I never usually hike on my own – an attribute of having zero sense of navigation…but it’s certainly the loneliness that I can’t stand.
Hiking with others can also be a strain, as I generally stand between 4 and 13 inches shorter than everyone I know. Every two and a half steps is needed to match just one of that of my friend’s. Frustrating as that always has been, I knew the time was coming where I needed to face up to the courage it takes to walk a path alone.
My moment came in the shapeof a purportedly dangerous and exhilarating hike in Zion National Park: Angel’s Landing.
Fourteen deaths and thirty degree inclines with cliff overhangs, only managed by steel chain climbs, characterized the jagged steeps of this mountain.
At 5pm on a Friday, I made my way up.
My footsteps thudded in military fashion, tenaciously pounding pavement to keep a fast pace and beat my own personal record for speed.
This incline was constant and steady. Every switchback rose at more acute angles to the ground below. The rigor left me breathing heavily and made my pulse surge to an iron taste of blood in my mouth. My pace remained relentless. The power of my mind and determination drove the unlimited power of my body, my vessel. Three times I stopped, ten seconds at a time; otherwise, my feet persisted and carried on.
Onward I climbed, blood pulse now rising in my ears. My fingers swelled fatly with heavy circulation and the power of gravity in the hands at my sides. Only a mile upward! I had done ten mile the day before; this was more than manageable. When I came to the first climb of chains, another group was scooting down on their butts the same way I was going up. “Halfway there,” they encouraged. Steeper it went. Like in a jungle gym, I used the chains and rocks to effortlessly boulder my way up the cliff.
Further up, a handsome, dark-haired man in front of me noticed that I had halted behind him. I only meant to give him space across the slanted threshold that was our walkway. “Are you alright?! Are you panicking?!” His voice was a quake and I felt his projected fears bounce off of my relaxed demeanor. I surprised myself with my own intense calm and basked in the happy realization that I love this; I live for this.
“Oh! No, I’m great. Just want to give you space and no pressure.” We walked together awhile, vibing off of each other’s encouragement. He was from Daytona Beach. I was a on a road trip. “No way but forward,” I would say. The handsome man eased a laugh out of me with his reply: “True! Momma didn’t raise no bitch!” With renewed sense of confidence, he leapt easily over the next crevasse. I crossed cat-like right after him.
He stopped for water. I moved past him with eight limbs. My confidence in climbing was unparalleled. My pace was quick, steady, graceful. I scaled the peak, my strides bold across the rock-fin top. Then, I reached the cliff’s edge and reveled in the glory of my completed accomplishment: one mile, one thousand feet of elevation. I glanced at my watch – from shuttle bus to trailhead to peak: one hour. A gaggle of gentlemen greeted me with hails and offers of snacks and a photo at the top. We all wore smiles of victory. The dark-haired Daytonian arrived shortly after and the band of brothers (and sister) showered each other with congratulations and laughter.
An old woman, a friend of mine, once described me as vapor: one moment, there, and in another moment, gone. I wasn’t one to tarry up there on Angel’s Landing. Within moments of making new friends, I said my goodbyes and parted from the cliff drop. I never got my hiking companion’s name, though I wish I had told him how handsome he was. It always feels like an irrevocable bond to overcome nature’s feats with someone.
Within an hour, I was back inside my car.
Two hours prior, I had embarked on a lone journey to prove to myself my pace, independence, my self-worth. I returned a renewed woman: capable, confident, unconquerable. And all within a two hour hike up a renowned mountain of seeming foreboding. I crushed it.
I came away with new insight to the human condition and capacity: that fear lies in anticipation and that taking action relegates fear to the imagination. leaving room only for the goal.
Moreover, the limits of your body live only in your mind. I had set out with determination and come away impressed with my own results, And though I enjoyed it, I needed no companion to cheer me on, except for one – the one inside of myself.