I can’t move. I’m frozen in the laugh-cry shock. I never knew my shoulder could twist like this. My body has slammed into rock. My face is in a cold puddle and my ears are ringing.
This “track” has a reputation. This “track” (actually a pile of boulders and rocks fallen between two cliffs) is a steep 45 degree angle. The rocks wear slick green velveteen moss. One section is only passable by walking through stagnant thigh-high water.
The group jokes about who will win the award for “best stack” this time… because a bad fall is not just a possibility, but almost inevitable. The last person hadn’t been able to walk for several months.
I don’t want to appear weak, and I don’t want to hold the group back. Adrenaline kicks in. I pretend I am more okay than I am, and keep “hiking” up the steep ascent. Even those without injury have to crouch down on all fours and crawl for sections.
At the top, I swim under a waterfall, I dance with a red dragon fly, whisper to a young snake, share a conversation with many little lizards, a beautiful little frog, and three humans.
The people I am with, rock climbers, climb the cliffs, while I rest and draw, leaning against a palm tree.
But the daytime oasis is fading.
It’s getting dark. There is no phone reception, and in the event of any further falls, the only way we can get medical assistance is by having someone hike out to reception and request a helicopter fly in.
I race the disappearing light, but I am too slow.
My legs shake with every step.
I am trying to wind my way, jumping across rocks that seem steady when I test them, but as soon as I trust them with my full weight, they fall away.
All of a sudden, the mauve dusk hues turn dark purple, then deep, cold, black velvet, and my feet disappear completely.
My body is arrested by panic. I am frozen. Forward is not safe, neither is retreat.
The group is far ahead of me but one person has hung back to make sure I make it out. He gives me his head torch, and carries my drawing bag so I can use both hands for clamber down rocks and hold onto trees for balance.
It isn’t just the fear. Shame is trying to smother me: “stop being a baby, these rock climbers don’t seem to be phased, maybe just a little nervous at most. You’re pathetic. You’re self-indulgent. If you were a strong person you would just get on with it and not feel any fear. You are so weak for crying.”
How do I get out?
With looooooooong exhales.
With self compassion. I look the shame stories in the eye and I say “thank you. I know you are trying to keep me safe, but I don’t need you right now. I have to focus on breathing out for as long as I can and the next thing to hang onto.”
I say “it’s okay, little Rose, anyone would be a bit wobbly after the stack you had earlier. Fear visits even the strongest people at some point into their lives. How can you be loving and supportive for yourself through this? What would you do for a best friend in this situation? Can you pause for a moment, envelope yourself in a bear hug with your own arms and aim for a long exhale?”
There is nothing so sweet as finally approaching the clearing to steady ground and seeing the distant lights in the carpark.
Everyone has gone ahead by now. I am alone with the trees.
I stop and turn my head to the treetops and the stars. I thank whatever force it is that has watched over me, and I weep with relief at the steadiness of the ground beneath my feet.
I can’t use my dominant hand and wrist for several weeks, but I have learned my own love.