Following the Cairns

I am sitting on a ledge up a steep hill and below the routes we are climbing for the day. Getting up here had been an epic struggle for me, and as I waited to climb, all I could think about was why I had even made the decision to head up here in the first place.

Sometimes, like the day before, climbing is easy and fun. I push myself, but not too far, and I’m proud of what I accomplish. And when I fall in a creek on the way back to the car, I just laugh.

But some days, like this one, I almost have a panic attack on the approach, then hate nearly all the routes (Body English, you’re the one exception) and wish I was anywhere but trapped up here, but I’m too terrified to head down by myself.

This was St. Patrick’s Day, and me from three years ago would probably be out drinking green beer somewhere. But I’m a climber now, so instead I’m wearing my green Miguel’s tank top and looking out at a vista of green trees, wondering what in the world has led me to be in this place at this moment.

When approaching a climb, we’re often following cairns to show us that we’re going in the right direction. Sometimes they’re hard to find, and sometimes we don’t see them at all.

And I’ve been trying to find my path in life, too – following the signs and my instincts and my hopes and my dreams, and not letting the fear stop me, even when I don’t think I can take the next step.

But it’s hard. When you don’t see the next cairn or aren’t sure what choice you should make, what keeps you going? And why are you even on the trail at all?

I spend a lot of time trying to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone, and, truthfully, a lot of the time it isn’t very much fun. I’ve cried on climbs, on approaches, on this ledge today.

And at the end of a day where I was outside yet spent way too much time in my head being anxious and sad and frustrated, it was time to go home.

Then a friend takes my hand and guides me all the way back down to safe ground. And I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the support of my friends and have surprised myself with what I’m capable of (despite the fact that I had to crab walk part of the way down).

Those feelings make everything worthwhile, even though nothing was fun.

That’s why I continue to make the choice to challenge myself. I’d rather try to find the trail than sit at home in my comfort zone.

All we can do is follow the cairns, and hope that they’ll lead us where we want to go. And if they don’t, maybe the detour we take will teach us something.

If you follow the cairns, things will suck and things will be amazing. The trail will be hard, but sometimes you’ll laugh at the hazards. And no matter what happens, following the cairns will always be more rewarding than staying inside your comfort zone.

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