I was nearly at the bottom, but there was one more obstacle I had to overcome. It was the worst one yet and could feel my heart start to race once again. My palms were sweating and I couldn’t believe I actually agreed to climb down this mountain with just the company of my younger cousin. This was bad, really bad. My feet kept sliding in the slick and smelly mud below, inch by inch. I was running out of options. I had to do something. ANYTHING!
“I’m going to fall!” I screamed, my voice cracked and I was on the verge of tears. “I can’t do this, I Can’t Do This!” I whimpered.
“Yes, you can Mia! Jump!” Sam yelled.
It was unbearably cold and I could not feel my hands or feet for it was as cold as the Arctic Ocean on this late Autumn day in Vermont. I was nearly frozen, but I did not care, I was having the time of my life; Racing faster and faster through the trees and open fields, I pressed the throttle of my uncle’s Honda quad; My hair whipping through the air with a whoosh, while my cousins rode not far ahead.
We rode for about five minutes before we pulled to a stop. My uncle stepped off his crimson quad and walked over to where the steep hill ended. We all followed. Right behind. Not wasting a second. My heart started to beat faster as I approached him. He was sitting on the edge of what seemed like cliff, swing his leg like he was a little kid (there always seemed to be a smile on his face). Beads of sweat started forming on my forehead, even in the frigid Autumn breeze. It was hard to breathe and my fear of heights put me in panic mode freezing me in place. Expecting a little cliff, I was amazed at what years of erosion could do to a hill that I distinctly remember being a big patch of glistening green grass. This was nothing of the sort. Nothing like I remembered. This hill was deadly and dangerous with a treacherous descent that you could see from miles away. A rushing river took up most of the land below. I quickly backed as far away as I could. This was not me. I am not the dangerous type. I need to get out of here I thought.
After many countless and terrifying seconds, my uncle finally stood up and walked over to his quad ready to leave. I was so thankful that I nearly tripped over my own feet running over to my quad. That was until I realized there was still a riderless quad in the distance. Sam. My adventurous cousin was gone. But, where did he go? Oh no! Did something happen to him? My now steady heart beat started to quicken again, but with a different fear this time. I did not want to consider the worse, but I could not help it. I was worried and sick to my my stomach thinking if something happened to him I would be the only one to know. The others were already on there way to the house, but here I was standing. Thinking.
Suddenly there was a slight rustle of the trees in the woods. I jumped. The sound of footsteps crunching on dead leaves soon approached. As the footsteps got closer I started backing away cautiously just in case the footsteps belonged to my temporarily misplaced cousin. A tall figure approached from the woods. His chestnut hair matted down with sweat from the warmth of his enormous quad helmet. He was covered in the slick mud that lined the cliff, panting with exhaustion. Feelings of relief and happiness washed over me.
“Sam!” I shouted running towards at top speed, “Where have you been? I looked all over for you!” I exclaimed pulling him in for a hug.
“Um, Mia you’re-” he mumbled.
“I thought you got lost or hurt all by yourself and that I would never see you again! I was so scared and when I heard a noise in the woods I thought it was some kind of animal that was going to eat me and then I would die here all alone never to be heard from again, and I-” I rambled.
“MIA!” He yelled.
“WHAT?” I shouted suddenly startled from his change of tone.
“You’re sort of…choking me with with this hug!” He smiled.
“Oh, um sorry, it’s just that this is the first time I am actually happy to see you,” I teased.
“Mia my heart, I think you just broke it!” He exclaimed clutching his heart and closing his eyes. He let out a slight gasp as he dramatically fell to the ground pretending that my previous words had somehow killed him.
“Oh come on you drama queen, let’s gets back to the house before someone starts to worry,” I insisted wanting to get as Far Away from the monstrous cliff as possible. I held out my hand to him, but he didn’t take it. He just sat on the ground staring out over the cliff clearly pondering about something.
“Um..Sam?” I murmured unsure what he was thinking about.
“Let’s go…down there” He responded pointing down to the river 100 feet below.
Shock hit me and I was unable to move.
“NO! What are you crazy? We c-c-can’t g-g-go down THERE! I stuttered immediately overwhelmed with fear as I looked over the edge.
More crunching of leaves.
This time the footsteps were not getting louder, but quieter as the they departed deeper into the woods.
This is not good!
I immediately directed my gazed towards the dense forest. There is no way I was going in there. I could not. I would not. Not in a million years. I could slip and fall and die and that was Not a risk I was going to take.
“Sam! Come back here right now! We have to get back,” I demanded as he walked farther and farther into the woods “Where are you going?” I asked even though I knew what he was going to reply.
“Come on we are going to hike down to the river! It will be fun!” He called still trotting down the treacherous slope (yeah, right!). As the words he spoke finally sunk in, I found I was secretly cursing myself for following my cousins down to the edge. I cursed myself for staying behind and waiting for Sam while the others went back. But most of all, I curse the feelings of guilt I would have if I left Sam behind right now and something terrible happened to him. I have to go, there is no changing his mind. I have to be brave.
