When James and I made our plans to hike Pinnacles National Park recently, we searched for hikes that would not only give us the best scenery, but also the biggest physical challenge.
We had just come from Sea Otter Classic, an event that always leaves our brains on stimulation-overload, and were both in desperate need of a mental reset. High-intensity torture-themed physical activity out in nature was going to be just the ticket.
With only 30 miles of hiking trails at the park, it wasn’t hard to settle on the worst (wait I mean the best) trail where we could get close to the suffering and agony we craved…. High Peaks trail.
We climbed (and even jogged some) for about two hours at an intentionally brisk and uncomfortable pace before reaching the pit toilets at Scott Peak, which wasn’t even the halfway point yet!!! My legs were already jelly, my heart had been bursting out of my chest for two straight hours, my clothes were soaked with sweat …
IT WAS FREAKING GLORIOUS.
As James beelined for the toilets, something in me didn’t want to stop. I was probably hopped up on endorphins I guess, because instead of chilling and waiting like a nice spouse would, I told James…
“I’m gonna hike on and will double back and meet back up with you!”
“Uh, okay.” That’s exactly what he said. And actually, if you’ve ever been curious as to what James’ Most Frequently Used Phrase when speaking to me is, that would be it. While that “uh” may sound innocuous, don’t be fooled, dear readers. It’s really just James-shorthand for “I’m reluctantly agreeing even though I disagree.”
So there I was, hiking along the peak all alone, my only annoyances were the whipping winds and the occasional rain drop. I was in the zone, baby! Onward I charged, in full-on Beast Mode.
That lasted about 120 seconds.
So let’s halt the story here for a moment. It’s been awhile since I’ve shared my whole, uh “relationship” with heights, anyone remember? Yeah, it’s my kryptonite. And the weird thing is, I never know when it’s going to hit. Sometimes I can be hiking or biking along a high ledge with no issues whatsoever. But other times, like at this moment alone along the High Peaks trail, it’s like a switch flicks inside of me and just like that, I go from normal to freak show.
Sure enough, as always I went into “cat mode”, and put my hands down and started doing a humiliating hands & feet walk to a bit of wider trail I could see up ahead. I kept thinking…
“Please don’t let James come and see me crawling, please oh please oh please…”
The fates granted my request and instead sent two trail joggers coming at me, clearly having no issues of their own with the narrow exposed trail and steep drop-off. Great. Carry on please, nothing to see here beyond a crawling and hyperventilating crazy lady.
There I was, on that very narrow section of exposed trail, with all my muscles simultaneously tensing in that reflexive fight-or-flight stress response… a response we all appreciate when being chased by a bear, but not so much when we’re simply trying to enjoy a hike without coming off as a big ninny. I was in this weird state unsure what to do. Turn around and grab James and bail on doing the loop? Wait for him to come save me?
Something deep in me pushed me to keep going though. I don’t know where it came from, but I felt determination that I needed to beat this fear and overcome it… at least this time. I NEEDED success and I especially didn’t want James to see me fail at yet another hike. Pride… a vice and a blessing.
So I pushed on.
I eventually was able to haul my ass past the worst of that trail ledge and stood up like a human again. By the time James met up with me, there were no signs of my little episode. I vowed I wasn’t going to tell him about it and I never did. Reading it here will be the first he hears of it.
On my personal Facebook page, the cover photo is a picture of me with Lucy at an overlook within the Colorado National Monument. (Lucy’s my baby. My beloved Trek Project One.) The Monument runs along a cliff’s edge with steep drop-offs, no shoulders, and the most stunning views you’ll ever see. That bike ride was the hardest thing I’ve ever voluntarily done in my life thanks to my messed up spidey sensor. I hated every moment of that beautiful ride of terror, but yet I finished it. I keep that photo there to remind me of that extremely emotional day. It’s a reminder that even though I was in full-on fight-or-flight panic mode, I didn’t give up. I owned my fear, and I overcame. When I look at that picture I feel like I can do anything.
Choose the Brave Thing, Not the Safe Thing.
When we put ourselves in a position of doing hard and scary things, THAT’S where true strength is built. It’s that dreaded Discomfort Zone popping up again, we can’t avoid it.
Courage and confidence are both more than just a static quality we each possess, they’re actually skills we can nurture and grow. You go to the gym to get stronger physically and you go to the Discomfort Zone to get stronger mentally.
I will say this. While I hate my fear of heights, at the same time, I’m grateful for it. When I look back on my life and all my most amazing moments, they all were intertwined with some level of fear. Had that Colorado National Monument bike ride not had any fear, would I still treasure that photo so much? Nope. Without the fear, there’d be no pride of accomplishment. No growth.
My message with this whole long-winded story is this:
Be okay with doing difficult and scary things.
It’s those hard things that help us pursue our potential and see what we’re made of. It’s how we become the best versions of ourselves.
Fear Breeds Courage.
In the end, once you’ve done that difficult thing, the fear passes. You’re left with incredibly deep feelings and emotions that you simply cannot experience from any activities you do within the confines of your safety bubble. And it changes you a little in the most incredible ways.
It’s a total high, and it’s all because of you… you did that hard thing.
You overcame. You kicked ass. YOU are unstoppable.
For Punky. May you find this someday at just the right time.