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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

Taking A Hike

I can't fold a fitted sheet worth a damn. But I can ford a stream (Who Knew?), hike a narrow rim trail, and survive the insults of a hot--and I mean hot--early Tucson afternoon.

I didn't head out that morning knowing that I'd be hiking for hours, fighting with boulders, slipping on moist stones, and, most certainly, not having to battle my fear of heights. I envisioned a rather easy stroll filled with fields of wildflowers, views of the mountains, and just enough of a hike to make me feel I was getting that aerobic exercise I'd been sorely missing during the Pandemic.

I should have known that there was trouble ahead when we searched for the trailhead, only to realize that we had to cross a flowing mountain stream to get to it. I can't remember the last time I'd had to tiptoe through moss-covered stones that sat in the water a foot deep. I was wearing my new hiking boots, for Pete's sake. I'd paid a lot for those boots, even with CDW's discount.

Lo and behold, a man appeared and offered to help my husband and me across the stream. Now, my balance ain't what it used to be, not even close. I thank Prolia every time I stumble, even fall.

But who wants to talk about balance and breaking bones? Rather, let me brag about how with the assistance of Mr. Park Ranger I slipped only once. Once safely on the other side, I felt like I'd won a million bucks on "The Amazing Race."

I had jumped the gun. My euphoria lasted until I realized that we were climbing straight up and that the trail was getting narrower and narrower. After huffing and puffing my way to a level space, I looked down to my left. There was no fence. There were no boulders as substitute fences. There was nothing. Nada. Rien. I froze. My stomach churned; my head started to throb. I was going to fall. I knew it. I was going to crash to the bottom of the canyon and die--or, at least, render Prolia a sham with a slew of broken bones.

"Can we go back down?" I pleaded.

"Sure, you can go alone. I'm moving on," my husband said.

(Forget about what I said about winning "The Amazing Race." My husband and I wouldn't make it out of the first airport parking lot.)

So, with no options -- I sure as hell wasn't going to retrace my steps alone -- I sucked it up (in a manner of speaking) and continued onward and upward. I kept the eye closest to the rim shut as much as I could. One of those eye patches would have come in real handy.

About halfway through my time in the Inferno, I felt like I was going to hurl. My head pounded, my knees buckled. All I wanted was my mommy.

But there are those times that are more and more frequent when we have to mother ourselves. We've done enough tending to others and must now turn our attention inward. Maybe this hike was a test of sorts, not simply of my physical stamina but of faith in myself. No one else was going to get me up and down that trail and save me from imminent disaster. That was my job.

I won't lie: It wasn't easy. My body and mind went into fight or flee mode, and I fought. (Okay, there was no way to flee, but give me my due, please.) When another hiker suggested that going down the same way we'd come would be easiest, I shook my head. "No way," I said. I'd learned my lesson. I hadn't fallen into the canyon or floated down the stream. I wasn't going to try my luck a second time.

That's the thing, isn't it? The importance of figuring things out based on our challenges, our failures. The goal is not to slip over the same barriers over and over again. Sure, none of us is perfect; hopefully, our stumbles are less frequent.

At this stage in my life, I know full well those traps that have snagged me in the past. I've been a people pleaser afraid that I'd hurt someone's feelings if I'm honest or when I should say "No." It's taken me a long time to get over that fear and to practice being upfront without adding any fuel to a potentially combustible conversation or situation. Funny thing: the more straightforward I am, the better I feel, and the more satisfying the result.

By the end of what became a three-hour hike, I was spent. I fell into the passenger seat of our rented Kia and vowed that my hiking days were over. I would sell my boots on ebay or donate them to Goodwill.

Still, I was proud of myself for having survived unscathed. I'd managed to overcome my fears. Barely but enough to get me down that trail. I wasn't such a wimp after all. I had strength that I didn't think I had. I can't hike in the foothills of the Swiss Alps like I did when I was twenty. I can't slide down "The Three Sisters" in the Scottish Highlands. But I can overcome physical and emotional challenges and, yes, one of these days I'll learn how to fold a fitted sheet.


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