I watched several brave souls make the move before I even contemplated it. One by one, they grasped the handrail, hopping over the plunging gap and onto the bow of the boat in one fluid movement. I cleared my throat and stood on wobbly legs. I can do it, I thought. If they can, I can.
I slowly made my way to the opening in the railing. I looked down – big mistake. The boat moved fast, bouncing with each ripple it devoured. Water splashed up, then crashed down again. I looked back at Dan, who offered an encouraging smile. Taking a deep breath, I wrapped my fingers around the cool metal, propping one foot on the side of the boat. I swung to the right, my other foot hitting the bow just as it was supposed to. I squeezed between the railings and sat down, both bare feet dangling over the side.
With each choppy dip, the sea spray hit my legs, my toes dipping into the waves. Salty droplets dried onto my skin instantly, only to be washed away by the next big splash. The wind tousled my hair and the sun kissed my face. Small seaside villages with dramatic mountain backdrops whizzed by. I smiled. It was perfection. A new favorite memory rose in the ranks, and I settled in for the rest of the journey.
Now, can you imagine, jumping over a giant gap only to throw yourself up onto the bow of a boat and dangerously dangle and dip your extremities into surging waves below? Back in the United States, I can’t. That scene screams lawsuit and restricted areas. But as I made the leap, the captain and his crew just chatted and smoked. They couldn’t have cared less.
Growing up, I was timid, but also brave. My brothers and I would set off exploring through the dense wood that surrounded our house. Several times I plunged head first, without hesitation, into the freezing Pacific Ocean. I chased garden snakes and adopted bugs. But as I have grown older, I’ve also developed more fear. Fear of bodily harm, but also fear of vulnerability. In my American adulthood, I believe this has been, in part, taught to me: to be scared and take caution with everything I do. But on that boat, sailing through Kotor Bay in beautiful Montenegro, that fear was released and I was back to being that kid splashing in the Pacific riptides.
Of course, my adult experience may be different than yours. This may not seem like a huge feat to you, but, I guess, to me it was. I had to forget what I had been taught. I had to be brave. I had to find little Ash within, encouraging me to risk it and just have fun being myself, living in the moment. Sitting on that bow, I felt like her again. I enjoyed that moment with childlike abandon. I felt free. For me, it’s the most valuable part of travel.
Recently, I did the same thing on a boat in northern Croatia. The captain didn’t bat an eye as I swung my legs over the side. Maybe it’s the mentality of this region, but maybe it’s also the gift of a childlike mentality. Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of it. I hope to continue dangling my feet over ledges, swimming in the sea, taking personal risks and exhibiting personal bravery. I hope to summon young Ash from time to time, her sweet reminder singing in my ears: Be comfortably you and be brave. And I hope you do too.