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  • Writer's pictureSusan Martin

The Only Way Out Is Through

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

The first time my husband and daughters took me out on the John Muir Trail to experience Nevada Falls, they assured me it was the easy path. They are really good hikers. They've hiked to and up Half Dome - twice. The first time they set out on this adventure, I took an art class in Yosemite Valley and milled around Happy Isles while they hiked from dawn until almost dusk. That was a lot more my speed.

We go to Yosemite for a week most summers. Hiking to Nevada Falls is a tradition for my husband and daughters each year we go. They've always gone without me because they take the Mist Trail. I'm sure it's beautiful (that's what they tell me and I get to see lots of pictures). However, I can't even get close to the stairs - once the granite path starts I get vertigo and I become a hyper-ventilating mess - my husband thought I was going to have a heart attack when he tried to take me that way one year. I am afraid of heights, really afraid - especially around ledges and steep drops by roaring water. I become non-functioning. Sometimes I can get around this. I did do Yosemite Falls with them one year; there were some scary parts for me, but most of it's inland and not around roaring water so I was able to tough it out. (Yosemite Falls is a really challenging hike; many other hikers we saw on our way up did not make it to the top, and coming down - omg - at the end you don't know how you are going to take another step - I like to think about it when I teach about labor and birth.)

Luckily, I did not pass on this deep, irrational fear of heights to my daughters - they are goats like their father. They do have a lot of compassion for my fear and often help me out when I feel stuck or unsure. My family really wanted me to see Nevada Falls and the sights along the way - and to share in the experience. Hence, the John Muir Trail. They always take that one on the way down. "It's easy!" they say. This is the trail the mules take up - I can do this, right?

So, when we get to the part of the trail shown in photo, I feel an ice cold fear in my heart. And then I feel pissed. Seriously?! A wet, uneven, rocky, slippery path with major puddles and a wall of water coming down the side like heavy rain? I spy a small wall along the side - a testimonial to its slippery and dangerous nature. I could not believe they didn't tell me about this. Well, I guess I wouldn't have even attempted it if they had. I would have opted out. I would have become the mule - stubborn as can be. While I wanted to throw a temper tantrum, I somehow sucked it up (well, there was probably some complaining - I can't exactly remember as cortisol was shooting though my brain) and made the decision to move forward. The other options were unpalatable: 1) Go back down by myself and wait for them – Eeek. No. Terrifying. Going down is the worst part. Need my posse. 2) Stay at this one place by myself until they come back - No way. Terrifying. No wide space the rest and hide. Humiliating as hikers passed by me up and down looking at me wondering what was wrong with me. Nope. I realized the only way out was through. Time to put my big girl panties on.

Somehow I managed move forward with probably not a lot of grace (glad we don’t have a video of that part) encouraged and supported by my family. All the while I worried how the hell I was going to make it back down though the same part, because going down truly is the worst part for me and most of what I am contemplating on the hike up. I did feel proud of myself afterwards (and relieved.) On the way down, after I got through, I was more able to appreciate the beauty of it, which had been completely masked before by my fear.

I think a lot of things in life are like that. Our fear may mask what is really there and keep us from realizing what we are capable of. It changes our perceptions. We may think we cannot do something. But, we can. Some people on the path thought that this part was challenging, but incredibly beautiful. Some thought it beautiful and no big deal. For myself, I could hardly process any beauty because it was so terrifying and daunting for me. I think labor and birth can be like that. Your perception makes a difference. Experience also makes a difference; this past summer I still had a little fear (i knew it was coming and I wasn't looking forward to it), but I also discovered I had more appreciation and wonder for the beauty of it as I went through it this time.

On the other side of this part of the John Muir Trail is an enchanting forest with lots of little streams and the beautiful, powerful Nevada Falls - so worth going through the difficult part. What if I had given up and not pushed myself through? What if my family did not encourage me and help me to get through? I would have missed out not only on the experience, but also the chance to realize personal growth. To get to the good parts requires going through challenging parts. Afterwards, there is the pride. The wonder. The beauty. That’s on the other side. It’s hard to get to the wonder part and pride if you don’t give yourself the chance to go through the hard part. With labor and birth the only way out is through. And know this – it is worth it, there is beauty in it (that you may not realize until after it's all over) and - yes, you can do this!

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