On Not Looking Down

Pike's Peak in Colorado, USA.

Image via Wikipedia

While on holiday, we off-roaded, following the forestry roads high up the peaks into logging country. Tourist types typically keep to the highways and attractions requiring little physical effort. You run into, across or past them on the well-worn trails of 3 km or less and at the venues close to the main roads. You will not find them up a mountain. Especially this time of year with the Canadian summer only officially beginning.

Our first off-road experience took us to Fenwick Falls, a sweet little waterfall up past Canal Flats. Gravel roads and not another person for over four hours as Rob rambled us up and up the mountain in search of Fenwick Lake, a mountain lake that feeds the creek and falls of the same name.

At times, riding shot-gun, I could literally look out my window at the thin air followed by a sheer drop to the river valley below. I have learned though not to do this too much because it’s quite terrifying.

The first time I ever rode  up a mountain, seemingly on the clouds, was back in 1999 on my honeymoon in Colorado. Will decided we should follow the rest of the lemmings to the top of Pike’s Peak. There is a monorail, but he had an issue with heights and refused. He had to be in control to contain his pesky (and in his opinion not at all manly) vertical aversion.

So up the mountain we went and nearing the top, the road is bald, narrow and framed with air. The first time I glanced out the window, I was keenly aware that inches separated our truck from taking flight. And I burst into tears.

I cried the last miles and Will, who couldn’t turn back and couldn’t take his hand off the wheel to take mine because the traffic was too heavy, tried to console me with reassurances about his superior driving skills. Not once did he chide me or try to talk me out of being afraid. He just allowed me to be a girl about the whole thing and when we got to the top, he walked us around until I felt brave enough to ride back down.

Riding down is also hugging the mountain, which isn’t nearly as bad.

I tell the story only because Edie and Silver were also on holiday in the Columbia River Valley this past week and the campground they stayed in could only be accessed through mountain roads. Edie, at shotgun, discovered what I did long ago – shotgun riding up a mountain really sucks.

“She looks down and bursts into tears every time,” Silver confided to Rob when we stopped for a picnic during another off-road adventure later in the week.

When Rob told me, I smiled. I couldn’t help it. The women of men who drive trucks up mountains eventually cultivate some measure of zen though I can’t personally say I enjoy heights or living a bit dangerously, as Rob thinks everyone should.

It’s funny because I can ride up a mountain now and only just phantom brake, but I hate climbing or standing close to edges. Twelve years ago I couldn’t ride but stood on the edge overlooking steep canyons while Will watched nervously from a distance. Change is reversal? Or just change?

We hiked the Hoodoos and due to the erosion, some of the trail is narrow and slippery with sand. I was all for going around but Rob coaxed Dee and I out. I was vocal about my fear. Some of it is actually bad knees. Climbing – down especially – hurts and I am keenly aware that it wouldn’t take much to strain or pop something. But worry about Dee is also a factor.

When we discussed Edie’s tear bursts, I reminded him that just because I don’t cry doesn’t mean I am not frightened. I simply tell him when I am scared and/or uncomfortable. Voicing terror works wonders. It’s an age thing and it’s also grounded in the fact that I don’t feel a need to “man up” for Rob. He is well aware of my weenie side and apparently is fine with it.

Interestingly Edie also has the same trepidation about driving trucks that I had back in the long ago days. Will had a Silverado and I avoided driving it like she declines to drive Silver’s truck.

I didn’t counsel her about the shot-gun position. I could tell she felt a bit foolish. Indeed, it is not something I expected because she is so like my sister DNOS, fearless and strong. But she will be fine. Eventually, she will concentrate on the horizon or on Silver or – perhaps one day – wee people in the backseat and the sheer drop to her side won’t hold much power because it won’t have her undivided attention. Change. Happens to all of us.

3 responses to “On Not Looking Down

  1. I don’t like heights either. That reminds me of a bus ride in Mexico when I went to summer school in Monterrey in the late ’60’s. It was a side trip on a bus (think school bus) up into the mountains to see some spectacular waterfall, I think. The ride up the mountain road which was winding and narrow and had sheer drops on the side was scary in a bus, but it wasn’t too bad. It was the ride down the mountain road that scared the hell out of almost everyone including our guide. The macho bus driver decided he would impress all the female American students with his driving prowess in the use of speed getting down this narrow, winding mountain road. It was the ride from hell. Most of us thought the bus was going to go off the side of the mountain, and we were going to die. Some of the guys thought it was fun, but they were in the minority. Most of the females were in tears long before we got off that mountain road. I have to admit that I was probably close to tears also. I have never been so scared in my life as I was on that bus ride down the mountain with that crazy, macho bus driver who was trying to impress the ladies.

    • I think it is the rare person who can peek out over a sheer drop and not be afraid. It’s different though when you are driving, I think, because of the sense of control.

  2. This reminds me of the first time my husband and I drove- well, he drove and I rode- the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I felt the same way when I looked over the edge. The last time we went together, he suggested I drive, and I did it- my body hurt for hours after, because I was so stiff and uptight- but I did it. I love that mountain air, but I think I love it just as much at 10,000 feet as 14,000.

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