Facing Fear while hiking in a National Monument

When my husband planned our vacation for this summer I was ready for an adventure. Our vacations are not relaxing vacations, most of the time, anyway. Our vacations are more of an adventure, an experience, and after our adventure we usually need a vacation.

And sometimes on our adventure vacations, I learn new things about myself and I often face my fears.

This adventure had me facing my fear of heights, again, and my fear of lightning storms…both at the same time on the same hike.

I am scared of heights………I approach overlooks and edges with caution, often standing back far enough to not feel as if I will fall to what I know will be my certain death. And my husband loves to find ways to push me into facing that fear. So, with shaking legs and hands, heart beating out of my chest and a feeling that I may just pass out, I went with my husband on the hike he had chosen for us.

But this time on our hike, as I faced and conquered my fear of heights, I had to also face my fear of lightning storms, a fear brought about by a severe thunderstorm that produced a tornado when I was in first grade……….a long held fear that has me hiding under my blankets at night when lightning strikes…..a fear that grips me and keeps me from venturing outside or near an open door when I hear the first clap of thunder. I am so scared that I will be struck by lightning that I run as fast as I can if I am outside, seeking shelter from the storm……..on this hike, I couldn’t run….I was hiking and going up a steep trail when thunder came rolling in.

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Going down the stairs near the beginning of the hike.

We were in Natural Bridges National Monument. It was evening, close to sunset. And it was cloudy and lightly raining when we arrived. The rain slowed and then stopped so we headed out on our hike to Sipapu Bridge. The hike down to the canyon floor under Sipapu bridge was not long, it was only .6 miles. But it was steep, descending 500 feet in the .6 miles. There was a set of steep stairs and 3 wooden ladders along the trail to help us get to lower sections. The ladders scared me…..not being able to see where I was stepping, nor how far the ladders descended had me frozen on the rungs, unable to take that next step…..until my husband guided me, making me feel safe enough to travel down the rest of the ladder.

 

There was a moment when my fear told me that there was no way I was going down those rocks and that the view I had at that moment was close enough. We had reached a point on the trail where metal railings had been cemented into the rock so that we could hold on and not fall as we descended down the steep rock…..ugh! I saw that and froze. Nope! No need to go any further. My fear said to just look at the natural bridge from here and wait for my husband to finish the hike and return to me.

And then I realized that fear is irrational and illogical. And I was not going to let it stop me from experiencing the view from underneath the natural rock bridge. So, with my husband’s guidance and reassurance and despite my legs feeling like jello, I grabbed that railing with a grip so tight I thought I just might pull the rail out of the rock and I finished the hike down to the bottom.

It was worth every shaky, anxiety filled moment! The view beneath that bridge was breathtaking. I felt so small standing under the rocks. And I felt so proud of myself. This was one of those moments that had me glowing!

And then it was time to climb 500 feet back up out of the canyon on the return .6-mile hike. It was steep. It was scary. And my legs shook again as I walked along the edge of the rock, up the ladders and grabbed the railing with a death grip. My heart beat fast and hard, from the fear and from the exertion of climbing up the 500 feet.

We made it half way up and stopped to take in the view. How tiny we felt standing there, awed by the stunning beauty that lay before us.

And then………the thunder. My heart jumped, my body shook. I still had a long way to climb up…….a ladder and the steep set of stairs between me and the safety of our vehicle. No way was I going to stick around for lightening to strike me, or the trees around me, or the rock that I was hiking on. Time for this girl to move and move fast.

And fast we went. I forgot about the height and the drop off next to me and moved quickly up the trail, praying I would reach the top before the lightening got me.

I was almost to the top…….I could almost touch the top and could see the SUV but I couldn’t breathe, my heart was beating so hard and fast I thought it was going to jump out of my body. I reached for my husband and let me hold onto him as he helped me to the top. And once we were there, next to the SUV and finally ready to jump inside to safety………and then he made me walk some more to slow my heart rate before climbing into the safety of the SUV…..…..really? in the thunder and lightning?

I did it. Despite my fears I hiked to the bottom and back up.

I did not fall to my certain death. I did not fall and injure myself. I did not get struck by lightning and I did not die of a heart attack.

Fear is irrational, fear is illogical and fear is born of our past experiences.

But facing my fears and pushing past them allows me to see just how strong I can be and lets me experience things that the fear would have had me miss.

I survived. I took the leap. And the experience was amazing!

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