Fear & Doing

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I made a decision a long time ago that if I want creativity in my life – and I do – then I will have to make space for fear, too.

–Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

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This is my story of hiking the Fisher Towers Trail.

This is not the story of the trail, how it was created, what kind of rock or vegetation you will see, or when it became a public trail.  It’s not the story of our family vacation, who came with us, everywhere we went, or the retelling of events in order.  Those are good stories, beautiful stories.  But those are not this story.

This is my story of hiking the Fisher Towers Trail.

 

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You see, a few years earlier, I hiked most of the Angel’s Landing trail with mostly the same group of people.  On that first trip to Utah, I discovered just how real and present a fear of heights could be.  I found that fear could actually stop me from doing what I really want to do.  I experienced that fear could make me miss out on an irreplicable moment.

On this trip, in August 2014, I was pretty determined to crack the code to my fear, to find a way to defeat it.  I wasn’t expecting to not feel fear.  But I wanted to be able to do things and have adventures and cherish them without fear getting in the way.

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The night before our Fisher Towers hike, we had talked about the trail extensively.  A couple of people in the group had hiked this trail before, and they spoke of a spot where you had to climb a ladder down into a small canyon and go up on the other side.  I had seen a picture of my brother-in-law sitting on an outcropping off the overlook point, and he said he had “hopped across the ravine” to get there.  You can’t know an experience from a description, and you can’t see everything in a photo.  But my imagination was not interested in this logic.  I was imagining coming to the top of the ladder and being in tears, unable to continue.  I was imagining getting to the overlook and sitting alone, far away from the edge, while everyone else enjoyed the experience together.  I spent much of the evening looking online for pictures and descriptions, thinking that knowing was the way to defeat the fear.

Finally, after so much perusing and not feeling any better, I made a decision.  I would go first, as much as possible.  I wouldn’t say anything to the group; I would just lead the way.  When we got to the ladder, I wouldn’t hang back and let someone else go first; I would just put one foot on the top rung, and then step to the next rung, and go.  I would just keep moving.  I couldn’t freeze if I kept moving forward.

I also had this instinct that the way to defeat the fear was to do the exact opposite of what I felt like doing.  Fear said, watch other people do it first.  Fear said, sit still, don’t move.  Something deep in my adventurous soul said, push back.  Push directly into those forces.

I didn’t tell anyone about my thoughts.

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By the time we reached the overlook at the trail end, I had done quite a bit of internal, unspoken fear-conquering.  I did, indeed, do the ladder first.  It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the situation my imagination had created, maybe 8-10 feet down the ladder then up a steep switchback, but that doesn’t matter.  What mattered, for me, was that I kept moving forward when I knew this unknown ladder situation was somewhere in front of me.  When it arrived, I put one foot on the ladder and just kept going from there.  Before the group had completely caught up, I was down the ladder, and up the other side of the ravine.

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Shortly after the ladder, I was again leading the way, and the trail seemed to end at a wall.  When we got close, we saw a small opening in the wall, about the size of a large doorway, and I moved forward into that opening — and found myself looking out at a steep drop-off and a huge landscape view.  My heart jumped into my throat, my veins felt like they were buzzing, and my hands were shaking.  I sucked in a sharp breath and took a step backwards.  I couldn’t even tell if it was still trail on the other side of this opening, or if we had taken a wrong turn somewhere.

While I recovered myself, my brother-in-law went through the opening and found the trail alongside the cliff.  My sisters offered to go next, but I recited my “one foot in front of the other; keep moving forward” mantra and stepped through the opening again.

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“The very act of doing the thing that scared me undid the fear.”

–Shonda Rhimes, TED Talk

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At the end of the trail, I spent some time on those rock outcroppings.  There was a light buzzing in my veins, but it was nothing compared to the view.  And if you can believe it, the feeling of satisfaction was even better than the view.

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It was somewhere along the trail that day that I realized I might like come back someday and hike Fisher Towers alone.

Alone.

No Sarah or Megan to hold my hand when my heart jumped into my throat.  No Jon to confirm that we are still on the trail.  No Dan toggling between light-hearted banter and reciting bible verses.  No Amy chatting and getting to know each other better along the trail.

It was like something inside me bloomed to life, something that was strength of my own, something I didn’t realize was missing.  Or maybe I didn’t quite realize that it was something that was possible to have.

