I just read an amazing article in Outside Magazine. Fear is the most primal of our Emotions.
My goal for the last 6 years has been fear mastery. But I wasn’t always this way.
About 8 years ago I was living in the Palm Springs area and I had pretty much given up an outdoor lifestyle. Aside from the occasional hike, I was living in my 20’s struggling to figure out who I was and what I was going to do with my life. Surfing from one job to the other I had no real direction.
Luckily some of my closest friends convinced me to go with them on a major backpacking trip into the Wind River Mountains in Northern Wyoming. It was the most physically demanding thing I had ever done and my body was pretty much broken after day one. But it gave me the kick in the ass I needed.
Back in Palm Springs, after a few weeks recovery, I started to think back on my adventure. Fondly even! How was it that such a painful experience became fun all of the sudden? Well one thing led to another and I began searching out adventures back in my home state of Utah where I was raised. A new sport/ pastime called Canyoneering struck a chord with me. I had played in the red rock canyons of Southern Utah as a youth with my parents, mtn biking, hiking, and 4×4 driving. I remember I always longed to be back in Southern Utah, especially when I was in school. I had no idea at the time that this activity may become a doorway to my calling in life. Without much delay I called my friends and told them about what I had found. They all agreed that this looked like fun! We booked a trip with a local guide company for a full day of Canyoneering for that coming March.
I am not a very patient person, I didn’t want to wait until March (it was January). So I decided to buy some Static Rope, a Harness, and Equipment. Enough to try it out on my own first. By the way, this is not normally a good idea, canyoneering is best learned under the guise of an instructor/ guide. Luckily for me, the folks at the Joshua Tree Climbing store didn’t ask any questions to my skill level or what I was planning on doing with this awesome new equipment.
I came home and on the computer started looking up canyoneering techniques. Anchors, knots, hitches, down-climbing techniques etc. I printed out a couple of pages and a few days later found myself on the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park.
I chose a spot near the town of Pioneer Town, just outside of Yucca Valley California. There alone, with these big pink granite boulders I set up a simple rappel. I hauled my equipment up the boulders to a place where there was a pretty good wall in front of me of about 40 feet. Here I began unraveling the rope, carefully setting up the anchors using webbing and water knots. With a steel rapid quick link, I set my rope up, just like they did on the website . With my harness on, the buckle double backed, the carabiner and rappel device attached and in place, and wearing an old bike helmet, I was ready to rock this shiz. Thoughts of a Mtn Dew commercial with me zipping down a rappel quickly entered my mind. Yeah not so much. Here I was, this total amateur, sitting on this boulder staring down at this rappel for nearly 45 minutes, deciding what I was going to do. Finally I gave in and leaned back on the equipment, and successfully rappelled down the granite face.
It was a wonderful step for me. A self mastery of something I had never done. Never mind the risks I put myself through doing it alone. Yet I came out of this with a growth experience.
Soon March came and I found myself Canyoneering near Zion with the guiding company, and with my friends. I was more than hooked. Soon we planned out our first canyoneering adventure, Neon Canyon. Neon Canyon in the Escalante River Drainage is a type of religious experience for me. It boasts a final rappel through a horizontal arch formation called the Golden Cathedral. When the sun shines through the arch it beams off of the water below and creates a dance of light that refracts off of the walls. Magic. Just sitting underneath this marvel is worth the 6 hour hike to get there.
My wife and I got the opportunity to move from Palm Springs back to Southern Utah. My parents were retiring and moving south from Northern Utah to the town of Kanab. My wife and I thought we should start a new again in Kanab near my parents. Not knowing what we were going to do, we moved with what little savings we had left.
Soon, I got a job working for a bank answering phones. I hated that job but whenever I wasn’t working I was out exploring the cliffs and canyons around Kanab. Gaining a little more experience, most of the time out alone on my own, I would go to every draw I could find and set up webbing anchors and rappel back down through the Vermilion Cliffs above Kanab.
I even named some of the draws; Canyon like Hangover Canyon, Corax Canyon, and the Huntress Slot. Using natural anchor techniques I had learned from Canyoneering websites I first descended nearly a dozen routes in and around Kanab. My cubicle at work soon filled up with Topo Maps of the area and in between calls I would highlight new potential routes.
One day a neighbor who had just moved into the area stopped by our house for a visit. After a couple of minutes of chatting it up, he explained that he was beginning a wilderness therapy program for troubled teens here in the area and was looking for people who were outdoor oriented to help him. “Bye bye bank” I thought as he described to me what I couldn’t even imagine as an employment option.
Soon, I was out exploring new routes of travel, orienting myself with the roads of the Grand Staircase National Monument. Finding potential water sources, and scenic spots that these kids would enjoy and would aid in their rehabilitation….or whatever-you-call-it. I would camp out for days at a time. Focusing on the companies communications. Tracking the groups and relaying information back to the owners.
Unfortunately I wasn’t a great employee. Years of being an independent Massage Therapist made my transition back into a team led workplace difficult. Sadly after only a few months, I was let go/ or I quit, depending on who you talk to. I was very sad to say the least. Thinking that my one big shot to work out in nature doing what I love was over.
