Earlier this week, we made our third attempt to hike to Bennet Mountain from the cabin. It’s a long hard hike as my bruised and battered bones will undoubtedly prove. We hiked for eight hours down and back. The hike up is all up and with our Osprey backpacks loaded, our legs and backs were feeling the strain. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
Well, the seven creek crossings damn neared killed me! But only on the way back when we had to cross all seven a second time. I crossed as fearlessly as Neil and Sparrow the first go round, but I guess my nerves finally caught up to me. And once fear creeps in, well, everything becomes more daunting. Even though I can balance in tree pose on a rock for a minute or longer, all of a sudden I didn’t trust my footing to walk the logs necessary to cross the creek. And finally, at one such moment, after becoming frustrated with this unwelcome fear, I hastily tell Neil I’ll just walk across. I think my exact words were, “I’d rather just get my feet wet then fall in and be completely drenched.”
I removed my boots and socks and brace to walk across. The current is strong and the water is ice cold. I had about ten yards to go. The numbness sets in fast and about half way through I feel a sense of urgency to move faster. I haphazardly take a big step not realizing the increased depth. I land on a large slippery rock and with no way to catch myself, I fall face first to my hands and knees. It took all of my strength not to let the current roll me over and I quickly managed to crawl back to my feet and make it across. So much for just getting my feet wet! Luckily, I packed a towel and a change of clothes. I even had a pair of flip flops. Shaking from cold and fear, I dry myself off and change clothes. Neil didn’t even know I fell in. He was moving a second log over so I’d feel more safe to cross when I rashly decided to just walk across.
Lesson one… always make sure your partner knows your plan and is there to help. Don’t be foolish and act rashly. I’m grateful I made it back to my feet, but had I not, I would have needed Neil’s hand to pull me up and out. And with a thirty pound backpack on, the risk of getting stuck under the current becomes even more serious.
Oh, but the fun didn’t stop there. We still had four more creek crossings ahead of us. And although Sparrow would fearlessly follow us, we had to often strategize because the best place for us to cross was not always the best option for her. We come upon the largest of the crossings. I especially dislike this one because should we fall we wouldn’t just fall in the water, we’d fall in a web of downed trees with gushing water rushing down and over us. Neil crossed first. We couldn’t cross together because one of us needed to stay behind and show Sparrow where to cross. But when it was my time to cross, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. What little nerves I had must have been washed down the creek during my first fall. I was cold, my feet numb, and fear was literally paralyzing me. Just a few hours earlier, I had walked across that log with zero trepidation, but now I couldn’t shake the thought of falling into those tangled logs. And although the main crossing was much wider, probably twenty or thirty yards across, it wasn’t as deep and I should have at least walked straight across. But again, fear will get in your head and I also couldn’t shake the thought of slipping on another rock. So barefooted, as I had already tossed my soaking wet boots across to Neil, and just as it starts to snow, I climbed over a dozen or more downed trees heading upstream to where I thought I saw a more narrow crossing. It was more narrow, only about ten yards or so, but much deeper. Letting fear and frustration consume me, I once again stepped too quickly on a limb that was dead and brittle. My feet plunge straight into the creek. The water is almost waist high, but luckily I had a secure log to help guide me across and Neil was there to pull me up the steep bank. With little words exchanged, I dry off again and we forge ahead. I wasn’t mad at Neil. I was mad at myself.
Lesson two… fear is a dangerous debilitating emotion and it’s really all in your head. You can let fear take control and paralyze you or worse consume your ability to make safe and rational decisions which is clearly what I allowed to happen on the return hike. Or you can take control of your emotions, albeit easier said than done, and stay calm and confident. If I could nonchalantly and fearlessly cross those creeks on the first go then there is absolutely no reason I couldn’t do so the second time. The only and most dangerous obstacle that got in my way was fear and frustration.
We made it back to the cabin otherwise safe and sound. Although my legs are covered with scrapes and bruises, I suffered no serious injuries. Thank goodness. But my spirit is not broken and being the competitive adventure seeker I am, we hiked this trail again only a few days later and with much greater success. Not only did we cross all NINE creek crossings with greater ease, we reached the base of Bennet Peak and in half the time! Most importantly, we all stayed warm and dry except for our feet. Our strategy on this day was simple and straight forward… the safest option for us and Sparrow is to just walk directly across where the water is most shallow. We wore our hiking boots, but brought our hiking sandals with us and changed right before the creek crossings began. Yes, our feet were wet and cold, but we easily and painlessly walked across and had warm socks and dry boots to put back on after the crossings.
“The best way out is always through.” – Robert Frost
And although a little foolish, I conquered my fear on the longest crossing and walked across that log on the way back. I had to prove to myself that fear is a head game and on this second day, I won triumphantly.
Bonus lesson… make sure Neil carries the camera so he can always capture more photos to help tell these stories.