It was dark. REALLY dark.
We were on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It was 5 am.
Hundreds and hundreds of stars twinkled in the dark, pre-dawn sky.
The time had finally come for me to drop off my husband, youngest son and daughter-in-law at the trailhead. They were going to do the Rim-to-Rim hike in the Grand Canyon. And they wanted to get a very early… before the sun comes up… start to their hike. The three of them planned to complete the hike in one day. Yes, one day! Before they even started I was proud of them. Very proud and a little jealous of their adventure together.
My husband had been planning this hike for quite some time. And originally he was going to go alone. I was relieved when he asked our youngest son and daughter-in-law to go with him. This meant he wouldn’t be alone and I would worry just a little less about him.
As I left them at the trailhead and drove back to our cabin, the darkness and silence intensified how alone I felt. I know I have said this before, being alone and doing things on my own is outside my comfort zone. Being alone brings back all the emotions and fear of my early years, when those who were supposed to take care of me, left, leaving me alone. The feeling of abandonment, the fear of being left alone, the fear that those I love will leave and never come back… those feelings come rushing back. I know that I am not alone, but those feelings send me into anxiousness and are the basis for the discomfort and fear I have when I am faced with being alone. And the darkness only intensified those feelings as I drove away, leaving three of the four most important people in my life at that trailhead.
Back in the parking lot of the lodge, I stepped out of the van to walk back to the cabin. It was dark. REALLY dark.
And I was alone.
Our original plan was for our oldest son to come with us and for him and I to drive together to the south rim to meet the other three. But just a few days before we were to leave, the doctor at his clinic said he couldn’t go with us…. They would not give him the medicine he would need while we were gone and he would have to go to the clinic every day….
It is funny sometimes (or maybe not) how I am forced by circumstances beyond my control, to step outside my comfort zone, to discover what I am capable of…. and to learn about me.
So the plan changed. I was going to be alone on the drive to the South rim…. Only about a 4-hour drive, but the cell reception is little to none on the route, which made me nervous…. There would be no talking to anyone while I was driving, no connections to anyone…. Just me on the open road…. Alone.
So, here I was, in a very dark parking lot needing to walk back to my cabin. Did I mention it was REALLY dark? Like I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, dark? Thankfully, I had my cell phone, so I turned the screen on to help me see the path and find my cabin. I spent the next couple of hours talking to myself, wondering how the three were doing on their hike and working up the courage to get into the van and drive to the South Rim….. telling myself it was an adventure and I should find a way to enjoy it.
I have driven farther distances by myself in the past. To Colorado from Louisiana. To Virginia from Alabama. Across the mountain passes in Washington. Yes, I was capable of doing this much shorter drive. But each of those longer drives was about getting to my destination while only stopping for gas, food and restroom breaks. And on each of those drives I was alone, but not really alone, as I was able to talk to my family and friends through the Bluetooth while I drove. Ahhh, technology kept me close to others and kept me from feeling completely isolated and alone. But this drive I would not be able to use my phone. There would be no calls to others to keep me company as I drove. And I wouldn’t need to stop for gas on this drive. I decided in my conversations with myself that morning, that this drive needed to be different than those in the past, if I was going to enjoy it and make it an adventure.
Finally, it was time for me to load up the van, check out of the cabin and get on the road. My heart was racing as I started the engine of the van and put it into reverse. It was the stepping outside my comfort zone, doing something different that created the discomfort for me. I like routine. I like comfort. I like the known. And I like the safety of others being around.
But true personal growth only comes from pushing myself out of that safe place. Realizations, learning and healing come from stepping outside my comfort zone.
And so I pushed myself and off I went.
The morning was beautiful. The day before had been cool, cloudy and rainy. This morning, though cool, was sunny and bright. A perfect day for a drive.
I turned on some music and drove.
