“You good? Doing ok?” I managed four words between heavy puffs of breath. I consciously decided not to look down as sweat dripped down my glasses.
“Yeah, doing great,” she answered. “This is amazing!”
I was frankly a bit surprised at Colby. Weeks earlier, while considering this hike and climb up Zion National Park's Angels’ Landing, she expressed real concern about whether or not she could do it. Me, the life-long adventure junkie kept assuring her she could. But now in an ironic role-reversal, she was charging ahead of me on the narrow ledges while I was a bit tentative. Coaxing my 60-year old body and my tweaked ego up this rock was harder than I had envisioned.
Angels’ Landing is a crazy hike. The trail was blasted, blocked and chiseled fourteen hundred feet up an impossibly steep route on this enormous sandstone fin in the middle of Zion’s multicolored pastel canyon, back in the days of pioneer spirit and the beginnings of the National Park movement. The reward for gaining the summit is an astounding 360-degree view of multiple domes, cliffs and spires, over Zion’s incomparable valley as it wraps around this impressive rock and disappears into the closed-in narrows of the Virgin River's slot canyon. But we had to earn this prize with a full-body workout, step by step and grip by grip. And I was gripped with a bit of fear.
The lower section of the hike is a pleasant uphill jaunt on a paved trail, zigzagging back and forth and topping out on a ridge with great views. This is where reasonable hikers stop. The last 400 feet of gain is quite different. We traversed dangerous side slopes, tip-toed along small ledges, and stepped up and up on natural and human-cut sandstone steps on the narrow, knife-edge ridge, with 1,000-foot drops down both sides. Yep, I know!
Our literal lifeline was a hefty and welcome handrail chain, strung between metal poles bolted to the rock. Great for peace of mind, but also handy for hauling ourselves up and lowering ourselves down over rock slabs and through chutes. But this narrow and crowded trail is also the only way up and the only way down, with the chain being quite popular with everyone. We were constantly worming our way around people coming the other way, up close and personal. Their faces reflected determination and sometimes fear going up, with relief, accomplishment and joy coming down.
Soon enough we pushed past all the selfie-stickers on the flatter ridge top to the summit. The view and the physical/emotional accomplishment made it all worth it, but it got me thinking about adventure in our lives. Days like this are adopted by some of us, but what about unplanned events and outcomes that choose us instead?
Lately there’s been a notion circling around about God being wild and mysterious, with “reckless” love - bordering on the irresponsible. Seriously, God’s always been way more mysterious than we can understand, and it’s not hard to imagine him passing on his adventurous spirit to us as well, don’t you think? Yes, in some more than others, but there is intrigue in experiencing something, testing ourselves, while not yet knowing the outcome - be it a rollercoaster, a dangerous hike or reading a mystery novel. It makes us feel alive, or at least feel SOMETHING as we flirt with the edge of control.
Back to unplanned events and outcomes. It occurs to me that regardless of the source of the "adventure," the essence is the same. We are presented with something frightening to deal with, and it's sink or swim. How we handle it depends on our preparation and our resolve, but also our perspective going in. Because bottom line, we have to confront the fear.
The anxiety I felt on that rock wasn’t the result of anything tangible, rather just the POSSIBILITY of a bad ending, like a movie trailer falsely predicting my future. Fear isn't real, but the effects are. It ate into my enjoyment on that amazing day. In the extreme, it could have been paralyzing, even dangerous.
God, grant me proper perspective and allow me to conquer fear and view even my struggles as adventure. Build me up, drive me deeper, and enrich me.
About the Author
Terry is a man in constant motion to explore new horizons. He has a thirst for new places and faces, and a deep love for the natural world - with a weakness for waterfalls and sunsets. All of this venturing out helps to both ground and inspire him, because it opens him up to people, with their vast, collective array of experiences, outlooks and responses.
He finds all of this fascinating and sees that it has encouraged the growth of something crucial in his Christian development: empathy and compassion toward his brothers and sisters on this planet.