Salmon River Clinic- Joey M.
Oh my gosh, I really don’t know where to begin! My first experience with Team River Runner (TRR) was at an Out of Sight clinic in Montana, where Visually impaired and blind Veterans were taught the fundamentals of kayaking. This was my first time kayaking and a very gentle introduction into my first white-water experience. Fast forward a month and I’m sitting at a campsite on the bank of the Salmon River with 19 other expedition members. Everyone is taking turns introducing themselves to the group while mentioning their variable YEARS of Kayaking experience. Then it’s my turn to speak… “Hi. My name is Joey. I’m visually impaired aaaannnd… I have 6 days of kayaking experience…”.
My lack of experience in kayaking, honestly, was irrelevant since I had recieved phenomenal fundamentals training by TRR in Montana and on this trip, I was assigned a cadre of rockstar guides. Furthermore, I was kayaking with another veteran on the trip who is completely blind and had kayaked the Grand Canyon. I was surrounded by a wealth of experience!
The first few days were overwhelmingly bursting with adventure and fun! I must have swum at least 7 times total over the course of many classes 2 and 3 rapids with a single class 4 sneaking in. To say that I wasn’t nervous would be a lie, however, the expedition leader was always there to reassure our confidence and our abilities. Furthermore, my guides were always on top of every opportunity to teach me something and work on techniques, specifically advanced techniques in kayaking. Before every technical set of rapids my guides would discuss the movements while making real time spot maneuver call outs during the actual rapid itself. How they were able to yell over the sound of that turbulent water is beyond me. As the trip progressed, I swam took fewer swims until I wasn’t swimming at all on class 3 rapids. This is all due to the stellar guidance and instructing I was receiving from my guides. They were so patient to work with me on advanced kayaking techniques and if I took a swim, we would take the time to discuss what led to that event and how to prevent it on the next challenge. Our combined hard work culminated on a set of rapids called “Elk Horn”, a class 3+ rapid just riddled with rocks and window shading holes. This was by far, hands down my most pleasurable experience of the whole trip! My guides and I were perfectly in sync making dynamic moves to the left and right as we dodged rocks and holes. I could hear my lead guide making hard directional commands while the tail guide made precision corrections with the occasional “PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE” snuck in. Despite the turbulent sounds of the river crashing over rocks and waves smacking us in the face, I could hear them so clearly. My team and I crushed the Elk Horn rapids! I cannot express enough the gratitude and love I have for my guides and everything that they did to guide me down that river. As the trip continued, it was obvious the level of quality training I was receiving in how we as a team would just crush rapid after rapid.
The foundational and advanced training I received from TRR has granted me a new sense independence, that I otherwise wouldn’t have. However, they also provided an organic environment for Vets, be it injured or not, to meet and share our experiences in the presence of nature I hadn’t really spoken of my injuries from my IED blast in some years and yet found myself floating on the beautiful Salmon River amongst the valleys and mountains surrounded by Vets and sharing my story. It was truly peaceful. The healing that one can receive in the presence of nature is truly unmatched. TRR has provided this for me and for many Vets on this trip. For this I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Thank you so very much.