I can do this!
“You can do this Mia, I know you can!” The terror must have been written on my face because Sam reassured me as if reading my thoughts. “Mia, look at me! I’ll be right beside you the whole time and besides I’ve been down there a thousand times, it’s totally safe! He pointed out a little to excitedly as I approached him.
So off we went.
Into the dense forest. All alone.
Only five minutes into the hike, the trail started to get steep. I could feel my feet slip from under me. I needed to sit down or I was going to fall. This was Not my idea of “fun”. Between being covered in basically all the mud on the small mountain, and having to constantly pay attention to my footing, I thought for sure I was going to give up. But I needed to do this. For Sam.
“Come on Mia, just a little longer!” Sam constantly encouraged.
“Okay! I’m right behind you-” I called out not realizing where I placed my foot, “Ahhhh!” I screamed as I slipped uncontrollably down the hill, my back and limbs scraping against rocks and fallen branches. “Help!” I yell as my foot catches on a sturdy rock about 20 feet from the bottom. I sigh in relief as I try to calm myself down. I considered what would have happened if this rock did not stop me. Would I be at the bottom paralyzed by fear and broken bones? Or worse, would I have hit my head so hard that I was on the verge of dying if not dead? I realized how lucky I was to only have some minor cuts on my legs and arms. I did not care how dirty I was or about my cuts, I was just happy to be okay. Breathe Mia, you are safe now I tried to think.
“Oh my gosh Mia! Are you okay? Are you hurt? Do you need me to go get someone to help? What happened?” Sam rushed to my side panic written all over his face. He held his hand out to me.
“I’m f-fine” I stuttered trying to catch my breath and take his waiting hand.
“Are you sure? Does anything hurt?” He questions still unsure if he believes my response.
“I’m sure,” I reply with a reassuring, but fake smile. I consider telling him the truth that I have some slightly deep cuts on my arms and legs, but I decide against. Sam is not the type to take things lightly, he never has been. By telling him even this little piece of information he would go crazy. I still can not believed that I just fell. My body is still in shock as I stand up to see if I can walk it off. Before I knew it Sam was once again in front of me acting like nothing happened. That is until a few moments after…
“Um, Mia I wouldn’t go that way if I were you!” Sam insisted. I had been so caught up with assessing what just happened and how it happened that once again, I was not watching where I was going. As it turns, out I was standing on a rock with no way to go, but down. And down was not the way I wanted to go. Going down meant I had to jump at least 8 ft into slick mud, only to slide down the mountain once again, no matter if I landed or not. No thank you! I began to wish I never came down the mountain in the first place. My feet kept slipping as I tried to figure out what to do. I was running out of time. My eyes, laser focused on my landing spot below. Beads of sweat started to form on my forehead. Oh no, oh no! Not again! Why must things like this always happen to me? For some insane reason, I always ended up in the most terrifying situation even though I was the most cautious out of any of my cousins. I thought of the times my cousins and I were ice fishing (well they were ice fishing) and my cousin Jake fell into one of the holes in the ice, but he was totally fine despite the temperature being way below freezing. I despised their reckless behavior, yet here I was, being reckless myself. My heart raced at the thought of falling wrong and hurting myself. My stomach flipped as I realized that this was it. What happens next was in my hands. I wished I turned back after the first incident, but it was too late now. I took one more deep breath, breathing in the earthy aroma of pine needles, mud, and dead leaves. This was it I was going to jump. I was about to get over the last obstacle before reaching the bottom. Time stopped for a second and…
I hit the ground landing on two feet and then proceeding to fall on my butt. I did it! I really did!
“Whoo!” I screamed still out of breath while adrenaline continued to pump through my veins.
“MIA! That was awesome, no offense, but I didn’t think you would actually work up the courage to jump!” Sam teased as he ran in my direction.
“Oh, be quiet and have a little more faith in me! After all I just got over my fear of heights, for now!” I responded giggling.
I spent the next hour looking up the cliff wondering how we were going to get back up. If I learned one thing from hiking it’s that climbing down is much easier than climbing back up. I liked the idea of seeing my progress and realizing how far I’ve come, but the feelings of what the hike back up would bring, I could not help imagining the worse. But I knew I could do it. I just took one of the biggest risks of my life coming down the mountain and facing my fears, that I knew whatever happened after this moment, I would get through it.
And I was right.
The hike back up felt like a totally different experience than the one we had coming down. Although it required a lot more physical ability, I never felt the traumatizing fear that I felt on the way down. I realized that because I was able to accomplish the hike down, I was able to accomplish anything I set my mind to. I felt invincible and I knew that if I decided to leave Sam all alone, then I would have missed out on this life changing experience and not feel the way I did in that very moment.
All my life I never did anything that I knew had or could have terrible consequences. Nothing terribly reckless or anything that could cause even the littlest bit of physical harm to my body. I always shied away from taking those risks and I always let my cousciousness take over me.
Not any more.