One Step At A Time

Monique Rider

© Copyright 2002 by Monique Rider

At times life gets complicated, ambiguous, and forces us out of our comfort zone. We are challenged to make decisions, changes, and to take steps that are unfamiliar to us. However, being uncomfortable for a while can lead us to lasting satisfaction and personal growth. Like crossing uncharted territory; there is that fear of discomfort yet the thrill of possibly accomplishing something great! My hike into the Camelback Mountains of Tempe, Arizona reminded me of such things that life is made of!

I accompanied my husband to Tempe on a business trip, looking forward to five days of sun and relaxation by the pool. However, when we were invited to a climb in the Camelbacks, we eagerly accepted. That truly was our idea of fun  and I would still have plenty of time for the pool! Having been on several all day climbs and hikes in the past, I wasn't too worried about physical endurance. Isn't that just like human beings  we master a few things in life and we get over confident! That's probably why the good Lord throws us curve balls every now and then, just to keep our ego in check! I soon discovered that this climb was like no other.

Ian, my husband's business associate, was our fearless leader. He was quick to inform us that this was only a 1500-foot climb but that we would feel every inch of it. Okay, so that was my first clue as to how strenuous it would be. My second clue was realizing that the area we were climbing, Echo Canyon, was at a 70-degree angle! Now, we don't do the kind of climbing with ropes and harnesses. It's all using hands, feet, knees, and whatever else it takes to get to the summit. Normally, that's not a problem but I had never done a near vertical climb before. In addition, I learned that Ian performs the climb about three times a week – because he's training to hike the Grand Canyon. My confidence quickly disappeared and was replaced by intimidation and pulsating fear.

However, since Ian was gracious enough to meet us at 9 a.m. on a crisp Sunday morning, it was too late to back out. So we began the mile and a half climb to the summit of Echo Canyon. We went single file with Ian leading the way, my husband in the middle, and me bringing up the rear. Due to his level of experience, Ian's strides were long and his pace was fast. Even though it was only 45 degrees outside, I stripped off my pullover within minutes as I began to sweat. Oh yes, up went the heart rate and there it stayed for the next two hours the time it took to climb from the trailhead, to the summit, and back down again.

At an elevation of 2700 feet, Echo Canyon is the highest peak in the Camelback Mountains. It is also the most strenuous and, like Ian, many climbers use it to train for other events. It is a precarious three mile round trip that includes sharp, jagged, loose rock. The beginning of the climb seemed quite easy. There were wide steps made of railroad ties and the incline of the trail increased gradually. However, it was very deceptive because the steps and trail soon ended and the real work began!

With no visible trail it was up to each of us to find a foothold that would keep us moving upward. I found that once I gained momentum, it was easier to keep moving vertically. I tried to step in the same places as my husband, and I made sure not to look down. The rocks were rough and jagged with loose gravel everywhere, making the climb even more hazardous. I was doing a lot of scrambling in order to grab rocks and keep my balance. Several places were so steep and dangerous that there were rickety handrails to assist climbers. We took few breaks because there was no safe, flat area in which to stop. I was afraid that stopping would cause me to lose momentum and tumble over the edge!

The lack of breaks also meant that the climb was extremely taxing. My breathing was heavy and at times my chest hurt. It took an incredible amount of focus, concentration, and stamina to continue. In places where there was no good foothold, I leaned my entire body into the rock to brace myself from falling over the side. Using my body in that way also helped me maintain momentum. In the middle of everything I couldn't help but compare the experience to life itself. Things get tough, we get placed outside of our comfort zone and we need to stretch ourselves. It's painful but we gain momentum and keep going. We use our best judgment to make decisions and hope we don't slip. Suddenly it all seemed so clear!

At times we were able to find a safe place to take pictures, video, and to catch our breath. It was then that we were able to admire the spectacular view overlooking the greater Phoenix area. I also spent time comparing the various rock formations. They were a mix of jagged, sharp, irregular structures and smooth, round boulders. Several of the formations appeared to have burrows or holes in them. A few of the burrows were actually the size of small caves.

We continued to the top and experienced a breathtaking, panoramic view that continued for miles! I could see across to a mountain range on the other side of the city. I realized that the greater Phoenix area was actually located in a valley between several mountain ranges. How our perspective can change when we see things from a different level! In some ways I felt larger than life on that summit. Yet, another awestruck part of me felt weak and insignificant as I contemplated Mother Nature's vastness.

Our break at the top was short, only long enough for some water, pictures, and a snack. The climb down was treacherous. I was thankful for the good tread on my boots. My legs still felt like rubber from the climb up! With each step I felt my legs shake as they tried to support my body. The steep descent caused my toes to slide forward into my hiking boots. I knew I would have sore feet! I used my upper body to lower myself down between boulders and crevasses, bracing myself with my feet. One step at a time, I kept telling myself. I knew I had to be patient and stay focused. One wrong move and I would be over the edge!

Once again I thought of the challenges of life. How we try to rush our growth process, instead of taking it slow and enjoying the journey. We allow fears to limit our perspective; prevent us from accomplishing personal and spiritual growth. Instead of broadening our horizons by taking risks, having fun, and trying something new - we stay within our comfort zone. I wondered how different the world would be if everyone tried something new once a week!

We eventually made it to the base of the mountain, our starting point two hours earlier. Though physically tired, I was amazed to feel mentally refreshed and alert! Was it the mountain air, the pumping adrenaline, or maybe just the feeling of sheer accomplishment? Whatever it was, my confidence had returned along with a renewed sense of humility.

The rest of the trip was spent at the picturesque Wyndham Buttes Resort in Tempe. The resort is built into the side of a mountain. So, I was again surrounded by jagged, irregular, unique rock formations. There was also the added beauty of cacti, waterfalls, and layers of landscaped flowers and shrubs. The natural, serene beauty made me feel like I was still in Echo Canyon. That made it easy for me to peacefully reflect on my new insights  by the pool, of course!

I thought about how even though life's challenges seem intimidating, exhausting, and uncomfortable  there is something that makes us persevere. If we can take on the challenge and move through our fear, it will result in tremendous personal and spiritual growth. There is something to be gained when we venture out of our comfort zone. Perhaps adversity is placed in our path when we become complacent. It is a wake up call, an opportunity for us to think and act outside of the box, to stretch our imagination, and to refine our relationship skills. If we can take on the challenge we will end up renewed, refreshed, and have a unique edge on life.

Monique Rider is a life coach who works via telephone with individuals in transition. She guides them gracefully through major life challenges, helping them to obtain balance, peace of mind, and personal growth. Monique is also a contributing author to Ophelia's Mom and Strong Winds Make Strong Trees. Monique can be visited on the web at:

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