“I’m gunna free fall, out into nothing. I’m gunna leave this world for a while. Now I’m free...”
- Tom Petty, "Free Fallin'"
Life has its ups and its downs. Occasionally we lose track of that when we are feeling particularly beat up or particularly golden, but with as much certainty as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, we may also be certain that fortunes will swing to and fro in due time. This ideology does presuppose the thought that outcomes are not always a summation of their cognizant inputs. There is, after all, a factor known as Fate, which is decidedly independent from us and our plans or desires. From about age 18 to 25, I didn't believe this at all. I was taking life by the nape of its neck and dragging it with me as I tried to experience everything worth experiencing under the sun. I had rewritten my bucket list more times than I can remember. I knew discovery made me feel good and so my lust for it grew and grew until Fate decided it had seen enough. “Travis has become too methodological, too confident”, Fate mused. “It’s about time Travis learnt a lesson.” And so Fate happened, and so I did indeed learn a lesson.
My last effort at recreational travel writing was more than three years ago. If I’m being honest though, it feels more like I’ve aged a decade since then. I've since traveled to 17 new countries, finished 55.5 of the 60 credits necessary for an MBA, gone most extravagantly into debt, and survived a traumatic brain injury followed by about eight months of rehab… in only three years. Let me see if I can do this fateful story justice.
SchoolThe school that I’m currently attending is called Thunderbird School of Global Management , and when I applied while living in Thailand, it was known as the number one international business school in the world. In retrospect, it seems so cliché, but it truly did feel like my dream school. I was accepted into Thunderbird, and so had to leave South East Asia (and my travel blogging) and return home to the USA. I began my first trimester at Thunderbird in Fall 2012.
At Thunderbird, I was able to continue my passion for having new experiences. I took MBA classes with students from 60 different nations, I studied in Peru and Czech Republic, and I adopted a new athletic/social hobby – rugby. I had played football and lacrosse in high school, so I was no stranger to very physical team sports. While rugby may appear like a mindless brawl between a bunch of meat-heads, after learning the game, I do have to admit that rugby actually skillfully blends brute physicality with speed and precision. At 5’ 11’’ with 170 pounds of speed and agility, I was best suited as a winger – the quick guard that stands as the last defense along the outermost edge of the field. I was fast, I was good at this. But my experience on the football field had made me reckless with my body, even with the complete lack of pads or a helmet. My football days had taught me to dive head-first, eyes up into incoming bodies. This exact practice proved to eventually be my cause for retiring completely from the sport a year after first learning it.
It was my second year with the school team. We were at our annual Flagstaff, Arizona regional rugby tournament. It was well after nightfall and light came from only the over-head light poles. It was now my second year with the game, and I had developed a dangerous over-confidence that made it far too easy for Fate to not be in my favor. There were now new recruits to impress, and I was throwing my body around like it belonged to somebody else. I had my eyes on an opponent as he was passed the ball. I speedily approached him as his shoulders turned back to the field, my eyes dropped to his hips, and I dove head-first, arms out, and blank.
End.... Game Over.... Reboot….I remember nothing else. My next clear memory is: I’m sitting in an ambulance. My mother is looking at me. I don’t think it’s odd that she is here. We don’t speak; we only ride together as the ambulance continues on for almost two hours. I now know that this was my transportation from the Flagstaff intensive care unit down to the Phoenix inpatient rehab center. I was in the Flagstaff ICU for eighteen days where they were forced to remove the left side of my skull to relive the intense swelling of my brain due to the crushing hit I took when diving into my opponent’s knees. I returned down to Phoenix with a metal plate in my skull attached with three screws through the previously whole bone that is my skull. I recall nothing of the Flagstaff ICU at all because they had me on some sort of memory erasing drugs to keep my mind from being scarred by the numerous needles and tubes going in and out of my body.
I was not, nor will I ever again be, the young man that went up to Flagstaff on October 5th, 2013. I would undergo seven more months of physical, occupational, speech, and neuropsychiatric therapies until the insurance would no longer cover such costly endeavors.
I was very fortunate to not have any permanent brain damage, let alone return to school with only a one year delay, but return I did with a drastically more risk-averse approach to school, work, and life.
