“AAAHHHH,” I shrieked as the freezing water penetrated my skin. In that moment -- I felt thousands of needles piercing through my skin. I did not expect the water to be this chilly. But do not let me get ahead of myself…
It was day two of exploring the gulag. Excuse me, I meant Altai, Siberia. I woke up to the nice and warm Siberian sun, all happy and ready for the day-- except I did not. My eyes opened to the agonizing sound of my alarm. Pleasantly surprised that I had not died of hypothermia yet, I got up. My vision was still a bit hazy, but somehow I managed to get dressed. The day I was dreading so much finally came. We were going rafting. Just thinking of the icy frigid river sent shivers down my spine. I heard that there was an option to jump into the water . . . I was NOT planning on doing so.
With my short thinking session being over, I had run to breakfast, because I, of course, got the farthest cabin: cabin number 20. As I, out of breath, sat down, I felt the excitement that was built up by the teachers laced with my fear. Rafting is allegedly the best part of Altai. But I… I found that hard to believe. The teachers were barking different commands at us, as we quickly stuffed ourselves with meager breakfast.
The bus ride was not really memorable. I was suffocating in the music I was listening to. We got out of the bus, and as the cold air sank into my lungs, and as we were stripping down to our swimsuits, it hit me. I was going rafting with almost a half of my classmates. This was either going to be one of the best experiences of my life or the worst. I could only hope . . .
Like a herd of savages, we all rushed to get a close fitting wetsuit, a flimsy jacket, a helmet, and a life vest. With some trouble, I managed to slip into my, still a bit moist, wetsuit. Looking like a sausage, I put on the rest of the gear. After the short safety instructions, we were all ready . . . ready-ish at least. We all got on the rafts by advisories and started heading off. The tension was in the air. Everyone wanted to come first and have the most fun. I felt the adrenaline pulsing through my veins as we got over the first rapids and took the lead. This was not as bad as I thought it would be, but it could easily change; I still had approximately three and a half hours ahead of me after all.
“?? ?????? ?????? ???????,” the instructor finally yelled. At this point, we were quite ahead of everyone.
“You can jump in now,” one of my classmates translated.
“Can I go first?” Someone yelled out.
“Why would you do that to yourself,” I asked.
“Barbora, do it. It will be so much fun,” someone suggested.
Initially, I wasn’t planning on doing so, but then I thought if the memoir we have to write. If I wouldn’t have done it, I would have nothing to write about. Should I? Temptation started taking over me. This could be so much fun; this could even complete my Altai experience. So, there I was, standing on the edge of the raft, not so ready to jump into the icy blue water. I could hear the cheers of my classmates in the distance, but I was too busy thinking. I had so many thoughts running through my head. I saw a bunch of people do it before me and survive, but what if I would be the exception. I guess there was only one way to find out.
“This is all peer pressure; I do not consent,” I said, and I jumped in. SPLASH! I was in shock. My body tensed up; I couldn’t move. Every single bone, muscle, and organ in my body just froze. I was slowly transforming into an icicle. First, my fingers and toes; then, my limbs and my brain; and lastly my heart. In that moment I was pure ice. At least it felt like it. I was not expecting the water to be this, let’s just say, fresh.
Although I only spent a little bit over two seconds underneath the water, it felt like an eternity. My heart was pounding-- ready to jump out of my chest-- but, in that moment, I felt alive. The air smelt differently, and every color looked a bit more vivid. I was paddling for my dear life. Right, left, right, left. My only wish at that moment was to be in my warm bed in Moscow, but the thing closest to that was the raft. I swam to the raft, and moments later, I felt a pair of strong arms pull me out of the water. I plopped onto the raft like a dead fish, but I wasn’t even cold anymore. I looked at the beautiful eye-catching azure river, and I was proud of myself. That lasted about two minutes. By the time the adrenaline rush was gone, my body was freezing. If hypothermia didn't kill me yet, it sure will now.
After thirty solid minutes of me looking like I am going through an epileptic seizure, we still haven’t arrived at our camp… I was starving, and I was tired as well. It felt like I had a tiny little out of tune band in my stomach producing unpleasant sounds. As bad as it sounded, I realized that I had to paddle in order to speed up the process. There I was, arduously paddling with all the energy I had left; my arms could barely move.
“PADDLE! AND PADDLE!” Ms. Cushman was yelling from the top of her lungs. I was freezing, and ironically enough, I was drowning in my thoughts.
I was proud, even though it was just a minor victory. I have changed so much since the morning. I was so much more confident in my actions, but I also opened up to different possibilities. I realized that you should always try new things out. Your fears cannot just build a wall around you that’s stopping you from living life to the fullest. You never know, it might just end up being one of the best experiences of your life.