Self Preservation?


                                          This is the "Rec Barn" with the tower from whence I was to rappel to the ground.                                     

Today was one of those days when I went with my instincts…

Arising early and getting ready for my day of planned canyoneering, I was at the Ranch's recreation barn before the appointed time of 8:30. To my surprise, no other people staying here seemed to be arriving for this activity, but some of the hands arrived and prepared gear while I chatted with them. There were two young men, one suited me up in a harness, then we walked up about 3 stories to a tower on the barn. A balcony with a gated iron rail was where we stood as they gave me instructions on how to rappel. There would always be two of them with me, one at the bottom to prevent my falling with his control of the rope, the other above to also assure my safety. 

O-o-o-o-K, ummm, I THINK I got it…., let's review that once more, so they did, as Zack opened the gate and, like easing back into a recliner, feet on the edge, he leaned back, holding his rope through his harness apparatus and just hug there on the edge as they are telling be how to move my feet and release the rope, lowering myself down the side. I'm HEARING what they were saying, but my brain was telling me something else and my eyes are SEEING Zack hanging out like a branch on a tree - ARE YOU CRAZY??

With that Zack just started releasing the rope tension and, zip, he was off the edge and down he went - to the ground.

I stepped back inside the open doorway into the tower, feeling v-e-r-y uneasy and quivering in my boots. Jake was observing me and saw the look on my face. Are you OK? 

Huh, I'm not sure, that is a long way down…

We understand, we will not let anything happen to you. We are here to make it totally safe for you.

Yeah, sure, I believe YOU, but my brain is overanalyzing what I'm seeing and I'm not at all comfortable laying back off the edge with nothing but empty space under my back. 

Well Jake was not pushy, was very considerate, understanding and, above all, patient. Kids, he tells me, usually just do it, but adults at times have difficulty. It is a self preservation phenomenon. This was all making complete sense to me, but still my reluctance was just overpowering. My comment to Jake was that if I were running this demonstration, I'd have about a 12' wall, for us adult novices, which would not be so intimidating and give us practice without such a huge fear of falling to earth. 

Still, with the delay I was creating, I stayed harnessed, just trying to fight my reluctance and fear. As Jake put it, the whole process is counter intuitive. Boy, oh Boy, ain't that the truth? As he talked with me the other side of my brain is saying, find a way to control the fear and just see…

Taking a deep breath, I said, OK, let's try this: Show me the maneuvers and walk me through this again. And if possible, let me give it a trial up here with just the wall in front of me, with out actually going over the edge. This would give me some idea of how it felt, but only fall on my back from a foot or two to the ground. That was fine with Jake, but even then getting my feet to go UP the wall as I tried to relax and lean backward was a struggle. Now, I am not always one to just give up, so I steadied myself again, took another deep breath, toes against the wall, cinched up the rope and tried again, tenuously moving my feet up, trying to make them cooperate with feet lying flat against the wall. I tried, then again, and again. In between one attempt I looked over the edge and there is Zack, laying on his back, just patiently waiting for me to make up my mind. 

How's it going up there, he says. Workin' on it I called down to him. (Good Lord, he made it look so easy). 


More trials and, though somewhat getting the hang (pun intended) of it, my supposed, "better judgement" says, NOT TODAY.

Let me interject here, and something I then told Jake and Zack. Shortly after moving to Phoenix I spent a weekend at a retreat in Flagstaff with a group of men and women that among other things required us to do a "ropes course". We were also harnessed and encouraged to attempt to do several, off the ground, exercises. Imagine the letter "H", that would be with two telephone poles to the sides and a cross pole between the two pillars. A rope is stretched above the cross member, to which the roping is attached. That is the lifeline for the people, who have to climb up the side pole and out to the middle of the cross member. Now I'm not sure, but I think, in that case, with moral support from the staff and the other participants, I was much less apprehensive and, once out on the beam I let go, spread my arms and left the control to the people in charge. It was a liberating feeling, standing tall, looking out on the world and feeling no fear. I trusted myself and those who were there to protect me. As that days exercises progressed, one final hurdle was to climb up a telephone pole, stand on the top (imagine how little that space is), and then - now get this - JUMP, yes, actually jump off the pole, about 30 feet from the ground, AND, leap forward to ring a bell. And, I DID IT! The support team then gently lowered me safely to the ground. 

