Before every meal we ate at the house, David, Deb, or really anyone who was close, would ring the gamelan—which is similar to a xylophone—to announce that dinner was ready. I always loved hearing it, because unlike the usual rush or dread of making and eating dinner I feel at home, it felt like a celebration of another meal we got to share together as a family. That being said, it was only fitting that on our last day in Hawaii, we were woken up not by the sun or the birds or an alarm, but by the gamelan.
The previous day had been a long one, and we were all worn out. We mosied up to the kitchen at different paces, at varying levels of awake, sad and happy all at the same time.
Sandy and George had early flights while the rest of us were leaving in the evening. So, we took each other’s hands, joining together as a family for one last time, feeling grateful, loved and understood by one another in a way that no one outside the circle would ever truly understand.
I packed up my things, already feeling a certain level of separation anxiety from the routine we’d acclimated to over the last week. I wondered what it would be like to go back to the “real world.” Would it be the same, would I be the same? And though I knew a surface glance would suggest, “yes,” I knew better. For just as our cliff jump had encouraged a new way to jump, and our vision boards created a new way to dream, a shift back into “reality” would provide nothing short of a new opportunity to live. I would take what I learned, both about others, from others, and within and about myself, and I would use it to break the barriers that have held onto me so tightly. I would tear down the walls that locked me between expectation and anxiety and build new skyscrapers of determination and possibility.
And when I got home, and people asked me about my trip, asked me what it was like to go on one of “Alison’s Adventures”, I’d look at them with a smile, knowing that while the adventure had her name on it, and her blueprints beneath it, we’d all made it our own, and we’d all carry it forward from here.
On perhaps my most dreaded day of the entire trip, my sister and I awoke not to the rise of the sun, but to the sound of an alarm. At 5:15, we slipped out of bed and put on our bathing suits—we were going surfing and I was pretty sure I was going to throw up.
Two days earlier, when Alison initially announced that Monday was surf day, I cautiously asked if there were any alternative activities available.
“What about standup paddle boarding?” I asked nervously. “Is that an option?”
Being a less than superb swimmer and an active worrier, I had no interest in surfing. For days I had pictured myself falling and drowning and getting swept out to sea, as if Alison was going to drop us in the middle of 50-foot waves with a foam board and a slap on the butt. I am also extremely prone to seasickness. So as I pictured myself falling again and again, I also envisioned the motion of the waves rocking me all the way to the bathroom for the remainder of the night.
“You’re going to do great,” Alison said, looking at me in the rearview mirror, “I promise you’ll be totally fine.” But alas, there I was, dressed and (not so) ready to go, hands shaking in my lap as we made our way down to our intended surf spot.
Emily, a new friend from Canada, sat quietly beside me. The night before, as we were given a quick briefing on what to expect for surf day, she’d leaned in and asked me what my thoughts were. Turns out, she too was terrified. A long breath escaped my lungs in relief. I had been dreading surf day for weeks, and the fear of its arrival had only been matched by my admission to want to skip it. However, in the spirit of “jumping”, I had been honest with how I was feeling, which not only gave me the slightest bit more courage, but also gave those around me—like Emily—the slightest bit of comfort.
As we pulled up to the surf spot, our would be instructor, Bear, hopped out of his car with a frown. The water was flat as a pancake. I tried my best to hide my relief from everyone except Emily, who gave me the slightest smile when no one was looking.
“Alright,” Alison said, bummed, “new plan!”
We hopped back in the car and jetted over to a bay, our car now stocked with snorkels and fins. I walked out along the rocks to the water line with a boogie board and leftover anxiety, still the slightest bit scared for what we were about to do.
“Ready?” I said to Emily, and she nodded.
We swam out towards a building crowd. Swimmers and kayaks alike were gathering in the center of the bay, screaming and laughing with excitement. I held the boogie board out in front of me, steadily kicking my fins behind me.
“There they are!” someone shouted in front of me. My pace quickened.
“Look down now!”
I pushed my snorkel beneath the water and my ears popped. Suddenly I heard a high-pitched noise coming closer and closer. I turned my head and three dolphins were swimming right towards me. They moved smoothly, effortlessly and I was hypnotized. Once they were out of sight, I popped up out of the water with a bright smile.
“That was amazing!” I said
I rested on my boogie board, completely in awe. Wow, I thought. There were just three dolphins swimming right below me!!What a day.
