A Perfect Trip to Chile

Submitted by Nancy

Much of our 17-day expedition to Chile reminded me of my childhood -- difficult, painful and lonely. From the prickers that tore up my arms and legs on hikes, to not feeling safe as we kayaked or hiked in the wilds with no guides leading the way, to being in the experience alone because the guides did not bond with the clients and the clients did not bond with each other, it felt like a fight for survival, just like my childhood. That is certainly not what I expected to have happen on this adventure of a lifetime. But there it was - a healing gift.


I was scared to death.

I was on a 90-degree rock face, climbing up. Earth River guides had drilled tiny wood footholds into the rock - so I imagine it was like climbing a rock wall. I know tons of people can do it and love it. Not me. I could barely move. Lifting one foot up, trying to find the next foothold, without looking down, almost paralyzed me with fear. I could barely move. I wanted to scream, but needed all my energy just to hug the wall. I wanted to evaporate into the rock, get myself miraculously out of the situation, but couldn't. I was belayed, had a harness around me, but that reality didn't seem to provide any release from my fear. I was almost frozen, moving so slowly, each move requiring such strength to inch upward while staying as incredibly close to the wall as I could. I lifted my hand off the safety of the handhold, grappling and grasping for the next handhold, small fear noises eked out of my mouth. "To the right, there you go," the guide said from below me. When I got to the last handhold, near the top, I barely had the nerve or strength to reach for whatever I could find in order to pull myself up. Strong arms grabbed me and helped me up. They were Don's. "You made it babe," he said. "You made it." He enveloped me in his arms.

I let myself feel his love and strength. Wow, I didn't expect that. What a gift. I was so focused on doing it myself that it never occurred to me he would support me. As I kid, I lived in a household full of violence and unspoken hate and learned that the ONLY way to get through was literally on my own steam. I spent a child's lifetime praying that my parents would one day turn around and love me. When that didn't happen, my energy went into finding someone outside the family to help me - a teacher, nurse, minister, girl scout leader, someone. No luck there either. I was on my own. I got myself through the screaming and yelling, the threats and the fights with a tremendous ability to cope.

I feel very lucky to have grown up the way I did. I am who I am because of those experiences. The gift from my childhood is the recognition that I was a strong, courageous little girl. Perfect childhood to learn who I was at my core. I am very thankful. The problem now is that when I feel fear or major stress, I often act like I am back in those terrible circumstances. As a child, I had no choice. As an adult I don't have to muscle through by myself.

I have choices. I have Don. I have Pat. I have friends and family who love me.

We continued climbing up over a series of cliffs out to the Knife Edge, a cliff that juts out of the tower and affords great views of the surrounding scenery as well as the best view of the tower itself. I looked out at the beauty, but was forced to my knees as I gazed at the wall of the tower we were about to rappel down. It was 320 feet down. Three hundred and twenty feet - 32 stories. No small distance. There was a tiny shelf one third of the way down where we were to change rappel ropes. It almost made me sick to my stomach to look at it. I couldn't look away and I couldn't look at it without my innards turning over. I was stuck in sick fear and could barely breathe. Yet, I never questioned whether I would do it. I just kept moving. That's the old pattern, me as a child living in a house where my mother might explode at any minute and I just kept going. Clearly the fear I felt on the rock wall in Chile was close enough to the fear I felt as a child, that I automatically responded in a similar way. Now, as a kid, I controlled my outward emotions and no one knew anything was wrong. But in Chile on that cliff, everyone knew I was scared to death. But I did not ask for help or support. I did not voice my fear. Actually, our entire group was pretty shut down. There was no real sharing before or after. We are all humans with pasts; perhaps sharing our fear would have lessened our fear.

I could have said, "Don and Pat, I am afraid and I need you."

What? Lay myself raw and open and vulnerable at the top of the tower? Trust they had enough love for me to respond? I couldn't even open my mouth. I didn't even think of it. And I'm not sure I could have done it had I thought of it.

Pat rappeled first. She looked very confident and strong as she lowered herself over the cliff. And then she was gone. For a few seconds there, I was with Pat, supporting her with my eyes and heart, which afforded me some relief, not having to be with myself. But then she was gone and I was back to feeling my fear.

I went next. Aaron, our guide, hitched me up to the ropes, reminded me that not only was he there holding the ropes, but they were also screwed into the top of the tower and that there were fallback systems in place; I was safe.

"Now take a step back and try and lean your weight on the ropes. OK, another step back." I looked at him, unable to hide or control my fear. "Please don't let me fall," I said. He smiled at me, such a warm, confident smile. "OK, now another step back, that's right." I was on the lip of the tower, my body now suspended over the void, holding my breath. "That's it, you're over the hardest part. Now try and make your way a bit to the left. OK, you are set. Keep you legs wide, lean back, you've got it. Have you got a smile for the camera?"

I walked slowly down the wall of the tower, supported by the belay system, controlled by my letting go of the rope inch by inch in my hands. I was holding onto the rope, fists tight around the rope, knowing it was my lifeline. And I walked and walked and walked. Aaron and Don and the rest of the crew had vanished from view almost immediately as I went over the edge. All I could see was the rock wall in front of me. I looked down once and was dizzy and shocked by the distance down and decided never to do that again.

