Patti Godwin wanted a monumental celebration for her 60th birthday. So she paddled her heavy red kayak 400 miles down the middle third of the Columbia River, from the Canadian border to Oregon, portaging around the seven dams.
The adventure was an exercise in the balance of life. Goodwin, who owns American Leak Detection in Spokane with her husband, worked the first part of the week and then took off Thursday afternoons for the river. Overall it took her eight weekends, a total of 22 days.
“We can all look at what it is we are passionate about and build it into what we do every day,” Godwin said.
On her final day on the river, she summarized her journey in her paddle blog, Columbia Reflections: “Follow your Bliss.” The blog was a way for friends and kayakers to follow her adventure, and where she urged those who felt inspired to donate to the local Soul to Soles program that outfits needy children with new shoes.
Godwin has meditated for 30 years. She incorporated the practice into paddling by focusing on two virtues during each leg of the adventure. Bliss. Kindness. Bounty. Calmness. Free will. Integrity. Release.
“Insights … our busy lifestyles aren’t the most conducive to taking the time for introspection,” Godwin wrote Aug. 26 after her seventh leg from the Vantage Bridge to Priest Rapids Dam. “Moving slowly along these waters invites me to do just that. Turning themed-question inside out and upside down has been very fruitful. I relish the ‘ahas’ and the epiphanies. Luckily, I can take them home to move them along into action.”
Immersing herself in nature intensified the experience. She did most of the trip solo, including camping by the shore.
“Being out in nature is so awesome,” said Godwin, somewhat giddy with the memory. “It just refuels me. When you are on the water, it’s 360-degree exposure to nature.”
The river flow emulates life. Some stretches are flat, stagnant, dead water. You have to lean into it and paddle through, Godwin said. Other spots are fast, fun, exhilarating. Godwin’s daily mileage varied widely depending on the flow. Across Lake Roosevelt where the river current is sometimes 200 feet below the surface, Godwin went 22 miles in a day. After the Grand Rapids Dam in the Hanford area, the current helped her make nearly 46 miles in a day. She once counted her paddle strokes once at 42 per minute.
Godwin encourages others to start marking adventures off their bucket list and live with intent and be present in the moment. Yet she said such adventures take motivation and planning. They don’t just happen. But like everything in life, Godwin said, it’s worth the work.
“It was so over the top,” she said. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
When Godwin got off the river in Walla Walla, her husband told her there was “no Mississippi, no Colorado, no Rio Grande” in her paddling future.
That’s OK. Godwin is contemplating paddling the Canadian side of the Columbia in 2014.