One of my favorite recreational pasttimes is wilderness canoeing. Over the course of the last 50 years I’ve spent—in aggregate—about one year in a canoe. Mostly in Canada (which has more land than the US and only one-tenth the population, and therefore much more wilderness).
For the most part my experience has been lake canoeing (which means that wind is far more a determinant of progress than current). That said, it’s not unusual for two lakes to communicate via a stretch of river passage, and some portion of the time that means white water. If the current is going our way, we’ll have to assess whether we think we can run the rapids, walk them, or portage around them. Sometimes we have a route guide that will give us a hint of what we’ll encounter, but we never run white water without sussing it out.
Once we decide to shoot a rapids, we select an approach and a paddling technique (it’s not uncommon that you’ll need to change direction part-way through and you want to work out the sequence and the signaling ahead of time—as much as I’m a process junkie, in the midst of white water is not the right time to call a mtg). Because your leverage in altering directions is dependent on the relative difference between the canoe’s speed and the current, it’s generally best to enter rapids with strong strokes. I line up my chosen angle of approach, and then let my bowman know it's time to lean into their paddle with two words: "Hit it!"
As you accelerate into the maelstrom, there’s a particular moment when you are not yet into the white water, yet you are committed beyond return. Your heart rate jumps, the adrenaline is flowing, and time slows down. You are totally alive… and you haven’t even done anything yet! (One of my best canoeing buddies was friend named Tony, and he found that the sound of approaching rapids was more effective than Metamucil for achieving regularity in the bush—he had to take a dump just anticipating that we might shoot.)
It is part of my public life… which I simultaneously crave and dread. I love the energy and exhilaration, yet can never be sure whether I’ll encounter hidden rocks that can swamp my boat. I forget to eat, need less sleep, and am always wanting to have my paddle in the water, feeling my way in the changing current, and laughing with the crashing waves. I never feel more alive than when I'm in the rapids.