My University boyfriend is working in Jasper and hanging with the outdoorsy types and in some sense he is one of them and in others he is oh so not but he plans this adventure hike and knowing that I am a fan of both the outdoors and exercise he invites me to come along. I am intrigued but there is also a loud alarm that is sounding because already at this age I have come to understand certain fears that I have and as an act of self love, I have learned to say NO to situations that overtly evoke those same fears. I no longer ski. Not bunny hills. Not hamster hills. Not after that time when everyone said no, Erin, you won’t get stuck getting off the chairlift, that NEVER happens, and then they had to stop the entire machine because someone’s ski stayed attached to both her foot and the chair, just like my impressive record of faceplanting during the t-pole dismount, and then that once when in my determination not to faceplant I flung my pole and it caught in the fence and pulled the fence out of the ground–they underestimated my acute lack of athletic prowess, and there I was with some hottie in aviators and a $3000 jacket sashaying over to help because just regular old black diamonds were getting boring for him and he now found his thrills helping the weak and infirm. AND then finally back on my feet and straining with what I am going to call the prayer muscles, I held my skiis in the most fierce and furious snowplow, each tiny turn navigated a hairsbreadth before collision with a tree which would have catapulted me right off, and here we have it folks, an actual MOUNTAIN. You see, that was the epiphany. I was scared for a GOOD REASON. If I effed up, lost my balance, relaxed for small second, sliding off a mountain, or down a mountain was the inevitable result. And knowing that, did not give me a thrill, no, it made my body break out with unpleasant DEATH IS IN THE AIR, kind of warning signs. Ya, so not for me. But the hiking, well that held potential. A feet on the ground, surrounded by trees kinda hike can be scenic and athletic and Zen. All the nature, all the exertion, none of the death.
So I lay it on the line. I would love to come, but NOT if there are heights involved. If it’s a hike on a horizontal path, yes. If it’s rock climbing, scaling, or an otherwise friendly path that snakes along the outer edge of a ravine, with a view down said ravine, well no. Not a chance. Not on your life. Nada.
We engage in an exercise. I take boyfriend to a friendly rolling hill. I provide a visual example. This hill, I say, is OKAY. I am in no way scared of this hill. More than this is steep, to me. BF asks around. Unashamedly declares my “problem” to his woodsy buds. He comes back from his research with “Everyone says it’s not bad at all”. “You told them my reference point, right?” “Yes, I did. Small hills. They know. They said it’s totally safe”. “For me?” “Yes for you”.
Brimming with self love and self acceptance, my inner child feeling safe and protected, I set off with my BF and three other grown ass men. Two are athletic mountain types. And one is a middle aged man named Richard. I do not do anything embarrassing, like bringing makeup, hair products, or other items that might bring ridicule. Richard reeks of Brut aftershave. He has a bottle of it and a hairbrush in his pack. As we set out on our 22 km journey to a wilderness cabin where we will overnight, it becomes clear that Richard will bear the brunt of the jokes. I am sympathetic, but also relieved.
And then there are hours. Hours of scenery. Pine crackling under foot, honeysuckle saturating the breeze, vivid blankets of neon moss that clear all thought from your mind and make you feel like a forest daisy. For an hour or two I am keeping pace with BF, there is chit chat among the group. Ribbing about whether Brut will fend off the bears, or serve as a marinade when they inevitably eat Rich. I am a runner. A lone wolf, non competitive kinda runner, but after a couple of hours an exertion high is creeping up on me. We fall into a hush. I find myself second to mountain man. Rene from Quebec is behind me, and BF is between him and Richard. BF has the spirit of MM but he is out of shape from University and partying.
For the longest time there is nothing but the placement of feet, over roots and rocks. Stretches canopied by trees broken by splintered sunlight, and then open stretches of stream or field. My thoughts are outside of me. I have hit my stride. There is a vague awareness that I am holding my own. Maybe even impressing the boys. We go up, we go down, we sojourn a vast middle with no edges, nothing to as much as peer from, let alone fall off of. Promises have been kept.
From time to time we stop. We drink water. We share pieces of dried fruit, chocolate. Richard collapses under a tree. as much from fumes inhalation as from effort. We pat him on the back, I say something encouraging.
At hour 4.5 the landscape opens wide. Boulders populate fields of dense sticky mud. Many are unstable and irregularly shaped. I am in a scene from the Hunger Games, only sixteen years before it is written. I need more caution here than the rest, as my Nike’s have no ankle support. They are in proper boots which BF and I reasoned would be superfluous for such an “easy” hike.
It takes us 1.5 hours to cross the dark ages. It’s evening now and a current of cold fills the pockets emptied of sun and warmth, whispers of waning light. My legs are gelatinous from the continual mount and dismount.
In six hours we have passed one couple on a return trip. That is a total of two humans.
Our formation, loosened and scattered by the terrain, now reassembles. From twenty feet ahead Rene yells back to us, not in Quebecois, but in plain English, “We’re almost at the headwall.”
The others are bent, hands on knees, catching breath, but I prick into alertness, “What’s a headwall?”
Rene holds his map in the left hand and with a sweep of the right gestures up in the manner of Vanna White presenting a prize, “The mountain.”
“What do you mean the mountain?” I am deer who has sniffed gunshot in the air. I become eerily still.
Rene doesn’t speak. He points this time.
He points, indeed, to a very large, I would go so far as to say a mountainous, MOUNTAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And here is where high school comes in friends, because I have been shocked into math brain.
