My palms were sweating. My whole body was tense. I was hyperventilating. I couldn’t catch my breath. My heart was beating so loud I could hear it in my ears. I could actually feel the adrenaline and cortisol coursing through my veins. My hands shook. I cursed. I prayed. I cried. I took a deep breath. I thought I might die. And then…I climbed.
I climbed because there was no other option.
I have a fear of heights. I am not an adrenaline junkie. I struggle with anxiety doing some normal, every day things. I feel totally freaked out on the upper floors of sky scrapers in Manhattan. So, how, you might ask, does a person like me find herself hanging off the edge of an exposed cliff with a 500 foot drop on a dangerous hike? Honestly, the answer is kind of a mystery to me as well.
Beehive Trail – Acadia National Park, Maine. I can’t say there weren’t warnings. There were. People have died on this hike. People have actually fallen to their death. One wrong step and it could happen.
I’m a cautious person and I like to plan everything. I struggle with spontaneity. But, Acadia had bewitched me. It was so beautiful with its rocky cliffs, miles of evergreens, crystal clear lakes, and spectacular sunrises. We had done numerous hikes the day before, some of which I thought were quite challenging, so I suppose I was feeling confident. I was feeling like I could handle a challenge. Also, looking at Beehive from the bottom was very deceiving. It didn’t look difficult. Plus, I was with my husband, my brother and sister in law, and they were all game to do it.
So, despite the signs warning of the impending doom at the bottom of the trail, I proceeded along with the group. There was a point in which I stopped and thought, now’s my last chance to turn around. I paused there for a good half hour hemming and hawing about whether or not I could do it. I shed some tears, but eventually bit the bullet. I didn’t want to turn back, beating myself up, full of regrets. Major FOMO. An amazing view could be waiting for me at the top. I gathered up the courage and continued the hike but the hike eventually became a full on climb, with iron rungs, sheer vertical ledges, and straight drops to the very bottom of the mountain.
There was a moment where I thought, I can’t do this. I’m going to be stuck on the side of this cliff for the rest of my life. I felt frozen, paralyzed by fear but somehow I pressed on. This may sound strange, but I don’t regret doing it. It was both the most terrifying, awful and bravest, most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. The panic I felt was real. My body reacted to it the way it’s supposed to, by emitting a stress response. The breath quickening, the shaking, the sweating, the irrational thoughts, those symptoms and sensations were totally unpleasant but they are what propelled me forward.
I was the first one to get to the top. The adrenaline coursing through my blood basically turned me into spider man, crawling up the mountain as fast as I could, because I knew there was safety at the top. Relief was waiting for me. I gritted my teeth, stopped looking down imagining myself falling to my death, faced forward and simply focused on the next step, the next climb, the next small section in front of me. I didn’t even feel how strenuous the hike itself actually was because I was so focused on escaping danger and getting to the top. And, after what felt like an eternity, I pulled myself up over the last ledge and, on shaky legs, ran away from the cliff’s edge, collapsing onto my back.
I did it. I climbed Beehive. I cried. Tears of fear, tears of courage, tears of confusion, tears of relief. It took me a good five minutes, lying there, red faced and out of breath staring up at the sky, before I could get up and actually enjoy the view, which was spectacular by the way. I couldn’t believe I did it. I was spent. I was grateful. I was exhausted. Most of all, I was so so proud of myself.
My husband and brother, both thrill seekers, said it was the hardest thing they’ve ever done. And I did it too! It felt like a strange, out of body experience, but it was real! I did it! Now, the difference is, they wanted to do it again. Insanity. I can safely say, I’ll probably never do it again.
Climbing Beehive didn’t cure me of my fear of heights. We hiked a different trail the next day, much easier, mind you, but I still couldn’t walk near the edge without my body tensing up. It didn’t make me fearless, and maybe I was slightly disappointed at that. I think a small part of me hoped that I would no longer be anxious ever, but that’s not realistic and that’s not how I’m wired.
The hike may not have fundamentally changed me, but it did give me a gigantic shot of confidence. A boost of brave, if you will. I’ve never had much confidence in my abilities or my resilience (read the last post on how often I say the words, “I can’t”) but the truth is when you’re put into a situation that could mean life or death, you can rise to the occasion. You can fight through your fear and panic and do what needs to be done.
I know people say, “you can do hard things,” but I have doubted my abilities on so many levels for so long, even though I’ve proven that I can “do the hard thing” before. It’s easy to forget. So, maybe Beehive didn’t change who I am, but maybe it’s aiding in changing that one belief. It’s one more step on the confidence ladder.