Madera Canyon was calling.
It was my “Day of Integration” – the sole break during my December training at Eponaquest in Arizona. It was a precious day to myself that is such a rare gift of time. I had taken the morning to sleep, stretch, and meander, but as the sun started to pass the peak of noon, I felt it was time to really move.
The drive to the canyon took about half an hour from my little casita where I was staying. It is an incredibly scenic route that overlooks the Sonoran Desert and mountainous landscape, then transitions into a beautiful forest of increasing altitude and density.
I had been to the Canyon before, but had slowly walked a lower trail without any goal or purpose. Today will be different, I thought, I want to push myself. I drove to the top of the trail heads, ready to start my adventure.
I paid my toll fee and grabbed a map upon arrival. I must have looked confused trying to read it as a kind stranger approached and helped me orient myself. “If you walk at a good clip” he said, “you can make it to Josephine’s Saddle and back before the sun sets”. I loved the sound of it: Josephine’s Saddle is my goal – I can make it there!
I headed off, confident in my direction and ability.
The trail twisted and turned, slowly getting steeper. I passed a fellow hiker taking a moment to catch his breath and enjoy the scenery. He clutched his walking stick tightly as he leaned against a tree, and smiled as he cautioned of the rocky road ahead. I thanked him and carried on.
I began to feel the burn in my legs and my breath quicken, but I was absolutely certain I would make it to my destination.
Further on, the trail lost its feeling of safety as I had to climb over fallen trees and balance on unsteady rocks with a nearly two hundred foot drop nearby. Sheepishly, I realized I had missed a turn on the original path and I cautiously made my way back, vowing to be more observant.
The climb continued and I was beginning to doubt my decisions. I had not anticipated such a physically demanding climb, and I was doing it alone. I had sent a “security text” to family saying where I was, and if they hadn’t heard from me by a certain time that there was a problem. I started having visions of losing my footing and tumbling down a cliff, only to be stuck there for hours before my family called for help, and then days before someone would find my mangled body.
NO. I needed to stop that. I decided to come up with a mantra to help keep my focus and keep it positive. I am walking into my new life. I am walking into my new life. I am walking into my new life.
My chest heaved with each breath – I was not nearly as fit as I had hoped. Although the air was cool, my heat was rising and I could feel my back damp with sweat. Each foot step felt like I was lifting my leg through thick mud, weighing me down. I am walking into my new life.
I checked the map, hoping I could tell how close I was. It was impossible to say from the hand-drawn dotted lines which were miles off from being to scale. I am walking into my new life.
I pushed on.
What seemed like twenty minutes later, but turned out to be only five, I stopped. I can’t do this, I thought, I should just turn back… I lifted my head up to the sky, panting with each inhale feeling like my lungs would collapse from the pressure. I wanted to feel the sun on my face to give me the extra strength I needed, but the canopy of trees blocked it out. I stood there for a few more minutes, trying to convince myself to give up.
I am walking into my new freakin’ life!
I kept going.
A few short turns on the trail later revealed a small clearing, and at edge of it stood a sign naming the spot: Josephine’s Saddle. The sun beamed down on me, and if I were in a film, there would have been a soundtrack of angels singing. I laughed and smiled from ear-to-ear, celebrating with myself.
For some, this probably seems like a small feat, but for me, this journey continues to shine a beacon of light on many challenging days. My mantra turns out to be quite flexible in its uses, and it brings me back to feelings of accomplishment, overcoming difficulty, and endurance.
I am walking into my new life every day, every hour, and every minute.
Bring it on.
How do you find strength? Leave me a comment.
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