Originally posted May 13, 2013 – edited
The mountains were calling.
Mr. Enthusiasm suggested we check out an area just outside the Red Rock Canyon state park, an area called Calico Basin. I cautioned that my hiking guidebook didn’t list any trails for that area, so we’d be going in blind. He shrugged and told me to live a little.
We parked along the side of the road and made our way towards the Basin. A trailhead appeared not too from the road, so I knew we weren’t too far off a beaten path. This gave me comfort. A pretty clear gravel trail snaked it’s way up towards the mountains. All good. There were even a few signs indicating we were indeed on an actual 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 as to whether I should soldier on or 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 be paralyzed by fear. A feeling I knew all to well.
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 on 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.
Why? I don’t know.
It’s just a crazy, stupid, irrational fear. And yet my mind has the ability to freeze my feet to the spot they’re on. 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? Because I do.
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 ropes. He was mere feet off the ground. 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. (Plus a whole lot of lunges, squats and pull-ups.)
But then I was able to take in the magnificence of this planet.
I felt strong. Capable. Competent. Happy. Grounded. Centered. And very, very connected to the universe.
The reward was worth the risk.
It was on the way down that I captured that shot of the climbing guide 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 be okay. To tell him to just believe he was capable of doing it. Willing him to try again, and to go just a few feet higher.
Just as we were wrapping up the hike, and I was congratulating myself 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 can relate, I responded, I used to freeze with fear over falling 2-3 feet. He nodded in agreement. But look at me now, I continued, I’m building my confidence and pushing myself further each time.
It’s not that my body is more capable. It’s that my mind now believes it.