A Picture is Worth a Thousand (or so) Words

Nathan Clark, a Lattitude Alumnus who spent his Gap Year in New Zealand, submitted this essay for the My Lattitude Writing Competition. As well, his photo won the Photo Competition!


Adventure has 5 phases:

Disbelief

Realization

Awe

Discomfort

Euphoria 

And then comes phase 6; is it:

Disappointment or Contentment?

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Part 1: Disbelief

It’s dive day. To be honest, there’s no anxiety; the reality of what I’m about to do hasn’t sunk in. I’m about to leave the solidity of earth destined for radical adventure— an unprecedented adrenaline rush. I guess it doesn’t seem real yet. I arrive at headquarters where a shuttle awaits, engine rumbling eagerly, and delivers me to the small, green farm cultivating adrenaline-junkies. The planes are in sight but my nerves are not. I could bail with ease. The choice is mine. Only one thing is certain: this opportunity is staring me right in the face.

On I go.

 * * *

It’s departure day. To be honest, anxiety hasn’t hit; the reality of what I’m about to do hasn’t sunk in. I’m about to leave the solidity of home destined for radical adventure— a vacation unlike any I’ve experienced before. I guess it doesn’t seem real yet. The thirty-minute drive to the airport feels like thirty seconds. My family flanks me like the secret service to my Donald, but nothing is concrete yet. I could bail with ease. The choice is mine. Only one thing is certain: this opportunity is staring me right in the face.

On I go.

Part 2: Realization

We arrive at the runway and gear up. Everything is nonchalant. Admiration of the facilities, quiet, polite chats. I meet my guide, Greg, and we make small talk, my voice a little shaky from jitters. We climb into the plane and it hits me. Like an uncontrollable shudder during a good, long pee. This is happening. I’m about to jump out of a plane with a 10-minute long friend as my security. People die doing this. I forget how to speak. It’s too late to back out— the plane is airborne. After a breathless climb, we arrive at altitude and bundles of humanity fall to the ground like awkward, misshapen raindrops.

* * *

We make our way leisurely through the airport. I crack nervous, giddy jokes and receive nervous, giddy laughter in return. We arrive at security and it hits me. I clench my stomach as I realize that this is where my family and I part ways for an entire year. I stall but eventually, it’s time for the dreaded goodbyes. I can’t help feeling a hint of betrayal for leaving them and turn my face to hide a tear that’s making a run for it down my cheek with many more on the way. I look through the door and my parents are doing the same, their shining eyes showing the first few drops of a long storm. I board the plane. No going back now. New Zealand here I come.

Part 3: Awe

My turn. “Head back!” Greg yells over the cacophony of wind and blaring engine. An extension of his legs and a dramatic shift in body weight and we are in the hands of gravity’s desperate pull. After two seconds of pure regret, it’s incredible. Completely care-free. Simply awesome. An explosion of adrenaline-filled pleasure as the world (well, Queenstown) stretches below me. This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had and the view is fit for Queen Lizzy herself. I am living the absolute dream.

* * *

Thirty hours of almost bearable travel later, I arrive in Christchurch. After two minutes of pure regret, the magical feeling of adventure showers over me like a warm summer’s day. Conveniently, it’s a warm summer’s day. I am free; having saved up years of part-time earnings, I can do whatever I want. The next several months sail blissfully by. I am an explorer, revelling in the beauty of this country. Next week I’m even skydiving! I am living the absolute dream.

Part 4: Discomfort

Greg gives me the signal and our parachute deploys. I no longer have the rush of plummeting towards earth to distract me and realize how intensely my ears are throbbing. No one warned me about the sudden change in air pressure and, although the view is breathtaking, my vision is blurred by pain and stress. I am smiling wildly on the outside, but inside there is a distracting ache. I’m conflicted because I don’t want this to end, but I long for the familiar, loving embrace of land.

* * *

I’m 6 months in, and the time has come for all but one of my fellow volunteers to leave. I was warned but could never have anticipated the dreadful feeling of homesickness. I’m living in the wrong place. My family has moved to the summer cottage, my friends are back home from university, and I’ve just discovered that my grandfather has ALS and is on a steady decline. I feel entirely alone and the tears flow. I knew leaving home would be hard but this is infinitely worse. I’m conflicted because I don’t want this to end, but I long for the familiar, loving embrace of home.

Part 5: Euphoria

I realize that in the grand scheme of things, pain doesn’t matter as long as I live in the moment. Discomfort is inevitable, but my reaction is up to me. I embrace the pain, knowing that its only cure is time…

I feel peace as Greg and I float to the ground looking down at one of the most beautiful towns in the world. We land on the ground: an epic bum drop. I did it.

* * *

I decide to make the most of things and eventually the homesickness passes. Little responsibility plus a lot of free time equals opportunities that would have been unfathomable to pre-New Zealand me. It’s the last month of my gap year and I recollect the year behind me: the most epic experience of my life. I did it.

Part 6: Choice

I’m sitting on a bench in the sun, munching on a tasty-as mince pie. I can’t believe that mere hours ago, I jumped from a plane. I didn’t think I’d have the courage, but I did it.

* * *

My expedition is ending and the choice I make is as of yet unknown. Given past choices resulting from priceless experiences, I am doubtless that this friend-making, character-testing journey will result in utter contentment.

Nathan Clark