Overcoming Wildlife Fears When Kayaking (Personal Story)

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Ethan Thompson

As an experienced kayaker, I’ve paddled countless rivers and tributaries over the past two decades. One thing I’ve learned is that every outing, no matter how familiar the waters, carries some level of trepidation – that tingling excitement mixed with a hint of fear of the unknown. Pushing your boundaries as an adventurer is what makes experiences memorable and meaningful.

The Plan: Venturing into the Unknown

Recently, I had been planning an ambitious solo kayaking trip – a 10-mile round-trip exploration of a river I knew well but had never ventured quite so deep into. My goal was to paddle to a remote, seldom-visited spring whose beauty I had only witnessed through the photos of other adventurers before me. As the date approached, however, my typical pre-adventure jitters morphed into a more persistent worry about navigating the risks of wildlife encounters.

You see, on a previous trip along this same waterway, I had a rather unnerving experience with a trio of feral hogs charging into the shallows toward my kayak. While they didn’t pursue me once I pulled away, it was a jolting reminder that I would be sharing this river with unpredictable creatures just as at home in its waters as I.

Thoughts of repeating or escalating that experience weighed heavily, compounded by the widely-perpetuated legends of massive alligators lurking in this area.

Facing Primal Fears

As someone who has spent countless hours on Florida waterways, I’ve had my share of gator sightings over the years. I’ve learned to respect their territory and give them a wide berth. But the baroque tales of behemoth reptiles dating back to the Jurassic period sparked deep primordial fears I couldn’t easily dismiss in the lead-up to this trip into their deepest lairs.

Overcoming Anxieties and Embarking

The weekend arrived, and despite all the research, planning, and situational preparation, the worries persisted as I pulled my kayak into the quiet waters just after sunrise. I thought about calling it off but knew I had to cast aside the irrational side of these anxieties. With a few calming breaths and a resetting of my mindset, I pushed forward, paddle strokes slicing through the mirror-like surface.

An important step I took that morning was informing a friend of my paddle plan – put locations, intentions, and expected return time. This is a crucial safety practice for any solo outdoor adventure, ensuring that if you don’t return on schedule, someone is aware and can quickly trigger search and rescue efforts.

Insight:

Kayaking in areas with feral hogs and alligators, while initially intimidating, is generally safe when following reasonable precautions. These creatures tend to avoid confrontations with humans unless cornered or threatened. Giving them plenty of space and remaining aware of your surroundings is key.

As the journey progressed, a tranquil confidence took over with each mile conquered. The river was serene, its thick tree canopy sheltering me in peaceful green shade. My eyes scanned for signs of wildlife – some alpha skittishly gliding away at my approach, others curiously observing me with cautious indifference before retreating to their routines.

When paddling narrow, obstructed areas, I’d give a few light taps with my paddle every so often to help avoid startling animals that may have missed my approach around bends. This audible warning also served to keep me centered and conscious in the moment. For added security, I had stowed a whistle, air horn, and phone within easy reach to frighten off any overly curious visitors if needed.

Achieving the Goal

After a couple of hours of steady paddling and enjoying the sights and sounds of the undisturbed wetlands, I finally reached my goal – the crystalline spring bubbling up from submerged caverns, its perimeter ringed with a lush grotto. While I didn’t linger too long or have time to properly capture the scenery on camera, the reward of completing the journey rendered any remaining worries moot.

Insight:

Make peace with accepting that you may have to modify or postpone your goals based on environmental conditions. Getting there is an achievement, but getting there and back safely is the top priority.

The Triumphant Return

On the return paddle, I felt liberated – fear conquered and replaced by a profound appreciation for nature’s humbling glory and my personal ability to respectfully immerse myself within it. While I remained vigilant, my senses were freed to fully absorb the scenery in a way the anxieties of the outbound journey had initially hindered.

Just before the comforting sights of my launch point emerged, I was graced with a special encounter – a massive gator, effortlessly gliding across the river ahead of me before disappearing under the surface with a subtle wake. Rather than shock, I felt that visceral energy of genuine discovery shared by all adventurers.

Insight:

Keeping an open spirit and allowing yourself to be present helps transform tentative fear into appreciative awe of nature.

Lessons Learned

In reflecting on this adventure, I recall the pangs of anxiety woven with those excited butterflies in the pit of my stomach as I set out that morning. Those feelings, universally shared by explorers of all experience levels, aren’t necessarily unwelcome. If recognized, embraced, and overcome, they are merely human moments to conquer that help elevate the richness of the journey itself.

Insight:

Pre-adventure anxieties are normal and can enhance the experience if you learn to accept and overcome them. Don’t let them keep you from pursuing your ambitions.

As for the concerns that loomed so largely just 24 hours prior about potential run-ins with dangerous wildlife, the knowledge and healthy respect I’ve cultivated over thousands of hours on the water kicked in when it mattered. Yes, you need to be aware when venturing into shared territories and take smart precautions. But far too often, our trepidations about encountering these creatures are inflated by misinformed sensationalism.

Most large animals simply want to be left alone and will choose avoidance over engagement with humans if given the opportunity. Being predictable, reading signs of their presence, and giving them ample personal space negates the vast majority of perceived risk. And in this case, no story of exciting drama was really to be had – just another inspiring adventure to file away as a fond memory.

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself stricken with wildlife worries before an outdoor excursion you have your heart set on, channel those energies into thoroughly researching the realities and adopting a mindset of rationality over fear. Arm yourself with knowledge, take reasonable precautions, be aware of your surroundings, and know that amazing personal growth and achievement awaits if you stay resolute in your quest.

Most importantly, reach out to others who have tread the paths you aim to traverse. In doing so for this trip, I was able to overcome mental hurdles and immerse myself in a day of raw exploration and self-discovery that will undoubtedly fuel my appetite for many more adventures yet to come.

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