Big Rocks and a Brave Heart
By Nicole Dacanay
I am not a brave person. I like comfort. I like warm tea and blankets and happy movies. But I also have a fierce desire for wanderlust in my soul. The need to travel and experience new things is something my husband and I both feel within us, so for our honeymoon last summer, we decided to take a road trip. One of the stops on our road trip was Zion National Park, a high desert paradise located in Springdale, Utah. Among many things, Zion is famous for its extreme hikes, from a trek through an endless river to a trail that leads straight to the sky. That trail is named Angels Landing, and when we arrived at Zion National Park, my husband and I placed it at the top of our “to do” list. But the more I studied the hike, and the more I learned about it, the more terrified I became. The numbers made me nervous: 5 miles, 1488 feet in elevation gain, and a peak that hits over 5,000 feet. Hours after studying, I felt lost. The “once in a lifetime opportunity” tagline no longer made me feel inspired – I felt my confidence beginning to spiral as I considered excuses to tell my husband. “I can’t do it” wasn’t enough.
The following morning, I was too awestruck to complain. Mornings in Zion are unparalleled to anything else I’ve ever seen. The luminous orange landscape contrasts starkly with lime green trees that line the banks of the Virgin River. High above, sheer cliffs beg to be climbed, and trails cry out to be explored. And I couldn’t say no – not to Angel’s Landing, my husband, or myself. So we hopped on the shuttle and I crushed my hands into fists, facing the fact that I was about to attempt something I truly thought I was incapable of doing. The trail pulsed with a river of people, up and up toward switchbacks that looked like they belonged in an Indiana Jones film. I felt my stomach churn. I can’t do it.
We wound through the switchbacks steadily. The hot desert sun threw orange light from the rocks into our eyes, and the cool breeze spread dust over our faces. But as we climbed higher, we remained in a constant ebb and flow of other hikers seeking the same prize. Despite the sweat, sand, and sun, I focused on the man at my side and the trail at my feet.
Finally, the switchbacks ceased. We were met with a cool, quiet canyon punctuated with trees. For a few glorious minutes, we breathed easily. As I stood still beneath the shade, I suddenly realized something: my fears were slowly dissipating. I’d been so focused on keeping one foot in front of the other that I’d completely forgotten to be afraid! And just like that, the most strenuous part of the hike was behind me. All I had to do was focus on the present.
A second set of switchbacks led us to our ultimate goal: the road to Angels Landing, and a rest at Scout’s Point. At first I stood my ground, frozen by the fear of looking down and seeing the endless drop to Zion’s floor. I couldn’t move. I looked up and saw crows and vultures circling like veteran acrobats, their eyes on the ground far below, and I felt my heart race. The cool, gusty wind was urging me forward, reminding me that I did not come this far just to shrink beneath fear and self-doubt. I’d already conquered so much – what was a few more feet? So I took a deep breath, strode forward, and stood beside my husband. Together, we surveyed the vast desert land below Scout’s Point. It was a singularly inspiring moment, and one that I will never forget. Standing at what felt like the edge of the earth and facing my fears with a thrilled smile, I finally felt like the adventurer I always wished I could be. I’d taken my fear of heights and stared it down, challenged it, and overcame it. I was finally brave.
Bravery should be boxed in by any one definition. To me, bravery was staring my fears face to face, and overcoming my perceived limitations. Bravery meant that I was taking a new step, conquering a new challenge, and sharing an experience with my husband. Zion National Park helped me feel brave, because it gave me an opportunity that I’d never be given at home. Even now, when I’m writing or running, I consider my moment in the sky, staring at the earth below. And every time I think I am not enough of anything, I remember what I conquered on Zion’s peaks last summer.
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