A story of Crocodiles, Hippos, a kayaker and the best day ever

27 04 2011
“yes please” -tribute to Hendri Cotez
I met Hendri in Uganda 4 years ago when he was training for the first solo descent of the Murchison falls section of the White Nile. Solo trips from Nile River Explores down to the Hairy Lemon island were standard training runs for Hendri at the time. He was somewhat of a legend in the area after leading the first source to sea trip of the White Nile.
 A few of us kiwis were asked if we wanted to Join Hendri on a road trip to Murchison Falls to help start his solo adventure. The departure time was early sometime around 5am as we packed ourselves into the van. Half asleep I was struggling to close the back boot of the van and  Hendri quips ” I wouldn’t rely on you in an emergency in a warzone”.  In my half asleep state I thought to myself, I would love to prove you wrong one day.

 As we unpacked at the get in for the start of Henrys’ paddle there was a surreal sense of will we see this guy again? The odds weren’t in his favour given the stats. The highest concentration of Hippos and Crocs in Africa, 3 rebel groups, including the Lords resistance Army… oh and did I mention that it was also solid class 4/5 whitewater and solo? My question about what he thought the risks were, met with a “no comment”.

Perhaps in that moment it set my benchmark for risky which I would later compare my own adventures to. Part of me is like, well kiting solo can’t be so bad, at least I don’t have to worry about Hippos and Crocs. Hendi himself was to comment in one of his posts that he was surprised to make 30 and what that entailed.

Thankfully he  was successful in completing the trip in 2 days, something that have taken other teams at least 4 days. We greeted him at the take-out above the spectacular Murchison Falls. “Hendi where’s your helmet? Oh, I had to feed to the crocs. I got charged by 7 times on the trip, the last one got a bit close so I threw my helmet at the croc to distract it and paddled off” The conversation followed all night by a very understated “Did I tell you how brave I was?”. I truth, none of us could really understand and certainly one of the things I was later to appreciate on my own Solo trip.

I have met plenty of dirt bag kayakers travelling the world and making their money off the river. There was something different about him that I was only to understand later after reading the few Facebook notes he had written about a trip into the heart of Congo. Articulate and intelligent, not your usual deadhead kayaker. Not concerned about fame or fortune but in search of the “Best Day Ever” (BDE). Before you write off the BDE as some sort of hedonist pursuit, it’s actually more of a time worn philosophy which I am only just realising now.

But the best day ever (BDE) is not just a saying, it is a philosophy. The need for the best day ever was born out of the simple premises that it is impossible to ever life in any other day than today. Yesterday did exist and it will have a influence on today. But no matter how good yesterday was, come today it’s just another memory gathering dust, its bright colors either being distorted to fit your needs, or fading with ever passing minute. Tomorrow will always be a day away. Its dreams and hopes just like memories, nothing but mental constructs. Bringing us… today.

I read a lot of others adventures and some people have written that society needs more adventures like Hendri. I have always been a bit sceptical as one could argue that these sort of adventures are nothing more that a selfish pursuit and what really does society gain out of it? I can only talk about what Hendri has left us and I think it is to challenge our reality and to live in the present. His concept of the Best Day ever (see below) might sound a little strange to most but if you read carefully,  it’s actually pretty sound thinking and I think stems from 2 ideas; Flow and The Power of Now

 RIP Hendri 1975-2010- eaten by a crocodile

I do not propose that you live everyday as if it will be your last. My personal experience living that theory was disappointing, as it left me very unprepared for reaching, beyond all my expectations, my 30s. In fact for tomorrow to be the best day ever, it has to be built on today, how else could it be better, if today did not serve as a stepping stone for an even better day tomorrow.

One might be tempted to call my theory “the best day yet”, but this could imply than one is waiting for a better tomorrow, which is counter to what BDE stands for. I hope it will become clear soon enough.

The aim of DBE is to do your best, in whatever the day offers, the BDE is filled with the best, but only you’re best, since it is your day. It does not matter if your boss is being a freak, it does not matter if it’s
raining when it supposed to be sunny. Do your best in your day.

Sport as example. In a football game only a few goals are scored, however there is movement during the whole game, attack, defense. Every one of these parts as important as the other. Back and forth, the most persistent team will, more often than not win. By wearing down the opposition they
eventually, break through.

The best day ever is based on this well tested, widely accepted principle. You keep trying to give it your best, during training, during defense, during attack, eventually without you knowing which day, you score. You actually manage to give it your best. You have a Best Day Ever. The discipline from past attempts helps you to go one step further than you have ever gone before. This does not have to translate into physical performance, while striving towards a goal, you fight more battles mentally
in a day, than you ever will fight physically in a life time.

Everyday will not be the BDE. You can only maintain a certain level of happiness for a prolonged time. After an emotionally high you will experience a low. Newton’s 3de law, for every action there has to be an equal and opposite reaction. The best day ever is about achieving days of ultimate highs more often, but it is more than that, it is about making the multitude of days that will not reach those highs, amazing days in there own right, by giving them a purpose or a chance at greatness, days where
you recognize the challenges and except them, even if there is no reward. Its about giving yourself an opportunity to do something worth remembering, even if its just for a few minutes at night as you drift of to sleep, perhaps just one little thing to help you make tomorrow the BDE.