I wasn’t far down the road when my heartbeat slowed to normal and I began to take in, REALLY take in, the beauty around me. There was more snow and the white covering the trees was beautiful. Calming. I saw deer feeding in the meadows. And the glowing yellow and orange leaves of the aspen trees made me smile. The scenery had me turning off my music and rolling down the window. I was present in that moment. Smiling. Laughing. Talking to myself. And enjoying the beauty around me.
And then I realized just how much I was enjoying the “me” time. I was enjoying the time alone. The time with nature. The time to think about things, to work through things and to realize how much I like me.
As I drove down the road, I talked with God. I talked with my mom. I talked with my mother-in-law. There was a lot of open road on this drive. And a lot of time to think and figure things out.
I drove down the open road, the wind blowing through my hair and my thoughts were the only music I was listening to. Yes, I knew where this fear of being alone came from. And yes, I understood how the choices made by the adults in my young life had deeply impacted my adult life. Understanding the impact and how it still manifested in my life meant I could now change my response. I realized on that open road that I could either let that fear and the emotions from my childhood continue to affect my life or I could take it for what it was and use it to make my life experiences even greater.
And in that moment I chose to be in the moment…. To know that as long as I had me, I would never be alone. That yes, people leave, but that doesn’t mean I have to be alone forever. I have my husband. I have my children. I have my extended family. I have my wonderful friends. And I have God with me, ALWAYS!
I chose, in that moment, to enjoy this solo adventure.
I stopped at the viewpoints. I had never stopped to sight-see when traveling alone. I pulled off when a pullout came along. I got out of the van. I took pictures. I looked around. I breathed.
It was pure joy!
It took me a little longer than planned to make it to the South Rim, but that was because, this time, I was enjoying my time on the road. I was having fun. I was stopping to see the beauty surrounding me. I was taking it all in and enjoying the adventure!
I finally made it to the East Entrance on the South Rim. I was proud of myself for taking some time to enjoy the day, not just to get to my destination. And it didn’t stop when I entered the park. I pulled off at the viewpoints. I got out of the car. I stood on the rim of this amazing canyon and looked down into it, wondering where the others were… were they enjoying their adventure? Were they having as much fun as I was? Maybe, just maybe I could see them…..
And I wondered at the beauty from God!
This was a healing and empowering adventure for me.
Finally, after many stops I arrived at our lodge for the night in the Grand Canyon Village. I managed to get us checked in and everything in the rooms. And then I planned to rest for a while…. But I wanted to continue my adventure, so I headed back out to explore more of what the Grand Canyon had to offer me. Eventually I found my way to the parking lot next to the trailhead where we planned to meet. I explored the area for quite a while, taking in the splendor of the Grand Canyon. I was amazed and awed by the colors on display in front of and below me. Nature’s art at its finest. And then I made my way back to the trailhead.
I stood above the trail, watching as person after person made their way up the trail to the top. I was watching for my three. Hoping to see them soon.
And then I saw them! I yelled in excitement. The people near me laughed. Relief took over as I watched the three of them make their way on this last part of their journey. I was not alone. And when they finally reached the top, I hugged them. They did it! An amazing accomplishment for them—23.5 miles and many thousands of feet of elevation change, all in 12 hours and 50 minutes. Wow!! They did it! I was so very, very proud of them (still am!).
And though my accomplishment was not as physically demanding, I realized I was proud of me too. I stepped outside my comfort zone, though I really did not have much choice. But I did it. And I found a way to enjoy my adventure instead of just getting from one place to another. Instead of letting my nerves and discomfort keep me from enjoying the moment, I embraced it!
I stepped outside my comfort zone and in the process found that I can have fun on my own. I can enjoy the world around me even when I am alone. And the world around me, especially the natural world, is worth spending time in, with or without others.
And being alone does not mean I will ALWAYS be alone.
Each event that causes me to step outside that comfort zone is an opportunity for me to learn, to grow and to heal.
It just takes a leap…..
I look forward (with a little trepidation) to my next solo adventure.