On most of my past long distance paddles I was lucky enough to have someone join me. For this weekend’s long distance paddle which was the longest of this training regiment I was alone. Someone might say ” You were in a river with houses on it how could you feel like you were alone?”. My question for those folks would be “Have you ever been in a crowd of strangers and not felt alone”. For some contestants being alone is not something they have to deal with. Either they are in a sailboat that can accommodate two folks or they are have teamed up with someone. For others they are alone and that happens pretty early in the challenge. I have always been amazed at how fast you lose track of other contestants in these events. I would be on the beach at Ft Desoto with 50 other folks and would be able to see several of them crossing Tampa Bay. Enter Sarasota Bay and all of a sudden the bulk of the fleet disappears. You find yourself alone for the next 15 plus hours until about a half mile out of checkpoint 1. Then just as sudden as the bulk of the fleet disappearing in Sarasota Bay you start seeing these little stern lights and headlamps converging on checkpoint one. Once you leave checkpoint one I usually find myself alone until Flamingo. I might have an occasional passing with a contestant but it is always brief. Either they are on the shore and I am on the water or I am on the shore and they are on the water. So being alone is something Watertribers have to be comfortable with. The interesting thing is that it seems that most folks in the general population really don’t like being alone. I mean it is used as punishment ( solitary confinement) and as a form of torture of POWs by some countries. I guess the reason most folks don’t like it is that you cannot hide or fake who you are when you are alone. You have to rely on yourself for everything. All your fears, insecurities, and flaws are right in your face and there is nothing you can do to hide from them. A Watertribe challenge will flush those fears, insecurities and flaws out and test them relentlessly. Someone might have everyone at work fooled that they are a great problem solver when in reality they are using other people’s work, ideas, and solutions. In a challenge they either solve the problem themselves or quit. Someone might talk a big game about how tough they are and have everyone fooled but in a challenge they will have to prove it. Someone may portray that they have great integrity but are always stretching the true. In a challenge they either do it or not “Acta No Verba” (actions not words). Now with the age of tracking electronics their actions are always being validated. As I have gotten older and I guess more comfortable with who I am , what my fears are ( yes I have them) , and confidence in my abilities I don’t mine being alone. Sure it would be fun to have someone else to share the experience but as my wife says ” He is not right”. Which means there is not a large group of folks to go solicit a team member from. The other issue is you just don’t know how someone will react when the hardships of the challenge come a knocking. That was what made doing things with GitUrNun so special. I knew how tough he was and how he would act when things got bad. Still mad at him for retiring and leaving the area but that is the selfish side of me talking. Some Watertribers have described doing a challenge as a spiritual experience. In fact Chief has indicated that his original idea of the challenges was based on the American Indian idea of a vision quest. I know for me spending so much time alone does cause the challenge to become quite spiritual. A lot of time to self reflect, reassess my life and how I am living it, cause me to experience tremendous emotional swings from pure terror to peaceful tranquility, to talk to myself a lot, to think a lot, to talk to God a lot and sometimes plead and pray like a monk in a monastery ( Like maybe during the night when the seas are rough, I thought I saw a shark fin, and things are not going so well ) For me there are places in the Everglades that feel much more spiritual than any Cathedral I have ever been in. In the UFC I am figuring that there are going to be some long periods of being alone and I am really ok with that. But, just in case I think I might bring Rocky alone to have someone else to talk to. The really scary part is when he starts talking back. Then I know it is time for me to pull over and gets some sleep.
I believe that everyone should do a three day solo trip into the wilderness, even if it’s just car camping. It appears that people get very addicted to social interaction (like facebook) and instead of being alone one is lonely and that only takes a few hours to happen, sad.
This is a great reflection, Bill. After attending a silent Catholic retreat years ago in Louisiana I learned just how infrequently we are quiet enough to listen to what our hearts have to say. I agree with Dennis – everyone should turn off the noise and turn away from distractions occasionally to hit the spiritual reset button. There are probably less dramatic ways to accomplish this than circumnavigating the State of Florida in a kayak, but to each his own!