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  • Writer's pictureClif Edwards


Updated: Oct 2


"Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do.

There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”

Eddie Rickenbacker – WWI Ace


The adventures of a full moon paddle

It was during the last GM/CD adventure that Gar suggested a future full-moon paddle down the Withlacoochee River. Recognizing it as a worthy adventure, I wasn’t going to let it go.

We scheduled a June 4 launch, when the sun would set at 8:30 PM and the moon rise at 9:30 PM, which would make for little paddling in total darkness. Thunderstorms required a postponement until the next evening. No problem for retired senior citizens on social security, except the moon rising wouldn’t be until 10:30 PM, a time when most of us seniors are in bed asleep. Floating a tree lined river, we weren’t sure when we would get to enjoy the moon’s reflection. Good or bad, it would make for an hour more paddling in total darkness.

It is said that humans have three innate fears: darkness, water, and heights. Add the imagined ones of monsters and ghosts, absent the heights, and we were in a target-rich environment in pursuit of an adventure.

Adventure defined

What is an adventure? The best explanation I ever heard was one my youngest son gave his daughters as we readied to hike the “Crack in the Ground” volcanic fissure in Oregon. Cora asked, “Am I going to have fun?” Her dad answered, “We are going on an adventure, you can tell me if it was fun when it’s over?”

It was dusk when we launched our canoe and kayak into the alligator-infested Withlacoochee River. In the fading light, we could see the reptiles hunting for dinner. They resembled monsters.

Uninhabited paddling

An hour later it was nearly pitch black. Gar, having been an airplane pilot for forty years, and I, having been a boat operator on Lake Superior and in the Everglades for eleven years, was accustomed to nighttime navigation without headlights. For Mar and Dar, this was going to be a new experience.

The ten miles of the river we were paddling is virtually uninhabited, making for magnificent night skies. There were but only a few sections of the river that were somewhat braided, meaning a paddler might unknowingly enter a dead-end or shallow waterway. And so it was that GM found one, becoming hung up in the shallow water. Could they free themselves without having to wade amongst the many pairs of reflecting white eyes? Rocking back and forth, along with pushing with their paddles, careful not to break one, they were able to back their kayak out. I would later learn that for Mar, the adventure was becoming less fun. Her previously jubilant voice now sounded of concern, which was confirmed when she said, “I’m ready for this to be over.” Beyond the point of no return, we paddled on.

Three types of sounds

If you think about it, there are only three types of sounds: earth sounds, nature sounds, and man made sounds. In the beginning, there were only earth sounds, followed by nature sounds. Eons later, man made sounds would dominate much of the civilized soundscape. This realization did not come to me until I was a ranger at Isle Royale National Park and I touch on it in Protecting National Parks. But here, once again on this magnificent river, its canopy sprinkled with sparkling stars, I could enjoy nature’s symphony; so loud that I had to raise my voice to talk with my boat mate.

Fear sets in on the Withlacoochee River

The Withlacoochee River, born in the Green Swamp, is a designated Florida Paddling Trail that is 76 miles in length and flows north into the Gulf of Mexico. During the Second Seminole War, it formed a natural barrier. During our paddle, we would cross where the ‘Battle of the Withlacoochee’ occurred, which pitted 250 warriors against 750 soldiers. Perhaps the loud nature sounds were really the screams of ghosts, casualties of that battle.

Mar’s tone suggested she was wrestling with fear; Dar concealed hers. In my thirty-eight years of law enforcement, I had been where they were. In Villains-Victims-Victors, I write about it. Learning to manage fear began in the academy and continued into the field. As an MSP dog handler, K9 Cisco and I tracked armed felons in the darkness. There, I made darkness my friend and learned to use my flashlight sparsely, something that is counter-intuitive. As I discuss in Battling Drug Dealers, working undercover in the devil’s den was another place that can test one’s mettle. There you must not only manage it but conceal it. Like, unknown to me, Dar was doing so well in the darkness. Being in the dark with swamp creatures was something I had become comfortable with as a ranger in the Everglades. No sane person is fearless. While I’m pretty comfortable in the water and with darkness, heights are a different matter.

While courage can be a positive byproduct of fear, panic is the opposite. In a panic, we are useless. In Protecting National Parks, I tell how panic knocked at my door more than once while a ranger at Isle Royale. For me, boat operation on Lake Superior in rough seas with no visibility nearly became my Waterloo. Thwarting panic became a personal accomplishment of mine.

Three hours into the paddle, the nearly full moon rose above the tree-lined river and graced us with its reflected light. The goal of our adventure had been met.

Sometimes it takes courage to manage fear

When the adventure was all said and over with, I learned that Mar and Dar had been out of their comfort zone. While panic may have knocked at their door, they did not allow it in. managing their FEAR, they demonstrated COURAGE. If you ask them if it was a fun adventure, I think they would say yes, adding that they did not plan to do it again.

For me, I just might.

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