My boots sank into the trail like it was wet cement. Only three tenths of a mile.
Russ walked ahead, attempting to lure me down the trail with his smile and well-meaning jokes. How much farther was three tenths of a mile?
His words melted into nonsense...white noise...Charlie Brown's teacher. I fought for every step I took forward but could focus on nothing. Nothing but the possibility of being mauled by a grizzly bear. My brain screamed for me to stop and my heart begged me to just keep going, to just conquer this one hike.
But I couldn't do it.
Russ turned around, kissed me on the forehead, and we walked back the way we had come.
On the car ride back to camp, I sat silently in the passenger seat, pushing to keep tears out of my eyes. How had I become this way? How had I become so afraid of the wilderness, so afraid of adventure? I was dooming myself to a life of regret and couldn't coerce myself out of it.
After some time, Russ grabbed my hand and asked, "How can I help you with your fears?" His thoughtfulness wasn't a surprise, but it cut straight through my brave girl facade.
"Just let me sit in a corner for the rest of my life," I responded, sobbing.
"No," he said without taking his eyes off the road, "You're not built for that. You're built for adventuring."
A night of stargazing can do incredible things.
As I breathed in the Milky Way that evening, I felt my soul expand. I felt the magnitude of this place, of the 150 million years it spent in formation, of my small spot inside it. My experience was irrelevant to the wild things around me - to the trees, to the mountains, to the grizzly bears. My experience here was only relevant to me and I was responsible for exactly what kind of experience it would be.
Soaring Eagle Falls was named after a famous Blackfoot Indian warrior. She was a fearless leader, a brave fighter, and an intimate part of the wilderness around her - pretty ,such everything a girl needs in a role model and exactly the kind of legend to give me a kick in the pants to try again.
I still walked cautiously down the trail. And, when I was pretty sure it wouldn't ruin the ambiance for everyone else, I shouted loudly to alert the bears I was on my way. But, I walked without coercion and strode toward Soaring Eagle's waterfall with courage in my heart.
And in three tenths of a mile, I was responsible for my own fearless, beautiful experience.