Fast forward an hour later, I’d seen over 100.
Excuse me while I let that sink in again. Yes, I did in fact swim with one hundred dolphins. Me. The person who doesn’t swim. What is life?
From the bay of (100!) dolphins we made a quick stop for some local organic ice cream, then spent the remainder of our afternoon snacking, laughing, and working as hard as this monk seal we found lounging on the beach.
As far as I’m concerned any day that starts with carbs is going to be a good day. So as I sat around the breakfast table with people I’d grown to really care about, eating a scone at sunrise, I was loving my life.
By this point we were all very comfortable with each other and were not afraid to make a bit of a touristy scene when it came to properly documenting a good view. To give you an idea, allow me to introduce our group by way of shameless photograph.
And this chick with the orange shorts that kept following them around (a.k.a me!)
We were an undeniable family, so much so that—as you may have noticed—we often posed the exact same way, and people constantly asked if we wanted our picture taken together (which we almost always obliged) (in the exact same pose).
On this day, we took in the sights of yet another breathtaking beach, unique in topography but not in grandeur to those we’d seen before, and we also got a little lesson in survival.
For those of you who don’t know, Alison had a very unique upbringing, the likes of which gave her the slightest advantage (if one can exist) on Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid a few years back. So as we took a seat under a shady tree a little ways up the shoreline from the water, she stood up with her signature enthusiasm.
“So we’ve just been dropped here,” she said, pulling us into an imaginary scenario, “and we need to use what we can find around us to survive the night. Do you know what the four most important tools for survival are, and in what order?”
*pauses in case you’re the kind of person that wants to make they’re own guess.*
Alison then walked us through the Jurassic Park-esque landscape, pointing out different materials we could use for shelter, what to look for in terms of food, some key facts about tropical plants and some basic survival tips we could take with us to any terrain.
Afterwards we walked back over to our camp—which included a minor trek across a river—and set up for a relaxing afternoon on the beach.
Again we split off into the napping and non-napping, the swimming, the tanning, the exploring, or in my case, the writing. I took a seat up against a tree, pulled out my notebook and let my mind spill out onto the page.
One thought that kept coming up was about a conversation we had in the car a few days prior. I was sat in the middle of the backseat between Natalee and Emily, with Alison and Jack riding in the front. Emily had asked Alison how she defines her—some could argue unorthodox—profession.
Alison kind of laughed, and bobbled her head around, her face revealing she’d not only been asked this question many times before, but has also spent a good amount of time pondering the answer herself. She said she usually sums it up to “filmmaker” as films are the center of what she does.
I remember sitting there quietly, wishing I could sum it up better, if only to be more apt to brag about her to my friends and family back home. But it wasn’t until I found myself under that tree that I felt as though I’d finally found the right word.
I played with it, threw it around my brain. I understood it wasn’t correct if taken in the logical sense. However, in the same thought that not all artists draw and not all athletes play baseball, I felt as though architect too could lend itself to interpretation.
The way I see it, she builds moments. Be it with her films, her adventures or her one on one conversations with you. She designs them, lays them out, and invites everyone to be a contractor in the steps that follow. On this adventure alone, she’d given us the tools to build ourselves up to be something bigger than we could have imagined. She’d reminded us that each of our lives is our own adventure and it is not only our job to live it, but also our great opportunity.
So as I sat there underneath that tree, watching the breeze sweep across the beach and the waves crash along the shore, I felt something I never would have expected in the chaotic weeks leading up to the trip: peace. For even though I was constantly being challenged to test my limits, I was starting to realize, that should I invite the possibility, I no longer had to have any.
As the sun crept in the curtains for the second time, I yawned myself awake with the slightest smile. After all the buildup for this trip, I was undeniably amongst an adventure, and only my toes were wet.
In an attempt to keep hold of a little control of my responsibilities back home, I convinced my dad to get up early with me and go for a run. I was only 3 miles away from hitting the 500 mile mark of my 1000 mile goal for the year, and I figured there was no better place to do it than Hawaii. There was also no better way to celebrate than running straight into the ocean.
We’d gone over the logistics of the day at dinner the night before, so before I made my way up for breakfast, I pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and packed my backpack with a water, a sweatshirt, a pair of pants, a hat, some snacks and some sunscreen.
