Anxiety is something that I’ve been trying to understand and deal with my entire life. It works behind the scenes, constantly telling me that I can’t do this or I shouldn’t do that, while other people do those exact things seemingly without much grief. I’ve always been so envious of people, like Eric, who aren’t impacted by these constant worries and fears. To be able to do something so freely, is something I’ve always dreamed of my entire life. There are so many opportunities and experiences I’ve missed out on because of debilitating fear.
And that almost happened yesterday.
After enjoying a nice lunch out with my mom and John, Eric and I set out to tackle our next hike on the famous Camelback Mountain. Naïvely, we had no idea just how “strenuous” this climb would be. Still riding yesterday’s hiking high at Pinnacle Peak, we were eager to tackle the next mountain. We set out on the Echo Canyon trail- the most difficult climb of all 4 trails on the Camelback. We didn’t know this at the time though!
A website describes it as the following: “Beyond the first ¼ mile the hike up Camelback becomes physically demanding and potentially hazardous. The slope is quite steep in spots (there are hand rails and chains to steady your ascent) and the hundreds of trampling shoes have produced a fine coating of slippery, pulverized rock. Many hikers are very fit and use the trail for fitness training.” (source)
Right from the get-go we knew this would be a whole other kind of hike, and at first, I was excited.
The start of the trail is a series of large stairs and rocky parts, but nothing that we couldn’t handle. Within minutes, we arrived at a steep part of the mountain and this is exactly when my anxiety started to kick into overdrive.
I had to climb this…without killing myself?
The pictures really don’t do this climb justice, by the way. I took one look at it and told Eric I was turning back. “I can’t do this, I’m scared”. I felt paralyzed, unable to move forward.
“You can do it Ange! We’ll go slow and you can hold onto the railings as much as you need to. Look at all the other people who are doing it just like you can.”
Looking around, he was right; I wanted to be one of those people overcoming this amazing challenge. I took a deep breath and said, “I’ll TRY,” but expecting to fail. I never considered myself to be afraid of heights, but that became apparent as soon as I got half way up this first steep climb.
I stood there in fear once again unable to proceed. My anxiety was so strong I felt a bit panicked as I thought about how the hell I was going to get down. Eric gave me another pep talk.
“Do you want to let your anxiety win again and miss out on this experience? Imagine how proud you will feel when you overcome it.”
He was right.
I was sick and tired of letting my anxiety win. If I turned back, I was accepting defeat to my fears like I have done so many times in the past. I knew physically I was in good enough shape to climb the mountain, but it was my mind that I had to train. In the end, I decided to give my anxiety a big f-you, imagining myself sticking my middle finger up at the anxiety. As silly as it sounds, it was just the visualization I needed to set myself back on track and proceed forward.
If you would’ve told me I’d be hiking in a desert mountain and not worrying about rattlesnakes, I would have said you are crazy, but that was the last thing on my mind yesterday!
As we climbed and climbed, I felt more and more fear about how I was going to get down. I pictured myself getting stuck at the top and having to be rescued out. I told Eric this and we talked about how my anxiety leads me to think too much in the future, constantly worrying about things that probably will never happen.
“How about we take this climb one step at a time?” He asked.
Not only did I think that was a great idea, but I realized that this climb was a metaphor for life. I always worry about the future and I dream up bad outcomes that are “likely” to happen, so instead, I don’t bother doing them many times. This was exactly what I was doing on this mountain: self-defeating by thinking too far into the future.
“That’s a great idea.” I finally admitted. And that’s exactly what I tried to do for the rest of the hike. One step at a time. I wouldn’t think about the heights, falling, getting stuck, or slipping on a big rock and hitting my head. I would just think about which step I had to take next.
We climbed higher and higher and an hour passed. My confidence was growing, but the fear about getting down still lingered in my mind.
We finally reached the top after about an hour and 15 minutes (I’m not really sure as my Garmin lost reception!), and we were blown away by the 360 views.
“You wanted to quit”, Eric reminded me.
I was so glad that I didn’t.
We grabbed our bag and took out the energy balls that I made before leaving. I suspected we’d need some energy on this hike, but I never knew how much!
While standing at the summit and feeling proud, I decided to call them “Reach Your Peak” energy balls. It just seemed so fitting.
We bit into these crispy and chewy balls and suddenly everything seemed right in the world. Our energy lifted and I felt ready to tackle the long, steep descent.
“We better get going. Sundown isn’t far off.”, I worried looking at Eric’s watch reading 4:15pm.
The descent turned out to be fine and we just took it slow. The hardest part I had was not slipping on the rocks with my runners (proper hiking sneakers are highly encouraged!!), but we just took it easy. I was jealous of Eric’s long legs, able to reach the ground without having to stretch and slink downward on a big rock.
We finally reached the bottom of the mountain after about 2.5 hours, with legs like Jell-O and a pride for overcoming such an amazing challenge. This climb taught me so much and I felt myself feeling emotional by the end. I walked away feeling more proud than I felt after my half-marathon races.
I also realized after this hike just how much Eric enjoyed this type of activity. I’d never seen him so eager and excited about any type of “exercise” like this! And I use the term exercise loosely here, because while it’s a KILLER workout, that doesn’t seem to be the main point. It’s much more than that.
Eric kept saying how much he loved it, and I’ll admit, his confidence and enthusiasm was infectious.
I think we are hooked.
Here’s a short video I put together about our experience. Please excuse how tired I am in the video!!! Also, there is a really shaky part in the video that Eric taped, so if you get nauseous easily I would take caution when watching.
Now that I’ve overcome such a strong fear, I find myself asking: What else can I do?
Have you ever overcome a strong fear?