My past decade and a half has been marked by my mother’s words: “Have fun; feel joy; call me when you’re safe.” Though the first two are intrinsically intertwined with my outdoor endeavors, I reliably forget the third and she ends up calling to confirm my safety.
She never complains when I forget, even though I often roll my eyes during her dichotomous goodbye. She has never asked me to reconsider a trip or love a safer sport. Instead, she says her famous line, smiles, and lets me go.
I had to channel her this past week when I helped my partner, Casey, pack for a Middle Fork Salmon trip I wasn’t joining. As I double-checked the contents of the commissary box, fearfulness and nervousness wrestled in my heart. What if the water level doesn’t drop enough? What if they get stuck somewhere? Will they make good decisions? What if they forgot something important? Do they have enough toilet paper?
Rationalizing my fears was harder than it should have been. As a river guide and outdoor enthusiast, I know spending time on the water brings joy, groundedness, and rejuvenation. I know outdoor recreation can increase feelings of connection. It can increase our physical, emotional, and mental health while giving our brains a healthy and productive rest. Self-efficacy grows from healthy risk-taking.
Thinking about the science didn’t help my worries as I triple-checked the groover supply box for toilet paper. Thinking about my mom is what helped. It couldn’t have been easy for her to watch me raid the garage for gear, strap the oar frame to the top of my trusty little Toyota Corolla, speed off for quiet, service-less corners of the wilderness, and then reliably not receive the “I’m safe” phone call on the tail end of a trip. She let me go. No, she empowered me to go.
To this day when I return home sunburned, bruised, tired, and stinky, she holds my face in her hands and says, “You look so happy! Tell me all about it. What did you learn?”
I do feel happy after river trips. Rivers have a way of bringing my best, most joyful self to the surface. My mom knows that; she sees it in my laugh lines and in my peeling nose. She feels it when my heart walks into a room before my feet because I’m proud of what my body and my mind accomplished on the river.
I want that for the people I love and for the soon to be friends I meet on trips. I wouldn’t be who I am without the freedom to roam and the blessings my mom gave me to challenge myself and face my fears in the far reaches of Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness and beyond.
This past week, I tucked my worries into my back pocket and waved goodbye to Casey. I told him, “Have fun, be safe, collect stories.” Before I could stop myself, I added, “And, um, call me when you’re safe?”
I want my worry to erode into curiosity like water-worn river rock. Instead of the jagged corners of columnar basalt, I want to be the smooth contours of a submerged boulder. I want to empower, encourage, and facilitate outdoor adventure like my mother did. I want to say, “Go collect stories; go play!” and when he returns I want to hug Casey, sit him down with an iced tea, and say, “You look so happy! Tell me everything. What did you learn?”