Zen. It’s such a small word, but more often than not, it can be a hard feeling to find. Some people find zen through meditating. Some people pray. Some people sit in scorching hot yoga studios and twist their bodies into pretzel-like shapes for an hour. For me, zen has always been somewhat elusive. I’m a mover. And a shaker. And I’m typically highly caffeinated and sleep-deprived—which makes for a combination of energy that people with normal sleep patterns will never truly understand. When I’m seeking a few moments of zen, I usually hit a trail. My zen can almost always be found on the way to a summit. But this summer, I started to find my rhythm, and a little piece of zen, on top of a stand up paddleboard.
I got my first taste of SUP on the calm waters of a darling little lake at the Red Canyon Lodge at the Flaming Gorge earlier this year. I followed that up with 360-mountain views seen from the middle of Lake Estes in Estes Park, Colorado. A few weeks later I rented a board from the awesome people at Rocky Mountain Paddle Board and paddled out to watch the sun slowly lower itself over the Front Range from the center of the Boulder Reservoir. With each outing, my rhythm got better. And as I concentrated on holding that rhythm and keeping myself upright, my zen level rose. When the opportunity to paddle through Antelope Canyon at Lake Powell came up, I jumped at it. I had found all of the zen on top of a stand up paddleboard this summer, and I was feeling confident and a little cocky about my SUP skills—even as strong wind gusts pushed against my car that afternoon as I made my way to the Lake Powell Paddleboards rental shop. The owners of Lake Powell Paddleboards loaded up my board on top of my vehicle, mentioned that the morning is actually the best time to SUP in Antelope Canyon, and sent me off with directions down to the public loading dock at Lake Powell. As I unloaded my board, several big gusts of wind pushed and pulled at the tip. But I was determined. Despite the wind, I was going to find my zen. And catch a glimpse of the famed two-toned colored, carved out walls found inside of the canyon. As I pushed off from the dock, I knew I was in for a challenge. I was battling the wind, and the wind was winning. From my knees, I paddled as hard as I could towards the canyon walls, which offered sanctuary from the elements. No matter how hard I paddled and fought, the wind fought harder. And it wasn’t until I took a deep breath, found my zen, and started to find a rhythm on the sparkling wavy waters of Lake Powell that I really started to move forward. Paddle once to the left. Twice to the right. Paddle. Paddle. Paddle. I started to find my rhythm, and it was leading me right into Antelope Canyon. As the waves in the water got choppier, my zen level got higher. I was feeling it. I could tackle any challenge. Adventure was my middle name. I was zen. I was doing this. I owned these waves.
It was a perfect storm of sorts that followed my moment of zen. As my board rose up on top of a fast-moving wave, the wind shifted. And instead of hitting my board straight on, it blasted it from the side and flipped me and my operation right over. It took me a minute to regain my senses and grab my paddle and sunglasses—and my breath. If zen levels were measured like the pain scale at a doctor’s office, mine would have dropped to a drooping frowny face with sad eyebrows. I had just achieved all the zen, and it was pulled out from under me like someone pulling a crisp white tablecloth out from underneath a 5-star dinner. When I finally made it back on top of my board, I was more determined than ever to reach the nearby mouth of Antelope Canyon. The canyon wall, with it’s different layers and all of it’s adventurous glory were almost within reach. With water dripping over my eyes and newly formed knots on the places of my body that my flailing board had hit, I pushed forward. But the harder I pushed, the harder the wind blew. And my efforts simply became a mere show for nearby hikers and sunbathers layered along the solid rock-formed banks. After two-hours, I ended the battle. With the wind at my back, the paddle back to the public dock wasn’t much. It was mostly just a challenge to not flip over in the increasingly rocky waters—again. When I reached the dock and pulled my board up along the shallow banks, my body was quaking all over. My quivering legs were a dead giveaway that I’d fought the wind, and the wind had won.
Some people have their “Mount Everest”. I now have my “Antelope Canyon”. In the end, we’re all just chasing something.