It began as a whispering in the air. The day had been beautiful and the sky was like a dome of plasma-blue. Large pillows of clouds were forming, blotting out the stained-gold of the sun. My eyes caught the first droplet of water as it cascaded from the ridge in the roof – adjacent to the side of the classroom. Droplets of moisture began to drip from the leaves hanging limp from the trees, they were sprinkling onto the grass like a gardeners hose. It was a Noah’s-Ark convulsion of rain, an unending hurl of water sluicing from the sky. It was in this moment that memories of my recent heartbreak fell around me with the rain. The endearment brought a wave of sorrow and grief crashing up from my centre, but I swallowed it down. I had to stay in control.
Glancing outside, I noticed the rain had at last ceased, and the wind now toyed with the leaves. From inside the classroom, I was envious of the outside world; the grassed field lying out like a wet blanket, the weathering trees that battled back and forth in the wind. I was confined in the stillness of my laptop, the cursor flashing and beckoning me to write at least a single sentence. It was in this stillness that my mind was adamant and tried to avert my attention to the Outward Bound course I would be attending the next day.
You’re going to suffer
You won’t survive this
You weak pathetic bitch
Quit while you can
I knew what this 21 day course entailed – a challenge of mind, body and soul. An experience so challenging I knew I wasn’t mentally or physically prepared for. The thought of spending a month in the outdoors was enough for my muscles to tighten as an overpowering wave of stimulus crept up my arms and legs. 21 hours and I would be jetting off on the most challenging experience of my life – what have I done to myself?
The ferry surges and cuts through an endless blanket of Marlborough Sounds ocean. The subtle hum of the motor, edging nearer and nearer to the Outward Bound base camp in Anakiwa. Gazing toward the brilliant azure sky, it was unmolested by anything except sky-high mountain ranges – hugging the bay in a warm embrace. I flinched for a moment, realizing there was no turning back. I had walked onto that ferry with pure fear, yet I had done it. My first step into delving into the unknown – fearfully taking the first step. You made the first step into hell, no turning back now.
The events that entailed the next few days, had me inevitably unprepared for the kind of journey my mind sent me on. A whirlwind of anxiety and depression struck me with such urgency. It was noon of the following day when my stomach contracted so violently that I just reached the toilet bowl in time. Chunks of the morning’s breakfast covered in creamy chyme from my stomach propelled into the toilet, splattered the sides of the basin with the remains. Heaving again and again, I was weak and collapsed to my knees and retched until only clear liquid was coming up. I had the stomach bug. Great, what a way to begin the next 21 days. It was clear to me that Outward Bound wasn’t going to stop for me, I was stuck in a rut of sickness and anxiety. Go home, look how pale you are.
The next few days were spend recovering from the stomach bug, slurping down electrolytes and rekindling with my sanity once again. It was during this time alone in the medical clinic, that my mind began taking control of me and over-analyzing;You’ve got 2 options – panic, not recover and be sent home. Or pull through, take it easy and finish the course. I knew that I had to do, I was not going to disappoint my family and friends.
My mental survival of resilience and perseverance was being tested. How will I ever survive this misery?
Chasing down a rapid during kayaking, I let the water caress me. The waves and ripples hugging my kayak in a warm embrace. I was safe. It’s fascinating how trust can be earnt and lost so quickly. For a split second I was at peace, following the silver stream bordering the wood muffled bank. Underneath me the mist of clear water was flat and calm, erasing the world like a blank piece of paper; not yet crumpled by society. Its the kind of place where peace stands still. I let my worries wash over me and sink into the sandy seabed below. Standstill, oblivious and distracted and just like that, I was washed away. Battling the whitecaps and capsizing. Now upside-down, I flung backwards underwater kicking and screaming. In this split second I knew because of my positioning I couldn’t be rescued. I CAN’T BREATHE! SOMEONE HELP I’M STUCK. PLEASE. Desperately I kicked my spray-skirt, as it quickly released tension and I emerged from the surface of the water. Water began filling my lungs fast. Hyperventilating with shock, the cold water immersion was enough for my heart to plummet rapidly. My body was limp and soggy, I was freezing as I struggled to swim against the current and make it to shore. Suddenly, an arm wrapped itself around me, towing me to shore. I knew you couldn’t take it, look at you. You can’t even swim.
Slowly but surely, I began noticing the different sort of people in my watch. Cameron – he had freckles. A face doodled on, not getting the patches of colour right. Dark auburn hair. Mattered, as we all hadn’t showered in a week. Behind his glasses, his eyes were light blue, the colour of pale flowers in cold climates. He was assertive, driven by time and constantly focused on the next without ceasing each moment. Kayla – she had a perfect oval face, with eyes of burnished gold enhanced by masses of red hair hanging like danish pastries over her ears. Kayla was small, mentally weak and mostly stubborn. I noticed these things. Alice. As soon as I saw her, I knew we could click. She had long rippling hair that framed her beautiful but imperious face with eyes that sparkled of humor and friendliness. Alice was strong, physically and mentally. She was everything I wanted to be, strong-willed and strong-minded. Why did she need to be here? Standing alongside her, I looked limp and weak. These people were much different to me. Most of them had it all figured out, they tackled challenges rather than succumbing to them. I can’t lift the heavy things they can, I can’t intrinsically motivate myself again and again. This place isn’t for me. I’m incapable of doing anything for myself. Be more like Alice.
The following morning, I woke to a gleam of light shining right into my corneas. Fuck off. “quarter past 5, lets move!” Day 16. Sailing. Half asleep I limped out of bed, placed my feet on the ground gently as to not trigger the festering sores and blisters underneath. Gathering my belongings, I shortly boarded the cutter and began rowing. Pushing down on my feet, my torso extending backwards, arms swiveling the blade enough to catch and draw through the stream of Anakiwa marine. The cutter was away in no time, each member of McKenzie watch pulling their weight despite all lacking sleep and needed rest. As I looked out toward the distance, I noticed the shadows stretching out between bands of golden light; Marlborough Sounds awakening. Beyond the sea, the shimmering gold cast the hollow oaks in luminescent tones of peach and rose. Quiet, gentle exterior, lightly glowing in around the landscape. For a moment, I felt a sense of content and satisfaction. This is what Outward Bound is about; the journey, the picturesque views that take away much more than my breath. Engulfed in a magical land, the only sound was the splash, draw and release of eight consecutive blades and the slight strain of the hull ploughing through the water.
Captivated by my surroundings, the warm awakening bay smiled at me. Letting me know I was here for a reason. There is so much more out there, more challenges to overcome and so much good in this world I know very little about. I believe I came here to clear my head, I was battling real life conflicts. A month ago, I survived the biggest heartbreak and shock of my existence, and here I still am. Still breathing, heart still beating, forehead sweating, eyes welling with tears, knuckles bleeding. I AM ALIVE.
When I wake up it is day 21 and everything feels different. Something has shifted. Something less quantifiable yet somehow elemental. I feel it as a I awake; the atoms and molecules that have rearranged themselves, rendering the whole world has changed. I concentrate on my hands wafting it around space that divides the bunk bed. It delivers a direct line of electricity to my fingertips, into the core part of me I didn’t know existed until now.