We've been home for a few weeks now, but I wanted to share not only incredible natural environments from our latest vacation, but a really important lesson I learned sitting paralyzed on a trail in tears on the way to the view above. Are you intrigued?! Go on - keep scrolling, I'll tell you all about it.
This trip was supposed to happen last summer, but obviously it got canceled. Thankfully though this year the same trip was available so we booked it again. And by we I mean my husband who does all the vacation planning (because if it were up to me we'd do a staycation involving some sort of home renovation project or a trip to a beach where no itineraries are involved except read, rest, eat, repeat). I should add here that my husband loves National Parks as so he should. I tease him about it but seriously we are so lucky here in America to have such wonders within reach.
We (see note above) chose to do a hiking & biking guided vacation in Utah through a tour company that takes care all logistics, literally anything and everything that needs to be reserved, scheduled, or thought about beforehand. They send you the itinerary and a packing guide, you just show up and they take care of the rest. No logistical nightmares of where to stay, where to eat, how to get to XYZ or see this that or the other. I loved the idea of that - being able to show up and just go, knowing everything is taken care of, no thinking required. Our rendezvous pick up spot? Vegas, baby, Vegas.
On our first day of the tour, we walked out at 7am sharp to meet the unsuspecting guides (Dennis and Joel, pronounced Jo-el like Noel) that were responsible for us and the two other families in our tour. This is the second guided tour we've taken as a family and let me stop you right here because I know what you might be thinking. Yes, its a kind of like that Forrest Gump saying, "you never know what you're gonna get" when you go on a group tour with strangers but I have to tell you that we all feel like we hit the lottery with the other members of our tour group.
We scored big time, both of the other families were terrific - every one of them lovely human beings, adults and kids alike. They were all entertaining, hilarious and so so sweet as were both of our guides. Joel had us all rolling with stories of his previous adventures. Seriously the producers on Survivor need to find him bc he is television gold. Dennis was equally as amazing and had a great calming effect on me when certain people would ask him strange questions like "what happens if somebody strokes out at the bottom of the canyon while we're hiking." I know...I'm too much sometimes. I would totally go anywhere with all of them again...the same may not be said about me though.
From Vegas we immediately headed towards St. George, Utah. Along the way we stopped at an artist retreat, Kayenta, where we wandered around as our guides picked up lunch before heading out on our first hike and bike journey. The hike wasn't bad at all and the bike ride was pretty cool in that they drove us up to the top of the mountain and let us ride down. And by ride down, I mean go screaming downhill at like 50 mph then flatlining to zero when we'd go uphill again. I hadn't been on a bike since my triathlon days and believe you me, I was asking myself why I hadn't read the itinerary before our trip as I struggled with the altitude and going uphill. Seriously it was totally doable but it was not easy. Do yourself a favor, train for hills before you go. Or at the very least read the itinerary. Ha.
After our first night in St. George (a lovely little town by the way...great restaurants and little shops, highly recommend), we headed to our next layover where we stayed at the Bryce Canyon Lodge (pictured above) which was super convenient since we were already in the park. Note: if you go on your own and want to stay at one of the National Park Lodges, you'll want to make your plans early. Most open for reservations a year in advance. Trust me on this, if you don't want to be up at midnight waiting for the chance to book a room for next summer, consider a guided tour. Our tour company scouts every trip beforehand so they know where the best accommodations are, where to eat, they know exactly what to avoid, when to stop, where we can get food along the way, etc. #wortheverypenny
We spent two days in Bryce hiking and biking and taking in the gorgeous scenery. After Bryce we packed up and headed to Zion. Each park was slightly different, in coloring and textures, but both had such eye candy in every direction. One of the highlights of Zion was hiking the Narrows, literally walking upstream up the river surrounded by towering cliffs. It was doable for sure with the right equipment which our tour guides rented for us beforehand and with the proper instruction (like how and where to cross the river in certain spots, what time to go, and when to NOT attempt to do the Narrows). We were really lucky that we were able to do this hike because the following week it rained and the trail was closed because of the threat of flash floods. Seriously y'all, there are BOOKS dedicated to stories of accidents in the parks...be careful, plan ahead, pay attention to signs and warnings. National Parks are beautiful and an absolute treasure but they can be dangerous if you don't pay attention and do the right thing.
