Scientists say we are born with only two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All other fears are learned within the first six years of life. I will be the first to admit I am a real scaredy cat about most things in life, although, maybe cautious is a better adjective. But I have never felt my body physically react to fear as it did on our hike in Angel's Landing (Zion National Park, Utah). At the trailhead for Angel's Landing, you see a sign warning of the dangers of this hike, including the number of deaths from attempting it.
To give a little more insight, Angel's Landing is a 5-mile roundtrip hike, with the last mile hiking up an extremely narrow trail typically only 4-5ft wide. As you look over the edge, the drop on your right is 800 feet; the drop on your left is 1,200ft and the only sense of comfort I found along the last mile is the sporadic cable hand wire. All I could think about is how not to fall and all I could feel is my body saying "this is dangerous, turn around." Several people on the trail were literally crying out of fear. I can remember Pete telling me that it was okay, I didn't have to finish, he was already proud of me. I guess he knows exactly how to motivate my competitive spirit. It wasn't until we made it to the top, 3 hours later, that I could cautiously do a 360 to take in the scenery and somehow talk my body into making it back down.
Last month, driving down the West Coast on Hwy 101, my uncle recommended we stop in at a restaurant in Big Sur, CA. However, one mudslide back in March halted any attempt at that. In that moment, thinking how a mudslide in March took out a bridge that prevents any traffic south of Big Sur on 101, I looked at Pete and remarked, "Isn't it crazy how powerful nature is?" Being on the last leg of our trip and hitting close to 10 National Parks on the way back, I am constantly reminded of the power of nature and the risk we take being intimate with it. From the fires that hit Napa right after we drove through, to the chunk missing in El Capitan (Yosemite NP) that killed a husband celebrating his first wedding anniversary. There are plenty of stories before us of when nature wreaked havoc. One story that comes to mind from our Navajo Indian guide at Antelope Canyon (Arizona) about 7 tourists killed as a desert thunderstorm approached without warning creating deadly flash-floods. Then there are stories we hear that happened after we have passed through: one story I am still grappling with is about a young couple that allegedly got lost in Joshua Tree National Park, which is a desert. From what the investigators can piece together, it appears on a hot day they got lost from a trail in the park and after wandering without enough water or food, decided to kill themselves with a gun to avoid suffering in the desert. It is crazy because we were just there and we have been lost on trails many times in the past!
I can remember one day in Arches National Park, Pete wanted a little more adventure than the traditional loop around the park taking pictures. So I found a 9 mile trail that required 4W drive. The only warning listed on the map was that it could be dangerous in spots due to sand. As we approach the trailhead, a couple from the UK in a Ford truck was pulled over to the side. We checked to make sure everything was OK with them before heading on and they told us they were fine but they, and others, had to turn around because the conditions were too bad ahead. For Pete, that = challenge accepted. We started the trail at 4:20PM and it took us 2 hours to go 9 miles. We climbed rocks in the Jeep and drove through deep sand; thank gosh for the Jeep tour in Moab for a little training! All the while, I was guiding Pete with the map I had from the park, and as dark was approaching and the sun had set, it became harder and harder to see turns. After the odometer clocked us going over 10 miles I started to worry we had missed a turn. Then my thoughts started...what if we get stuck? What if we are lost? I brought some snacks, do we have enough water? We can hike to get help, but have to wait until daylight because of coyotes. We have no cell service, do we have enough blankets to stay warm? And on and on. The National Park service does a great job with the trails, with educating you, but it is impossible to manage the millions of acres many of these parks consist of. You take the risk, when you go "off-road", of what can happen in nature. Luckily, we made all the right turns and made it out, but it was definitely not the smartest decision taking the drive so close to sunset with zero street lights and no cell service in the middle of the desert. But I will say, we took the most beautiful sunset pictures that night and it was easily the most stunning sunset I have ever seen. Turns out it was totally worth it!
Pete and I made the decision to go across the country with the goal of of seeing as many of the National Parks along the way. People ask us which are our favorites all the time, and what a loaded question that is! During our cross country tour I felt that as we left one amazing park, the next one after just got that much better. However, I think we agree Yellowstone NP was our favorite, followed by Zion (Utah) and Glacier (Montana). There are so many times on this trip alone, I have never felt more alive. I know that sounds cheesy and extra hippy, but God made us from the beginning of time in the midst of his creation, governing over it. I don't know how anyone can say there is no God looking at the Grand Cathedral (Yosemite) or watching how so many ecosystems depend on one another for survival. Spending 7 years in the hustle and bustle of NY (and believe me it is all of that and more), answering two cell phones, bombarded with emails and personal obligations, I think one of my favorite things about the park system is that many of them don't have any cell service. So for 3-4 nights at a time, if Pete and I were bored, we didn't have shows we could turn on, or Facebook to entertain us. So Pete built a fire, we cooked on the grill, and Lily laid beside us. The only distractions were the stars so bright, the occasional smoke from the fire, and sounds of wildlife crying out in the background. It reminds me of when we were in the Grand Tetons (Wyoming), and we were on a 2-mile rugged road to get to Jackson Hole. I remember thinking isn't there a better way to get there? Later, on our safari, our tour guide told us that when the Rockefeller's had donated this land to the National Park Service, part of the agreement was the road must be kept unpaved so people passing through had no choice but to slow down and enjoy the scenery. I can't stay in the parks forever, or camp all my life, but I can slow down, stop, and smell the roses. I will forever be in awe of the one thing bigger than human life...the force of nature!