In fact, almost two years later, I can see a trajectory that I think began that day.  I do hike alone now.  Better than that, my inner conversation is less and less wanting to find someone to imitate, and more and more knowing who I am.

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But that day, I also felt solidarity with my fellow hikers.  Giving in to my fear would have meant that I didn’t get to be on the trail with them.  It would have meant that they wouldn’t have been there to witness my accomplishment, and I wouldn’t have had the joy of the adventure.

Instead, we enjoyed the accomplishment and adventure together.

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And that steep drop-off right before we went back through the opening in the rock?  I knew I could walk right past it, or stop and enjoy the view for a moment.  Fearless is a powerful semantic, but courage is much more empowering to an experience.  Fear would come with me.  But the doing undid the fear a little bit.  And exploration and adventure were leading the way.

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Time Away

I just got back from a six day retreat.  It was wonderful to empty myself of all the distractions of real life, and in that empty space, God easily flowed in.  (Think “Couples’ Retreat” for your relationship with God!)  The group of women was amazing, and like the other participants, I had some major emotional “work” to do while I was there.  99% of what happened was between me and God, but the other 1% I can show you.  (Click on a photo to take you to the gallery, then on each photo you can scroll down a bit for a description.)

Zion Part 5: The Narrows!!!

Yay!!!  It’s time for the Narrows!  I knew this would be my favorite hike…we get to walk through the water!  Sweet relief of cold water around our feet, instead of nothing but heat and sun!  I love the first hike, Observation Point, because it was such a lot of hard work to get there, and it was so worth it.  But if you ask me what my favorite hike was…no question!  The Narrows!

First, a quick and painless hike to the Court of the Patriarchs, a good viewing spot for the peaks named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

You can see Isaac and Jacob in the background. Abraham is a little farther to the left.

This display explained how a canyon forms, I think. The caption amused us. The poor tributary was just left hanging. Didn't it deserve some closure on the situation? Heehee. 🙂

Even when we were on the shuttle bus, I just couldn't keep my eyes off the canyon. I just wanted to soak it up...the layers and layers of rock...the history of the earth, right there on display...the magnificence of God's creation!

From the last shuttle stop, there is an easy hike a little deeper into the canyon. Easy. Paved. Out of character compared to everything else in the park!

Crazy little squirrels that weren't afraid of humans at all!

After the short hike, we each found a big stick and plunged ourselves into the blissful water!

The reason behind the name for this hike is obvious. The canyon narrows until there is only water most of the time.

Man, this girl could use some eyeliner and lipstick! On the other hand, she is obviously very happy to be carrying a big stick through a river in a canyon!

In our typical "Hey, I wonder if we can get up there?" fashion, Sarah and I see something across the canyon that we want to explore.

Here we go, sticks and all...careful of unknown depth and force of the current, but it turned out to be no problem crossing the water.

We made it across! Now, where shall we climb?

This little cave looks good! As you can see, Jon ventured across to join us, without his big stick or water pack. Did he think we were being reckless and would need to be rescued? 🙂

Or maybe he just wanted to climb, too!  🙂

So awesome! Look how small we are!

A bend in the river.

After a couple of hours, we turned around and hiked downstream, and climbed out of the water.  We brought a large quantity with us in our shoes, though!

Letting some of the water drain out of our shoes before the dry part of the hike.

Best.  Hike.  Ever.  It was a bit of work to stay upright in the current, and we all…or most of us?…fell a few times.  But it was such a nice day for it, we almost appreciated the dunkings!  It didn’t feel like hard work, because the water was cooling us off, and there was often moments of shade, and there was so much to explore!  Best of all, it was so awesome to be deep into the canyon like that, in a place you can only get to by going into the water.  No one can get there on dry land.  Quite an experience!

Zion Part 4: Angels’ Landing and Emerald Pool

I have been putting this post off for sooooo long.  So long that the vacation happened in 2010, and now it is 2012.

Remember my vacation?  Zion National Park?  Summer of 2010?  So long ago that I don’t remember what month…it may have been June.

If you would like to review:  Zion Canyon Part 1,   Zion Canyon Part 2,   Zion Canyon Part 3

Are you caught up?

