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At the age of 13 I began to live an overly cautious and well-planned life after being diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. My burning desire for adventure was nearly extinguished as my disease progressed in my mid 20’s. I allowed fear and doubt to dictate my path, and scapegoated “life” as reasons to not stray too far from caution or Kentucky. I survived on a diet of travel documentaries and vicariously living through others. There was always an excuse allowing me to say no. It wasn’t until I faced my own mortality that I realized life is most definitely for the living. I no longer feared death, I began fearing I might not live life enough.
Then, in May of 2013 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a complication related both to my Rheumatoid Arthritis and the medications I was prescribed to slow the progression of the disease. During my first year in remission (2014) I joined some friends who insisted I try kayaking. We paddled Green River near Greensburg, Kentucky. I was enamored. I found kayaking completely removed me from my stress. I had to be present. What mattered was the water. What mattered was now.
In the past four years since entering remission I started a year-round micro farm and use the farm as a platform for activism. The larger our operation became the less time I was setting aside for myself. I was proud of my work, but I could feel myself losing the presence I had found kayaking and on other adventures. August of 2017 I experienced FD and whitewater kayaking in Tarkio, Montana. Whitewater kayaking blew my mind. Seven days later I returned to Kentucky with a larger family and a roaring bonfire in my heart for adventure.
On the last warm day in November of 2017 I went kayaking with an experienced friend. He’s the perfect paddle buddy, chilled and skilled. It was a great paddle on a mild fall day. Days later, I told one of my FD buds it was relaxing but not the same. It wasn’t whitewater. As winter grew colder myself and a few other Southeastern FDers all admitted we were having dreams about whitewater kayaking. The consensus was final. No more still water. No more lazy rivers. We all wanted to learn more and improve our kayaking techniques. We all needed a fix of whitewater instruction in 2018.
As of this moment, an unofficial trip of First Descents alumni is set for Sept. 21-23, 2018 in Bryson City, North Carolina with the Nantahala Outdoor Center. There wasn’t a special formula we followed. There wasn’t a friend of a friend of a cousin’s neighbors aunt who planned and booked this trip. Through social media and limitless information at the tip our fingers myself and a handful of people stopped pining and started doing. These were the parameters: whitewater kayaking, lodging in the Carolina’s, a capacity of 20 FDers, all for a weekend in mid September. I volunteered myself to manage the in’s and out’s of a 3 day / 2 night whitewater kayaking trip in September during my slow growing season of late-winter/early-spring.
I cannot take the credit for planning this trip. Several FDers contributed feedback and research making sure this trip will be a pleasant experience for everyone no matter their kayaking skill level. It was very important we set a budget per participant that was achievable for anyone and/or we could help one another. We started an event page on Facebook for the unofficial FD trip and asked others to invite other fellow FD’s. On the page everyone gave feedback choosing our cabins and selecting the itinerary with NOC. One bit of advice, never be afraid to call or email lodging and outfitters for more assistance or advice. Our NOC contact Sweet Pea has been a great resource.
The camaraderie and teamwork on achieving this goal has been through the roof! Before leaving Tarkio last August I asked to my fellow FD’s to hold me to my promise to myself to be Out Living It. Thanks to the FD community I know I can and will keep my promise.
I am a 33 year old “retired” chemist turned micro farmer. I like to call myself an “extreme gardener.” For the past 20 years I have lived with a degenerative autoimmune disease called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. In May of 2013 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a complication related to both my disease and the prescriptions to slow the progression of the disease. After going into remission my husband and I put our knowledge from our past careers into turning our roughly 3 acre yard/ orchard into organic produce production through traditional and hydroponic techniques. We use repurposed materials, recycled greenhouse frames, and a less is more approach to farming. Our micro farm is a platform for activism on many issues near and dear to our hearts including healthy lifestyle changes. “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seed that you plant.”–Robert Lewis Stevenson.