Around 10 o’clock we took off for the Hawaii Volcano National Park, where we spent a few hours walking among more lava rocks.
Our group of 11 spread out, walking along, taking pictures of the—for lack of a better word—off-putting landscape. It was as if we’d landed on another planet.
Miles and miles of lava rock lay all around us. The rough surface peppered with small green sprouts trying to poke their way towards the sky.
Missing from this leaves-you-speechless-landscape? Other people. So much so that after a while it felt like maybe we were the last ones left on earth. Which made you wonder—were they going to kill us out here?
Luckily, the answer was no, though with the surrounding sights—such as a massive pit that used to be a lava lake, or the boiling steam vents that puffed smoke from the floor—it seemed it was not for lack of trying.
After a long, still off-putting and yet awe striking walk back, we hopped in the car and drove to the Thurston Lava Tube, where we got to walk through a tunnel like formation that made my dad remember how much he hates tunnel like formations.
(Can’t really blame him on this one, it looked like we’re willingly walking into our own demise)
As the sun began to set, we took our places to watch the lava of the Kilauea volcano begin to glow beneath seemingly thousands of bright stars.
Then, as one always does beside a volcano, we had an enchilada tailgate party in the parking lot. #casual
“Okay, guys” Alison said in the kitchen to start the day. We were all standing in our traditional circle, holding hands, cracking jokes and expressing words of gratitude towards one another as we did before every meal.
“The first day was water, yesterday was earth and today is…air?”
We all looked around at each other, questioning. As usual, none of us knew the plan, and Alison was not one to give up a secret.
“It’s going to be awesome!” she said, and then we broke the circle and ate.
About an hour later, we were at the top of a hill, stepping out into a jungle-esque landscape, with the slightest bit of rain dampening our shoulders.
“Has everyone seen the Hunger Games?” Alison asked casually. She then turned it over to a man named David, who emerged from a shed holding handmade bamboo bows and plastic arrows.
I took what became “my bow” in my hands, slightly shocked I would soon be able to add “do Hawaiian jungle archery” to my list of life accomplishments, and immediately missed my recently donated long hair that would have been more than capable of a Katniss braid. My imagination peaked up at the trees and the sky, wondering what we’d be shooting at, and my anxious mind wondered if I’d somehow manage to shoot one of my new friends.
“Line up,” David said encouragingly, “now take your stance, tilt your bow, draw your arrow back to your cheek, and fire.”
We all shot at a small, circular target, most of us making less than terrible attempts at hitting it. He then led us in and around the trees, taking us deeper into the jungle, further into his handmade obstacle course. As we walked, I felt my brain flicker in and out of a story it was making up along the way, going from logic minded competitiveness to faux survival mode desperation. I have to feed my family, my mind would whisper before every shot, they’re counting on me.
Over the next hour, we came face to face with stuffed bears, cork pigs, and a wild boar that rolled on a zip line.
By the end I was more than happy with my performance and felt better equipped to, well, watch archery when it comes back around in the Olympics, as I now have a whole new appreciation for the required concentration and difficulty.
Then, after sharing a delicious tailgate lunch, we made our way back to the house, where we all made the decision only a true vacation can present you: nap in your bed or tan on the beach.
My sister and I chose the beach. She snorkeled and I let myself float in the water, looking up at the sky as it turned from light blue to light purple. Just before sunset, we took our place back out on the lava rocks to wish the sun a heartfelt Mahalo. It had given us another day full of adventure, and if we were lucky, would continue to do so in the days to come. So as it made it’s descent into the ocean, we offered it gratitude and love. Then we all walked back up to the house side by side, wishing each other the same sentiments.
With a bang my eyes were open, the wheels were on the ground, and the lights in the cabin were on. It was 9:15 pm on a Thursday and my dad, my sister and I had just landed in Hawaii.
We walked through the terminal, eyes red and hair knotted, looking at all the families set to board the plane we’d just exited. Their vacations were over and you could see it on their faces. Sunburned noses and ocean dipped hair; frowns for what they would miss and smiles for what they’d just experienced. In a small way I envied them, for they’d already gone on their adventure. They were long passed all the anxiety and anticipation that sat so prominent in my stomach.
I took small steps towards the parking lot where our ride awaited us. My mind flashed through everything that could go wrong while my heart reasoned everything that could go right. But as we stood on the curb and a man named Henry pulled the car around to pick us up, I reminded myself that an adventure is all about the combination of both.
