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Better Than Pirates

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When you’re a kid, say around six years old, adventure is all around you. A playground, a storm drain, and even a storage closet under the stairs provide you a place to fight off pirates and create a nuclear bomb shelter because, you know, ninjas and missiles could come crashing in at any time. It’s only when you’re a teenager that you realize adventure is everywhere but around you. This might be why teens develop a cult-level obsession with movies. They provide the adventure that’s missing.

I know that when I was 13 and saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl I began to wish that something more exciting would happen in my life. I was in Hawaii at the time, and had to resort to stick sword fights on the beach with my sister, all the while hoping that Will Turner would dash in to save the day. Too bad that handsome Will actually worked in Jamaica. But two years later, after watching another swashbuckling movie, I got my adventure in full—almost too much of it.

I was living in Washington state and got asked by one of my closest friends to go with her on her family’s annual Memorial Day boat trip. Sure, I said, I would love to. On Friday afternoon, we headed out of the Puget Sound and up into the San Juan Islands on their cozy blue and white sailboat, with just enough room for the six of us. I remember sitting in the bow as the sun sank in a calm ball of orange, completely enthralled by the water that whipped smoothly under us. Sailing!

That night, the three of us girls huddled under a pile of fuzzy blankets in the cabin and prepared to watch a movie on the tiny, grainy television.

“Have you seen Master and Commander?” asked Jessie.

“No,” I said tentatively, wondering what it was about.

Turns out, the movie told an epic, poetic tale of British sailors trying to outwit a nasty French ship that chased them far, far into the Galapagos. The next day I couldn’t stop thinking about the sailors’ adventure, even as my friend and I dumped kayaks into the water and paddled over to Jones Island, which was only about a hundred feet from where our boat was docked.

We had a grand time on that island. None of the adults came with us, so we were free to roam through the pine-speckled meadows and climb up on rocky hills that were topped with springy moss. We kept hoping to see some of the wild deer, but the closest nature came was in the form of bald eagles circling overhead. It may not have been the Galapagos, but it was a type of paradise.

The trouble came on Monday morning when we woke up on the boat and begged to kayak back to Jones Island just to spot some deer before leaving the harbor.

“Okay,” said one of the parents. “But you have to be back by 10:30.”

We promised, sure. Leaving the kayaks on a rocky spit, we scrambled over some boulders to get to the central point in the island where the deer congregated. I don’t remember if we saw any that morning—there might have been one or two—but as we headed back to the kayaks, Jessie and I realized that we were on the wrong side of the island. The kayaks were up on one promontory, but we were on other, where we could see them across the way but were separated by an imposing stretch of rock and forest that spiraled upwards.

“Do you want to go around the trees?” I asked. Jessie shook her head.

“That would take too long. It took us a long time to get over here in the first place.”

“Well, we can just try to go across and over, instead of around,” I said.

She agreed, and I led the way. We stepped out onto the slope and started making a shallow diagonal for the top of the hillside, mostly hiking, but every now and then using our hands to help ourselves over large rocks. But then I noticed something. I was really high up in the air. The diagonal hadn’t been so shallow after all, and we were a good several hundred feet above the beach from where we’d started. I couldn’t go back, because we’d already cut it too close on time.

We kept climbing. It wasn’t a hillside anymore; it was a cliff. The grass had petered out into sheer rock and faces of dirt, something we hadn’t seen from the ground. I tried to choose my footholds carefully and to not look down to the shoreline, which was just about a straight drop and littered with rocks. As I reached up to grab a vine to pull myself up a few more feet, it proved to be a root and pulled straight out of the ground, leaving me clinging to nothing for a few seconds as dirt trickled down behind me. I quickly grasped onto a rock about a foot higher, my heart pounding.

“Be careful,” I called out. My voice sounded weirdly thick. Jessie didn’t say anything, but eyed the broken root. Keep climbing.

A few minutes later, the two of us had reached the top of the plateau and scrambled down the gentle slope on the other side. When we got to the kayaks, we stopped and looked at each other. I didn’t want to say out loud that I was glad we were still alive, but I think it was apparent in my eyes and trembling hands.

“I can’t believe we just climbed that,” she said, pointing to the cliff.

“Yeah,” I said, still in a stupor. “I know.”

We paddled back to the boat, hauled the kayaks up, and told her parents we hadn’t expected to take so long. It was a little after 10:30 a.m., and we had other stops to make, other places to sail. Even ghostly curses in Pirates and gunfights in Master and Commander couldn’t make my pulse race quite as fast as it did while being stuck on the middle of that cliff. Forget the movies—I had my adventure.

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About Laurel Savannah