I arrived into Vegas mid-day on Wednesday this past week, but a migraine that grew progressively worse throughout my two flights knocked me flat on my back the minute I walked into the condo. My hopes for a hike on my first day back were quickly filed away for another day.
Thursday came and went so quickly with groceries, catch-up on other household chores, etc, and resulted in another non-hiking day for me.
By Friday I knew I had to get to the mountains or I would start punching things.
I wanted to ease myself back into hiking, as it had been 5 weeks since I was last on the mountains, so I suggested a moderate hike in the Red Rock Canyon range to Mr. Enthusiasm. He suggested we try something in the Calico Basin, which is just outside the Red Rock Recreational Area (but still part of that range). I cautioned that my hiking guidebook didn’t list any trails for that area, so we’d be going in blind. He was undeterred.
After we parked the car and checked the map of the area — it seemed there was a decent hike with a trailhead just steps from the parking lot. So we headed towards it.
At first the trail was an actual trail. Small mercies. Loose gravel, with some good incline – which got the heart beating and the blood flowing – and some good signage indicating we were indeed on the right trail, or at the very least, a trail.
About a quarter-mile in, we got to a rocky area of flats with no discernible trail. Just rocks. Everywhere.
This was taken from above, but you can hopefully get a sense of what I had to deal with to get to “above”. Just mad scrambles over big boulders. And the hopes that I was headed in the right direction and was still on “the trail”.
Eventually I clued in to the fact that there was no more trail. That the goal was simply to get to the top of that giant pile of rocks. And to do that I’d have to scramble. A lot.
I had that moment of “…do I really want to do this?”, followed by “…Can I do this?”, followed by the inevitable, “I could really get hurt doing this.”. All valid questions and concerns.
I don’t ever want to fully quiet (or disrespect) that voice inside my head that serves to sniff out the potential dangers in any given situation. It’s that gut instinct and voice that has kept me safe from some very real threats in the past.
But, what I know I must do, to truly grow, is to acknowledge those fears and questions, and then rationally consider the severity of the threat (risk) and the potential for success (reward). Once I can make peace with the risk/reward I can make a healthy and smart decision to soldier on or to pull the chute, so to speak.
Just as I was having this inner dialogue, I looked to my right and saw a guy taking rock climbing lessons from a pro.
The student is in white at the bottom of the shot. The instructor is way up there on the rock face, showing him how easy it is. Uh-huh.
I actually took this shot on my way back down the mountain. When I first encountered the student, he was about 8-10 ft up, on the ropes, and the instructor was encouraging him.
As I scrambled up the rocks, I would look back down periodically to see the student still hovering at that same spot, not very far above the ground; his instructor shouting up words of encouragement. But there he hung, unmoving, for what seemed like forever. He seemed, to me, to be paralyzed by fear.
And I started thinking about the mind’s ability to control us physically.
For the rock climbing novice, it had frozen him in that spot so close to the ground. For me it manifested every time I had to climb in unstable terrain. Or more so, whenever I’m climbing back down a mountain. Yes, you read that right. As difficult as climbing up is, in terms of the cardio strain of ascent upwards, for me, the real fear and challenge exists in the descent back down the mountain.
I have an unfounded, some could say irrational, fear of falling.
In fairness, yes, I’ve had two pretty bad spills in my life. One when I broke my fall with my hand extending behind me, resulting in a broken wrist (age 11). The second when I decided to just let my butt take the brunt of it, resulting in a broken tail bone (age 18). Both were unpleasant injuries, but not life threatening.
Yet, when I’m climbing down a slope, and the fall may be like 3 ft, I am so tentative and afraid that you’d think I was hovering over a crevasse in the Grand Canyon, with a sure death resulting from one mis-step.
It’s just a crazy, stupid, irrational fear. And yet my mind has the ability to freeze my feet on the spot. Or make me look like a 90-year-old, inching forward as though I’m balancing raw eggs on tiny spoons, while sliding down a sheer icy surface. Ridiculous. Why am I not sure-footed, knowing I have balance, strength and the ability to climb and descend capably?
And what about my rock-climbing friend? Sure, what he was doing was a LOT harder and significantly more mentally challenging, but at the end of the day was it all that different? He was securely fastened by the ropes. He was mere feet off the ground level. And yet his mind was preventing him from going up on even one more foot on that rock face.
As I made my way to the top of this pile of rocks, and was rewarded with this beautiful view of the famous Vegas Strip, I took a moment to think about risk and reward.
And how good it felt to have made it to the top. On my own two feet. With a whole lot of lunges and squats and pull-ups (who needs a gym when you’ve got a mountain!). And able to take in the magnificence of this planet.
I felt strong. Capable. Competent. Happy. Grounded. Centered. And very, very connected to the universe. [And also quite out of breath, but that’s another matter ;-)]
The reward was so worth the risk.
It was on the way down that I took that pic of the climbing guru way up there on that rock face, with the student gazing up at him. And I wished there was some way for me to send him a message telepathically. To tell him it would all be okay. To just believe he was capable of doing this. Willing him to try it again, and to go just a few feet higher.
I’m not sure if he tried again.
Just as we were wrapping up the hike, and I was congratulating myself (inwardly) on having done so much better on both the scrambles up and during my descent, Mr. Enthusiasm commented on the rock climbing guy, “It’s too bad he’s so stuck in his own head..”
I responded, well look at me… remember how scared I used to be of falling down 2-3 ft? He nodded. And look at how much more confident I am now.
It’s not that my body is more capable. It’s that my mind now believes it.
Believe in yourself! And…