Night kayaking on the Upper Colorado |

Night kayaking on the Upper Colorado

Shawna Henderson
Special to the Daily
The moonlight float group waits at the pull-off during a trip on the Upper Colorado earlier this summer.
Special to the Daily |

Are you ready to change your perception? As a child, did you enjoy those optical illusions where you can see objects in two different ways, depending on how you look at it? Remember seeing the vase? Or was it two faces? How about the old woman, or is it really a young girl facing away?

Just as our eyes can fool us, so can our perception of a situation. This leads me to my last adventure: Taking a daytime activity — whitewater kayaking — and doing it at night.

Reality changes

As a way to challenge myself, I broke my 10 p.m. bedtime to go whitewater kayaking down the Upper Colorado River. In case you do not know, the Upper Colorado — known locally as the “Upper C” — is a Class II section of river located north of Silverthorne. Experienced boaters hardly consider it a difficult section of river. Instead, many consider it a perfect beginner run.

Upon arrival at 9 p.m., just as the remains of the sunset disappeared behind the mountains, the night sky erased all remaining colors and began replacing them with shadows. The river, once clear, now turned dark black. The shore seemed to disappear before my eyes, and all that remained was hope that the moon would soon rise and light the way.

That was our first mistake. We did not realize that the moon rises an hour later each night after an official full moon, and, unfortunately, the light we expected did not reach above the canyon walls in time for our adventure.

However, without the light of the moon on a moonlight trip, this seemingly “mellow” section of river took on a whole new reality.

Fear of the unknown

As the moon tried to break free to light our way, we wasted no time and began flowing down the river. Surprisingly, the water and air were both pleasantly temperate, making our adventure more enjoyable.

In this semi-darkness, my senses began to work overdrive, especially the sense of sound. At nighttime, sounds are amplified, reflecting off the jagged canyon walls like a concert at Red Rocks.

In the first mile, a really loud “snap” on top of the water startled me. My mind wondered what might be lurking in the bushes or what might be swimming towards me in the black water. What exactly was that? Then again, even louder this time, “SNAP!” Was a dangerous water creature, something like the Loch Ness River Monster, getting ready to attack?

Once I realized the truth — that the sound was probably a river otter (I hope) — it was time to let go of this F.E.A.R (False Evidence Appearing Real) and stop my mind from playing tricks on me. When fear takes over, the mind can perceive what it wants to perceive and disregard reality.

What ifs

The mind likes to play a game I call the “What If?” game. Have you heard of it? This game clouds your mind, leading you to truly believe something that is not real. It’s a strange mind technique: We start thinking about all the things that could go wrong instead of thinking about all the things that could go right.

The reality is that “What ifs?” do not exist. They are optical illusions, created by your mind to fuel worries and doubts. Let them go. Participating in night activities helps you train your mind to think of the best possible solutions. It also helps build the confidence you need to trust in your own intuition.

When the moon finally rose high enough to peer out from behind the clouds, it reflected off the water with a white glow. Even though it was not going to illuminate our path down into the canyon, my eyes adjusted enough to see the rapids.

However, my depth perception was completely distorted, so finding the deepest line was a challenge. When I couldn’t see the shore as a good reference point, it seemed impossible to figure out speed or direction. At one point, based on the reflection of the light in near-darkness, I thought I could be moving backwards.

I knew this was impossible, but my only indication that the river was changing speed and direction became the growing sound of the rapids. As a team, my companions and I visualized what the river looked like during the day and then used that knowledge to follow the best line and avoid complications.

What you see during the day on the Upper C is spectacular. However, it does not compare to the thrill you can experience at night. An “I’ve done that a million times” adventure can turn into an epic adventure with a slight change of perception. In Summit County, we all love to play outdoors, but when was the last time you went (insert adventure activity) at night? You might just be surprised at how it awakens your mind and introduces you to a new perspective.

The truth is, night creatures do come out to hunt, and they are in the forest, but most of them are probably not interested in hunting you. Hurray for being at the top of the food chain!

Rewards: The hot springs

About three-quarters of the way down this section, after you go through the rapids, is a natural hot spring. As I sat in the perfectly warm water and looked up at the night sky, watching the moon as it finally appeared over the canyon wall, I thought, “Living in the moment is always more rewarding then worrying about life’s What Ifs.”

At times, we are so busy worrying about the future that we forget to enjoy the special, magical moment manifesting before our eyes. When my perception changed, when I went out in the dark, this classic, beginner kayak run transformed into something more.

Head games

In general, the sport of whitewater kayaking is a huge head game. Even the most talented boaters at times need to work through the occasional doubt and calm their minds before heading out to the river.

As with the optical illusions created in the darkness, the trick to overcoming this ridiculous game in your head is to push through the chatter and stay confident in yourself. Night kayaking helped me overcome those made-up mind games and let go of fear — relax into a state of flow. When the sun goes down, you might be surprised to realize that nighttime activities give you a new perspective on life. Sensations are amplified, the brilliant stars shine above, the water splashes on your face and, for me, the experience of feeling my way down the river helped take my boating skills to a whole new level.

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