Just a little peek into my window. My mind, my life and my heart. For friends and family to know me a little better.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Arches National Park: From the Viewpoint of a Chubby Girl Whose Biggest Fear is Heights

I know this might be a little after-the-fact, but that’s pretty much how I work. Bruce and I recently had the opportunity to have a short getaway without the boys to Moab, Utah, which is about a 4 hour drive from where we live. After what turned out to be one of the most adventurous trips ever, I made a… well, somewhat of a joke about blogging about it. I don’t do a whole lot of blogging, it’s hard for me to find the time to sit at the computer and type for hours on end, and I tend to ramble a bit. But Bruce wants me to do it so here it goes.

In order for you to understand what this trip meant for me, I guess you’d have to understand some of my issues. Issue #1: Ever since I was little I have had an extraordinary fear of heights, and it’s only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. I could go on forever on this subject, but to shorten the matter, I have been known to have panic attacks on airplanes, scream bloody murder when driving on mountain ledge roads, and well, I think you get the picture. I’m sure to some people I am a complete spazz, and I very well may be, but falling to my death would surely be the worst way to die, and every time I’m on a high ledge, I see it clearly happening.

Issue #2: People who know me well know that ever since I have had kids and gained weight, I have some pretty bad body issues, issues that make me cry on a pretty regular basis. In the past few months I have really put all of my efforts into getting into shape, spending hours every week taking several different workout classes and eating healthier. And although it’s not coming off at any drastic rate, and has at times been very frustrating, it is coming off and I’m feeling much healthier and much stronger. Without my experiences over the past few months, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do all of the things that I did on this trip. However, the reason I’m going on about my body issues is so you’ll understand my biggest fear going into this little getaway. Having never been to Moab nor Arches, I had no idea of the heights we would run into, I figured we’d be climbing around on dirt and rock, no biggie. No, my biggest fear was that we would come across some narrow rock passageway that my big BUTT would be too wide to fit through. This thought really brought me a lot of distress. I could clearly picture myself on a 3 hour, guided hike with 25 other people, everyone getting through the skinny rock hallway except for me and my rear end, at which point I collapse into an utterly ridiculous emotional meltdown in the dirt, and I’m left there, abandoned in the desert, alone, where later, a rescue helicopter will have to come and find me. Yes folks, these are the things that haunt me when planning what should be a simple weekend getaway.

As big of a crybaby as you now see me, I should also mention that I married a rock climbing, cliff-diving, defying-the-law-of-gravity daredevil who grew up doing such things, and I gave birth to 4 little Bruce clones who take after him in every way. And although Bruce would never force me into adventures that I want no part of, I also don’t want to be that mom who stays home and quilts while the boys are out adventuring. So I have, over the years learned to suck up some of my fears and have had some great experiences because of it.

So… Bruce and I decided a while back that we REALLY wanted to go check out Arches National Park, one of the beautiful places in Utah we have never seen. We would love to take the boys since they would be in there element there, but first we would go ourselves. We looked at maps online to see all of the different places to see and hike and we planned everything we wanted to do over the course of 3 days.
The one hike you have to pay and make reservations for is the Fiery Furnace. You can go on it without a reservation if you get a hiking permit. But it’s easy to get lost in there and difficult to find all of the cool sights if you’ve never done it, so we bought tickets for that hike. It’s a total of 2 miles and takes 3 hours. We were mistaken in thinking we had reservations for Friday afternoon so we drove directly to the visitors center when we got there. Turns out our tickets were for Saturday but this was my chance to question the ranger about all of the things that were haunting me.

Day 1: Devils Garden
The first question I had for our ranger, who as it turns out would be our guide for the Saturday Fiery Furnace hike, was of course this: “At any point in hiking through Arches National Park, am I going to be too fat to fit between 2 rocks?” The narrowest passages were in the Fiery Furnace but she assured me that I would indeed NOT be abandoned in the desert due to my super sized back side. Very tall, very big men go on this hike all the time. WHEW! One issue put to rest. The next question was about my fear of heights and the answer was NOT comforting in the least. But she suggested that we go do the Devils Garden Hike and if I was comfortable with that hike then I would be fine on Fiery Furnace. So, we did…

