WRIT LARGE: Ch 18, Part 2
The Journey is the Reward
“Should we split up here?” Parvati asks. “Two of us head to the flag, while the rest of us get the canoe.”
I tell them that my understanding of Jeff’s instructions is that we make our way to Point B as a team, and that the orange flag is a bonus if we get a chance to claim it, rather than a requirement of the challenge.
“Agreed,” says Todd. “Let’s get to the boat and whoever is finishing the challenge on foot can reassess the dessert situation.”
Todd and John lead the way. It’s easy while our position remains elevated, but as we begin the descent surrounded by trees, we have to keep the ocean in sight between the vegetation. Olivia keeps up with Parvati despite the blood trickling from beneath the Band-aid on her knee, but by the time we have the beach in sight, she is limping slightly. She flops onto the sand and takes a long drink of cold water from the bottle in her backpack.
I ask if she is okay.
“I’m fine,” she says. “I’ve had worse blisters. My sister once bought me a pair of Vivienne Westwood heels with butterflies on the back and those babies caused blisters that kept me in flip-flops for a week. Will you help me up?” She raises a hand and I lift her to her feet. “Best to keep moving.”
Todd, Parvati, and John are standing on the shore by the canoe. From here, the floating deck seems a lot further away. We join them and I suggest that Olivia goes in the canoe because of her sore foot.
She shakes her head. “I think I’m better walking. If I sit down, I’ll not be able to walk for the rest of the day, and honestly, canoeing isn’t my strong point.”
“It is mine,” says John. “I’m happy to take your share.”
“Right,” says Todd. “John’s definitely in the canoe.”
I suggest that I’ll walk to the picnic point with Olivia, as my canoeing expertise is non-existent. If the remaining three take the canoe, we’ll be in a strong position to collect the ice box and reach the destination in good time.
“Who needs chocolate cheesecake?” says Olivia, dismissing it with a wave of her hand.
Todd stares at the deck for several moments and then back inland. “John, think you and Parvati can manage alone?”
“Sure thing.” John raises his eyebrows at Parvati.
“I’m in.” She doesn’t hesitate but slings her backpack into the canoe and has climbed aboard before I can argue with Todd. John is in the water and untying the rope securing the boat to a metal hook on the beach.
I ask Todd why he chose to walk with us.
“I hiked this yesterday,” he says. “And if there’s a possibility of claiming that dessert before Tony’s team, I’m not letting it pass me by.”
We walk along the beach towards the picnic point, the boat already some distance away from shore and approaching the deck. “Are you always this competitive?” Olivia asks.
“Aren’t you?” Todd smiles at us. “My dad set the bar high when I was a kid, and I guess it stuck. You know, the first time you get an A in a subject, it’s like, how do I cope if I get a B next time, and that becomes a spiral it’s difficult to slide away from.”
I remind Todd that there’s a saying: Perfect is the enemy of good.
“How often do you tell yourself that when you’re writing?” he asks. “Not that I’ve ever read one of your books, sorry.”
He has no need to apologise, I tell him. Literature would be dead if we all enjoyed the same books, and in answer to his question, whenever I’ve edited a book to within an inch of its life, or when there are no darlings left to kill.
“Thank God you’re not a nanny,” says Olivia.
I ask Todd how this compares to challenges he has experienced on the show.
He thinks about it for several moments. I have the impression that he is itching to jog to the Finish Point and is holding back for our benefit, but it could simply be the underlying energy that he exudes. “This is pretty basic,” he says. “You gotta remember that on the show, we’re starving most of the time. We’re tired. You try this challenge when you’re thirty days in, you’ve lived on whatever you’ve managed to catch, and your shelter was demolished in a storm the night before. Throws a whole different light on it.”
“Is that what grinds contestants down?” Olivia asks. “The exhaustion and hunger? I mean, I can’t exist without three meals a day, and that’s when I’m sitting behind a desk sending emails and sorting diary schedules.”