The ceiling creaked above me and I jolted awake. The sun was peaking in through the curtains and the tropics were alive with noise. I took in everything I could make sense of. The bed I laid in last night after arriving; the bedside table I set my phone on just before I fell asleep; the bamboo floor I was guided along by flashlight; the door that my aunt and uncle hugged me at before wishing me goodnight. Last night wasn’t just a dream, this adventure had truly begun.
The ceiling creaked again as morning conversation began to fill the floor above me. I wiggled myself out of bed, took a few necessary Snapchats, and took a good look at myself in the bamboo-framed mirror that hung in the bathroom.
“Here we go,” I said quietly, “you can do this.”
The weeks leading up to the trip had been mostly filled with anxiety. I’m a stickler for schedules and I thrive on details and organization. I also had a lot going on; commitments and responsibilities I felt uncomfortable putting on hold. But as the trip began to take shape, quickly morphing from a dream to an idea to a reality, I realized I had to leave both quandaries behind. So, as I slipped into the flip-flops I left outside the door and made my way down the sandy path that looped around to the “lanai” or living room, I took a deep breath, knowing I was heading straight into the mouth of the unknown.
“Good morning,” I said timidly. Heads turned and smiled shyly. Some I recognized, some I didn’t. I walked with an outstretched hand around the room, officially meeting the people I’d spend the next seven days with.
“Are you ready for your first adventure?” David, Alison’s dad, said to us. We all nodded, some more confidently than others, then we retreated back to our rooms to change.
“This way,” David said when we were all ready. He led us out the front gate and down to the lava rock that lined the coast. “Watch your step.”
For the next 40 minutes or so, we made our way along the rocks. Some slippery, some dry, some soft and warm and some tough and dangerous. David explained the two different types of lava, “pahoehoe” which was smooth, and “aa” which was rough and jagged.
“You know how aa got its name, right? It’s because when you walk on it with bare feet you go ‘ah! ah!’” (This was a joke, but it made it very easy to identify the difference between the two)
The walk was beautiful. Though I’d forgotten my camera, I took in the views with wonder and awe. A few times I had to stop and just absorb it all as I couldn’t help the overwhelming, “we are so not in Kansas anymore” moments that kept coming with every turn.
When we came to a stop, my dad immediately leaned in to me. “Oh boy,” he said, his voice laced with nerves. I looked up at him with confused eyes. “I think I know what we’re doing here,” he said with a deep breath. I shook my head, but before I could ask, Alison was standing in front of us with a bright smile.
“Alright, guys!” she said. I took a big gulp of my water and sat down to listen. “In life,” she continued, “we are often required to take risks to get what we want and to make our dreams come true. Sometimes we just have to jump.”
She gestured her head over to the cliff that lie about 50 feet from us, then waggled her eyebrows. I sat, silent and stunned, then looked over the edge.
No. No. No.
I see what you did there, but no.
I will not be jumping off any cliffs. I will not be plummeting to my death today. I appreciate the life lesson and physical manifestation of bravery, but no. I’m going to sit right here, I’ll see you all when(/if) you get back.
“Okay, Kim, you’re next!”
“You got this!”
The voices were coming from all around me. Some behind me, others in the water below me. I smiled shyly, politely declining…but then at some point I stood up, and at another I took off my bathing suit cover and shoes. Suddenly I was looking down at my sister in the water, my toes curled at the edge, eyes shifting in and out of focus. I had know idea how many feet lay between me and the water, the only measurement I could figure was that I was high.
I took a deep breath.
“Ready?” David said, his eye on the water, watching for the perfect moment. “Go!”
Without giving myself any more time to think, I jumped. A few seconds later, I was in the water, alive, refreshed, courageous. I looked up at the cliff, then I looked down at my tattoo and smiled. Who knew you could climb a mountain by jumping off a cliff?
After a quick climb up and a slow walk back, we took a seat on the beach, did a few “get to know you” exercises, then arrived back at the house to enjoy a nice breakfast together. Later that day we met back in the lanai to do some yoga, then walked back out along the lava rocks to watch the sunset.
And as our first full day in Hawaii came to a close, I took a long, deep breath. For even though the nerves still sat beneath the surface of my skin, I had a new kind of bravery that was beginning to take shape. If I knew I could jump, maybe I could do anything.