Little over a year later, before Penelope was born, my husband gave me a gift certificate to go back to Red Mountain. After two years I'm about to finally cash it in and spend three days making life all about me. Because of this upcoming trip I've been rereading some stuff I wrote about my last adventure.
While it's a stretch to put this on Nested, I think that the Nested tagline of "Good stuff for you and your little one" applies to my Utah trip. Although I wasn't a mother (or even pregnant) the last time I went to Red Mountain, I needed a refresh in my life before the next big stage. Now, as my daughter is about to turn two, it's time to kickstart a healthier life and prepare for the years ahead.
One of the benefits of spending all this time alone is the ability to discover something important about myself. I'm not talking about the minor stuff: what makes me tick, what motivates me, what makes me happy and so on. I'm talking about the really important part of me that defines who I am -- that is, I have discovered the type of player I would be if I were to be a contestant on Survivor.
How did I make this discovery? Well, let's just say it happened because of a hike in Zion National Park. And to my, and probably your surprise, it didn't happen on the majestic path of Zion, thousands of feet above the ground at sunrise, but rather as I munched on pretzels and drank apple juice in the outdoor adventure minivan that shuttled my hiking group to and from the National Park.
"In complete contrast to the level Narrows trail, the route to Angels Landing, one of the 6,000 feet peaks of Zion Canyon, ascends 1,700 feet over a distance of 2.5 miles to the summit, which is ringed on three sides by the river below and has amazing views in both directions along the canyon...
The trail is rated strenuous and is not recommended for anyone fearful of heights, a warning which applies to the last section...
An even steeper series of switchbacks ('Walter's Wiggles') leads up the canyon wall to a narrow ridge, where the surfaced trail ends, although the paved West Rim Trail continues westwards. The last half mile of the Angels Landing Trail ascends along the ridge to the summit, and is marked only by rock cairns, occasional steps carved in the rock and chains which have been fixed for safety at some particularly steep points, an addition which seems not to be really necessary. At some points, the ridge is only a few metres wide, with steep drop-offs at either side, so some caution is advisable..."
Fear of heights? That could be said about me, I guess. It's been a long time since I had white-knuckled the armrest in our car while driving down the route from Olympic National Park and, as far as I am concerned, my fear of heights could be considered minor. Even so, all of this advisory text would be disregarded with one read of the next sentence:
"The summit feels like the top of the world, although there are slightly higher cliffs visible in the distance. The views up and down Zion Canyon look on to an almost mythical landscape, with the river far below winding into the misty distance. The route to Angels Landing is rightly regarded as one of the most remarkable trails in the whole national park system."
One of the most remarkable trails in the whole national park system? You had me at "hello."
The entire week I have been in classes and on hikes with four British women who range in age from around 40-60. They're all blonde and clearly British (actually three of them are British and one of them lives in Britain with an British affectation). The real Brits are harmless but the American has become my nemesis. Actually, nemesis isn't the right word since that usually infers that there is two-way relationship of some sort. This woman, Monica, has seemingly been transported from my childhood, aged 30 years and is ripe and ready to inflict more emotional damage on me. Of course, the aging has made her more subtle. No taunts or teases, nothing obvious. It's been the little things: like how she won't smile at me or even feign interest when I'm talking in the group activities. How she rudely pushes in front of me if I'm going (and I'm always going) too slow. How she -- and I swear this isn't a paranoid exaggeration -- laughs at me when I enter and leave a room. How she pointed at me when I was too slow on the trail and held everyone up.
I kid you not, this woman hates me. Actually, I don't think she hates me. I think it's just that she's always been the popular pretty girl (she's actually an American living in England who teaches aerobic classes) who has never made time for people who she doesn't feel are important to her. And as a chubby, brunette to her thin, toned blonde, I am a person that isn't important to her. This is all an assumption, but I think it's fairly accurate.
As I write this, I see her in the dining hall. She's in her brown terry robe and, surprise, looks like she's gossiping about something. I ask myself why can't I always see the nice couple who told me that I was "fabulous for being in such an interesting industry and starting my own company." Why aren't they eating across from me? Why don't they take classes with me? Why do I always have to see this woman?
