The Hike, and what it taught me
the mountains above Ouray
Whenever he told me about Ouray, he included a description of a hike that he loved to the Chief Ouray gold mine. The trail was beautiful, but there was this place where the narrow and slanting trail was midway up a steep mountain face, with a sheer drop below and a steep climb above. Whenever Chuck described this trail to me, I pretty much knew it was something I would not be able to do with my fear of heights.
This year we went to Ouray. I had hopes that since hiking is such a popular activity, the trail would have been widened and made much safer since his childhood. The trail to the mine was on our list of priorities for our five days in Ouray.
Our start on the trail was good. In all of Chuck's descriptions, he had always remembered only one narrow scary place, so my assumption was that the trail I was on was the good part. There were a lot of eroded places, and Chuck often commented that the trail was not nearly as well cared for as he remembered. Parts of the trail had washed out a bit. I had to step gingerly along those parts.
I really wanted to be brave, to not hold Chuck or the kids back, and so I tried very hard not to think frightened thoughts. At narrow spots where the trail was more daunting, I quickly learned that if I only looked at the three feet in front of my feet, it was easier to keep going without freezing up out of fear.
So I kept going.
There were 13 switchbacks up the face of the mountain. On our way up, we did not know how many there were. Around the time that we were getting to the last switchback (which we didn't know was the last switchback) Chuck said, "You are doing really good, Bev, but are you going to be able to make it back down?"
Chuck was being kind. He wanted me to be free to stop when I wanted to, without feeling forced to go beyond my comfort zone. But the effect of his words was exactly the opposite of his intent.
I became afraid. I thought, "Chuck knows me better than anyone, and if he has doubts about whether I can make it back down, I probably can't. I'm going to be terrified the whole way, and what if I get stuck and can't go any farther?"
That repeated itself in my head while I continued force my feet to walk on the narrow trail. My fear increased with every step until my legs were tense enough to make my sense of balance a little bit off. I started to feel a bit dizzy, especially when looking out across vast expanses of deep valleys.
We came to a wider area with large rocks and places where we could sit down and rest. I thought that maybe if I stopped and rested a bit I could get control of my fears and be my brave self again...but the scared part of me kept saying "you can't do this, you can't do this, you can't do this"...
My wide spot on the trail
They went on their way.
I gingerly moved myself around for the most comfortable seat that still felt safe. It was not hard to get comfortable. It WAS hard to feel safe. It wasn't even rational anymore because the trail was wide and flat where I was, there were trees nearby below me that could stop me from being hurt even if I happened to slip. But I wasn't going to slip. I was sitting still. So why was I scared?
But when I looked out across the valley at the peaks all around me, my stomach would get tight and I would feel dizzy, the fearful thoughts still repeating themselves in my head.
I remembered one of the books I'd brought along on the trip, One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voscamp. The author writes that the act of looking for things we are grateful for changes our destructive patterns of thinking. I began to name things I loved. I forced myself to see the beauty of the peaks around me.
I warmly remembered things we had done and seen so far on this vacation. I pictured faces of family and friends.
My stomach muscles loosened and I realized that it was OK not to have reached the end of the hike. The view from where I sat was more than enough. It was more than amazing.
Then my phone rang with the ring that is unique to Tim's cell phone number. I answered it.
"I'm coming to get you"
He had no doubt in his voice. No judgement. Just confidence.
"Yes. The rest of the way is easy, with only one tiny hard part. You can do it."
By this time the naming of things I am grateful for had done its work, and my stomach had relaxed, the dizziness was gone. Tim quickly appeared and I led the way up the trail, asking him not to tell me where the hard part was until I had passed it. There was a small area of the trail that gave me pause, but I remembered to only look at the ground immediately ahead of me, and I crossed it without much trouble. Then Tim told me I was past the worst.
The trail widened out, and the climb leveled to an easy walk as we rounded the mountain we had been on and came to the side that was greener and beautiful. It was great.
Wider, greener, more level trail ahead
And there was a waterfall.
Upper Cascade Falls
Tim hadn't told me about the waterfall, so it was a complete surprise, and such a reward.
Tim and Abby hiked beyond the waterfall to the building where miners had once been housed. When they got back, we ate our bagels and dried fruit next to the waterfall.
what a beautiful place to eat lunch
The waterfall continues down the mountain, falling again beyond our picnic spot
the canyon cut by the river beyond the waterfall, as seen from our picnic spot, miner's cabin in the distance on the right
On the way down, I was not as scared as I'd anticipated.
The next day I did a lot of thinking and journaling and came up with some lessons learned.
- Sometimes in life we want to see farther ahead, and there is this saying about how God only gives us enough light for the next step. I always hate those trite little sayings. But this one was true for me. Chuck and Tim and Abby had no trouble with seeing the big picture and not being afraid. I needed to limit my view to just the next step whenever I felt fear overtaking me. It was pretty cool really. I'd look just ahead of my feet and realize, "I can step there." and then, "There's a good place for the next step". One step was achievable. A whole five miles of steep drop offs was not.
- Gratitude does change things. Listing things I love was not just something to do...it changed me. It helped me back into reality and calm.
- After the hike I was reading from Romans 8, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Our sufferings are nothing compared to the glory. My fear of the hike does not measure up to my awe of the beauty of the waterfall, or my gratitude for the love of my husband and son who helped me to see it. How much more so in the Kingdom of God! How little my suffering would matter if it meant that others' suffering could cease---their glimpse of God could become a clear vision, their joining the kingdom could be without reservation!
- Chuck, Tim, and Abby decided that Tim should come back and get me. They wanted me to see what they were seeing. They were ready to walk together with me through the hard parts, and they knew that I would agree it was worth it, but they did not force me or shame me in any way. That is a great analogy for how we should treat each other.
- It would have been OK to stay where I was. I would not have seen the waterfall, but I still would have experienced the great views of the mountains, and the change that gratitude made in my level of fear. The waterfall was great, but it was a bonus. Wherever I am there are lessons and beauty to be had if only I can stop and notice them.
if you look just beyond the trees you can see the road that goes through Ouray