on the edge (but not over)

lately i’ve become acutely aware of my innate and perverse tendency to adamantly (and sometimes stupidly) confront things that scare me, usually much to my own displeasure. it’s a strange compulsion that i’ve had since i was a child and i simply cannot stop myself from pushing the limits of my own being to the very edge from time to time. sometimes it’s emotional, sometimes it’s mental, sometimes it’s physical, but this time it was rather literal in it’s edginess.

it all started a few months ago while i was running with a friend who insisted on scrambling up what could only generously be termed a path up the the rocky cliffs of la jolla. i did this twice, had an asthma attack once and both times felt the strongest sense of dread as i skidded along the loose gravelly rocks in my well-worn sneakers, just a few inches at times from sheer drop offs. did i mention i frequently experience vertigo in looking into the kitchen sink?

so that was several months ago. yesterday it was lovely outside (as per usual in sunny san diego), with warm weather that felt just like summer. i happened to be clad in athletic gear and in la jolla and decided to go for a quick jog on the beach. two and a half hours later i was delirious. but here’s what happened in the interim: i took off at a good clip down the coast of la jolla shores and before i knew it was surrounded by nude men, mostly over the age of 60. it was pretty much the opposite of eye candy in every sense of the word. i had run this route before, but today was different–it was beach weather and the nudists were in full force, playing volleyball, walking jauntily about and were frankly inescapable. i ran faster–i don’t think there’s anything wrong with black’s beach, but suffice it to say, it’s not my scene.

than i remembered the climb, that i could go up what the numerous warnings signs referred to as “unstable cliffs” and avoid running back through black’s beach on the return. it would be good for me i thought–face this fear, on my own and conquer the mountain. it seems whenever i have major life changes ahead i try to push forward with these types of fear-busting initiatives in an unrelated area of my life.  i was also rather jazzed after having a few people like a quote from kerouac that i posted recently (how sad is that?): “because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. climb that goddamn mountain.”

so i climbed that goddamn mountain. and nearly killed myself in the process–or as someone lovingly put it, nearly became a quadriplegic–a state i would prefer to avoid if possible. it didn’t look too bad, i thought to myself from the ground. i already felt a bit faint after running hard in the heat of the day with little more than some oats and a green juice to sustain me. probably not a good idea i thought to myself. somehow this voice in my head frequently gets overridden by sheer stubbornness. it’s not all that charming of a quality, but it’s true nonetheless.  about a quarter of the way in and several near misses, i decided that this was clearly a very bad idea given my low energy level and lightheadness, my well-worn shoes and the fact that i had no one to spot me if i needed help. upon making this decision, i turned around decisively, only to find that the way down seemed even more risky than the way up. i felt mild panic, did some deep breathing and decided i would just have to continue upward.

i climbed on my feet and hands nearly the whole way up, with one or both feet sliding out from under me with the dry gravelly earth no less than a dozen times. while i’m sure it can’t be this hard for everyone, i’m rather uncoordinated and tend to not fare well on this type of terrain as a general rule. about half way up i realized i my breath had turned panicky and i was no longer looking ahead to find the best path, just scuttling up the side of rocks without any sense of planning. this was a good way to die i thought to myself and knew i had to calm down and start thinking about staying on the actual path (what little of one there was at least). i thought about the boy i like and about my dog and my family and friends, how much i would miss them, how grateful i would be to just enjoy my life and drink a lemonade if i made it over this, how i would never ever ever do this again. i thought about the story on the news that sounds like a few others i had heard in recent months about girls falling over the sides of cliffs in southern california. i could be one of those girls. granted, it’s truly over-the-top dramatic, but i was terrified to the point of nearly hyperventilating and my mind was running wild. worst of all, i didn’t even have my phone to document the experience.

somehow there was next to no one on the trail, save for a kind but dorky man in his late 30s who was kind enough to chat with me casually for a few moments, which was essential to me calming down before making the final ascent. i sat down and asked him about his shoes, the silly kind that separate your toes out to build strength in your feet (who cares about strong feet, really? maybe everyone but me.) this tiny bit of human interaction helped–i also was able to watch which route he took for part of the path, which at the time was immensely helpful. i sat and meditated for a few minutes, regaining my breath and a modicum of clarity and focus.

long story short, i made it up the side of the mountain. on the way back, i received a round of applause and a bevy of high fives–it was almost as if these kind beach people knew what i had been through and were congratulating me for my courage. in reality, they were just some fratty boys that i would never acknowledge under normal circumstances, but this time i was gleeful–tipping my hat, big smile and one high five after the next. i made it up the mountain and back on my own–and the lemonade has never tasted so good.