How a gotcha became a gimme in a seaside Croatian town
My arms were scorched. It was October, 2014, Murter, Croatia.
By the end of our first day of open ocean kayaking, my left arm in particular was a limp noodle. Not only that, I had the delightful label of being the "old lady who didn't belong," the oldest in a group of young to middle-aged adventurers on a three-sport trip to the islands near Split, Croatia.
The sports were hiking, biking and kayaking. The hiking was no problem. I'd just done Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and Macchu Picchu in seven months. I'd also taken up kayaking, but in Colorado that was all white water and play boats. I was decent, no expert, but I figured, how different could open water kayaking be?
A lot, I found out.
The other sport was biking. I'm a long-time roadie and had up, to that point, never been on a mountain bike. But I figured how different could it be?
A lot, I found out.
It wouldn't have been that big a deal had we not had two minor issues: a guide, Pero, who didn't wish to be bothered to give me basic instructions, and Johnny, from Canada, a young man so in love with his body that he had to rip his shirt off at every opportunity to leap off a cliff, climb a tree or whatever he could do to show his youthful prowess.
Johnny's self-appointed nickname was "Mr. Wonderful." All you need to know right there.
He was also a bully, and on day one, he found his target.
The moment he noticed I was struggling, the story began. The old lady this, the old lady that. No matter that I did the work to figure out what I was doing wrong and kept up- that was ignored. Soon he had the whole group, including the guide, in on the "old lady" story.
Then, the mountain bikes. They were old, grubby, and the gears were so worn down you had no idea what they read. As a newbie, and on rolling hills, for me this was a comedy setup. The group took off and left me behind, struggling to figure out the gears.
At one point I was sliding backwards, pedaling like my life depended on it (it did) and laughing uncontrollably. It was funny. I nearly bit the dust before I finally found the gear and climbed out. The group had disappeared around a corner with no indication of whether they had gone right or left.
First, that's unsafe guiding. Second, again, the guide might have given me a touch of help on the bike as a newbie. Third, had a sweet Asian woman not returned to find me I wouldn't have had a clue how to find my way back.
Un. Safe. Guiding.
Nobody remembered that by the end of the day I was riding effortlessly, keeping up and having a ball. Because that didn't fit Mr. Wonderful's narrative of "the old lady who can't keep up."
In such ways group tours get ugly, and no fun at all.
If you're competitive, and I am, this can really get your dander up. So by hiking day I was bloody well ready.
The day we climbed, well. I'd lived in Colorado nearly fifty years and I am a mountain goat. I left the entire group in the dust. Mr. Wonderful didn't point that out either because it didn't fit the narrative.
What I didn't know is that there was a final cherry on top, which had been offered to everyone BUT this client. It was a bungee jump from Croatia's tallest bridge. Mr. Wonderful had insisted on it, natch, nobody else had signed up. Everyone assumed that the old lady wouldn't do it.
On the way there I found out that the bungee jump was coming. And was intrigued.
When we arrived, I checked out the operation, which was solid. I decided to jump, but had to borrow the fee from Pero. He promptly trumpeted to the rest of the group that the old lady had decided to die. People grabbed their cameras, first to film heroic Mr. Wonderful.
Then to catch me as I poop my panties and back off the plank in tears.
Mr. Wonderful leapt off in poor form, lost it halfway down and screamed bloody murder.
A TWO. This judge wasn't impressed.
Below, the dingy driver picked him up and ferried him to the shore, where he stood with others to watch me make a fool of myself.
I got all lined out, stood, tapped the operators on the shoulder, walked to the end of the plank, waved at the dingy driver, and then launched into a ten-point swan dive.
Which I held all the way down to the bounce, nearly 200 feet, through the bounce, and then I let out my banshee yell.
The operators were stunned. The dinghy driver screamed,
BEST JUMP ALL YEAR!!!!!!!
Mr. Wonderful scowled at me from the shoreline as we putted in.
Nobody spoke to "the old lady" on the way back.
I've got 131 skydives, 70 hours as a pilot and endless leaps off cliffs paragliding, or ballooning. ANYTHING to get me in the air, man.
Just "the old lady" who can't keep up.
Needless to say I wore that little win like a big fat badge of honor ( I showed them) until Pero dropped me off in Split, at the Palace of Diocletian. There I had two nights to rest before heading out for an eight-day horseback ride.
The next morning I wandered the warrens until I discovered a souvenir shop. The young man behind the counter saw the words "Life is Good" on my baseball cap and came out to strike up a conversation.
Being full of myself and my recent accomplishment, I told him (bragged) about the bungee jump.
Mario, who was about twenty, told me he'd been thinking about that jump.
You see, Mario's father had just committed suicide.
Mario was on a knife's edge, trying to decide whether to follow into the black hole that had taken his father or to choose life. For him, the jump represented the latter.
My entire world ground to a halt. For the next two hours, we spoke.
You see, my brother had also committed suicide not long before.
I know the sucking sound of hopelessness that tries to pull you in after a family member's suicide.
We spoke honestly, with great vulnerability.
Finally, we hugged hard, and I went on the rest of my adventure.
I never knew what Mario had chosen..
...until about two years ago.
Mario tracked me down on LinkedIn, and sent me a note to ask me how I was. He knew instinctively that I would know how he was since he had chosen life, gotten promoted and was clearly doing well.
He also knew that by reaching out, he was giving me an enormous gift. He understood that I would want to know.
You see, that jump wasn't for me. It was for Mario.
And like so many things we believe define us, cause us to feel superior, or allow us to encrust our chest with medals we might or might not have earned, such accolades are so often not for us at all.
They make us useful to others in ways we can't possibly anticipate. This is even more true when it comes to the deep hurts and bruises life serves us, so that we can have empathy, not bragging rights.
I may never hear from Mario again. I don't need to. I know he's okay. For I think he understands that he now has something he can share with someone he meets who might be in crisis, a gift that my brother gave me.
Whether life hands you accolades or admonishment, wins or whoop-ass, either way it is rarely just about you.
It's to make you useful in hands which are over our pay grade.
And that, indeed, is a true hero button.
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