Fear And The Spit Test

Me in the Royal Gorge on the Arkansas River - 1998

Me in the Royal Gorge on the Arkansas River – 1998

My first day on a river in a whitewater kayak was a couple of lifetimes ago. I don’t remember a lot from that day except for one thing my guide/instructor taught me and talked about… fear and the spit test.

As gross as it sounds, the spit test is merely this… before you go into a rapid or a drop in the river, try to spit. If you can spit then you are okay but if you can’t spit then you need to eddy out, get off of the river and do some scouting from the bank before proceeding.

I’ve written a lot about fear, facing your fears, moving past your fears and so on, but sometimes you really need to pay attention to what you fear in life and maybe a spit test is what is needed. Stop, scout out your situation, and then make an informed decision to move on or not.

One June 12th, 1999 I nearly died in a whitewater kayaking accident. It was up on Clear Creek above Golden, Colorado. The water was high, fast and cold as it was nothing but spring run-off from the melting snow. To be honest, form the moment I got on the water, heck, even when I got close to it, I felt off. My gut was screaming at me that it was not a good day to be on the river.

As I said, the water was fast, there was no safety really in terms of eddies on the river and we had to go with the read and run method, which is, you figure out the river as you go along. In other words, once you put in you are 100% in until you hit the take out point. Long story short, I flipped and could not roll to get back up-right. My combat roll, which was bombproof, had failed me. I ended up out of my boat and flushed downriver for about three minutes we figured and traveled about a half a mile.

For the first minute I was concerned… the second minute I was panicked which I never do… the third minute I was resigned to die with my body being fished out of the water at the Coors Brewery later that day or the next. (This is not an exaggeration.) Fortunately, there was just the tiniest break in the current and I was able to crawl up the bank. How I did not leave this earth that day is still beyond me and nothing short of a miracle.

As a boater I failed on two accounts that day. First, I did not listen to my gut. The water was not outside of my boating abilities but that day was not a day for me to be on it and I knew it but I put in anyway… secondly I did not check in with myself or do a spit test to see just how much fear had a grip on me. Not only did I nearly die that day but that accident tainted the sport for me and though I boated another three years after, it was never the same.

Fear can hold us back but it can also keep us alive. It is important to know the difference. The next time you are going down the river of life and the rapids begin to get intense, try the spit test… maybe it is time for you to pull out and take a break before going any further… Use it as you clue to be more aware…  And trust me… the spit test works.

Andy Wooten M.A. Counseling – Certified Life Coach – Aspen, Colorado

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