Devils Garden is a 7 mile loop if you choose to do the whole thing. If you don’t want to take the loop trail, which is marked, “Primitive Trail, Difficult Hiking”, then you can hike up as far as Dark Angel and then turn around and go back, making it a total of 6 miles. It’s a really beautiful hike with so much to see. But it’s also the point where my height issues made me freeze up like never before, and I learned the importance of the term “Don’t look down”. The trail is very easy up to a certain point, there was even a man braving it in a wheelchair. The higher up on the trail you get the harder hike it becomes, at one point Bruce decided to hop up onto a great big giant rock just to the left of the trail, so I followed, and sure enough, on the other side of the rock was a dead drop off. I decided to keep my wits about me and keep following him along the rock, he went up a little higher then me, then I decided to take a good look at what was below me and that’s when it hit me. I guess some people call it vertigo, when your vision zooms in, or out, or both, and you feel like you’re going to faint. Fainting really isn’t the best plan when you’re standing on a high ledge. So I stood perfectly still and said very quietly to Bruce “I need to sit down! I need to sit down!” He promptly hopped down from his ledge and helped me sit, and this is what I’ll call meltdown #1. It consisted of crying, putting head in hands, “I can’t do this hike, I can’t do tomorrows hike, let’s just do something easier”, and so on. Bruce assured me that we would do whatever I wanted, at which point I stood up, with a little help, and went on. Arches has a lot of places where the trail goes along a “fin” which is a tall, long, narrow rock, and you’re required to walk along the top of it. While there is seemingly plenty of room to walk without falling, the height on either side can make the fins seem 8 inches wide. There were times on Devils Garden when Bruce would go ahead of me to check out how high, how scary it was before coming back to get me. He would assure me, “It’s this wide the whole way, I promise you’ll be fine.” So I would keep going. There really are some amazing things to see along this hike, besides the listed landmarks such as Landscape Arch, Double O Arch, the different rock formations and the distance that you can see from some of the places was so great. After Double O Arch you can either keep going up to Dark Angel, or hit the loop trail. This took a while of talking back and forth trying to decide if we were going to do it. First of all it had been raining and snowing off and on and I could see a new batch of clouds rolling in. The primitive trail said “Not recommended when rock is snowy or wet,” which made the decision perfectly clear to me. We would turn around and go back. But we ran into a young couple who were also chatting back and forth about whether it was a good idea or not and they decided to go for it. Bruce clearly wanted to but wasn’t going to force me. I decided we would try it and if we came to a spot where we needed to turn around, we would. We passed another couple who had come up the back way and said there were people who were stopping and turning around because it was too hard. GREAT! What on earth was I doing??? But I kept going. The trail wasn’t too horrible, a couple of spots where you have to slide down on your butt, things like that. And then after quite a ways we come to a spot where there were about 15 people stopped and looking at each other as if saying “We have to do WHAT???” I couldn’t even see what was ahead but I could tell by the look on Bruce’s face that this was my turn around point. There was a Brittish couple there who appeared to be quite the experienced hikers and they had gotten past this difficult point. There was a steep drop about 20 feet high, rock below and another drop below that, and the only passage was a VERY narrow trail, I wouldn’t even call it a trail really, which you had to turn around backwards to get past, with barely enough room for the toes of your shoes under the edge of a rock and barely any spots on the rock to grip with your fingers. This Brittish couple made it across, Bruce of course made it, so I tried and started to slip, so I backed out and wasn’t going to try again. And all of these other people, who appeared to be about 20 years old, and skinny little things were trying, slipping, trying, and slipping. The leader of these kids decided it wasn’t worth the risk and he was going to turn around with whom ever wanted to go with him. So Bruce and I decided we would turn around as well, even though the hike back would be quite a distance. But then this overzealous Brittish woman climbs back up and says to me, “No, no! You can’t go back that way, it’s much too far. Come on, I’ll help you! You’ll be fine!” And her husband got on one side of the rock, she got on the other side. Bruce, I think was in a spot below me where if I fell he would at least keep me from smashing my head on a rock. After a few tears and lots of deep breaths, I finally went for it. It seemed to take forever and I kept hearing things like, “Put your hand here, put your foot there, stand up tall, don’t lean on the rock.” I think I probably said “Don’t let go of me, I don’t wanna die” a few times. And then I was across. And so we kept hiking and I was dreading what was ahead. A few people who had come up the back way had said that there was one more difficult pass. And when we got there, this is where I learned what the term “scampering up a rock” meant. At this point we could either jump into a pool of freezing water to get past, or climb up a gigantic rock and slide down the other side to get past the water. Admittedly, the swim was rather tempting at this point since the rock was so steep, so high, not to mention wet and slippery. But hiking back with wet jeans didn’t sound fun either. For those of you who have never “scampered” up a rock before, it requires, backing up, getting a running start, and then climbing up to the top as fast as you can before you slip down. This is where you need those little claws that come out of your fingers when you turn into Spiderman. Oh, you don’t have those? Well then good luck. You’ll probably slip back down like I did. So then you try again. I finally got up so high that I knew if I slipped at that point it was gonna hurt. But I went a little farther, in order to be far enough up that I could slide down and miss the water. And then was the long slide down wearing away the stitching on the back side of my jeans. But I was on the ground again. *Long heavy sigh*. And my Brittish friend says to me, “See there? You did something you didn’t think you could do today!” What is it about a high pitched Brittish accent that makes things seem so much easier?

But I had done it. The hardest and scariest thing I had done in my life, and I was still alive, and so proud of myself. A few months ago I really don’t think I would have been strong enough to keep myself from falling, or strong enough to “scamper” up a rock. Who scampers up rocks anyway? Scampering is for squirrels! But I was strong enough and I did it. After 5 hours we came out of Devils Garden, feeling exhausted, accomplished, and dreading what Fiery Furnace would bring, not sure if I was going to attempt it or not.
Day 2: Coming soon!...


  1. Liz, your blog is a riot! Thanks for doing this! Luv ya, sis.

  2. Woke up at 1:30AM - so here I am enjoying your first blog! Keep em' coming...

  3. Way to go Lizbeth!!! I am so proud of you. Don't think I could do it.

  4. I think my guardian angel has a high-pitched British accent!
    I love you!
    You did it dearie!

  5. What a terrific read, Liz. Like a suspense/comedy! You really slayed some personal dragons all in one day, didn't you? You go, girlfriend (high slap)!

  6. Well, now that you've got us hooked you better write more! Glad you got to live through some of your fears!!

  7. Even if you don't like yourself sometimes, remember all of us who Love you. I have since 7th grade and you noticed my BYU sweatshirt!

  8. Thanks Megan. Love you too! *tears*