My Aha! Moment

I’ve always been an active and adventurous sort.

I played rugby and roller hockey in college. I’ve rafted raging rivers in Australia, hiked the Grand Canyon, got my nose pierced in Fiji and scuba dived on the Great Barrier Reef. I spent several summers fighting wildfires in California and Nevada where I was one of the best on the crew with the chainsaw. I got my pilot’s license before I was 20, and have jumped from a plane nearly 100 times with a parachute I packed myself. You name it…I was up for it.

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My very first skydive.

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The day I got my pilot’s license.

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Wildland firefighting crew.

A couple of years ago our friends Kim and Brian sold all of their belongings, quit their jobs and set out to travel the world. I attended their going away party in a beautiful Portland park as they began their grand adventure. As I said my goodbyes I was struck by two things nearly simultaneously: 1) Holy shit…they’re actually doing it!, and 2) Huh, that could have been me!?!?

Would have been me….

I was overcome with the realization that the version of myself I described above totally would have done something like quit her job to travel the world. But that wasn’t the version of me that was standing in that park that day. At that moment a big switch in my brain flipped and I realized, quite to my astonishment, that I had somehow become a spectator in my own life.

I guess that is a natural progression really. We all grow up and move on. Falling in love, jobs and mortgage payments become the focus instead of where to go adventuring on Spring Break. Don’t get me wrong – my workaday world was great! I had an amazing partner, fabulous job, adorable pets and good friends. I was living in great city with spectacular coffee, beer and food! What more could a person want? I certainly didn’t think I wanted anything more.

But all the while I never realized that I had lost the spark in the core of my soul.

I was no longer that adventure seeker with a zest for life. It turns out she was, quite literally, buried. I have been overweight my entire life – was always the chubby girl in elementary and junior high. Described as “big-boned” by adults in an effort to be kind, and as a great many other things by fellow kids in an effort to be not so kind. By the time I was a teen I was at least 30 pounds overweight, and in my twenties I was probably more than 50 pounds overweight. And so on, and so on, and so on…

I’ve really never been one to allow my weight to define me.

The size of my pants didn’t determine my worth, and it certainly wouldn’t dictate what I could or couldn’t do. If I wanted to jump out of planes, then by God I was going to jump out of planes! Even if it meant I’d have to get a custom made jumpsuit because the ones at the jump school were too small.

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After one of my skydiving jumps – in a borrowed jumpsuit from the 1970’s…when they made them big and billowy! Eventually I got a custom-made jumpsuit.

But, somewhere along the way, my weight did start to define what I could and couldn’t do.

At over 300 pounds it was physically too hard to be an adventure seeker – I was literally carrying the weight of another adult around with me everywhere I went. In early 2006 Glenn and I were making plans to take an “active vacation” (hiking, biking, etc.) through REI Adventures tours with Glenn’s brother Chris. Chris, a well-seasoned traveller and adventurer, told us to “pick a trip, any trip…but,” he added “preferably not one in a jungle with big bugs.” So, Glenn and I started scouring the REI catalog to make our selection of a (bug-free) trip.

Each trip was ranked on a scale from 1 to 5 based on level of difficulty. A Level 1 trip was the equivalent of sitting on a nice boat enjoying the scenery go by, and a Level 5 trip essentially meant you needed a doctor’s waiver because you could die. We decided to focus on finding a Level 2 trip or maybe a Level 3 if it didn’t promise to be too difficult.

That was when I first saw the trip of bicycling through Vietnam.

I was so captivated by the descriptions and pictures, especially of Halong Bay. I couldn’t imagine a trip I wanted to do more – but I knew my weight and fitness level wouldn’t enable me to bike long distances and over mountain passes. I found myself thinking, “bummer, too bad I’ll never be able to see that,” as I continued flipping through the catalog looking for a less physically demanding trip. In the end we decided to get in better shape, lose a little weight and do a hiking trip of the islands of Greece. The trip was absolutely fantastic, but I always lamented not being able to do the biking in Vietnam.

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Hiking on the islands of Greece. Not a bad second choice!

Which brings me back to that aha! moment in the park at Kim and Brian’s going away party.

I looked at Kim and saw living proof that just because something seems daunting, it’s not impossible. Just because something you want is scary, it’s still worth the risk of taking that first step…and then the next…and the next.

I realized I had a choice to make. I could continue to be a spectator in my own life, all but snuffing out the internal flame that sought activity and adventure. Or, I could seek to uncover my former self and put her back together again. I chose the latter.

Since then Glenn and I have been working hard to be healthy and active…each and every day. In many ways our journey toward health has been an adventure all on it’s own. It has opened up so many opportunities to see and do things that we never imagined possible.

And, most importantly, I finally got to do that bicycling trip through Vietnam!

Even better, Kim and Brian joined us on the trip – which meant the world to me. I was able to physically do a trip I thought impossible, see things I had only dreamed about…and best of all I got to share the experience with the person that was the catalyst for my transformation.

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Biking across Vietnam…the impossible, became possible!

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In Vietnam with Kim and Brian.

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Kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam. A dream come true.

I’ve reconnected with that adventurous girl that lives inside me. I’ve worked hard to dig her out, dust her off and put her back on her feet again. Glenn and I have a lifetime of adventures awaiting us – and I look forward to sharing them with you on this blog!

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to checkout Kim’s blog called So Many Places. Kim’s courage and determination to create the life she wanted, a “life on fire” as she says, was the catalyst for me seeking to create a life more extraordinary for myself. She inspired me that day in the Portland park when we said our goodbyes, and she continues to inspire me to this day.

5 comments on “My Aha! Moment

  1. Pingback: Prying the lid off my bucket list | A Life More Extraordinary

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