly accept the challenge that another day will bring.

A Long and Arduous Journey

Over a year ago, while returning from kayaking in Florida, Kim, Laura and I were riding back home in the middle of the night and somewhere between Georgia and South Carolina the silence was broken as Kim blurted out that she wanted to raise some money for the American Cancer Society and the way she wanted us to do it was to paddle a long ways.  Laura and I stayed silent.  You see, every trip that Kim had ever made to this point was a short one.  To her, anything over five miles was absolutely grueling and if you were out on the water more than three or four hours, it was an eternity.  So Laura and I kept silent. 

About a month later we again found ourselves headed home in the middle of the night from some destination now unremembered and again Kim broke the silence with the same previous comment, only this time she ended the statement with “I am serious”.  Now any husband can tell you that when your wife says something off the wall once you can sometimes ignore it, but if she says it twice, and ends the statement with those three words, then you better buckle your seat belt and start packing for the trip. 

Laura and I were up to the challenge.  I had made several long distance trips before and Laura had all but been begging for something more than five miles and at least longer than the average work day.  But this one would top anything I had done before and blow a forty hour work week right out of the water.  Kim told us she wanted to paddle over 200 miles and she wanted to get other people to join our team.  So a spark was ignited and three flames began to burn but we were a long ways from the wildfire that Kim had envisioned.  What we needed was more people that didn’t think our idea was crazy and were willing to leave their cares behind for a week and join us.   

The search began and after a many months the call was answered by one then two.  Not long after came three and four and before you knew it there were many more.  Almost a year from the date when the plan was first hatched, somewhat of a plan was in place and we prepared to assemble our group for the first time to meet and discuss our vision.  In the introduction to the plan that I gave to our team, I wrote the following words; 

You are about to embark on a very arduous journey. A journey that will test the limits of your physical and mental abilities. You will face uncertainty, and you may even question your faith. Each day will present obstacles that you never imagined you would encounter and you will sometimes struggle to overcome them. You will end the day completely exhausted and labor to your feet to meet the challenge of another. 

As you agonize to make it through each day, you will sometimes have to battle alone, but never too far away will be others who are making their own journey suffering the same kinds of pain. You may feel like giving up, but that is when you dig in deep and make a stand. You will reach out to family, friends and complete strangers, for support and words of encouragement. They will be your comfort when you think you have no other.

In the end how hard you fight may not determine if you survive and complete this journey, some things are just out of our hands and must be left to the mercy of a higher power. With all the advances in modern medicine, sometimes the only medicine that works is hope. 

Teammates, this is the peril of each person that is diagnosed with cancer. The trials and tribulations we will encounter on the trip we are about to undertake pale in comparison. As we take this journey together, let us never lose sight of why we are making it. We are paddling to celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer. We are paddling to remember loved ones lost. We are paddling to fight back against the disease. We are paddling to give HOPE!
After reading that, they were all hooked and this morning we are putting paddles to the water and taking our first strokes on what will be a journey of remembrance.  I hope that you will follow along with us over the next nine days and show your support for what we are doing by sending us words of encouragement, keeping us in your prayers and making a donation to our cause. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

On a Wing and a Prayer

I have a knack for planning things.  Part of it goes back to that lesson in details that I learned working with my Dad on a hot summer day.  When my son was in Boy Scouts the Scoutmaster, who is now a very good friend and kayaking buddy, saw early on that I was good at planning things.  He asked me to take on the task of Committee Chair and help keep the Troop as a whole moving in the right direction.  One of the biggest jobs I had was planning trips for the Troop.  I never had anyone question my plan.  Everyone knew that when the day to leave came, every single detail would be carefully documented and no one would have to worry about scrambling around at the last minute trying to get things together.  Everyone knew that the trip we were about to make would be a great one and because of all the planning ahead of time we would BE PREPARED for the unexpected should it come.

Everyone knew, except for me.  I may have looked calm, cool and collected on the outside, but on the inside I was at the controls of a plane flying through a thunderstorm at night with fuel leaking from a hole in the wing and lightning flashing all around.  I always planned, planned, planned and did some more planning for every trip, activity or event we did.  Everything looked good on paper and the other leaders in the Troop were in awe of the detailed plans that I put together, but I always worried.  I worried that I had forgotten something.  I worried that something unexpected would happen and I wouldn’t have a contingency.  I worried that a three hour tour would turn into us being marooned on a deserted island.  It took me a while to realize that all that panic and worry is the reason we had some great adventures where everyone had a wonderful time.   
We never had anyone get injured beyond a few scratches, bumps and bruises.  That could always be attributed to the fact that when I start building a plan, it always begins with safety.  Safety is an important key to a good plan and if you begin with that as your first detail, the rest of the plan will fall perfectly in place.  Now don’t get me wrong, some people go overboard with safety.  I know some people that get so obsessed with being safe that they take all the fun out of trips.  You can’t have an adventure without some risk.  It is hard to paddle a kayak or carry a backpack if you are all covered in bubble wrap and can only go to places where the ambulance can pull right up to you in an emergency, but those people are a story in themselves best left for another day.   
One of my favorite jobs of being the Committee Chair in the Troop was sitting on Eagle Scout boards.  We always had prepared questions to ask the Eagle Candidates and there were two questions that I always asked every candidate;  What was the hardest thing you did while in Scouts? and What was the most fun you had while in Scouts?  More often than not the answer to both of those questions was the same.  I have heard boys recount how hard it was to hike uphill all day long lugging a 25 pound backpack, but then they would finish the story by telling how much they enjoyed sitting on a ledge at 3000 feet looking out over the valley as far as the eye could see.  I had one boy say he thought he was going to freeze to death the night we camped in Uwharrie with the temperatures in the low 20’s, but then he recalled remembering waking to a blanket of pure white and having to hike back through virgin snow.  He said it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and he never looked at snow the same way again. 
Listening to those young men tell how the trips that I had planned were the hardest and best times they had ever had made all my planning and worrying worthwhile.  Things always seemed to fall into place.  I won’t say we never had any glitches, but because I had such a good plan, we always had a contingency.  More often than not we ended up making trips on Plan B.  No one ever knew the difference unless I told them.   
Tonight I sit here at 10pm behind the controls of yet another plane flying through the dark and I see lightning in the distance.  Seven hours from now I am off on another amazing adventure with 20 other people depending on a plan that I have been working on for the better part of the last year.  I have packed, unpacked, repacked, unpacked and repacked again.  I have checked every detail over a hundred times.  It looks great on paper, everyone is in awe and I have a Plan B, and C and D, but that lightning looks bad and I am franticly looking out at the wings for signs of dripping fuel.  I won’t feel comfortable until I can see the lights at the runway nine days from now.  When the wheels finally lock down and we are feet dry again, I can let out a huge sigh of relief and start planning for the next flight on a wing and a prayer.