"To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself."
-- Soren Kierkegaard
Two weeks ago, I wrote about my considerable fear of heights, and how my friend and neighbor -- canyoneering ninja Shane Holst -- was attempting to help me master that fear. His brilliant plan, in a nutshell, involved taking me to Southern Utah over Memorial Day weekend, attaching me to a rope, and pushing me off the side of the first dizzyingly deep canyon we came to. (Imagine Shane's remedy if I'd told him I have a fear of bees; I'd be writing this covered in large, red welts right now.)
And just in case anyone is interested in the final score, here's how Shane's patented Acrophobia Intervention Plan shakes out:
Saal -- 3
Southern Utah canyons -- 0
That's right, people. I came, I saw, I kicked some red rock.
A brief recap, with excerpts gleaned from my own personal journal/last will and testament:
The smell of death fills the air as I prepare to make my first real "rap," into an 180-foot-deep canyon they call Repeat Jr.
And no, I am not being overly dramatic with my prose here. There is, literally, the stench of something dead or dying in the vicinity. Indeed, it's all I can do to keep my granola bar down.
The rappelling plan is this: Shane sends his wife, Mary, down the rope first, because, well, because you just never know what might be down there. Then me. And finally, once he figures it's completely safe, Shane himself comes down the rope.
But midway through Mary's exploratory rappel, it becomes obvious this is not a beginner's route. It's got a large crack running down the length of it, and Mary keeps getting stuck.
Plus which, descending into the dark canyon, Mary has discovered the source of that fabulous smell. A cow had wandered up the canyon and, unable to back out, died right there.
We go to Plan B, finding a place farther down the canyon where I can rappel 40 feet into it, then we hike back up to see the cow.
That is one dead cow.
Day Two. Not wanting to push our luck on God's day off, we eschew the ropes. We hike Horseshoe Canyon to view the incredible panels of rock art created by ancient teenage vandals.
The Big Day. For today's hike of Undercover Canyon, Shane, Mary and I are joined by: 1) Rugan Saal, my adrenaline junkie of a wife; 2) Brandt and Forrest Jones of Bountiful, a lifelong canyoneering expert and his 20-year-old daredevil son; 3) David "Roscoe" Tigner of West Jordan, another longtime canyoneer, as well as his wife and three daughters.
Thinking I need to explain my situation to the group -- in the very real event that I start openly weeping at the top of the first rappel -- I offer an apology in advance.
"I'm afraid of heights," I say flatly.
"So am I," Brandt deadpans. "That's why I use a rope."
Undercover Canyon, as it turns out, is a slot canyon. And slot canyons, by their very definition, sometimes get a little bit, well, slotty.
And it is at this point I realize that as much as I hate heights, I hate crawling through tight spaces even more. And therein lies the genius of Shane's plan: I find myself actually looking forward to the rappels, because they get me away from the panic-inducing confines of the narrow parts of the slot canyon.
I must say, it's pure genius. Cure one fear by replacing it with another.
Of course, the final day was not without its drama. On the climb out, as we're crossing -- one at a time -- a particularly dicey section of slickrock, I begin to lose my footing. If I do slip, it's a 10-foot slide, followed by a 50-foot drop, to the rocks below.
Suddenly, I'm in real, honest-to-goodness trouble, teetering on the brink of disaster.
In an instant, Roscoe is at my side, racing across the steep slickrock to come to my aid. Mary manages to throw me a rope, and Roscoe quickly attaches it to my harness.
And that's when I see her: My wife is right there with Roscoe. Her husband in peril, she, too, raced across the treacherous rock face, giving no thought to her own safety, but only of: "He's got the keys to the Subaru in his pocket, and if we lose those, we're screwed!"
Actually, all kidding aside, I received an amazing gift that Memorial Day. The sure knowledge that the woman I love would, without hesitation, risk her own life to save mine. I'd like to believe if the roles were reversed, I'd have done the same thing. But alas, I suspect I'd be cowering in safety, patting my pants pockets to check for the car keys.
The good news is, I think I've finally mastered my fear of heights. The bad news is, my acrophobia has now been replaced with a couple of brand new phobias: closed spaces and dead cows.
And frankly, I don't even wanna know Shane's plan for helping me overcome THOSE two fears.
Tell Mark Saal all about your Memorial Day at 801-625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.