Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Trust and discrimination

Silbs got me thinking, as he does frequently, with his recent post on trust. Trusting yourself and your skills and trusting your paddling companions plays a crucial part in safety and enjoyment of any kayak trip. But how does that trust develop and what are the components and attributes that make up our decision to trust ourselves on big water or trust our paddling companions on a long trip with potential challenges? Discrimination plain and simple.

Discrimination has bad overtones from its common usage of judging a person based on their class or category rather than individual merit. The basic definition of the word however, is looking at various aspects of a situation and making fine distinctions. I have a very discriminating taste in microbrewed beers for example. I would hope that most of us have developed discriminating judgment on both paddling conditions and paddling companions. My dad used to say he would go fishing with anyone but chose his hunting companions very carefully. I think most of us do the same with our paddling choices. If anyone wants to go down to Lake Calhoun on a summer evening and paddle I have no qualms whatsoever. Bring the 8' Walmart plastic boat, a nice cotton hoodie, a couple beers, leave that spray skirt at home, and let er' buck. Going to Lake Superior this weekend would be a much different story. Bluntly put, if I've never paddled with you and you've never paddled with anyone who's opinion and skills I respect, there is no way in hell I will be paddling amongst the ice flows and 33F water on Gitchee Gumee with you.

Trips in potentially shaky conditions and remote spots are another situation where discrimination comes into play. On any Apostle Islands trip we normally try to max the seven people allowed on a tent site. Subtle and not so subtle mental weighing and evaluating a whole bunch of factors is the process that finally results in the group and an itinerary that is workable and attainable for the whole group. Again, a group crossing three miles to Sand Island vs. a 4 day swing to Devils, Outer, and Michigan Island are very different sets of circumstances. Lots of common sense but mental discrimination on an infinite number of qualities and anticipated reaction to potential issues go into the decision.

The tough part of course, is some people have an inflated of their paddling abilities. The disease is worse in some than in others. We would all hope that our abilities are in line with our perception of our abilities but that is not always the case and the worst place to find that out is on the middle of a crossing when the wind comes up. As naturally competitive human beings, we all have a mental ranking of our paddling companions abilities and where we rank within that hierarchy. The natural manifestation of that mental scorecard is the person we all look to when it appears the defecation is going to hit the rotation. Conversely, those who are not as confident of their abilities often step up when put in a situation that challenges their skill level. I think most of us are able to identify that paddler as well, mainly by observing and cataloging subtleties and hopefully reinforcing the person's opinion of themselves with positive comments. While safety boating at the Midwest Mountaineering boat demo every spring a few of the more cynical among us have a 'whos's going over' contest,with the winner rewarded with post demo free beers. After watching dozens of test paddlers with a discriminating eye, their body language, the way they sit in the boat, paddling nuances, and other little things, predicting who is going to swim becomes fairly easy.

Use that discriminating eye that's been developed over your paddling life for conditions and paddling abilities. Most of the time that input, along with the input of other members of your group, can be the thing that drives the correct decision whether it be 'paddle or not paddle' or deciding the group makeup of a particular trip. Things can go much more smoothly if proper attention is paid to the discriminating judgment that's been developed over your paddling career.

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