Today, my brother brought me out to Yuba river, which looks like this:
It’s much more impressive than that picture suggests. Here’s one with F’kir, for scale:
And one with my feet, because I can:
We clambered along the rocks on the nearest side of the river for a while until we got to a gap that F’kir jumped over easily, but which I stopped at. I have these wee little legs, you see, and I didn’t trust my footing as much as my brother did his. So we went across the bridge:
…and clambered down along the other side. In bare feet, remember, and the way down was pretty steep. I ended up sliding a couple of feet at one point, and the soles of both my hands and feet were not happy.
A bit of context about me: I am not a fan of heights.
One time, on a family vacation, we went somewhere that required going down a pretty steep hill with a staircase in it. The staircase had no rail. My entire family got to the bottom of the hill and hung out there for a while as I made my way down bit by bit, terrified the whole time.
Another time, I went on a trip in high school to Belize, during which I climbed to the top of a Mayan temple. The tallest one at the site. The ancient Mayans had this idea that stairs should be a lot taller than we make them nowadays. I’m not sure how tall they are relative to the average person, but they go up to just under my knee, and the top half of the stairs on this particular temple have a rope on them to help people climb up. I climbed up fine. Getting down, though, was another slow, cautious affair.
As you can imagine, beautiful and cool as the river was, I didn’t enjoy climbing down that bank so much.
A bit more context about me: I love climbing.
Heights are no problem for me so long as I’m going up somewhere, and I relish the challenge of climbing in such a way that I need to use my arms as well as my legs. I feel strong and intelligent when I do this, and proud of how I can use my body to get me where I want to go. As a kid, I took any chance I had to climb a tree, and I loved finding those big old trees where climbing to the top was not only possible, but a real challenge to do.
I can go anywhere so long as I’m going up.
Which meant that, when the time came for us to go back up (partly because we were satisfied with our experience and partly because my knees were starting to wobble), I got excited when I saw what looked like a more direct route up.
I didn’t want to go back up the way we’d gone down because of how slippery it was, and I didn’t want to contend with my memories of the descent as I climbed. Plus, I’ve noticed that the more well-travelled paths (like that one) are smoother and wider, more prone to loose dirt that you can slide on and less prone to random wild things within reach that you can grab to help steady you or bring you up. Ice is like that, too. You want to avoid the smoothest path. Once too many people have walked it, it loses the grit that you need to keep steady at a normal walking pace.
Here’s what that bank looks like:
Here are the paths:
F’kir was dubious of this upward pathway I’d pointed out and opted to go back up the way we came. He wasn’t convinced it was a good idea (it doesn’t look as steep in the picture as it was, and a lot of the plant material there was dead).
I was convinced it was possible, probably rash, and definitely exciting.
See, I’m not one to go do stupid things that young people do because we’re young and stupid. I have contingencies upon contingencies (if not written out or told to anyone, then definitely in my head). I try to follow the rules. I’m cautious. I take the time to think things through before I act. I never do something just for the sake of having an adrenaline rush – I much prefer being chill and taking life one step at a time.
Climbing that part of the riverbank was a little dangerous and I’d probably regret it tomorrow. But, after all these years of being so, so cautious about everything, I wanted to do something young and stupid. I wanted that experience of doing something that I regret the next day when the discomfort kicked in, but that I loved while I was doing it for the joy it gave me.
So I climbed it. I put to use all the skills I know I have. I trusted the strength of my arms, my hand-eye coordination. I made sure to test my handholds (whether rock or plant) before using them, and only using them to the extent I knew I could trust them. When the way to my goal wasn’t clear, I stopped and imagined myself going forward in different ways until I found the path that would get me where I wanted to go.
Most importantly, I went at my own pace and, when I moved, I moved confidently.
Some of the branches didn’t hold. A few at the beginning had thorns and it took a while for me to figure out how to navigate them. I got spiderweb in my hair pretty much right at the beginning. My foot- and hand-holds weren’t always as secure as I would have liked.
But I loved the whole climb.
And I got to the top.
Me, with my short legs and arms, with my body that had gotten used to sedentary living, with my history of not being athletic or fast, with my lack of ease with hand-foot coordination, with my often wavering confidence in my physical abilities.
Me, with my strong arms, with my sharp mind, with my skills and knowledge and memories, with my great hand-eye coordination, with my patience, with my ability to imagine outcomes and test for them intelligently, with my strong intuition that I trust and listen to.
We are rarely perfect for the path we want to take. But we always have all we need to get to our goal. We’re never assured that we’ll get to our goal without problems, but the one thing we can control is to meet whatever we face with the best of our ability in that moment.
In the grand scheme of things, climbing a riverbank is a small stupid thing. There are much more intense young and stupid things I could have done. But I picked this experience on purpose, so that:
- If it went badly, it wouldn’t go too badly
- If it did go well, I’d have this great positive experience
- I also wouldn’t be tempted to do something really stupid and very bad for me just because I felt lacking in young and stupid things
- I’d put into this experience a whole bunch of meaning on purpose so that I could hold it as proof to myself of who I know I am and can be in the face of difficulties
The power of an experience isn’t in the external events, but in the internal meaning you put on them, and I made this a milestone for myself. It’s something I hope I can lean on in the future when I’m feeling tired and discouraged. We’ll see. I have the feeling it’ll work the way I hope it will. :)
Also, afterwards, we saw miniature horses, and it was like having dessert after an energizing, satisfying meal: