Adrift in the Doldrums?
When Having Fun Becomes a Chore— And What to Do About It
By Tamia Nelson
September 14, 2010
Whatever your age or experience, whether you favor a canoe, a kayak, or a sit-on-top, or ring the changes with each trip, one thing is certain: you had to start sometime. And something got you started. Something made you pick up a paddle and dip the blade in the water. Everything else followed from that moment. What was that "something"? The thrill of whitewater or the challenge of ocean surf? Maybe you just wanted to get some exercise and you preferred the lake to the health club. Or were you an angler, longing to fish deeper and wilder waters than you could reach in your waders? A bird-watcher tired of seeing waterbirds as distant dots? Whatever it was that got you out on the water, I'd be willing to bet there was magic in it. Not the magic of spells and incantations, of course. The magic of water.
And that magic continues to cast its spell. Or does it? Have you recently found yourself…
Adrift in the Doldrums?
Has having fun become a chore? Do you find yourself longing for the La-Z-Boy whenever you're out on the water? If so, you're in good company. I'd venture to guess that it happens to us all. Enthusiasm palls, our boats languish on their storage cradles, and our paddles hang from their hooks, high and dry. Something just doesn't click, and the thought of loading a boat onto the car and driving off to the put-in is so daunting that the prospect can seem downright oppressive. Paddlers aren't the only ones to suffer from this sort of malaise, of course. Scribblers get writer's block. Artists have days when they can't draw. Shutterbugs put their cameras on the shelf for weeks at a time. But knowing you've got company in your affliction doesn't make it easier to bear.
So lets try to get to the root of the problem: Why does this happen? That's a question that occasionally comes our way from readers who have lost their enthusiasm and yearn to get it back. It's as if a part of yourself has been hacked away, this loss, and those who haven't experienced it before worry that the enthusiasm's gone forever. Has this happened to you? Then it might help to know that sooner or later, this paddling lassitude afflicts just about all of us.
Figuring out the cause of the malaise can help overcome it. If my own experience is anything to go by, one of the main reasons why folks fall into a funk is enervating weather. My observations are confirmed by family and friends who live in parts of the country which have been afflicted this year with long periods of hot, humid weather. These conditions can sap the willpower of the most devoted paddler, and there's a physiological basis for this. High humidity encourages blood to the body's surface in an effort to rid excess heat buildup. This means that less blood is available to feed oxygen to muscles, internal organs, and the brain. You lose strength and feel fatigued more easily. And because your brain is affected, you're not as alert as usual, and your ability to think declines, too. So you see? It could be the weather's fault. The good news? Enthusiasm typically returns with improved weather.
But what if you can't point the accusing finger at the weather? Perhaps your routine is to blame. Routine can be a wonderful way to stay organized, but it can also be tyrannical. If it's not the tyranny of routine that is causing your malady, could it be you're finding paddling to be too complicated? Or that you're overwhelmed by choice, with too many boats to pick from? Maybe it's that you can't manage to break away for trips in a reasonable period of time? Any of these can be oppressive, so let's consider how to…
Whistle Up a Wind
And sail our way out of the doldrums. Examine your approach to paddling. Do you find that preparing to leave is an overwhelming task? That you just can't get it together, that you're discouraged before you even get to the put-in? Then simplify your life. Get organized. Learn how to become an escape artist so that you can get underway in short order. Once you've made preparation less burdensome, you might also discover that this was the impediment to paddling pleasure. Congratulations!
What if the problem is too many toys? We paddlers do seem to acquire many boats, but a surfeit of choice can grind you to a standstill. All those boats, and none get wet. Set yourself an assignment. Pick one boat and plan on using that one every week, or once every two weeks. Which boat to pick? Maybe it should be your first boat, or one which you've only used once or twice. It really doesn't matter. What does matter is to limit the choices so that you extinguish the stalemate and hit the water. Design your destinations based on your choice of boat, and then just go and paddle.
But what if you're fine with getting away, and that you're not burdened by so much choice that you hit a wall? Then perhaps your malady is that you do things the same way every time. For instance, do you always paddle the same way around your favorite water at the same time of the day, in the same weather, and on the same day of the week, eating the same snacks and stopping for a meal at the same eatery afterwards on the way home? Have you therefore paddled yourself into a rut, where you're actually bored with the same old same old? Notice the repetition of the word "same"? That's a clue that you might need to incorporate some novelty into your paddling excursions. Here are some possibilities:
- Seek New Vistas
- Change Your Shift
- Paddle in Rain
- Meet the Neighbors
- Go for a Purpose
New Vistas I'd be the last person to advocate a "been there, done that" and "life list" frame of mind. Every body of water is variable and beautiful, and there's no reason why paddling the same body of water each time shouldn't be enjoyable and rewarding. But now and then everyone benefits from a change of scene, if for no other reason than to help you appreciate that which is familiar. If you always paddle a small pond, take a trip to a larger body of water, or try paddling on moving water (be sure to go in company, though). Likewise, if you always paddle on a swift little river, go paddle a lakeshore, or a wetland. And if your body of water is a pond or lake, paddling a different route or a different part of the shoreline can be as good as finding a new place to paddle. If your route is always clockwise, go anti-clockwise, for instance. A new prospect can do wonders to rekindle that fire which has burned down to cool embers.
Change Your Shift Paddling at a different time of day is also a good way to infuse a familiar place with freshness. For example, if you always head out after work, then try to go early in the day. Get up at oh-dark-thirty and hit the water as the first shreds of light brighten the eastern horizon. Likewise, if you always go out on Saturday morning, try an evening paddle—carry lights in case you're caught by dark, though!
Paddle in Rain If you shun weather which isn't postcard perfect, than try paddling under the clouds and in the rain. Crowds won't plague you, and paddling in a light drizzle or when intermittent showers pass through can be a great time to enjoy watching wildlife, who aren't put off by gentle wet days. The sky offers dramatic views when clouds are scudding over, and the water takes on a whole new appearance. Avoid paddling when the weatherman calls for thunderstorms, and be careful if the forecast predicts a breeze. Be aware of the possibility of hypothermia—always dress for the water and have the Ten Essentials aboard. And do I need to say that you should paddle with companions, just in case? I didn't think so.
Meet the Neighbors I'm talking about the wild neighbors now. If you've not paid much attention in the past to the non-human inhabitants of the place where you paddle, then get to know them. Carry a guidebook and binoculars, camera (use a protective case if your optics aren't waterproof), or sketchbook. Instead of pressing on to go as far as you can as fast as you can, poke around in the shallows, at an outlet, or under the overhanging trees. Edges are places where wildlife flourish, and if you keep quiet and move slowly, you'll be surprised by what you can see.
Go for a Purpose This is related to getting to know the neighbors. Take a guidebook and learn to identify the different trees, rocks, and wildflowers found on and along the body of water. Or learn more about the human history of the area. Make a sketch map on which you can annotate your findings. This is also a great way to learn how to use your new GPS. You might be surprised by what you discover. Before you know it, you'll have broken free of the ennui and your paddling trips will have been transformed into voyages of discovery.
Read more tips on spicing up your paddling trips by reading "Beyond Stroking: Messing About in Boats," which goes into detail about a variety of activities which can make paddling something more than merely getting exercise. In the article, I've also suggested projects related to paddling which don't require that you get the boat wet. Now and then, the way to get back on the water is to not try too hard to get on the water. Does this seem a contradiction? It's not. Time off from something you love can be the best way to appreciate it more. And if you busy yourself with a task related to paddling, you might well find yourself hankering to get out and take a spin.
What sorts of pastimes can provoke this happy revival in interest? Here's a sampling: Get involved with ropecraft. Make your home kitchen a test kitchen and learn to cook some new camp recipes. Reading is an old reliable for enticing you to get out onto the water. Classics like Dangerous River or earlier journals of exploration do it for me. Or read our own thriller, Trip of a Lifetime if you're looking for contemporary adventure from the fiction shelves. If you're interested in history, find out how to carry that over to paddling trips. And with well over 550 articles in the bank, the In the Same Boat articles could keep you busy for a while.
So, what do you say? Can you hear the siren song of the paddle once more? Has water once again begun to work its magic? Then it's time to study maps and dream dreams. It's time to head out to the put-in. And there's not a moment to be lost!
Even lifelong paddlers have bad days, days when paddling becomes more punishment than pleasure. Happily, these days are usually few and far between. But sometimes, one bad day follows another without let up. What about you? Have you found yourself adrift in the doldrums lately? Well, if so, be of good cheer. There is a cure for this disease. And the magic ingredient is as close as the nearest waterway.
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