Updated: Jul 21, 2019
CRASH. Before I could process the sound of the rock crumbling beneath me, I was falling: my body crashing then falling, crashing then falling, crashing then falling along the side face of the mountain. The composite rock I had been walking across had existed for thousands of years, withstanding the brutal tests of weather and time. Like most of the trail, I believed it to be unwaveringly strong, but in reality, it was too frail to support my weight.
Before that day, I had imagined what it would feel like to nearly die, the sense of panic I might feel, the rush of adrenaline, the life highlights flashing before my eyes. However, I had never imagined that I would hear my dad's voice.
With surprising clarity, I heard him say "Grab a rock," and I listened without hesitation. Almost instinctively, I pressed my limbs against the mountainside, my hands desperately grasping for jutting rocks and my feet searching for a new ledge.
The weight of my body ripped footholds from the rock face, ripping away my only chances of slowing down. I was near panic until I heard my dad's voice again. "It's ok," he said with a soothing calmness, "try again". And I did.
Eight feet into my fall my left hand caught a rock, which slowed me down just enough to jam my feet into sturdy footholds. Suddenly, finally, I was still. And moments later, I was safe, having climbed back to solid ground.
Though not physically present, I now appreciate that my dad has been with me my entire Pacific Crest Trail journey: his character reflected within me; his guidance permanently embedded. And what a gift it is to be both grounded by his wisdom and lifted by his love.
A couple of weeks later the opportunity arose to summit Pilot Rock, an iconic 800-foot hike/ climb in Southern Oregon. From the top, I knew there'd be an unobstructed view of the majestic Mt. Shasta, the Trinity Alps, and Mt. McLoughlin -- the kind of gratifying view that simultaneously humbles and fulfills you. I desperately wanted to summit, but fear palpitated within me like an unwanted arrhythmia. I questioned whether I should risk another fall.
As I grappled with the decision, I thought back to the last time I feared for my safety and the empowering guidance I received from my dad then. "You can't let fear dictate your life," he said.
Following the voice of my dad once again, I found myself reaching for footholds, not to stop myself from a falling but instead to rise. Standing on the shoulders of a giant, I rose above my fear and rose to the most rewarding view I've had on the Pacific Crest Trail.