I sat crouched in an indentation in the rock. A couple of pictures we took at that point show me giving a thumbs up, and gesturing towards the path all “look, we did it!” but my sunglasses are on because my eyes were very, very scared.
Precipice trail, at Acadia National Park, is no joke. It’s not a hiking trail, but a ‘nontechnical climbing course,’ meaning there are vertical sections of rungs and ladders bolted into the granite, but a climbing harness and ropes aren’t required. The trail itself is pretty short (less than a mile) but it gains 950 feet in elevation. Oh, and it had been recommended by friends and acquaintances who were much more hardcore and adventurous than myself. Louisa loves rock-climbing and seemed to be doing much better than me. Personally, despite a history of theater tech and running around on catwalks (so I couldn’t be that afraid of heights, right?) climbing up the side of a mountain with no harness and sometimes no handrails between me and a sheer drop made my heart pound a little too fast.
I reminded myself that I can climb ladders, it’s not a long trail, and by the time the really scary sets of rungs had started, we were more than halfway up. But more than anything, I reminded myself that it was a mental challenge, not a physical one. Ladders aren’t that hard, and I was tall enough to reach the next handholds comfortably. It was just the height and sheer drops that were terrifying.
The last mental/physical challenge I faced was a few weeks before Acadia: a five-hour Belt Test in Krav Maga (a self-defense system) which I had been studying in Nashville. Less than halfway through the test, I hit a mental barrier and had a minor breakdown. My partner looked at me with deep concern as I sat on the ground and started crying while the test continued around me. I’d been preparing for the test for a month, increasing my workouts and taking some CrossFit classes when I couldn’t make it to the Krav Maga gym, yet I was already feeling weak and like I wouldn’t make it.
“Mind over matter,” my partner reminded me, which I had told her at the beginning of the test. My instructors also came over to ask if I was okay, which was embarrassing, but they gave me encouragement and said they believed in me. I got it together, stood back up, and completed the test – and surely if I could hit with all my strength, remember all my choke defenses, and basically keep on my feet and moving for those five hours, I could stand back up and finish the rest of Precipice.
Besides, going back down wasn’t really an option.
I took a deep breath and got on my feet, assured Louisa I would make it, and secretly fantasized about punching the people who had recommended the trail. When we finally reached the top, I was exhausted mentally but fine physically- after all, it was only 0.9 of a mile and 950 feet of elevation. By the time we had taken the much easier (there were stairs) path down the mountain, the adrenaline had made me giddy and ready for more action. So we did yet another daredevil path, the Beehive, which is normally the preliminary challenge for Precipice (half as much distance and elevation, but there are still scary iron rungs to cling onto and cliffs to be afraid of). There was a moment of “if I don’t keep moving, I’ll freeze up again,” but once again, we did it.
Oh, in case you were wondering; I passed the Krav Maga test, too. When I’m able to train again, I’ll take Level 1 classes to make sure I never forget the basics, but I’ll be moving on to Level 2 and more challenges both mental and physical. I guess I’m stronger than I think.
See you (hopefully) when we get back on the road!