Today, yesterday and tomorrow are not in competition. Taste that meal like it’s the first time you have tasted it, enjoy something as if you have never enjoyed it before and you will have the best day ever. Appreciate what is given to you in your day and it becomes the BDE.

Its not about winning, its not about recognition, it about living in the moment, good or bad, feel it, lap it up, good or bad, its all a miracle in some way.

So how do you live in the now?

By realizing that you are god, that everything that is happing is happening to you. The universe is infinite, making you the centre no matter where you stand.

How do you come to the understanding that you are god?

By making a difference in your life, by realizing that everything you do has consequences. By taking control of your life, the realization grows in you; I am the one who drives my universe. Don’t expect it to be easy, you will have learnt nothing if it was, the better you become at driving your universe the bigger the challenges will become but the stronger you will be to handle them.

Why then all this struggle if all that awaits is more struggle? Because the more you fight the good fight, the clearer you see that external factors are subject to your perspective of them. You can choose not to drive your universe, inside you the spark will die, and your appreciation for life with it, because without that spark, life is not worth living.

Or maybe its all means nothing, I really cant be sure…


In search of flow

24 09 2010

I have contemplated for some time what this “adventure kitesurfing” malarky really means. Many of my friends who have done big and even small adventures, talk about the inevitable post adventure restlessness and in many cases depression. All complain about the big visa bill and having to work again. Most also get viewed by their non adventurous friends, as just anther crazy adrenaline seeking person and can’t really relate to what they have been through. So is adventure really worth it if all you have to look forward to is post adventure depression, a big Visa bill and being viewed as crazy person?

I am an avid follower of other people’s adventures and am really interested in the psychology behind why people go and do adventures like I have just done. Many cite reasons such as leading a more fulfilling life on return from pushing themselves to the edge.
I am somewhat sceptical about these claims and think many people, without realising it, are really in search of something called “flow”. I hope to explain this concept further and introduce factors needed to achieve it.

What is Flow?
Before you start thinking this is just about sport, it’s not, the concept also applies to other aspects of your life such as work and has been well-studied among artists, musicians and scientist’s. The best explanation of flow I have seen is the following Wikipedia article, it basically summarises and expands on some work by a psychology researcher called Csíkszentmihályi. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost. To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.
The flow state also implies a kind of focused attention, and indeed, it has been noted that mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and martial arts seem to improve a person’s capacity for flow. Among other benefits, all of these activities train and improve attention.
In short, flow could be described as a state where attention, motivation, and the situation meet, resulting in a kind of productive harmony or feedback.

A longer explanation of how and why he came up with the idea of is detailed on this http://youtube.com/w/?v=fXIeFJCqsPs if you have the time.

I experienced moments of flow on the Cook Strait crossing and definitely during the Coastal Classic race. It’s almost like time just accelerated and everything worked harmoniously make the goal. I felt it at times on the Brazil trip but not as often. Mostly I was just pleased to be safe at the end of each day and there was no big euphoria on finishing at the end of 2000km.

A friend of mine also summarised a concept I have advocated for some time which is a site called Feed The Rat. In reality feeding the rat is just describing a lifestyle that is seeking flow and a break from boredom.

I was once asked about why I do jiujitsu, and I remember clearly stating that it was the only time in my life when the noise inside my head stopped. My brain is going at a million miles a minute, there are always thoughts about work, life, money, goals etc, it never stops. In jiujitsu, another person is either trying to choke you out into unconsciousness or break your arm. You stop thinking about jiujitsu in your mind and you allow it to become you. You give everything you have, all of your senses to the artform and use it to not only survive but prevent further danger by attacking your opponent to unconsciousness. I found that it was one of the few times in my life when the noises in my head stopped, time almost stood still and I could focus intently on something else. I craved that feeling again.

How to achieve flow?
People search a lifetime to experience flow moments and sometimes they can be few and far between. How to achieve flow is probably another blog post and requires some more research on my part to explain properly. For the moment this is the simplistic explanation.

1. One must be involved in an activity with a clear set of goals. This adds direction and structure to the task.
2. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task at hand and his or her own perceived skills. One must have confidence that he or she is capable to do the task at hand.
3. The task at hand must have clear and immediate feedback. This helps the person negotiate any changing demands and allows him or her to adjust his or her performance to maintain the flow state.

Just in case you were wondering, I haven’t been affected by the post adventure depression or restlessness yet. Maybe because it’s still the honeymoon period or maybe because I am pleased to be done putting myself at risk every day. I certainly have a big visa bill however, and yes the media are happy to frame me as just another crazy guy because that’s just easier for people to grasp. It was however nice last week to be interviewed by someone who actually understands adventures and didn’t immediately ask “what about the sharks”. http://www.explorersweb.com/oceans/news.php?id=19664

Funny enough I don’t have a desperate urge to go out kitesurfing and am quite happy contemplating other activities to occupy my time. Activities this week have included 2 yoga sessions, a social run and tonight I will try my first Copeira session.

If only more people understood the concept of flow maybe the world would be a happier place. So I am interested in others thoughts on this topic. Have you experienced flow in sport or life in general and what were you doing to achieve that.