On July 6, 2020 my brother-in-law and I loaded our gear into Traveler, a cedar strip canoe I built with my own two hands, and we pushed off from the Great Salt Lake Marina. My dream, which began over four years ago, was to complete a full circumnavigation of the Great Salt Lake in a canoe, something that has never been done in recorded history.
Our first day was smooth paddling with little to no complications — at least until we hit our first night’s campground. Due to low water levels, the beach head was much broader than anticipated, and portaging our gear from the water to our campsite proved very taxing.
Near the end of that evening, I noticed that my brother-in-law was not himself. In discussing things with him I found that the portage had impacted him heavily.
That night, a strong wind kicked up and did not stop all the way through to the next morning. We set out for our next day’s destination, but the wind only increased. The white caps turned into full curling waves. The boat performed beautifully, and my brother-in-law, as our rudder man, maneuvered us through the waves with expert skill. However, three and a half hours of battling the waves left us far short of our intended destination, and we re-routed. That evening more conversation was held about the health and wellbeing of my brother-in-law, as the days battle with the waves had once again taken a noticeable toll.
The wind kicked up again as it had the night before and did not let up until mid-afternoon. We set off again and made it up to the causeway, only to find our way blocked by a very steep rock wall. The “bridge” that was listed on the map was nowhere to be found. Recognizing the strain and potential harm that hiking over the causeway would cause my companion, the decision was made to end the voyage there, having gone a total of 75 of the targeted 180 miles.
In the weeks since my world-record attempt, I have had many people offer very touching words of support and encouragement. A common theme among these well wishes has been the great truth that there is no failure in trying, as long as you learn from the experience.
It is in that spirit that I would like to share a few key things that I learned from this experience. It is my hope that these hard-fought lessons may in some way benefit you.
I recently read an incredible book called Fortitude by Dan Crenshaw. In it the author encourages the reader to not have a Plan B — as it will always distract from your Plan A. At first, I struggled with this idea. I felt it overlooked the need to prepare for changes in your situation. What I have come to understand is that being singularly focused will actually enable a deeper ability to plan for any circumstances that may prevent achieving the goal. Far from wishful thinking, this approach will push the individual to prepare for all possible contingencies.
In the case of our expedition, though I had planned for in climate weather, I had not planned on the impact that this might have on my crew. This was a big oversight on my part. As a result, the complications we faced overwhelmed our ability to continue. Learning from this experience, I have set firmly in my mind and in my heart my Plan A. This year’s attempt is now just another step in my plan to accomplish the goal. I also know firsthand things I will do differently and things I will better prepare for. These are not Plan B’s — rather they are levers I will pull to obtain my Plan A.
Whatever it is that you wish to accomplish, get it in your mind right now that your Plan A is the only option and exactly what you are going to do. That mentality will drive the creation of your plan on how to get there.
As a kid it always fascinated me how while driving past a mountain, it never seemed like I was making any progress. The massive size of the focal point made it hard to perceive any forward movement. I feel that this is the same in all major endeavors in life. The big things — the things that really matter — are those that tend to take the most time and show the least amount of progress.
Although I did not make it all the way around the lake (yet), I had many opportunities to reflect on this concept. When you’re out in the open water with only a mountain to steer towards it is very difficult to feel that the work you are putting in is making any kind of difference. Hours can go by and things just don’t seem to have come any closer. The fact of the matter is that every time I pulled my paddle through the water, my boat was moving towards that distant shore. Even if I couldn’t see it or feel it.
What do you do? Keep paddling! Keep putting that paddle in the water, keep pulling it through, and eventually it’ll come. That shoreline, that far-off horizon, that ultimate goal WILL come. Be patient. The best things in life aren’t meant to come instantly. Know that whether it’s a project at work, a personal achievement, a relationship, or whatever else your striving for, if you keep paddling, it will come.
The last point I would like to make is concerning people. As I prepared for this expedition, I read many stories of leaders from the past who had set out on expeditions to do great things. Some achieved their goals. Some didn’t. Those that have been remembered through time as great leaders are always those who put their people first. Regardless of the circumstances it was always about the health and well-being of their people. I have had many such leaders in my own life who have shown by their example how important this principle is.
I do not claim to be a great leader, nor do I wish to compare myself to any of the great expeditionary men and women of the past. Rather I wish to thank them for their examples. It is, as I have found, incredibly difficult to put aside personal ambition for the sake of another, but it is nevertheless the right thing to do. Though difficult, I have no regrets in putting my brother-in-law’s wellness above my ambition.
A great leader from my own life once said, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” That is my encouragement to you. Whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish, never lose sight of the people that you work with and those you work for. Here’s to next year when Traveler and I will set out again to complete this goal. And here’s to all of you who have been so kind and generous in your support of this dream. Thank you!