Yesterday the kids and I hiked to the top of Smith Rock in Central Oregon in search of an Adventure Day for our spring break vacation. A waitress at the place we had lunch on Monday suggested it as a good hike alternative since our usual hiking spots are still covered in snow up on Mt. Bachelor. She warned that the Misery Ridge Trail (“Of course, you’ll want to take Misery Ridge.”) was a steep uphill switchback for the first 15 minutes (“But you can do anything for 15 minutes.”) and went on to convince us by saying her seven-year-old son hikes this trail with her. So, we packed a light lunch, filled water bottles and off we went.
I’d been to Smith Rock State Park once before, but that was years ago and all I remember was feeling queasy as I watched rock climbers scale the sheer cliff walls that make up Smith Rock. Yesterday I realized that in some cruel joke, the parking area is actually across the Crooked River from Smith Rock. That means that before beginning your actual climb, you have to descend down to the river so that your climb begins about 100 feet below where you parked your car. The climb itself is approximately 900 feet straight up, accomplished by a narrow switchback trail that’s almost a mile in length. It is so steep in some places that rebar stakes have been driven into the ground to support stairs that allow trail hiking as opposed to rock climbing. This is definitely a physically challenging hike and, as the only person over 50 – heck, I was the only person over 20 – I admit that I struggled a bit and had to take short rest breaks frequently. The physical challenge was not overwhelming though and, if that were the only drawback, I’d gladly hike this trail again. However, the more difficult part for me, the aspect of the hike that will prevent me from ever trying it again, was the height. This is a narrow trail with a steep drop and I am acrophobic – I have an unnatural fear of heights. As we began to make our way up the trail, I realized that I needed to look straight down at the ground below my feet – no looking up to enjoy the scenery. I have had embarrassing reactions to heights in the past and I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the kids who were scampering along as if they were running across a field. Seriously, what would their reaction have been to having their mom airlifted off the side of the rock? I realized that giving up and going back down this route would be equally as bad as continuing to go up, so I braced myself and continued to hike. I wished my husband was there to hold my hand, talk to me and guide me, but then I realized that if he had been there my reaction to the height would have been worse. This was a surprising realization for me. For 35 years Brian and I have relied on each other to manage the rough patches in life and, for me, that includes helping me through heights and closed in spaces. Without Brian there to calm me, I wasn’t free to express my fear. Sure, the kids knew I was struggling and I told them that the height was bothering me, but I couldn’t lay that fear on them as I would have with Brian. I realized that I had to control my own fear with the goal of getting myself to the top without an emotional breakdown. I talked to myself, encouraged myself and acknowledged to myself that I was scared but I could accomplish this challenge – and I did! I got myself to the top and firmly planted my feet on a section of flat ground (well away from the edges). I realized we still had to go back down the other side, but we’d been told that route was much easier; however, that’s another story. For the moment, I just quietly reveled in my triumph – achieved on my own.