I am weighing the 6 hours we have hiked. The dark ages, the dystopian ages, the god forsaken boulder-ville, the condition of my weary legs, the 4.5 hours prior, the not so unimportant factor that I DON’T KNOW THE WAY, that it will be dark soon, and that in the dark there will be wild animals. Bears. Mountain Lions, against, and now I look up at it -. I face the headwall head on. That motherfucker. Ripped apart by the savage jaws of a grizzly. Splattered against rock after a gut spilling fall through the ether.
Alfred Hitchcock is playing his haunting little theme song in the background. Drew Barrymore is screaming at that hole-mouthed ugly ass serial killer in Scream.
The Amittyville House is devil-voicing “Get out” and I really want to listen.
My mommy is nowhere to be seen or heard.
There are no cell phones, friends.
And then some visceral part of me, and not my actual brain gets wind of this catastrophic conflict and grabs me by the hand. Girl, run! it says. Snapping a RuPaul Z.
And so I start to hoof it. My hypothalamus (apologies to my doc clients for my weak anatomy reference) bursts open and offers me some extra reserve of survival juice. We are going to climb this MOUNTAIN (headwall my ever loving ass!) before we can think or spell the word mountain. We have suspended all THOUGHT.
UP UP UP we go. Our brain is nipping at our heals. We are blasting up the trail, quads and glutes contracting with Olympic zeal. The trail winds and twists but remains for a time miraculously and benevolently ensconced by ravine blocking trees.
For a sweet tender moment I think maybe I am going to make it up a WHOLE MOUNTAIN unscathed.
And then, well, the trees disappear. The path disappears.
In its place -an open face of loose rock, angled 75 degrees with views, views, views.
I keep going. I follow BF’s footsteps. I lean, up, toward the face.
I am half way out there when the signals start to jumble. Space doesn’t make sense anymore. I can’t locate ground that will support my Nike. And then there is just this large boulder embedded in the face, but to wriggle around it I must lean toward the drop, without losing my balance.
I hug the rock. I can’t let go.
It all ends. My brain has caught up. The house has swallowed me into hell. The masked killer is chopping me into pieces.
I emit a terrifying howl. I spray tears from my face. I call for my Mommy.
Turns out suspension from a mountain speeds up the 5 stages of grief.
I swear. Hard. Loud. New swears. Disgusting swears. Very illogical, nonsensical swears, directed at my BF. You promised. You lied. Get me a helicopter. GET ME A HELICOPTER.
Helicopters can’t come up here. That is what he says to me in my time of need. So I push him off the mountain. JK! I am too scared to bring him to swift justice. I just hold on for dear life and pray for sudden death.
What comes next is eternity, which maybe lasts fifteen minutes. Until, the holy skies break open and a couple of figures appear from the trees. The path resumes if you can get her over here!
I have become a third person situation. Nameless in my distress. A patient.
The promise of a path, a safe, shoe friendly non-deadly passage, convinces me to let my BF “gently” guide my footsteps, while I tell him “where to go” through my wailing and sobbing, until by the grace of the most ungraceful process ever, we find the path again.
The rest of the night is fine. I mean there is a wild animal at the outhouse I think might be a grizzly but fortunately is just a porcupine. Less fortunately for my dog. I think we eat some things and someone passes around a liquor canteen.
“Would you do it again”? He asks me upon our return, alive, to the camp the next evening.
“Our relationship?” I retorted. “Hell, no”.
A few months after our break up (unrelated to the hike) my new roommate whips out a Trails of Alberta manual. Oh, I perk up with curiosity. Look up “Fryatt’s Hut”! And sure enough it is in there. Under advance hikes. Steep trails. High level of difficulty.
According to The World, there is smart fear and stupid fear. Fear that keeps us alive, and fear that wastes our time and resources. If you asked twenty something me I would have answered “I am not a goat. This fear is keeping me safe”.
Spiritually it’s a different story. “The Cliff”, is a symbol for illusion. Illusion makes us afraid but cannot really hurt us. Like those old roadrunner cartoons where they don’t fall unless they look down. But illusion has its own agenda. And unless we understand WHY the illusion in the first place, it’s pretty ridiculous to expect ourselves to outsmart it, or be unaffected by it.
God knows I tried to protect myself from it, and then to outrun it, and then to rise above it.
The message of the cliff is that the THING to be afraid of is OVER THERE, outside of yourself. You can see it. It is big and tall as a mountain, or scary like a mask, or creepy and small like a bug. And if you avoid it, you are safe.
But that is the lie of things and bodies and people.
According to our souls, and the gurus that spend their spare time figuring this all out for us, we are all afraid of one thing, and (yay hooray) it’s not even true.
We are afraid that it’s our fault. That we are a “bad kid”. That we have somehow screwed up GOODNESS and now we have to fix it by ourselves.
The lie is trying to protect us all from this mistake by keeping us afraid of worldly things. And that is why illusion is SOOOO good at its job.
What does this mean? It means that spiritually, all fear is “stupid” and based on mistake, because newsflash we are not bad!!!
But it also means we are not “stupid” for FEELING fear. Just very skillfully misguided.
And while we are being LOVINGLY re-educated, in whatever way our “own personal Jesus” has in store for us, to understand that we can neither hurt nor be hurt?
Well, it’s perfectly okay to stay the fuck away from mountains, or stupid boyfriends, or call your sister at 3am to take the spider outside
— Love, Erin
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