In Jill's Words

I dedicate this site to my mother. She was a columnist and an author with the uncanny ability to find humor in the daily ins and outs of life. She faced every challenge with a witty optimism, including the cancer that ended her life too soon.

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Location: Boise, Idaho, United States

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Sometimes Hiking is Scary (RE-POST from 7/12/14)


I have got to get over this fear of heights thing. During our ten years of marriage, my husband, Dan, has encouraged me to take up mountain biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding, all of which usually involve some sort of high cliff, ridge, or unprotected side hill.

(I still refuse to snowboard, by the way. "You don't perform on stage with me. Don't expect me to go down a hill with you on a plank." Discussion over.)

You would think the easiest of these activities would be hiking, but you would be underestimating my neuroticism. 

The unprotected side hills are the worst, and Idaho has a lot of those because Idaho has a lot, and I mean A LOT, of sagebrush in its foothills.

What does a neurotic textbook acrophobe, like yours truly, do on said side hills?

I freeze.

And I have this physical reaction I call "chills up my butt." Maybe it's a type of vertigo, but I call it "chills up my butt" because it feels like an icy tingle, originating in my butt, that makes me want to sit down right where I am. You've heard of butterflies in the stomach. I get butterflies in my butt.

And then I visualize tumbling straight down the hill.

Any therapist would tell you the trick to desensitization would be to visual a successful hike down the path. But the first thing I imagine is me dying as I somersault through tick-infested sagebrush.

It doesn't help that I did begin to tumble down a mountain only to have the fall broken by some very scratchy underbrush last September. So now I can visual this deadly scenario with startling clarity.

Last week, Dan and I hiked Proctor Mountain in Sun Valley, an easy loop according to all of the hiking manuals. These manuals need a second rating for us acrophobes.

Aerobic Difficulty: Easy
Acrophobic Difficulty: Terrifying

As we left the protective barrier of trees on either side of the path and approached the top of the mountain, I realized I was trekking over a hill of pure sagebrush that immediately dropped off to my left.

I froze.

A couple of middle-aged hikers passed us. (We had passed them only a few minutes before.)

"Hmm . . . I'm surprised we're passing someone," said one of the hikers in a syrupy voice.

"We weren't going that slow. I'm just scared now," I grumbled under my breath. (I am also easily irritated when I get chills up my butt.)

As soon as the patronizing lady was out of sight, I started to cry.

"I can't do this. I'm going to die," I sniffed. "I need to go on--"

"You don't need to go on your butt," Dan interrupted.

(Can you tell we've been through this before?)

Dan got in front of me and held my hand while I grasped onto the sagebrush with my other hand until trail widened and flattened out. 

Once I felt secure enough to survey my surroundings, I noticed a small stone shrine with "you will be remembered" messages painted on it.

"What is this?" I asked Dan. "A shrine to someone who fell down the mountain?"

"I doubt it . . . "

We ran into a second shrine a little farther ahead.

"This does not make me feel very confident," I said.

"Maybe they were drunk," Dan mumbled unconvincingly.

Proctor Mountain is advertised as "not a good trail if you're looking for solitude." I am surprised that more people did not witness my minor breakdown. I am also surprised that I am alive and that I actually enjoyed most of the hike.

I did it, without going down on butt. We even hiked a second trail that week. Dan only had to help me through two short sections. And there was no crying involved.

Finally smiling (as opposed to crying) after finishing the scary part of the hike
Other hiking adventures:
In Which I Discover the Perils of Hiking During a High Water Year
Yet Another Hiking Story

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