After finishing my master’s degree and a season in the mountains, I accepted my first journalism job.
I was posted to a community newspaper in a once thriving, now faded fishing town at the northern tip of Vancouver Island. I lived where the highway ended, truly the end of the road, in a converted garage apartment a few steps from a rugged, deserted beach. I went on weekend surf trips to the isolated west coast and dined on Dungeness crab I caught in my own crab trap. Romantic yes, but the intensity of the town’s serious and glaring social issues and lonely workdays as the sole reporter in a drafty, once bustling newsroom began to take its toll on me.
“Don’t worry,” a neighbor told me. “It only takes about two years to become part of the community here.” Well shy of that two-year mark, I moved back to the city and into the third floor of my parents’ home. I traded in coastal mountain views for those of the Tetris skyline, all in the hopes of landing a more fulfilling job. I told myself it would only be for a month—two at most.
I met for coffee with old friends and listened as they spoke of their never-ending job hunting sagas. I too spent the better part of the cold grey winter writing cover letters, compulsively refreshing my inbox, and rid- ing home in the dark on the subway after networking meetings. I hadn’t secured a single interview. To get by I was becoming highly skilled at making salt-rimmed beergaritas at a place called El Rincon. The restaurant’s Spanish moniker translates to “the corner” although it was curiously located in the middle of a traffic-snarled city block.
A friend happened to mention in passing a job posting at Rapid. It was journalism and whitewater together; a union I hadn’t known existed. Within weeks I was living and working at the river. I moved into a 100-year- old house between two buzzing and rumbling sawmills. I had a wood stove, a leaky tin roof and the river a throw bag toss off my front porch.
I was excited about this unexpected new chapter, but the lingering effects of a long winter of uncertainty left me with shaky confidence in this sleepy new town with only one general store. After a few weeks I’d met just a handful of the several hundred local residents.
As the last of the snow dripped from the eaves and the river finally broke itself into pieces, my workdays melted into evenings filled with after-work paddling sessions. Rolling, ferrying, eddy turns, surfing till dark. Not a single subways ride. Thursday nights began to mean packing my Subaru for a weekend festival or the now familiar 60 miles through freshly worked farmland to the walloping waves of the Ottawa River.
Spending my time running rivers, organizing shuttles, hanging wet gear and driving to paddle kept me so busy I didn’t realize that I was now part of something. I’d forgotten all about being new and unsure in an unfamiliar small town. Whitewater has given me more than just a job. It has given me focus, community, friends and balance—all the ingredients for a vibrant life.