So, the reason that I have been procrastinating writing part 4 is that I have a few memories from this day that scream and drown out all the good memories.  I remember bits and pieces of my not-so-great experience of Angels Landing with such detail…  You will read about a French girl that I talked to.  I remember how her hair was fixed!  The feelings that I experienced on the Angels Landing trail are so loud, if I think about this day, that I don’t want to think of it.  It’s so easy for me to pretend the bad memories don’t exist.  But part of life is learning to feel bad, to sit with it, and to let it run its course and pass.  For me in particular, this is a lesson that needs to be learned, over and over again.  So I’m going to post the pictures, and my usual little vacationy comments, for two reasons:  One, it was awful.  Ignoring it won’t change it.  And it’s time to sit with those feelings and let them have their way.  Two, after Angels’ Landing, the rest of the trip was very, very good.  My favorite part was the next day, and will be in part 5, and I can’t show you that until I show you this.

So, the second day in the canyon started with a hike up Angels’ Landing.  It is a 5.4 mile hike roundtrip, and you gain 1488 feet of elevation.  Once again, we started in the dark…

...but not so very dark as the previous morning!

Here we go!

Of course, during our “rests” we found some more random little side adventures, off the trail.

Next came Wallace’s Wiggles, an intense series of about 20 switchbacks up the steep side of a cliff.

See?

After a short break at an overlook, some of us ventured on to the next part of the trail.  This is where things got miserable.

It says right there, “cliff exposures.”  I didn’t know I was afraid of cliff exposures!!!

How could I possibly know that?  I’ve never BEEN on a cliff!

I mean, I know I’m afraid of heights.  But I took a rock climbing class in college, and it was one of the best, most empowering experiences, to overcome that fear every week, and to make it to the top more times than I can count.  So my goal for Angels’ Landing was to do it once, so that I would never have to do it again.

Aack.

I’m absolutely mortified to find myself crying my way through the experience at this point.

And trying not to look at the sheer drops on either side.

And between holding onto the chains for dear life and wiping the tears, I’m beginning to worry that I’m ruining it for everyone else.  You see, this is how I get through things that terrify me:  I cry, and I do it anyway.  But I have to cry.  As long as I’m crying, I’m really not as miserable as you think, and I’m overcoming fear in a way that seemed impossible to me just moments before.  As long as I’m crying, I’m probably feeling really, really good about the experience.

If I try to make myself stop crying, I freeze.  I feel nothing but terrified.  And once again, it feels impossible.

Just to clarify, there are a few rare events in life that truly make me THIS terrified.  I can only think of two.  Needles.  (Luckily, in that situation, they go on with it whether or not I’m frozen in fear.)  And apparently, Angels Landing.

In this situation, I was torn between feeling really good about myself for tackling something that I found so scary, and feeling really embarrassed and guilty about appearing to be so miserable.  If they were all having fun, they should have fun.  I didn’t want them to remember this experience as going with their stupid sister who wouldn’t stop crying.

Not to mention some stupid woman from Switzerland who was telling me that if I was this scared, it was dangerous to go on.  Thanks, lady.  That really helped.  I really felt better.  Stupid woman.

So I tried to stop crying.

Big mistake.

SOOOOOO.  VERY.  SCARED.

And I froze.  I sat my ass down under a tree, with a sheer drop on either side of me, and I stayed right there until they got back.

This was my view in the direction of the rest of the trail. You can even see a bit of my tree in the top right corner.

I didn’t have a watch or anything, but we estimated that there was probably a mile or mile-and-a-half left.  I’m looking at a map of the trail right now that makes me think there was only about a quarter mile to go.  In any case, sitting still, it felt like a really, really long time.

I watched and listened as the entire world went by me.  When the others came back, I remember telling them how many languages I thought I had heard, but right now I don’t remember how many it was.  Specifically, I remember so many people asking, without judgement, if I was all right.  I remember a few people saying they were tempted to sit with me because they were scared, too.  (I don’t know if they were just lying to be nice, but I’m going to pretend they were honest.)

I remember two groups of people really distinctly.  There was a group of four guys with what I think were Scottish or Irish accents…really HOT guys, by the way!…who tried to convince me to go with them and “surprise your friends” by showing up at the top.  I should have gone.

Then there was a group from France, and one woman was trailing a little behind her friends because she was nervous about heights and just wanted to go slowly.  She actually sat under my tree for a little bit, and we chatted, and she said, “Okay, I think I’m going to go on.  Do you want to come?”  And I wanted to, and I almost went.  And I should have gone.