The purpose of those exercises was to help people overcome fears, to let go and put your trust in someone else's hands. It was, as I said a very liberating feeling and freed my mind of needless worries. Not everyone was able to complete the exercises. Some were frozen with fear they would not, or could not, overcome. Perhaps, at that retreat, the encouragement and moral support of the others bolstered my confidence and allowed me to relax and go for the unknown. 

But, back to today, other than Zack and Jake, no other people were going to go canyoneering. Some of the canyons in which we were to rappel, were over 100 feet deep. That would be higher than from where we were practicing. Over the whole day we were going to go into several slot canyons. If there had been more people in the group, I think I would have gained some intestinal fortitude from them and felt less fearful. But there weren't and I was afraid. 

As I was trying to conquer that fear and Jake working with me, my thoughts about giving up were somewhat embarrassing. But, on the other hand, the thoughts were that there is no shame in having tried, and, to to admit to myself that, at least on THIS day, I should NOT be putting myself in such a turmoil. Going with that instinct, quite abruptly, I told Jake, "No, I'm not comfortable doing this." There was no cajoling or coercion to change my mind. It was just OK, it's fine. Again he, and Zack were totally agreeable and willing to help me find another activity that would fill my desires. 

Jake asked me what it was I wanted to do and I told him that to be IN a slot canyon to take photos was really my aim. We talked about several possibilities, but many of those were a distance away or required a long hike, which I would be doing solo. That did not appeal to me. However, I totally shifted gears and did something else entirely. 

Another activity offered was ATV riding through the wilderness to some otherwise hard to reach scenes. I had never driven an ATV, but figured I would be on solid ground, at least, and I was willing to have a go at it. Just some short instruction from Jake, the two of us were off. He first led me on a fairly easy ride through the woods then back out to a paved road. That gave me some feeling for the machine and how to operate it. Then Jake took me on a more challenging romp. Oh boy! Mud holes, and rocks, and ruts, and steep inclines and steeper declines and sharp curves, between several closely set pine trees, yeee, haaa. It was more fun than I ever imagined it could be. He led me to some overlooks that were just too gorgeous for words. He pointed to some of the places I had driven through the prior day before entering Zion Park. 


Even at the higher elevation, I could see the mountains of which he spoke. We had two hours, so he took me on progressively more challenging trails. At one point I lost Jake when I took a wrong turn, then stalled my machine. He was often out of sight ahead of me as we wound in and around the trees. But he slowed down frequently enough to see that I was still trailing him and off we'd go, twisting and turning, zipping around corners, trying to dodge the water and mud if possible, up and down very rocky slopes, over little gullies across the trails, and then, a steep ascent to his great grandfather's favorite overlook. His great grandfather bought the 8000 acre ranch in 1962 for $6 an acre and raised his family there. He envisioned sharing the place with others to have them experience the views and the tranquility. That vision was finally realized after his death by Jake's uncles who have turned it into a vacation getaway for others to enjoy. I could see, and feel, the uniqueness of  his great grandfather's special place. A place of tranquility and inspiration. I only wished I could have spent more time there myself. 


            Part of Zion National Park is to the middle left. The ranch property abuts Zion Park. The clouds today were outstanding.

Today, I think my guardian angels had other plans for me, as I told Jake, and that the ATV ride was much more spectacular than I could ever have imagined. That experience, too, was new for me and still a challenge (I will admit that I was afraid of riding an ATV). As the day has progressed, I've thought about and resolved some of the fears about rappelling. It still is something I'd like to do and believe I will. But I'll start out on a small scale and face that fear, over the edge, one little step at a time.

More from today:


The first view Jake showed me.



More reflection.


Up the trail to the top.


The Zion Ponderosa Ranch is in the clear area in the center of the photo, with the green roofed building.


My Cowboy Cabin.


Inside my cabin. No facilities, so a walk to a public building. Queen size bunk beds.


On top of the world. © Donald E. Kline 2012                                         Disqus Comments