So when I saw her and her "mates" on my hike, I wanted to stay as far away from them as possible. As luck would have it, these four women had somewhat of a crush on one of our hiking guides, Travis. Travis was cute in that possibly gay Abercrombie way. Longish, but not long, blonde surfer hair, dimples and a white smile and probably no more than 25. He was so not my type that I actually found his looks borderline repulsive. Not long after he spoke to us, I realized he probably had a Abercrombie IQ to match. He had this way of ignoring questions, either by looking confused or just smiling.
"Travis, does the trail lead back this way too?"
"Travis, can we walk at our own pace?"
No response, but something registers in that mind of his.
"Travis? Hike? End? Soon?"
Success. "Yeah," he replies.
My hiking advice to anyone is simple: Never go on a hike with a stupid guide. In the worst case, they will get you killed and, they, of course, will always end up being the lone survivor. In the best case, you have to spend 6 hours with a stupid guide. My adventure fell somewhere in between. As soon as I realized that he was one of the guides of the Angels Landing hike, I should have made a bolt to the Emerald Pools crew. But I didn't, and that was my first mistake.
The nail in my coffin, so to speak, was a friendly gesture by a woman named Krista, who works as a lobbyist in DC. She had heard me ask about whether we can go at our own pace and assumed that I was a slow-walking comrade. We made a deal to take the hike together and walk at a slow pace. Pace, foolishly, was our biggest concern. Heights didn't even enter the picture. At this point in time, the heights issue was still not in my consciousness. I made the decision to do Angel's Landing and joined the six others and Travis. The other eight in our party went their own way and headed to the simpler path of Emerald Pool. We were to all meet at 2:00 in front of the Lodge.
Pulling up the rear of our tour group was me, Krista, one of the tour guides, and Karen -- one fourth of the travelling Brits. Karen had been nicest to me out of all of them, probably because she was the most out of shape. Not soon after we started hiking she told me about her and her mates. Apparently her and my nemesis, Monica, had met eleven years ago in an exercise class that Monica taught. She told me how she and her became friends and decided to go to Red Mountain. The other two women, Karen said, "were mates of Monica", women Karen didn't really know that well. The other three all know each other through their classes in Surrey and since Karen didn't "live in Surrey, but rather Birmingham, the other three were a lot closer nowadays." There was a sadness in her voice, as if she's felt like she was the unwelcomed party during the trip. she kept on telling me "not to worry what other people think" and "do the trip for yourself." Since Monica and her two other friends were always the front of the hiking groups and the most coordinated in class, Karen seemed to be the outsider. Not long after this conversation, Karen started to walk a bit slower with our guide. After ten minutes I realized that they had stopped and were now a quarter mile behind me, calling Travis to let him know that they were walking back -- Karen being too tired and anxious about the heights to continue.
What Karen didn't realize was that, at this point, we were on relatively flat elevation and turning back was the best thing she could have done.
I continued walking, reaching Walter's Wiggles and likening it to Lombard Street. It was switchback after switchback, up a insanely steep hill. This portion tired me and I worried that it would become more strenous. Fortunately, it flattened and I felt accomplished that I made it. I even, uncharacteristically high-fived Krista, who said "oh, I think the worst is yet to come."
Krista tells me that some teachings say that mountains make people cry. Something very similar to the release yoga provides, apparently. The mountain is letting me rid myself of something that's stressing me out or worrying me. Even through my tears, I say something like "you don't know the half of it."
I continued climbing, hiking, walking -- whatever I'm doing -- and I felt slightly better. It's when I reach Scout's Landing, that things become more complicated. In front of me is the next 1/2 mile of the hike, a climb that looks vertical on a strip of mountain that looks, from my vantage point, to be 3 feet wide. I tell Krista that I "just can't do it... I can't" and become slightly hysterical. She and the other woman look concerned. Travis, by the way, is long gone and up the hill with Monica and her mates and we have no guide with us. I tell Krista that I'm going to wait on the landing until they return and we'll go down together. That's my decision and I'm happy with it.
As I waited for my group, I watched hikers make the discovery of what was ahead of them on Angel's Landing. Some had the same reaction as me: "No way in hell I'm doing that." Others were more in awe and couldn't wait to get to the top. There were old people and children, all of whom seemed to love the heights. And then a dad and his four kids reached Scout's Landing.
