Here's the wrong way to progress, but it worked for me. My west slope fiends said "You're 49 Years old, you've got no excuse, here's some gear, let's go".
The Milk Run on the Ark at high water, swim 1/2 mi for eddy.
Billy Creek on the Uncompaghre at high water, swim twice.
Buy Dry Suit, Full Face Helmet and Elbow Pads
<<<<<*****Go straight to this step!!
I have some thin motocross shoulder pads that went in an old drytop, too; liked them.
Gunny Gorge at 2,900 cfs, swim parts of all rapids.
Shoshone at 4,000 cfs, one swim on each of 3 laps.
Go to Ecuador, Quijos class III warm-up at high water (big 4+ really) Swim twice, logged a one mile swim, saved all gear, walked out. The walk of shame there, is a one mile uphill thrash through the jungle in a dry suit. Paddled first Class V, blow the line, combat roll in the meat, (which it turns out is easier than walking through the freakin jungle), go home.
It was a five day program three years ago with some sick Montrose Paddlers that changed my perspective. I was lucky, without the strong Monrovian safety I could never take those chances, repeatedly screw up so badly or get chundered when throwing down in a foreign fucking country.
Paddle onward my good man! Get your ass in the boat and your mind will follow. I hope to paddle for the rest of my days with the Army of Darkness and guys like you!