My time in New Zealand is drawing to a close. Four months have flown by and I find myself typing this with two weeks left in the land of the long white cloud. I’ve learned a lot here, but I had a particular realization last weekend about something New Zealand has particularly brought out in me: the challenge zone.
Last weekend I went on a whitewater kayaking trip led by a friend and co-worker from Camp Adair. A bunch of us staff travelled south to a place called Taupo, home of New Zealand’s largest lake and an area loaded with outdoor adventure. We arrived Friday night after work and hit the river Saturday morning for a bit of basic skills instruction from the veteran kayakers with us. I’ve never been on whitewater in a kayak, so I found it quite challenging. It’s not a skillset you get overnight! We had great teachers and conditions, though, so it went as well as we could have hoped. After lots of practice entering and exiting eddy’s (calm parts of the river), flipping my kayak over lots, a quick stop for a cliff jump, and sitting in some natural hot springs, day one was complete. Day two was when things got real.
Full James: a stretch of the Waikato River with continuous Class 2 rapids. Nothing super major, but for a newbie like me it was intimidating. It was going to be, as a friend described it, baptism by fire. I was nervous the night before. Thoughts raced through my head of how many things could go wrong while inside of a boat that is being carried by a force stronger than anything I’ve experienced. I’ll see what it’s like and decide then, I told myself. No one’s forcing me to do it. Maybe I’ll sit it out and be safe. I was deciding whether or not to take a risk. But then I thought of how every day at work I talk to groups of students about challenging themselves. “Push your limits,” I say. “Get outside your comfort zone. Wherever that is, is up to you. That’s what these activities are all about.” Now it was my turn.
No lie, I was a little scared to get in that kayak and paddle down those rapids. But the age old phrase, “Practice what you preach,” came to mind and I couldn’t ignore it. So by 11am Sunday morning I found myself in a boat, heading downstream in a current I could never escape. As usual, most of the fear was in my head. Once I was in the moment it wasn’t so bad. So much of gaining the victory depends on taking the first step! We got to the first rapid and I missed the first eddy along with two other friends. We paddled hard to avoid going down the rapid before we were ready but to no avail. We knocked into each other and I found myself going down the rapid backwards without a paddle after helping rescue a friend that had tipped. Not off to a good start! But somehow I felt okay, confident that despite the risks everything was going to be fine. An hour and two rapid sections later we all arrived at the end of the days paddle. The finale, Full James itself finished us off with a bang and we called it a day.
A week later I think back on that experience and am so thankful I stepped out of my comfort zone. It stretched me, gave me an experience that I’ll never forget, and I have increased confidence (and some new skills) as a result. New Zealand has put me in my challenge zone more consistently, either relationally or practically, than most places I’ve lived. In recent months I’ve started thinking about action before taking it more than usual, considering more factors, and in turn being more hesitant to do things. I reckon it’s part of growing older, getting hurt more, feeling the effects of engaging in the many demanding activities I enjoy. So I now find myself at a point in life where I wonder, am I going to stop taking risk as I get older and older? Am I going to let myself turn into a person who plays it safe, seeking the comfort and security of home and hearth over the risk and reward of the wild? Will I try to stay within my boundaries instead of pushing and expanding them? Is it better to stay healthy at home than get hurt in the mountains? These are my questions, and New Zealand’s places and people have brought them out.
I know what I want my answer to be: I want to take risk. I do not want to rely on the comfortable, safe place to keep me. Rather, I want to trust in the One who sustains me regardless of my possessions and position on Earth. Taking risks when you’re fully aware of them is more powerful than when you’re ignorant. And so, in the end, taking risk and adventuring beyond my limits in this present and coming season is more important than ever. I’m not talking about doing dangerous or obviously reckless things; I’m talking about stepping out of my comfort zone intentionally in wisdom and discretion in order to not drift with the waves of society, but instead to be the unique individual I am created to be. The prospect scares me for sure, but the choice is clear. The smooth, level road looks nice, but the rocky, uphill path is the one for me. Rain or shine, I hope that’s where we’ll meet.
The world is not in your books or maps. It’s out there, waiting for you…