TEM LabI’m now here in Nepal, participating in one of our school’s famous TEM Labs. In this Thunderbird Emerging Markets Laboratory, my team and I have been working with Kathmandu University School of Management (KUSOM) to aid them in further developing their innovative business incubation center. Innovation is surely a new concept in a country
where as you walk down a market street, the vendor procession is simply peanut cart, fruit cart, shoe stand, shawl stand in endless repetition. I know not the reason, but thinking of ideas never thought of or doing things never done, does not seem to be a concept native to this side of the world. Some would question (as I have in past blogs) that perhaps innovation spawns from perpetual discontent. Regardless of from where this project spawned, we just concluded our work and will now present our recommendations to both KUSOM and later, back home at Thunderbird.
And so after circling around the past and the future, I now come to the present. I am writing this right now at the Last Resort – home of the highest bungy jump in Nepal, and one of the three highest natural jumps in the world. Tomorrow morning, I will take the leap and experience a three second free fall for the first time in my life. Am I testing Fate again? I don’t think so. Rather, I am fully acknowledging Fate and putting my life in its hands. I’m going to leave this world of responsibilities, stresses, deliverables, and meetings just for a little while. As I free fall out into nothing, my only thoughts will be of the family I love back home and how fortunate I am to still be alive and free in such an incredible world.
I’m now back on solid ground. If I ever thought I might have the words to describe the feelings that I just felt, wow was I naïve! I’ll try my best, but just understand that reading the words and seeing the pictures is one thing, but actually free falling down through a lush green valley toward the rocky creek at the base, is something entirely different.
It was the morning group. There were only seven of us. I knew that I didn’t want to jump first, but I also didn’t want to stand up there on the bridge watching others go and considering more and more the true life-worth of free falling off this swinging bridge. I deftly managed to squeeze myself to third in line – perfect positioning in retrospect. The two ahead of me had done the bungy jump the previous day and were both there this morning for the rope swing. They each were roped
up by the guides and set sail almost as if it was their morning routine. Before I knew it, I was sitting down right across from the open air peering over one of the most beautiful vistas I’ve seen in Nepal. The guides first wrapped me in a full body harness, then tied on the foot straps on which my life was now dependent, then rigged them each to each other. Comfortable would have been about the last word I would’ve used to describe this gear, but it did make me feel as safe as safe could've been under the circumstances.
And then I stood up and stepped out to the platform of no return. I inched out to the edge of the platform until the toes of both my feet were over the edge. This only happened with the careful assistance of the guide behind me holding the strap on my back. I tried my very best to not look down. Without any time to think, the countdown began. 3… 2… 1... and I leapt...
Face first, arms spread like wings, I flew into the abyss. It was incredible. It was blissful. It was a divine freedom unlike any I’ve ever known… for about the first two seconds. As my body turned from the ethereal parallel to a head-first perpendicular, that bliss quickly turned into a stool-loosening terror. Still in free fall, I watched the rocky river speeding up to offer me a painless extinction. For maybe half a second, I was fairly certain that this was the end of me. And then suddenly, by either some divine intervention or the mechanics of well-engineered ropes, I felt the bungy cord catch and begin to pull taught.
By this point, my mind was blank. I was looking, hearing, smelling, feeling, but not thinking. As I bounced back up and down a couple more times, I couldn't have told you my own name. Things smoothed out, and I began to be lowered down onto what looked like a hospital gurney – as if anyone’s mind would be ready to appreciate the irony after the experience that I just had. When my butt touched the bed, and I again felt the incredible beauty of gravity, I began to laugh. I hadn't died, I hadn't cried, I hadn't shat myself, and all I could do was laugh. The two guides freeing me from my gear didn’t seem too surprised, so perhaps hysteria is a pretty typical reaction to such an absurd experience.
Once I was free from my lifesaving ropes, I had to begin the twenty-minute hike back up to the hotel. It was during this trek that my mind actually began to come back from wherever it had hidden. Completely alone in this hike back up the hill, I continued laughing. I remember thinking to myself, "it wasn't that funny, why am I laughing like a mindless drunkard?" To this day, I'm not sure I can tell you a reason for this mirth other than perhaps just an overwhelming elation that life persists.
This day, Fate had smiled down on me. It allowed me to overcome an escalating amount of misfortunes and have one of the more memorable experiences that I’ve had in a long, long time.