During all of this the thought crept into my mind to go back to school. The owner had explained a degree that I had never heard of called Outdoor Recreation Management. She said that it’d be a good idea to go into that if I wanted to further expand my credentials working with Wilderness Therapy Companies. Before my Quiting/Firing I had enrolled at Southern Utah University to do just that.
I had over 10 years of trying to pursue education goals previous to this. With learning disabilities, I always struggled. But this degree was made for me. I found classes interesting. Even enjoyable. Captivating. Time flew by and the classes I remember most were land skills classes pertaining to specific outdoor related activities such as camping, backpacking, skiing, climbing, survival and bushcraft, and canyoneering.
You can imagine my joy to find out there was a class in Canyoneering! Soon I became a TA in the class helping others figure out knots, hitches, and anchoring techniques. Still though, with little thought to an actual career, I was living in the moment. Not really caring for much other than this passion.
My Dean/ friend Dr Briget Eastep helped guide me along. Providing many amazing leadership opportunities along the way. Soon I had an opportunity to help a group called the Partners of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, or “The Partners” for short. They needed a hand putting together the National Monuments “Walks and Talks” program. Soon thereafter, I was confronted by one of the upper managers of the GSENM about summer employment. Soon without much extra work, I found myself in the office of the Rec Planner for the monument in an interview. Soon after I had a job again working in Recreation.
That Summer I learned every nook and cranny road that existed both on the travel plans and off. I learned of places far removed from tourists with amazing scenery. Slot canyons, hoodoos, and expansive desert views. My position was granted an extension and turned from Summer work to full time work. My job was to go out and meet the Guides and Outfitters that lived around the monument. I was to do a report with each of them, and make sure if they had any questions or concerns that I would pass it along and get back with them. At this point in time I was sure of my future. I was going to work for the monument upon completion of my degree. Full time! Soon we bought a house in the charming town of Escalante. Nothing much, but a 3 bedroom trailer. I loved living in such a small town.
Then a day came that changed everything. To no fault on my own, one of the other departments in the GSENM went grossly over budget. That event played out very badly for me. As the funds needed to clear that budget swept up all the funds that went to pay my wage. Due to budget restraints, I was let go. I was given the week to finish up.
I didn’t let it get me down though. The first thing I did was hop in a government truck and drive up to Escalante (We hadn’t even moved into our trailer yet). I went straight way to one of my guide friends and asked if he could help me with a job for following Summer. He said yes.
I will never forget the first clients I guided. It was out in the Peekaboo and Spooky slots of the GSENM. It was so much fun. Fun for them, but funner for me. I really can’t say I knew what I was doing but I was faking it to make it. Soon I had the confidence and I was out every couple of days guiding. That was an amazing summer.
But guiding for my friends wasn’t paying the bills all that well. He was not interested in Technical Canyoneering Guiding as I was so I began the process of learning how Commercial Permits work with the BLM. After taking my sweet time in getting the paperwork in, I finally had the info completed and turned in to the GSENM. That winter I was given more troubling news. The GSENM would issue a hold on any new permitees, while they were in the process of updating what can only be called “bureaucratic” reasons.
My permit would not be made available. At first, I was told 6 months, then after 6 months, I was told two years. That sucked hearing that. I had a lot of bad feelings toward the GSENM as I was running out of money to take care of my family. I had to give up my goals of owning a guide company for a while and keep my family afloat. I began work at a Youth Treatment facility near Escalante, with my experience working previously with Wilderness Therapy, it wasn’t too hard. The work was horrible, and very stressful. It had moments of brilliance but the stress was not fun. One of my supervisors could see that only after 9 months or so, I was done. He told me point blank I needed to “Sh*t or get off the pot”.
As an after thought, knowing my parents were still down in Kanab, I ought to just see if I can get a permit through the local BLM office to operate in and around Kanab. I talked to the rec planner, and soon had my paperwork in. Things looked a lot more promising. After only 4 months or so, I had my commercial guiding permit.
So started Seldom Seen Adventures. With the money from a tax return we got just enough of what we needed to comply with our insurance requirements. We were able to inherit gear and connections from an old friend I had met from being at SUU. We are now three years into the business. Things are sometimes rough financially, but we are happy and doing well.
I was and still am fearful every step of the way. But I didn’t nor haven’t run from those fears. I feel lucky I have a wife who supports me as well as Julie does. Wonderful kids who teach me patience (I’m still not very patient). My father and mother who have aided us through the hard first years. Now looking forward at new possible hurdles, I doubt anything can keep us down.
When I am on a ledge with a new client. One who knees begin to buckle and vision narrows, the kind of fear where the mind starts to shut down. I will always be there to snap them out of it. To encourage, to challenge, and to offer solutions. Never forcing but always inviting them, then celebrating with them. Each moment in overcoming your fears is worth a profound party. Something as simple as rappelling can be a metaphor for any obstacle in your life. Whatever it may be, do an accounting of your fears, then ask yourself why you fear them. Then find a way to overcome them.