Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fear and Falling

I have a huge fear of falling so please tell me why I found myself in more precarious situations in the past two weeks than I have in all my years combined? I had freaked out and had panic attacks more times than I can count and while I pushed past the fear numerous times, it simply got the best of me during others. The thing is oftentimes the most breathtaking views are ones the come after the most harrowing climbs and when you dare to peek out over the edge.

Winding Around Mountain Roads

When you're driving through a mountain pass, up, over, and around these curvy roads 8,000 ft above sea level with steep drop-offs and no barriers, the last place you want to be in the RV is in the cabin bed above the driver. Because your point of view is higher than the driver's and you see nothing directly below the front window, you get the feeling that you're floating above the road. Add to that the fact that the cabin juts out a couple feet and it makes me feel like I'm going to fly over the edge even though the RV still has quite a bit of clearance down below.
Unfortunately, this is exactly where I found myself during two separate encounters with crazy switchbacks and steep slopes. The first time occurred on our way to Devil Canyon in Montana when I was paralyzed and on the verge of tears. I couldn't dig my nails deep enough into the cushions in an attempt to stop all motion. All I saw was the coming curves and the emptiness that laid just beyond that waiting to swallow up the RV. Then I'd get whipped to the left, to the right, and on it would continue until we finally reached some peak or valley and a chance to regulate my nervous system again.

The switch backs to get down into Zion National Park after driving through a cool 1.1 mile long tunnel at the top of the mountain were also very not fun for me. I later learned that I don't get as scared if I record the road while we're driving it and I watch my video camera screen instead. It makes it seem like I'm just watching a movie rather than thisclose to death's embrace.

Devil Canyon

The thing I loved most about visiting Devil Canyon (aside from the fact that it was a complete detour we took after meeting an old Lovell, Wyoming couple at a roadside moose sighting) is that the entire viewing area was fenced. That allowed me to relax, enjoy the amazing views of the golden eagles soaring overhead, and even lean over to watch the Big Horn River carving its way down below.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Lower and Upper Falls

The trail to check out the 1000 ft deep Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was fine except for the fact that we're traveling with three boys. Boys like to climb shit and go off the path and explore all the areas that are off-limits to those who value their lives. A sign asking hikers not to do something was just a way for them to bookmark the things they needed to do. My fear of falling extends to those around me so I couldn't bear to watch some of the stunts they'd pull. I overheard one woman tell her child, "Come on, I don't want to see him" soon after A. went off after the others to some rocky ledge.
In order to view the Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River, you have to go down 300 steps and then go back up the steel staircase to get back onto the trail. It'd be totally cool if a) you couldn't see right through the steps and into the abyss below and b) if the steps weren't all wonky and bent CLEARLY INDICATING their ability to give way to weight. Who cares if I barely weight 85 pounds? It could be all it takes…

Off Roading

There were times when we'd pull off to the side of the road to check out random cool stuff: a jutting cliff, an overlook, a river bed below the road, etc. I'd participate in a much as I was comfortable with (like Firehole River, which we accessed by walking down a rocky, dirt hill). Even though I went down slowly and then clung to a tree after I made it back to the top of the hill to steady my nerves, it was so worth it to have that section of the river to ourselves while the crowds formed by the waterfalls a few yards up ahead.

Bryce Canyon

This was my biggest challenge the entire trip; the one experience that so quickly broke me down and had me fighting to finish the trail out. I don't know if I would've stayed back had I known what I was getting myself into or if my stubbornness would've forced me to go along with the group. Either way, there I was staring down into Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point more than 550 feet above its floor. I knew I wasn't going to like it right then, but I couldn't turn back now. I took my photos from the safe viewpoints with my back pressed against the cliff walls and slowly followed the others to the beginning of the Navajo Loop 3-mile hike until we reached the sloping switchbacks.
Cue the tunnel vision; all I could see was how far down I could fall and felt that if I tripped, I'd roll all the way down til I reached the bottom. A. had to hold me hand the whole way down and talk me through it, but at one point I just couldn't handle anymore and I caved. I crouched down into a ball in the middle of the dirt path completely petrified and convinced that if I moved a muscle I was going to fall down and die.

"I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this," I sobbed into my hands. It was all I could repeat in whispers. "I'm so scared."

I looked up at A. not knowing how I could get over this paralysis and realizing that I either had to keep going down or suffer through what I'd just walked through to get back to the top. With A.'s support and nearly stopping the flow of blood to his hands, I somehow made it to the floor (it's so serene and curious down there) and managed to enjoy the view a bit, but I was still dreading the impending climb back to the plateau rim.
Looking out at the rocky amphitheater of iron red, orange, and white hoodoos and then up at the dwarfing spires from the ground was amazing, but don't ask me how any of it looked from the midway points because I never stared out long enough to remember.


After my experience at Bryce, I was a little more hesitant to join the group on their hike plans. I didn't want to find myself having another unpleasant experience and too nervous to enjoy any of it. So when A., Ky, Aaron, and Bret decided to do one of the most popular and craziest trails at Zion National Park, Angels Landing, I Googled images of the five mile hike and immediately said, "Oh hell no." A 1,488-foot climb along a narrow ridge with steep drop-offs on either side and then pulling yourself up by chains to reach the rock fin? I don't think so.
Still, I beat myself up for the rest of the day after the four of them left. "You let your fear win," I kept thinking as I walked down a much calmer trail along the river. Shouldn't I be pushing past the things that hold me back? Or is it smarter to acknowledge that we all have our limits and it's fine to abide by some of them? While I enjoyed my three hours of alone time and finally exploring at my own pace, I felt like a total loser by time A. came back with all his stories to tell.

The next day he and I spent it exploring the Kayenta and Emerald Pools trails that take you through rocks and sand paths a much more manageable 150 feet up.

Grand Canyon

I have to admit that I could only handle about an hour of the Grand Canyon. It's not that the view wasn't beautiful (though honestly, after Devil Canyon and Bryce very little can compare), but I just couldn't enjoy myself again. I kept shuffling along the path slowly and dreading it when the others wanted to stray from the path. Eventually, I turned back to the RV with A. whose feet were feeling the effects of Angels Landing.

Horseshoe Bend

Viewing the Horseshoe Bend along the Colorado River wasn't terribly harrowing. I just stayed a safe distance from the edge, carefully took some photos, and then diverted my attention whenever someone else got too close to the canyon edge for my comfort.

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

When the group decided to take on a "strenuous hike" that involved climbing a 32 foot tall ladder along the side of a cliff to explore cave dwellings, crawling through a 12 ft long tunnel, and then two more ladders to return to the top, I thought I wasn't going to like this very much. Still I went, but I don't even know why we decided to pay $3 a head for a tour of The Balcony dwelling. It was enjoyable enough for me (because I saw it more as "Yay! I can actually do this without freaking out. Pat on the back for me."), but the other thrill seekers were disappointed and the tour guide was beyond long-winded and completely uninformative.


  1. Dorkys, your comment said it all. "The thing is oftentimes the most breathtaking views are ones the come after the most harrowing climbs and when you dare to peek out over the edge."

    Don't feel bad about missing the one trip. You did push yourself, against what your mind was telling you, plenty of times. You didn't cop out of all the scary stuff, you found your limit and that's ok. Be proud of how you fought past it and were able to recognize and appreciate the beauty around you.

    1. Thanks, ChicagoLady. It's embarrassing to break down like that so I had to come to terms with not being able to do things other people can do and not worry so much about what other people might thing about my limitations.


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