Now, something may not know about me if you're new around here...something I didn't realize until a trip to Yellowstone a couple of years ago, is that I am not a fan of heights, specifically when I'm on a cliff or mountain with only a foot or two of land in front of me. I mean, look at that picture on the right above - do you see the people down there that look like ants as we are climbing up Wall Street?? You can barely make out the switchbacks in the photo but they're there and they're narrow.
My "issue" wasn't passed on to the guides beforehand but trust me, they caught on. As did every person on the trip. I tried to hide it at first but I was obsessively yelling at my kids to "lean into the mountain" and more often than not held one hand out to my side to block my peripheral vision so I couldn't see ominous views. I would just listen to Joel telling a story or rope someone else into conversation and try to get lost in their words rather than my own mind space. As much as I whinge about not loving heights, I love how much my kids and husband love the outdoors and places like Zion and Bryce and where they go, I'll surely follow. I figure you either stay home and see nothing new or you venture out and throw the dice of life. I threw the dice and at the end of each day I was relieved but proud of myself for making it through because I will tell you there were times when I wasn't sure I could.
Cut to the last day of our trip. I thought we would be doing an easy peasy bike ride, but a flash flood had taken out our planned trail. Our tour guides regrouped and decided to substitute a different hike to a scenic overlook. I thought it was gonna be a breeze, based on my memories of traveling to several classic scenic overlooks in the Great Smokies and in North Carolina, as in drive then park and walk up some concrete path maybe. Not sure what was I thinking - we were in canyon country!! In reality, the trail was steep and winding and around a lot of cliffhangers, even over two manmade, rickety pieces of wood welded to the side of a mountain. I was like the kid in the back seat that asks annoyingly over and over, are we there yet? Nope. Not yet, keep on going was always the response.
And at one point, everybody in our group was way ahead of me, except for the guide bringing up the rear . At one point like 3/4 of the way there, we came to an upcoming curve on a ledge. I stopped dead in my tracks. I couldn't see around the corner of that curve and the mountain kind of jutted out so you'd have to lean the top half of your body out to the left while you walked around the curve. Plus it looked like it was a sheer drop off to the left. I muttered some choice words under my breath. I was done. I just stopped and sat down, put my head in my hands and the tears started. I looked up at poor Dennis. I'm sure he was thinking what in the hell, we're are practically done, what is wrong with you lady? I tried to stifle my tears, and wanted to tell him, this young, adventurous outdoor-loving guide, that I was tired of being perpetually terrified the whole trip and literally couldn't take my internal panic attacks any more but I felt completely wackadoodle doing so. He just sat down beside me and started pointing out names of things like mountains or historical markers. God love him.
At just that moment, a two year old toddler came prancing by and disappeared around the corner following the trail, no fear and no break in his stride, just full on commitment with his parents trailing behind telling him to slow down and be careful. My inside voice kicked in and got me off the ground, because if a two year old can do it, my 50 year old self can do it too! After, of course, I confirmed with Dennis...is that a sheer drop to the left? Nope. So back on the climb we went. I finally made it to the top to meet our group, and they greeted me with applause and some hollers, and I was so proud that I hadn't let fear stop me (for long anyway) and had made it to the top.
Sometimes we tell ourselves that we can't do things or we listen to others people's perceptions of what we're capable of, and sometimes we let our own fears trap us into doing nothing. And in the beautiful circle of life, we can also tell ourselves that we are infinitely capable of many things and of anything. If you're in a season of thinking that something is unreachable, or not possible for you, I'm here to tell you to stop and reconsider. Just lean in to your fears, step out in faith and press on around the corner of your insurmountable mountain and I'm telling you, you too can make it to the top!