The minute I saw them, I did a sort of double take. Here is one adult hiking with four children all under the age of ten. At first I was embarrassed that a seven year-old girl could easily do a hike that had defeated me. Then, I wondered if it was safe up here for them. Then, I freaked out as the boys played too close to the edge. And then I realized that the littlest hiker, the seven year-old girl, was crying about not wanting to continue. The dad was calm and didn't give into her fears. This seemed like a enlightened approach. He didn't want to be an enabler to irrational fears. He didn't want to raise a daughter that would turn out to be like me. It was sort of inspirational. But then I realized that, no, this was no place for a seven year-old. And it certainly wasn't safe to have a 1 to 4 ratio of adult to kid. The daughter continued crying, especially when the father, in response to his older daughter's question (are there chains on that part of the hike as well?), said "no, there are actually ejector machines that will knock people off the cliffs every once in a while. And, if you hear screams, "that's what it is."
A couple minutes after that statement, they headed up to Angel's landing. As a footnote to this story, I have to say that when the rest of my group joined up with me again, they said that they had seen the family on their way down and she was still crying.
Not long after we reached the base of the trail, the rain started. Luckily, for us, we were off the dangerous part of the hike. As I noted to myself, that family was probably still hiking up in the rain and that daughter was probably soaked and scared to no end. We boarded the tram that would take us first to the lodge to rendevous with the other group and then to our vans for our much needed lunch.
Since we were running late, Travis decided that we should skip the lodge stop and meet at the vans instead. He called the other leaders on his walkie-talkie, but couldn't get a response. We continued to the vans. Travis was our leader so we followed him. We followed him back to the Red Mountain Spa MiniVans and found that the one I travelled in was locked. Travis couldn't find the spare key so he just sat in the front seat trying to figure out what to do.
Now it wasn't out of concern for me that everyone wanted to open the doors of the other minivan. It was this minivan that held the cooler that held our lunches. As the Brits would say "Sweet F.A. if she can't get to her belongings." So my group was unhappy and concerned that they wouldn't have lunch. Monica started to argue with Krista over some detail that Monica was getting wrong. I sat in the back quietly saying "shouldn't Travis be doing something instead of just sitting in the car?" Monica went on to tell all of us in the van that "she wouldn't know what anyone in the other group looked like so it only made sense for someone who travelled with them (me) to go look for them."
We sat and waited. After an hour, the other group surfaced and within a second of the key opening the other van's door, I was on my feet and away from the group. The other group is frustrated. They've been waiting in the lodge for the past hour since that's where were planning to meet up. They missed their bus and had to stand in the rain. They were drenched.
Two of them had been on a lookout for our group and they were clearly annoyed. One of the girls walks up to me and starts asking me questions.
"How long have you been waiting in the van?," she asks.
"About an hour. I don't know why this was so badly coordinated." I'm quick to offer commentary.
"Wait, you were waiting for an hour? Why didn't you see us at the lodge?"
I had it. My opening.
"Oh, we didn't stop at the lodge. Yeah. Travis didn't want to stop since we were running late."
And that was it, I found the real key. I then heard the two guides talking to each other.
"Travis said that they stopped at the lodge and looked for us but couldn't find us," the one guide reported back.
"Oh. That's odd."
Doors almost open! From the back of the van where I was sitting, happily eating my lunch, I found enough energy to mutter these simple words:
"We didn't stop at the lodge. We skipped that because we were running late."
The vanful of Emerald Pools hikers became incredulous.
"What?" "You guys didn't stop at the lodge?"
"Travis said you did."
"Wait, so we waited an hour for you guys but you all didn't even stop? While we were In the rain?"
Turn. Turn. "Yup, we didn't stop at the lodge and I thought that was really ridiculous. You know, I wouldn't have been such a narc if it wasn't for the fact that I was left to sit by myself for two hours. I have no allegiance to that group. Kind of like... Survivor."
Of course, even though I'm quick to dissolve tribe aliances and happily join the tribe of losers, I'm also the next person voted out. But before I'm gone, I get to look into the camera and say something meaningful.
I played the game and made a few enemies, but I learned a lot about myself and am grateful to have had this opportunity. Now I'm going to take a shower and get back to reality.