One of the most memorable experiences I have from my trip to Europe is kayaking and taking the leap into the Gardon River. It was a warm, sunny day in Collias, France when we were dropped off with our kayaks to begin our journey down the river. The scenery was beautiful, especially the striking Pont du Gard. In some areas, there were rocky beaches along the banks, and in others, there were tall rock walls surrounding the banks that almost resembled a small canyon. There was lush green vegetation all along the banks that swarmed with bees, and it was clear that this was a popular spot for locals to cool down on hot summer days, as many children and families splashed along the shorelines.
We had the option of kayaking alone or with a partner, and I opted for the latter. I partnered up with Rachel from California who had also joined our travel group solo and had quickly become a good friend of mine. We had both kayaked before, so we were both thankful that we, as a team, were capable of moving down the river easily.
As we paddled down the river, occasionally small, green snakes similar to gardener snakes that we have in the US would slither past our kayaks on top of the water, with small fish swimming just below. Some of the travelers with us dare not put their hands into the water, due to their fear of the snakes. Others dangled fingers and toes in the cool stream. Wherever the rock walls closed in on the river, we noticed people, mostly children, climbing up the steep rocks to jump into the cool water below. Bill and Rachel (a different Rachel, from Texas) were also solo travelers on the trip, and the three of us discussed wanting to cliff dive from one of the rocks along the river, just as we had seen the kids doing. We continued down the river for a while, the warm sun on our faces, passing several groups of children taking daring leaps from the ledges above.
Perfect Time To Make the Leap
Then, as we rounded a deep bend in the river, we came upon what all three of us knew was our perfect opportunity to jump into the river. On one bank there was a rocky beach where we could pull over our kayaks to keep them from floating away. On the other bank was a tall, almost rounded boulder sticking out into the river, the perfect platform for making a jump.
We pulled our kayaks over to the beach and swam the short distance across the river to the boulder. All three of us worked as a team to climb up it, as it was very steep and tall. Bill pulled himself atop the rock first, using a nearby tree to climb up to a ledge of the rock that he could grab onto and pull himself over. Then Rachel went up after him using the same method, and I followed last.
The three of us emerged over the top of the rock to find several other members of our tour group with their kayaks pulled over to the same rocky beach across the river. My legs shook beneath me as I peeked over the edge and saw the distance between myself and the water below. This wasn’t my first time jumping off a cliff. I had cliff jumped into Lake Superior before in my own hometown. I hadn’t expected to feel quite as apprehensive as I did. Fortunately, at that moment I was the perfect combination of terrified and excited. I watched Bill as he took the first leap into the river below, and almost immediately after he hit the water, I followed.
She Who Dares
My heart was pounding as I fell for what seemed like forever. Once I finally rocketed into the water below, I accidentally kicked a boulder below the surface that I was hidden from view, scraping my right foot and leg. Even with the sudden, sharp pain, my head popped back up above the water with a smile already spread wide across my face. I was so happy I had gotten the courage to jump.
I think that sometimes venturing out of the country for the first time can feel a lot like jumping off a boulder into a river of snakes, too. It can sometimes be both terrifying, and exciting. Much in the same way I believed it was well worth it for me to take the jump into the river, I believe that making the decision to travel internationally is worth it as well. The opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture and to gain a greater understanding of others is one that should, in my opinion, always be taken. Taking the leap at that moment was extremely empowering for me, and it’s something that I will not soon forget.