More than heights, more than needles, I have a horrible, horrible fear of being a burden to the people around me.  And in both those moments, my worst fear was not the sheer drops on either side of the trail.  I was afraid that I would start going, I would meet Sarah and Megan and Jon coming back, and that they would feel like they had to turn around and go with me to the top.  I wanted to go, but I felt like I had long ago lost my chance to do the hike in a way that wouldn’t be a burden to those around me.

Pardon this next part, but I’m already crying as I type, so if I’m doing this, I might as well go on and get it all out.

As I sat there, I saw people walk past who looked prepared, looked like they were in great shape, and looked and sounded like they were enjoying themselves.  And I saw people who were breathing like they hadn’t exercised a day in their life, who were wearing flip flops, who carried no water or snacks, who I judgmentally thought had no business being on such a strenuous, dangerous trail.  And that day, I felt like one of them.  You see, I know what it feels like to be in great shape, to be running and doing yoga and feeling like my arms and legs can take me anywhere in the world.  And I’m sorry to say, I know what it feels like to be out of shape, to feel out of balance and at the mercy of gravity and weather.  And I know that when I feel the latter, it’s my fault.  It’s my choices that put me in either of those positions.

It was judgmental and wrong for me to make assumptions of other people’s ability to safely and happily navigate that trail, and I’m truly sorry for those thoughts.  My point in sharing them is that, on that day, I felt like a person who would be unable to safely and happily navigate the trail.  My sisters’ skinny-ness and cardiovascular health was reminding me that I felt inadequate in both areas.  And then, seeing people who I thought looked more like me than my sisters going on up that trail…I am certain that is the worst I have ever felt about myself.  There was this little nugget of hope, confidence, motivation…  One tiny part of my soul was nagging me:  “You can do this, you know.  Just go.  Just go by yourself.  It will feel so good to accomplish this.”

But I didn’t.  Because the ugly, insecure part of my mind was screaming:  “If you wanted to be able to do this, you should have been making choices that would make you look and feel more like your sisters!  It is your own fault that you feel this way, and it is your own fault you are sitting here.  You are fat and ugly and SCARED and they are better off going on without you.”  That insecurity and self-doubt is the ugliest part of my soul, I know it is.  And I spent the rest of the day faking happy like I have never faked it before, because for the rest of the day, that self-doubt was screaming at the top of her lungs and I couldn’t drown her out.

Their well-deserved break at the top of Angels Landing.

Back down the wiggles we go...

The heat is getting to us! 🙂

On our way to the Emerald Pools.

Water falls from above...

You can see all the mossy green stuff that grows in the moisture.

Beautiful...

Blessed coolness of shade and being near water!

If you’re still with me, thanks for reading.  More than a year later, I had no idea it would be so helpful to talk about this and really just sit with it and get it out.  Whether on vacation or at home, I battle my demons.  Some battles result in more emotional bloodshed than others.  My favorite blogs to read are those where the authors talk about their battles honestly, and I hope you appreciate that here as well.

But stay tuned, because now that we’re done with that…my favorite hike is coming up in the next part!!!  🙂

Zion Part 3: Observation Point

The thing about an 8-mile hike (roundtrip) where you will be gaining 2100 feet of elevation on the climb, and then of course descending 2100 feet on the return (which is the more painful part!)…on a day when the temperature will climb into the 90s…the thing about this kind of a hike is…

…you have to start when it is dark. 

That’s a mountain and the moon, in case you can’t tell.

Nonetheless, here we go!

Umm…I think the elevation is starting to make me crazy.  Or perhaps my sister didn’t tell me she was taking a picture?  🙂

Frequent breaks, as well as a few extended sit-and-eat-something breaks, made the trip easier.

The last part of the trail was mostly flat, on top of the plateau, with lots of brush and flowers.

And suddenly, there it is!  Zion Canyon, as seen from Observation Point.

These tiny little squirrels were SO friendly!  We could almost touch them!

Proof!  🙂

In case it’s not obvious, we are hugging the wind. 

Eight miles, done!  Time for a shower, maybe some pool time, and dinner at an air conditioned restaurant!

