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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.
I have gone over a 12 ft water fall while on a rafting trip along the White Salmon River in Washington State. It was a rafting trip and they gave you an option if you feel you don’t want to do it now it the time to let us know. There a section where they pullover before going over the water fall. They said we will not think any less of you if you decide to for go the water fall. Well, I decided to do it with my husband Peter. Let me tell you it scared me because we went under the water after going over the falls. I ended up in the seat in front of me.Later we found out that one of the rafts ejected all the participants into the churning water. Then then second raft before we went over two of the participants got hurt one was the guide with a dislocated knee and the other was a person with a broken nose. But, I was glad I did it. Would I do it again , heck no! Peter was proud of me and so was I.
I’m proud of you, too. What an incredible memory, and it is all yours to treasure forever! (Plus I’m glad you didn’t get hurt WOWSA!!!)
I absolutely. Love. This. Post.
From someone who has yet to conquer her fear of heights and has climbed up trails on her hands and knees because she couldn’t stand up….
A spirit sister!!! Here’s to facing our fears, choosing to do the hard thing, and finding the strength to stand up! xoxo
I’m also acrophobic, though I was not as a kid and young adult. I’m pushing 77 real hard this month and since I became a grandfather I’ve fought fear of aging by claiming the next scheduled age increase as soon as it’s within six months of coming around. So I aready tell people who ask, “I’m 77, or will be in three months.” It works against fear of death and aging. So does simply facing the fact that none of us is getting out of this alive so we might as well get used to have an expiration date, however cloudy the specifics may be. Were I on that hike with you, I would have been on hands and knees too. While motorcycling was a lifelong pursuit into my seventies, I quit when my eyes started tearing up too badly for safety. I’m daring, but not crazy.
Who is Punky?
Punky is the one and only “Baby” from James’ original Toilet Paper Test video from 7 yrs ago… https://www.thefitrv.com/rv-tips/toilet-paper-test-from-the-fit-rv-now-with-children/
She’s my one and only grandddaughter… a deep-thinking and brilliant little 8yr old (going on 40) who is constantly in turmoil working out some of life’s biggest issues. The world’s youngest philosopher. I’m in awe of her. xoxo
This is such a powerful post. I backpacked for the first time at age 59 1/2 to Havasupai– we climbed down rock canyon to get to the base of the falls. It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life and I DID IT TWICE on that trip. I’ll probably never take that huge of risk again, but I kept saying to myself “Eleanor Roosevelt says I must do one thing each day that terrifies me”. I know I was the oldest person down there, but damn, did it feel good to overcome that fear. You are so spot on. The balance is risk-taking versus life threatening choices that we are in control of.
Oh that Eleanor Roosevelt quote! I’m pinning that one, thanks! And hey… great job overcoming. Sounds like an incredible adventure you’ll never forget!
We’re younger now after sixty and even seventy than our parents and grandparents were. At 76 I’ve outlived both parents and three wives. Keep pushing yourself to do ‘scary’ things, so long as they’re phobia-based fears and don’t stem from well-considered risk analyses. And even then, go ahead and do it once you’ve assessed the risks and educated and trained yourself not to be doing it foolishly or carelessly! Two parents and one wife argued strongly against me taking up motorcycle riding but I did it anyway between 32 and my early 70s, when my eyes betrayed me by tearing up too badly for safety. Never let fear stop you from enjoying life, but don’t let foolishness get you killed!
I have experienced what you are describing here while on a tour at Mesa Verde National Park. I took the ranger-led, Balcony House tour, not realizing what I was getting into. The tour description said it would require, among other physical challenges, climbing a 32-foot ladder and up stone steps What the tour description didn’t say was that the ladder and stone step climb (actually more like footholds, was up a rock wall with a sheer drop off to a canyon far below. Climbing the ladder would have been challenge enough, but you climbed the ladder with other people on it at the same time. The woman ahead of me was wearing a long dress and she kept tripping on it and stopping which meant I had to stop, too. I think I would have been OK if I hadn’t had to stop, but when I did, I clung to the ladder with all my might. If there had been any other way out of the situation, I would have taken it. But I had no choice if I wanted to live, so I pushed on. To this day, I relish the fact that I overcame my fear and finished that hike. It was the highlight of my visit to Mesa Verde.
Way to go, Judy!!! Other people around can certainly make it worse, but it can also be a blessing. It’s that pride thing again, we don’t want others to see us go into panic mode so we carry on and battle the fear silently.
Others can inspire us, too. We see them being brave, and it motivates us to be brave.
Here’s to staying strong and climbing on!!! xo
One reason I carry a hiking stick is that it can be comforting to have something to hold onto when I am on a narrow trail. I also find that my tendency to push myself “just a little bit further – one more step” helps. I learned in the Army that I could do more than I though I could if I kept that mantra in my mind. It’s all very psychological 😉
Interesting. I own hiking poles, but have fallen out of the habit of packing them. I’ll put them back on my packing list, thanks!
Stefany, does being in an airplane, tall building and other heights bother you, or more like high ledges with no railings and such?
I have no issues with airplanes or tall buildings or even anywhere high outdoors with a railing is totally fine… it’s the outdoors exposed stuff that gets me. Winds and uneven sloping surfaces seem to trigger it too. As Graham said in another comment, it’s all very psychological, lol.
All of what you describe, Stefany, is very similar to me. No issues with flying or tall buildings. Looking over ledges as long as there’s a railing. But ladders that are wobbly… basically anything unstable or no railing. Since it’s not completely irrational…these things can be unsafe, I’ve never bothered to do anything about it.
Being one who doesn’t do well with heights, and now that we’ve been to Colorado National Monument, I totally get what an incredible accomplishment that was! My “keep going” story is from ocean kayaking. We’ll have to swap stories around the campfire sometime!
“Keep Going” story… I love that! I’d love to hear yours someday. xo
I loved your story on fear vrs courage. You have a gift with words that needs a wider audience. At first I thought a daily diary would do but not, an adventure book of all the places you’ve been to along with your unique way of sharing feelings would do fine. I’m not selfish so 50% of the book profits will do me just fine, I just add to add that in.
Truly, great reading material.
LOL! Thanks for lifting me up! YOU have a way with words, too. xoxo
Great story. Great principle! I’m sure there will be more to come!
Alas, yes. That is the inevitable way of it. 🙂 xo
I like Mel’s bright yellow vest. Where did you purchase this. Thanks
We ordered it from “Kitty Holster”! Love it, way more comfortable than a typical harness plus he can’t worm his way out of it. 🙂