Zion National Park, Utah
As I set off early morning to meet my guide at Zion Adventure Company, I was excited and slightly exhausted. Nervousness hadn’t yet crossed my mind. This was the last day of a 2 ½ week adventure full of physical and mental challenges. Girl vs nature. Girl 4 and Nature 1 (the Grand Canyon’s destruction of my feet. grrrr). Today I was going to attempt canyoneering.
Canyoneering is kind of the opposite of rock climbing. You go down versus up, descending canyons via ropes, harness, buckle-like things. My guide, Bill, recommends Birch Hollow, a favorite of his, which is just outside Zion National Park. I’m game. I’m on a ‘yes, and…’ kick, accepting opportunities as they present themselves. Bill is awesome. We immediately have a fun banter going, so I trust his recommendation.
As we drive through Zion Park to our starting point, he drills home that this is the most dangerous part of the tour. Being my charming, sarcastic self, I ask if I should wear my helmet. I get what he means though. The idea of perceived versus actual risk. Canyoneering, climbing Angel’s Landing, living in Nairobi, etc may seem like crazy risks to some people. But if you look at the odds, you’re much more likely to meet your maker doing more mundane things like driving. (I actually keep thinking about this a few days later as I’m driving around Marin County on the back of a motorcycle. I blame Bill.) We talk a lot about ‘controlling your controllables’ and letting the rest go.
We finally reach our starting point and hike a short distance to our first repel point. We’ll do nine repels and two rock climbs throughout the day. The longest repel is, of course, the first one. Just an easy 135 down into the canyon. Honey badger don’t care! I told Bill that morning that I was up for whatever. But now I’m starting to reconsider. He walks me through how to assemble my equipment (wait?! I’m responsible for attaching my own equipment?!), and then we start walking towards the ledge. Walking to the edge of a very tall cliff and just leaning back defies logic, and I was definitely feeling tentative at this point. I was secretly relieved to learn that he was doing the first descent at the same time as me. But once I start descending, it wasn’t bad at all. It was actually fun! Like riding a giant swing down a mountain. Except when the mountain slimed me.
Each repel got progressively easier, but the initial lean back always made me hold my breath for a second. But it was the two rock climbs that made me the most nervous and unsure. There’s nothing strapped to me to prevent ‘user error’. I’ll sadly admit that I got kind of stuck on one climb. Not literally stuck, but mentally I couldn’t figure out what to do or how to make my body do it. So I wrapped my legs around a nearby log (to alleviate dangling by my arms) and let my guide sort it out. I improvised! I don’t want to brag, but Bill said it was the first time he’s seen someone get that “creative”. I’m pretty sure there are still claw marks in that rock.
I love trying new things. Surfing, photography, snowboarding, travel writing, tennis, sewing (ha, seriously!), sailing. And now I can add canyoneering to that list. This pretty much results in me being a novice of many things and a master of nothing. Both the Grand Canyon and Zion experiences reaffirmed my belief in the value of venturing out. Whether physical or mental, trying new things helps you be more adaptable and flexible. It keeps the mind sharp and takes you off autopilot. It makes trying something new easier the next time, because your body and mind are able to draw on some seemingly forgotten and unrelated knowledge and apply that to the current situation. So I’m ok with being a novice at a lot of things. Plus it’s a ton of fun.