I heard our guide, Peter's voice a bit below me, asking me to go to the right. I was close to the tiny shelf where I would have to change ropes. I felt his arms around me as I lowered myself onto this metal stand, probably 5 feet long and 2 feet wide, snug against the rock wall, maybe 100 feet down from the top, 220 feet of nothing below me. Peter explained to me what he was doing, changing lines, keeping me connected and safe at all times. I just concentrated on holding onto a wire that was part of the shelf holding us up.

"OK, now lean back on the ropes and move to your right, around the shelf." I was clumsy and filled with fright as I made my way to the end of the shelf. I had to step off. That was as hard as leaning out over the lip of the cliff. I made my way around the shelf and started down the second rope, fear murmurs emitting from me uncontrollably. Step by step. My grip on the rope never let up. I never relaxed into the experience. I just kept moving, slowly, safely.

"You got it Nance. You're almost there." Pat's voice below me. Oh my God, I am going to make it, I thought. "Almost there, you got it, almost down..." Pat encouraged. My feet hit earth. I was unsteady, shaking, tears, relief. Pat hugged me. "You did it!"

She unhitched the carabineers and ropes and sent them back up for the next person. I made my way back a bit to look up at the tower and what I had just done. The fear was slow to let go of me, the relief seeping in imperceptibly at first, tears came, and then silence.

Don came next. I remember looking up at him and seeing him bouncing off the tower walls, like watching people rappel in the movies. He was smiling when he got down. He hugged me, and his arms had power in them. He was pumped. "I loved it!" he said. "I loved it. I was one percent afraid, the rest was great. I would do it again."

Pat, Don and I quietly walked back to camp, all immersed in our own experience.


I do my most precious learning when I am outside of my comfort zone - it is not necessarily fun - but it is full of meaning. So this trip was a real meaning-maker.

I learned three very important things in Chile:

I have all I need

As a child I thought I needed loving parents and friends and family to protect me and love me. Looking back, years later, I realized I had survived on my own. But the childhood pattern of protecting myself by going it alone remains today.

Fast forward to Chile -- I'm 54, climbing up and rappeling down a 320 foot wall of rock. My fear kicks in and all of a sudden, without me realizing it, or understanding it, I am back in my violent home struggling to survive on my own.

But unlike in my childhood, in Chile, Don and Pat were there. They saw my fear on that tower of terror. They didn't try and make it better. But they let me know they were there. When I got up the rock wall, shaking and in tears, Don put his arm around me and said, "You made it babe." When I was rappeling down the 320-foot cliff, Pat was below me yelling encouragement. "Almost there, Nance." Those words provided such comfort, both from Don on top and Pat as I rappeled down. Such gifts. Wow - I have all the love and support I need.

I handled the trials and tribulations of the trip as if I were alone. And I was keenly reminded that I am not by the kindness and love of Don and Pat.

I can choose to live in the present

I don't know what this trip would have felt like if I had really experienced all of it. During the difficult times, I was a child, struggling to get through the experience alone. I wonder if I had been present in the moment, if the fear would have become more excitement and less fear. I wonder if I would have chosen not to climb the tower and rappel down. I wonder if I would have felt less alone if I could have voiced my fear? I wonder if I would have felt Don's love and Pat's support more keenly in the present? I don't know. But I do know that I don't automatically have to deal with fear and difficulty by acting as I did as a child. I can choose to deal with it in the present. And until I try it, I will never know what it feels like. Wow - why would I choose to relive terror when it could possibly be something different, maybe even better, maybe even exhilarating? Why would I choose to give up my present moment, to go back into the yucky past? My choice.

Allowing myself to risk feeling deeply hurts

It is easier for me to be stoic and just muster through whatever is scaring me. It is easier to do it alone. Then I don't have to worry about someone else disappointing me. I don't have to really feel anything. So there is no risk - I am safe inside myself. The thought of opening myself up to the fear, and then the need for support, and then actually asking for it, brings tears. Wow. It hurts to feel. I don't know how to explain that, but feeling hurts. I guess that's why I don't always do it. But I think that is what life is about. I think that is what I want to be able to do. I guess that would be reclaiming my life in an incredible way. I can choose to live in the moment, to ask for love and support and feel what happens next.

I also know that when I am going it alone, I leave very little room for people to connect with me. People connect to the places in me that are bumpy, easy to catch hold of, the places where I am vulnerable and open. The places where I am stoic and strong are smooth and hard to hold onto. People connect with us in our human places, not in the places where we are superhuman. By going it alone, I ensure that I will go it alone. If I open up to the real feelings of the moment, I would be more vulnerable and more open to others. And that is so important to me, to really connect in a deep way with people. Actually, it is what I want most in life - and now I realize that it is completely up to me how open and vulnerable I choose to be.

So bottom line, I believe we put ourselves in situations because we need them in order to heal, to move one step closer to a life full of love. I chose my experience in Chile. And I learned that we have choices all along the way to love ourselves or not, to re-traumatize ourselves or not, to ask for what we need or not, to go it alone or not, to feel the love and support around us or not. All choices. And no matter what we choose, every one of them is a learning experience.

Wow - perfect childhood, perfect Chile trip, loving husband and caring hiking partner. I am blessed.


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