I love the idea that going on holiday changes you, even the tiniest bit. I love getting uncomfortable, testing my limits and meeting new people that challenge my way of thinking.
So since I know I will have to get out of my comfort zone anyway, why not really test myself?
I have a crippling fear of steep inclines, which has haunted my dreams throughout my life, causing me to wake panting in terror. Come hiking with me and I will probably get nervous at some point in the climb. What if I fall backwards? Gondola rides and zip lining in treetops are exciting and exhilarating for some, yet to me are about as pleasant as getting pubic hair removed.
Despite this fear, I always try to test myself. I know my limits though, which is why I knew there was no way I could do the stairway to heaven hike in Hawaii. If you haven’t heard of it before, the stairway to heaven is a trek along the old Haiku stairs built in 1942 by the U.S Navy to allow access to the radio tower at the top. The stairs were restored in 2003 yet remain broken in areas. The hike in total involves 3922 stairs and takes approximately four to six hours to complete. However, it is now illegal to do the hike and can result in a fine of up to 1000USD. So much risk to see a beautiful sunrise on the mountains!
When I first travelled to New Zealand in March 2017, I hiked the epic Tongariro Crossing. There was a point where I was climbing up the steep side of the volcano, stepping cautiously onto the volcanic gravel remnants beneath my feet and holding onto rocks for dear life as I made my way up to safety. If I slipped or lost my grip, the crater below awaited me. With the support of my friend, I made it to the rocky top where I could finally exhale. A small win.
In Croatia, I zip lined over the Cetina River in Split. I had been zip lining before, which had ended in tears, but that was nothing compared to this. The adventure involved eight wires with a total length of 2100m. The longest wire was 700 metres! My stomach still churns when I think about flying over that river, 150m above the water. Yet no tears were shed. Another small win.
In Hawaii I wondered how I would test myself until the girls I was travelling with suggested doing the Crouching Lion hike on Oahu. I hadn’t heard of it, so I searched it on Google. I came across a blog post and video from someone who had done it.
This hike should be avoided if you are scared of heights as it is not for the faint hearted, I read.
“Ah, yeah, I dunno if I can do this one guys”, I told my new friends.
“It’s okay. I think there’s an easy part at the start and the scary part is just at the end”, Jet replied.
Hearing that put me at ease, so the next morning at 10am we drove to the start of the hike.
The entrance was a small, inconspicuous opening on the side of the road, with a sign reading: MOUNTAIN FACE CLOSED. DANGEROUS SLIP. This must be it. As we entered the tropical bush, we soon found ourselves hunched over, ducking under branches in the dense flora, while simultaneously finding our footing on the roots intertwining themselves around the mountain face. The slope of the climb became steeper and steeper. Fuck, what have I gotten myself into? After about twenty minutes of climbing, we cleared the dense bush and were out in the open, half way up the mountain.
We had come to a tricky part, which essentially involved us rock-climbing up a section consisting only of semi-compact dirt with a few unevenly spaced roots to hold on to. Hesitantly, I glimpsed partially over my shoulder, taking in the view below me. For just a second, my eyes absorbed the dense treetops of the bush we had climbed through and the enormous aqua-blue ocean that stretched out so far below me. The road we had parked on was nowhere to be seen. On cue, my legs started to shake.
As the fear began to wash over me I had to make a choice: keep climbing up and deal with how to get down later or turn around now. Time slowed, the world got quieter, and I felt the air slowly enter my lungs, pause, and then leave my body once again. I could do this. I reached for the only root above me, a stretch. I knew I had to lift my shaking leg high to step onto the packed dirt, a small dent in the red earth to place a foot. But then I thought about slipping, falling, tumbling down.
“I’m scared”, I told my friends, who were waiting for me to climb up too.
“It’s okay, you can do it”, they comfortingly replied.
In the past, my stubbornness would’ve taken over and refused to listen. But I wanted to do it; I wanted to get to the top. I didn’t want to back down. So I listened to her words and slowly lifted my foot. A minute later, I was up.
The climb wasn’t over then. We faced more challenges, more slippery faces of the mountain, but soon we had made it to a flat area near the top of the mountain where I could relax, turn around, and absorb the view below me. It was stunning. We walked along the mountain ridge, through more jungle, before we finally reached the edge where the impressive view of the ocean lay. After one final climb, we were at the top. Upon reaching it, I was greeted by a wooden cross with the words Rest In Peace written on it: a memorial. Suicide, I thought. How could someone see this view and not want to see it again and again? Pushing the sad thought from my mind, I moved to the other side of the rock to take in the view. I couldn’t believe I had made it, yet I feared the climb down so much. Please God do not let me become so frightened that I need a helicopter to come rescue me.
After taking in the view for a good half an hour, we made our way back. Every corner we rounded, I feared we would be back at the scary part of the climb, and I would be forced to watch the steep view below me while trying to navigate my way down. But then we found ourselves in the jungle again, branches above our heads, and thick slippery mud beneath our feet.
“Wait, is this the way we came up?” I yelled.
“I don’t think so”, my friend yelled back.
Oh my God! That means I don’t have to go down the scary part! We’ve already passed it! I was elated and instantly relaxed. While my friends grimaced at the muddy track we were forced to climb down, I reveled in it, holding onto the branches above me like a monkey and slip-sliding my way down, laughing the whole time. I’d take muddy shoes and clothes over a scary climb any day.
And that’s when I realized that too often I avoid doing something because I fear the aftermath and what I might have to face if I go through with it. Whether it’s entering a new relationship (what if it ends and I am left heartbroken?) or a new hobby (what if I fail?), fear can be crippling. But now I know that while the journey might be frightening, the end result is so unbelievably worth it, and most of the time it never ends the way we think it will.