While in Kenya visiting the Masai Mara, we had the opportunity to take a hot air balloon safari. I knew the views would be spectacular even though my fear screamed at me to keep my feet planted on the safety of solid ground.
This ride includes sweeping views and concludes with an opulent buffet breakfast on the savanna.
The night before the ride, I convinced myself the balloon wouldn't go very high because then how would you see any animals? This line of thinking worked. I drifted off for a few hours of fitful rest before our 3:30 a.m. wake-up call. We had over an hour of a truck ride filled with bumpy terrain to endure before we reached our launch site.
I knew I was doing the ride no matter what. It's a strange, dissonant sensation when your body wants to rebel against the decision of your mind. This mind/body war continued as we exited the truck, checked ourselves in and began the short training session required before take-off. I couldn't fully pay attention as my mind kept reminding me doom was imminent, but I heard our instructor mention something about landing "like an astronaut" (huh?) and then, the words that chilled me to the bone, "When the balloon reaches 1,000 feet..."
NO! NO! NO! NO!
At that point, I could not control my body's visceral fear response. Tears spilled over my eyelids and I shivered uncontrollably as if I was stranded on the North Pole.
As we climbed in the balloon's basket, my tears and terror amped up. John caught on quickly that I was on the edge of a meltdown, my youngest son did not. We are a joke-y family. Humor is the glorious glue that binds us together, but in this moment even a well-executed joke could not break through my upset. It had the opposite effect.
Keaton, seated next to me, looked at me and seconds before we were to lift off said, "Well, I guess this is where we say our goodbyes..."
I did the only thing I could do in response.
I began to cry in earnest.
Thankfully, facing our fears does not need to look pretty. Crying or not, I kept my butt on that basket bench, allowed myself to feel every physical and emotional sensation of discomfort, and ascended towards the rising sun in a full-fledged grip of terror.
The first several minutes I could barely move. My fingers curled around the basket edge with such force, my whitened knuckles appeared translucent. After about 20 mins I relaxed a bit as much as my frazzled mind-state would allow, and then I started to enjoy the view. In all honesty, I enjoyed the views more at the lower elevations, but I enjoyed all of them nonetheless.
So high. So very, very high.
I ❤️ elephants.
When it came time to descend and we edged closer to earth, our pilot Garry implored us to, "Brace for landing!" He did this a solid ten minutes before we actually touched the ground. The anticipation of an uncertain landing weighed against me as I locked my arms forward once again holding onto the basket for dear life.
When we (finally!) connected to the ground, we crashed over sideways and momentum carried us like a rocket for over a hundred yards. I now understood without a doubt what 'landing like an astronaut' meant. It was weird and not my favorite, but I was grateful we were all safe.
Looking back on it, I am glad I did it. If the opportunity to ride in another hot air balloon comes my way, I will do so with much less fear because I have lived through it and will know what to expect.
Me and Pilot Garry.
Courage looks different for everyone. Mine manifests as tears and feeling nauseous. Sometimes I start sweating along with it and not in a delicate glistening way, but in a real, about to have a hot-flash very not-cute way.
I don't mind all of this nearly as much as I used to. I'm less embarrassed and more accepting that this is my process for living out some pretty spectacular, death defying (at least in my mind) adventures.
My people are still my people and they love me anyway.
All I ask is, maybe hold the jokes until after we are all safe and sound. And bring snacks because speaking from experience, when your adrenaline levels reset, freaking out makes you really hungry.
Inward & Onward
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