At this moment I’m sitting on a couch in Saint George, Utah, looking at a fairly nice view and drinking fairly nice coffee, while Paul the dog lies on a carpet (luxury!) and takes a nap, which is also fairly nice. The end of this year has been exhausting in many ways, both familiar and new, but today is pretty good.
Yesterday, a bunch of us (we’re in Utah with Dave’s family for Christmas) went canyoneering, which is to say rappelling off the side of several canyon cliffs. I must admit, when Dave first asked me if I wanted to do this (over text message, while I was in New York), I thought he meant bouldering—i.e., scrambling over big rocks while hiking, with a little light pulling-yourself-through-craggy-bits. But not so! We were given harnesses and helmets, and proceeded to bounce-walk down some pretty high rock faces (and also, we pulled ourselves through some craggy bits, so that part wasn’t just in my mind). I had only ever rappelled down anything once before, on a hike during grad school that involved sliding down (small) sheer rock faces into little pools and swimming across them to the next rock face, etc; at the end of this, we rappelled down one big cliff and then were done. Yesterday’s adventure was quite a bit more comprehensive, though we also had professionals with us, this time. (Thank god.)
I’m not usually very afraid of heights (compared to, say, my mom, who is terrified of them), but I still got a little shaky in some places—not so much while actually rappelling, when you can feel the rope holding your weight, and control the speed of your descent. But when you’re sitting or standing on a small ledge waiting to be hooked up to a rope, or sliding through an opening only slightly wider than your shoes after which you just—lean back into nothingness! That can be scary. That made me clench. Mostly because there was so much space, in that moment, to imagine something going wrong.
But the moral of the story is that I did it. We were right outside of Zion (and by right outside I mean about 100 feet from the border of the park) on BLM land, so the views were incredible, even when we were in the deep, shady bottom of a canyon. I found it was easiest to get myself down the rope if I was near the front of the pack; less time for fear-mongering in my darkest heart. We ate cheese sticks. We took photographs. And when we had half an hour at the end of the day, we did one last little rappel in the waning sunlight, which was so easy and joyous I did it twice.
May all our fears in the new year be so accessible and so conquerable.