“Yes and no,” says Todd. “Some people thrive on it. It’s the reason I didn’t pig out this morning on breakfast. Sometimes that hollow feeling helps you dig deep and find that extra push.”
We hear cheers from the sea and turn to find John standing on the floating deck, the ice box at his feet, waving his hands in the air. We wave back.
“Time to head inland,” says Todd. He waits for us to respond and it dawns on me that I’m the team leader, which I can only assume gives me the final say. I ask if it will shorten the hike back or whether it’s likely to be the scenic route. “Depends on that little orange flag.”
The forest is denser inland. I feel an insect bite swelling on the back of my neck at the same time as Olivia begins flapping her arms around her face.
Todd is unperturbed despite the incline stretching our calf muscles. “If I’m correct,” he says, “the orange flag should be at the top of this hill to our left.”
As if he had conjured its appearance, we all spot the flag high above us on the hilltop tied to the branch of a tall tree.
“Well, at least it’s still there,” says Olivia. “Which gives us a fifty-fifty chance of getting it.”
“Uh-huh.” Todd nods, staring at the flag. “Want to know how to increase those odds?”
“How?” Olivia stares at him, her nose and cheeks flushed from the sun.
He grins at us. “We run!”
His excitement is contagious. Olivia, without missing a beat, toes off her hiking boots and sprints barefoot uphill, leaping over rocks and pounding the low vegetation smothering the ground. She is fast. Todd keeps up with her and I follow on behind, my backpack thumping against my back, sweat making my eyes sting. Now I know why Todd wears a sweatband around his head.
From my position lagging behind, I spot Jeremy and Kim from the red team approaching the flag from the opposite direction. I yell at my teammates to run faster, because while the promise of dessert was a luxury we could afford to disregard when it was nowhere in sight, now that we’re almost here, it has morphed into a necessity. As though our lives depend upon it.
Olivia shrieks. Kim hears, and spots me at the same time, and I watch her pointing out my position to Jeremy who in turn glances at the flag. Ahead of me, Olivia and Todd are level. I’m not sure if the red team have noticed them yet, but they also start running.
We’re almost there, but as Olivia approaches the tree from which the flag is hanging, I realise that she isn’t tall enough to reach it without climbing, which will slow her down. Todd must notice the predicament too. He is around the same height as Olivia, which means he would also struggle to reach the flag. Without wasting a beat, he yells at Olivia to stop. He is on his knees, gesturing to her to climb onto his shoulders which she does, tossing her backpack aside. He is up and running through the clearing ahead, Olivia’s arms around his neck, as Kim and Jeremy appear from the opposite direction. Olivia releases her hold on Todd, raises her arms above her head, and snatches the flag from the branch as Jeremy leaps up to reach it himself.
Very true - and not incompatible with aiming for perfection - I think we're in agreement, at root. Giving myself permission to be bad at art *and* doing a little every day was what's helped me hone my skills (ditto Duolingo). I still have much to learn but, have learned at least beginner level origami, paper mache, Victorian egg decoration (with a Kintsugi twist), acrylic painting, dried flower art and much about poetry - and many more things - since becoming largely bedliving and houserealmed - even though I lacked aptitude - and maybe one day, I'll have achieved my dream of learning every skill I am able to on the Heritage Crafts Red List (if I live to be very old). Had I been too intimidated to make something imperfect, I'd never have honed my skills. My NDE made me realise it all stops at some point so you may as well chase your dream, not merely what would be 'OK'. I knew that already, of course - Happy Talk has long been a personal anthem - but hadn't contemplated the immediacy of it. Can't remember if I shared this with you already? Touches on some of this https://www.abctales.com/story/ciadish/legacy
I love that this section ended with them getting the flag instead of on a cliffhanger. They made such a great team, and Olivia is such a strong woman character. I feel like most women would have just gotten in the canoe to be done, but she kept fighting and walking. I love that.