For me there is a rush in facing off against a fear.
There is a rush, a feeling fully alive moment, a thrill. Maybe it is just INTENSE relief when you are safely on the other side of your fears. But there is no denying that you ‘feel’ something big and profound and unforgettable as you dive head first into something you are afraid of.
And get to the other side.
I never thought I was afraid of heights.
I have a healthy respect for heights. Or more accurately, a healthy fear of falling. I can go to the top of tall buildings and enjoy the view, climbs ladders and scramble onto the rooftop, ride a Ferris wheel, run (carefully) along a mountainside with a cliff on one edge. I’ve always figured I wasn’t really afraid of heights.
This weekend I was doing one of my last training blocks for a race. I met up with a friend in Southern Utah who had volunteered to play trail guide and preview part of the course with me. We took one day away from the course and ran in Zion National Park.
Holy smokes is that place stunning!
Eloquent orators and authors have carefully picked the perfect words to attempt to describe this amazing spot. I ran out of good words really fast. I mostly stopped and uttered ‘wow! ‘about a 1,000 times. 🙂 Sheer walls, views in all directions and colors and shapes that simply don’t seem to belong together in nature. Yet are entirely nature in all her perfect glory.
There’s a hike to a popular spot called Angels Landing.
My friend Cary and I opted to go in to Zion National Park and hit two of their big climbs in the same day. Observation Point and Angels Landing. At the end of the day we had over 24ish miles and about 5,000 feet of vertical. (GPS doesn’t work well in those rock canyons so the vertical is a close guess.)
It was an incredible training day!
Here’s a shortened/edited version of their description to park visitors about Angels Landing:
‘The Angels Landing Trail is one of the most famous and thrilling hikes in the national park system. Zion’s pride and joy runs along a narrow rock fin with dizzying drop-offs on both sides. The trail culminates at a lofty perch, boasting magnificent views in every direction… Narrow ridges with deep chasms on each of its flanks. Hikers pull themselves up by chains. The last half-mile is across a narrow sandstone ridge, anchored with support chains attached along some sections of the sheer, narrow fin.’
I read that and went ‘AMAZING! Let’s go! I have to see this!’
We hiked and ran Observation Point (wow!) and then headed over to Angels Landing. We climbed for about 3 miles up switchbacks and fairly smooth, well-traveled, but steep and stunningly scenic terrain. We get all the way to the top where it narrows down to go out on the ‘fin’ and it is at this point that the words I read earlier began to get real…
It really is a little, thin, bony, spiny back of a fin from one monolith top to another. With anchored chains. Like… The ‘fin’ is not even ONE PERSON wide in some spots. There are rock chasms you have to shimmy though to higher ledges. More narrow than the opening of an typical escalator — with a 1,500 foot drop to the canyon floor on either side if you miss a step.
I did a lot of self-coaching on that fin.
I ended the day with a re-defined respect for heights.
You use this anchored chain to hold on at the super narrow parts. It turns out I man-handled every single link on every single yard of that chain for the .5 mile out and the .5 mile back. I was terrified to let go of that chain. I did really graceful and elegant things like plopping down on my butt and schooching with my body stretched out on the ground toward the next chain post to hook my foot for safety. I groped total strangers who wouldn’t let go of the chain, while I was focused on doing the same… NOT LETTING GO of that damn chain while still trying to keep moving. It’s sandstone – and super ‘sticky’. You have GREAT traction on your feet in the dry weather.
No matter. Didn’t care how good the footing was. I was terrified for a full mile — which took an hour — to get out to that landing and back.
There are some small chasms within this fin that you have to basically shimmy into for a bit and then climb up, out and over.
Enter the OLD fear that I did not expect to encounter… Real-life, experience-based fear of being the fat girl who can’t ‘fit’ in something. (A chair, a car, a doorway, a freaking-rock-chasm-on-top-of-a-rock-monoltih.)
Beyond being afraid of the dizzying heights I had several paralyzing moments where I looked at the width of the opening in the rocks, the narrowness of the passage with two people on a ‘ledge’ and thought ‘I AM NOT GOING TO FIT.’
Actually the thought in my head was…
‘HOLY CRAP. I am NOT going to fit, I’m too fat. I’m going to get my fat ass stuck in (not ON) this rock, block traffic, have to be rescued and cut out of a cliff and ruin a National Monument…’
The chasms were tall, narrow and you eventually have to work yourself up and over the chasm to the next layer of ledge. There were points of narrowness where someone larger than a healthy weight wouldn’t fit. They just wouldn’t. I saw it play out several times in the span of about .25 of a mile.
I’m balancing what I see happening to others with the messages firing from my brain who still sees me as 400 pounds at this moment in time.
I am well aware that once upon a time I would have been the women that would have had to turn around before the summit because I wouldn’t have fit on that trail.
Check in on THAT moment and the reality in front of me and only that.
Push the fear aside and stare down the facts…
And bonus? I have upper body strength to hoist myself up to the ledge (thank you Jordan, strength coach!)
I climbed that fin, shimmied up chasms, walked out on the monolith. Found ways around and up and over. So did almost everyone else.
And it was wonderful…
Once we were back to the initial landing I realized I felt exhausted, depleted from spending an hour with FEAR. And we still had about 3 hours to run. 🙂
I felt ‘fully alive’.
However I remember with the most satisfaction the feeling of quieting my brain and not quitting. For going on even when I was afraid. For breathing and pausing and problem solving and for getting my brain to shut up long enough for me to decide where to place my foot in the next step.
I didn’t let fear win this time.
It got me thinking deeply about fears.
And how we allow them to limit us.
Often I believe we either assume we can’t do something or simply let fear shut the door in our face and accept it. I’m not talking about phobias or fears born of hard or life-changing experiences that leave us scarred. I get those and I get why those can’t be ‘worked’ around.
I’m talking about the more mundane/normal/regular fears that we accept as facts in our lives.
We have to respect fear for our own survival, I mean it’s there to protect us on several levels.
Fear is: An anxious feeling, caused by our anticipation of some imagined event or experience. — Psychology Today
I’m talking about the fears that we haven’t fully explored, the ones we just kind of blindly accept. Or the ones that crop up unexpectedly even. The ones that perhaps rob us of some of life’s defining moments and treasures.
There is joy in being fully alive.
There is blessing in staying alive because you respected that warning shot of fear.
But are all of my/your fears legit?
Are you limiting yourself because you’re afraid? Am I?
I did a lot of things this weekend that I normally categorize – big and small – in my brain as ‘being afraid’ of…
It’s Monday and here I am after a good day of work and normal routines. 🙂 I survived my fear(s) this weekend. Hell, I not only survived, I thrived, I lived, I conquered!
I’m feeling like a happy, tired, fear-facing, adventure girl at this moment in time. 🙂
Lifestyle changes are fraught with fears. I know most of them well. Really well. And I know that most of the time the things we are afraid of aren’t really real. They aren’t the true foe.
Sometimes those fears are deep and true and were learned with hard experiences and upon closer inspection/introspection we may simply have to respect them for what they are.
But what if being afraid is simply our own choice to stand still and choose to accept a closed door because we’re too afraid to open the damn door?
That’s no way to see the world or enjoy life or grow or LIVE.
I’m challenging you – just as I challenged myself this weekend – to think about what you fear and consider, just for a moment, for a single moment, what would happen if you were to reach out, open the door and JUST SEE what happens.
Just see what lies on the other side…