 

Reposted: Zion part 2

Monday began with some sister-time for the three of us.  We were interested in seeing Great Salt Lake, but of course it was nothing special for Jon and his family, because they had lived there for years.  So since Mr. and Mrs. G. had some things to do before we left for southern Utah, us girls decided to spend the morning seeing Salt Lake.  (“Mr. and Mrs. G.” sounds weird to me, but in the interest of internet anonymity, I’m going to say that instead of their whole name!)  First we have the obligatory three-girls-taking-their-own-picture shot.  The lake is behind us, really!  🙂

Our first stop was a place called Saltair.  It is basically a ballroom on the lake shore.  We learned that the old Saltair was actually built over the water in 1893.  A few decades later it burned down, and they build the current Saltair.  We went to the gift shop and then walked out onto the beach.  The beach was a strange texture, crispy and salty.  We felt like the lake was still far away, and we weren’t wearing proper foot attire to walk across crispy, salty, damp beach to reach it.

So we went a little farther down the road and found another lake-front stop, which was much closer to the water.  The smell of brine and lake life was even stronger here, and the beach was less crispy and more beach-like.  I wonder if the Saltair beach area is usually actually water-covered, because it was such a different texture.

We found our way down to the beach and enjoyed the brilliant sunshine.  There is nothing like desert sunshine.  The sky is so much more blue in Utah than in the midwest.  My theory is lack of humidity.  My sisters seemed to agree.  🙂  It’s beautiful, and I love it.

I did not make this rock display of my initials.  The beach knew we were coming.  Or, someone else with the initials DB visited this beach recently.  Both valid options.  🙂

The beach (or the recent visitors) also left us another lovely rock display.

The birds enjoyed themselves, too.  🙂

In the afternoon, we headed south.  Salt Lake City is in a valley between two mountain ranges, and the valley widened and shallowed gradually as we progressed south.  We enjoyed the view between naps and conversations during the four-hour ride.

We arrived at our hotel in Springdale, UT, which is a tiny tourist town surrounded on three sides by Zion National Park.  The town is basically in the southern end of Zion Canyon.  The views from all our rooms were magnificent, as you can see.

After settling in at the hotel a bit, the hikers of the group ventured to the entrance to Zion National Park to take care of our park passes and familiarize ourselves with the shuttle that would take us to and from the hotel.

As always, we were distracted by things we had never seen.  We later discovered this plant is yucca (I think), but we saw it all over Springdale and the park. 

From left: Megan, Amy (Jon’s sister), me, Sarah, and Jon.  Excited to begin hiking tomorrow!

There is no bad view in the park, the town, from the hotel, anything!  I was struck all week with the idea of how small I am, in size and in time.  My lifetime, or even the lifetime of the human race so far, is nothing compared to how long it took this canyon to form.  You can see the history of the earth in the side of the rock, in the colors and shapes and designs.  Pictures cannot do it justice.  A few days can’t do it justice.  I have a feeling people could live in Zion Canyon their entire lives and not become complacent with the majesty and the beauty of it all.

Reposted: Zion Part 1: Getting to Utah

Looking through pictures and realized I never finished posting about our trip to Zion last summer!  So I’m going to repost parts 1 and 2 before I post the rest.  Here is part 1…

After a two hour drive for Sarah and Jon from Des Moines to Omaha, a 45-minute drive from Omaha to Lincoln, helping Megan move in (after Megan had driven 10 hours from Fort Worth to Lincoln!), a quick night of sleep followed by a 5:00 a.m. departure, and about 12 hours of driving through Nebraska and Wyoming, we crossed into Utah!  By this moment, we had cumulatively put 25 hours of driving behind us, if you count all the hours in each vehicle.  Or 67 hours, if you count hours of driving/riding per each person from our respective Point A’s. 

Immediately, the scenery changed a bit.  It was beautiful, and I fell in love with the landscape by the time we got to the first rest stop!  Us girls (especially me) were in need of a break, although I’m pretty sure Jon was antsy to get to Salt Lake City and his parents’ house.  In our experience, we girls like to stop every few hours.  We settled into a goal of 4 hours at a time, but I know Jon would have gone much longer without us!  So, we stopped at the rest stop to enjoy our first view of Utah.  We walked around a bit, collected some brochures, and “hiked” about 2 minutes to an overlook place.

“I think I’m going to like it here!”

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