The Girl Who Leaps
I realized how naive I was to the Wyoming mountains when my Jacksonian friend, Shannon, took me on my first hike to Phelps lake. Phelps Lake is just outside of Grand Teton National Park; it’s about 8 miles if you do the whole loop.
Shannon got out of the car holding a giant canister of what looked like mace. She had all the right gear, worn in boots, and a 10 inch blade strapped to her side. She looked tough, confident, and capable. Like a North Face ad. She put her right hand on the knife and said, “You know what to do if we see a grizzly, right?” A grizzly? My thoughts immediately went to Leonardo DiCaprio in the Revenant. I looked up at the sky, feeling inadequate, as if the correct answer was up there somewhere. I nervously answered, “Run?” She laughed, and patted me on the back, assuming my response was facetious. It wasn’t.
At that point we may have well been wearing statement t-shirts. Shannon’s would have said: badass mountain woman. Mine: bear food.
I learned a lot that day from Shannon. “Run” was the wrong answer. The large canister was bear spray; no one is dumb enough to enter the woods without it. A knife is always a good idea. Never get between a mother and her cubs. If you’re attacked, play dead. And DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT run when you see a bear, because they will chase you.
No grizzlies crossed our paths that day, and thank goodness, because I would have run. Without question. Most likely screaming and peeing my pants. Only to have Shannon knock me over the head with her knife to take me down. I would have, at least, got the playing dead part right.
We hiked around Phelps Lake. It was pristine and untouched. The air was crisp and fresh. We saw a playful fox; had an encounter with a few deer. I was grateful to be experiencing the outdoors on a beautiful day. It felt like we were the only people on the planet.
We came to a giant rock at the edge of the lake. We climbed to the top and looked down. It was a long 40 foot drop to the water. Shannon explained that during the summer months hikers jump off the rock for thrills, and to cool off. The water was around 30°F from glacier run off. She, being a badass mountain woman, had taken the jump many times. Me, I got nauseous just looking down.
I’ve always had issues with heights. I can barely climb a ladder. Just the thought of jumping off that rock, 40 feet down into freezing cold glacier water, scared me to my core. I’d rather have an encounter with a grizzly.
But as I stood on top of that rock I wanted to jump. I wanted to be the girl who leaps. I wanted to swim in a lake untouched by man. I wanted to be brave, wild, and free. A badass mountain woman. Tough, confident, and capable.
In my 35 years I’ve learned if it scares you it’s worth doing. While I strongly believe this, I couldn’t find the courage. I was still dealing with being bear food.
Shannon looked over at me, as if she could sense what I was feeling. She smiled and said, “You’ll jump. One day you’ll just do it.”
When I went to bed that night the rock haunted me. It haunted me for weeks. I can’t explain why. It was just a jump. A split second of my life. But it taunted me, like a bully on a playground. Then it became clear. The jump was an initiation. An initiation to a club I really wanted to belong to. The badass mountain woman’s club.
Months passed, I hiked the trail a few more times. I would stop at the rock, look over the edge. Each time feeling that same fear, crawling like a swarm of spiders up chest.
And then one day, I jumped.
I’m not going to pretend. It took a solid 15 minutes of me staring down at the water, willing the courage to come. But it happened. I took a deep breath, let go of my thoughts and jumped…40 feet into freezing cold glacier water. I felt my heart pause on the way down. It was a split second, but it was an eternity. The cold shocked my entire system. I’ve never felt more awake. The water tasted like the fountain of youth. My surroundings were silent but my soul was screaming. I had faced my fear. I was a member of the club.
In that moment, I surrendered to the mountains. I found myself. I knew who I wanted to be. I knew any fear I had would no longer stop me from taking the plunge. Shannon was so proud.
It has been roughly a year since that hike to Phelps Lake. I’ve seen wildlife and haven’t run. I’ve made the elements my friend. I’ve been brave, wild, and free. I’m grateful to have my badass mountain woman friend, Shannon, who pushes and challenges me. And I’m grateful to now be a badass mountain woman myself. I’m a girl who leaps.