Life on the Edge…(Chapter 21)

Bre pointed to Andy and Mike, who were waiting for us just ahead. I didn’t want the guys to see me all messed up like that so I grabbed some baby wipes out of my backpack to clean my face. Then, we went and met them.

They were happy to see that I had made it, and I was overjoyed to see them. I caught a glimpse of what was ahead, the Sub Dome steps leading, figuratively, straight up into the sky, and the famous Half Dome cables.

I almost choked. I told my friends I didn’t think I could do it. They insisted that they would not go up without me. I told them I would be slow and need to take frequent breaks. They were so patient and gracious that they were even willing to take the breaks with me and not complain about it.

My next concern was that I had to go to the bathroom. I had needed to for a while, but I had spent enough time in the outdoors that I was trained to hold it for as long as the entire day if I had to. I absolutely refused to use nature’s potties. (Hey, I might be an outdoorsy girl, but I am still a diva.)

The nearest bathroom was in Little Yosemite Valley, about 3 miles away from where we were. There was no way I was going all the way back there. I would normally just hold it, but when I took one look at the feat that stood in front of me and thought of my fear of heights, I figured it was best to cast off my daintiness for the moment, pick a tree where I would be well-covered, and just go. I didn’t want to get stuck halfway up the cables, get scared, and then wet myself. The scenario was terrifying.

Andy couldn’t believe that I was actually desperate enough to use nature’s bathroom. A couple of days before, we had a conversation about that very subject. I swore that under no circumstance would I ever use it anywhere other than an actual bathroom, whether it’s a port-o-potty or a brick and mortar restroom. I told them that I would hold it all day if I had to and that I had done it before, several times. Andy couldn’t stop laughing at me.

Bre volunteered to be my lookout. I asked her to help me find a tree where I would be hidden. We walked downhill a bit and spotted a big tree. No one was around and the guys certainly couldn’t see me from where they stood. I was grateful to have baby wipes and some zip lock bags with me. They came in handy. I had brought the baby wipes for my face and hands. I had no idea I would need them for something else.

Life on the Edge…(The Trail of Tears – Chapter 20)

“Bre, my backpack is too heavy,” I said. “I don’t feel like I can go any further.”

“Let me carry it for you,” she said.

“It’s really heavy, Bre. You don’t want to do that.”

“Of course I do,” she said. I reluctantly handed over the backpack and she shouldered it like it was a bag of feathers. “You know, this is just like it was when Simon carried the cross for Jesus.”

Her words penetrated the core of my being. “Wow, God sent you to carry my cross for me,” I said. Then I broke down. There I stood in the middle of the busy trail, with tons of people passing by, bawling my eyes out. I didn’t care who saw me. At that moment, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross became more real, and I began to fully grasp it’s significance. It was an amazing moment and one that I will never forget for as long as I live.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 19)

Katelyn was such a joy to meet. I wished her and her family well, and then they were off. I inched further along, but then realized that I was pushing it too much and couldn’t continue. I was going to hurt myself badly if I tried to do more.

I had heard about the Sub Dome steps. The leader from one of the hiking groups I’m in had told me that the Sub Dome steps are enough to make you curse. He’s a professional hiker and in great shape. If those steps were difficult for him, I just knew there was no way I’d make it. Plus, there was no sign of my group and I was certain that they had gone up the cables by then.

My backpack was ridiculously heavy and I just wanted to find a place to sit down and wait for everyone. Just as I was about to find that seat on the sidelines, I heard a familiar voice call my name. I looked up and saw Bre heading toward me.

Oh no, they’re already coming back. I bet they’re so upset with me for just now making it here.

I felt horrible and embarrassed. But Bre was glowing, oozing with joy, and…smiling?

“Joyce, we waited for you!”

You did what?

“Oh, no,” I said. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

I was thinking that the entire group was held up waiting for me. I wanted to find the nearest rock to hide under.

“I thought y’all had gone up by now and were heading back down.”

“No,” Bre said. “Andy, Mike and I waited, but the rest of them went up. I was going back to get you so that the four of us could go up together.”

There are absolutely no words to describe what happened next.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 18)

I finally reached that vista point the woman from earlier spoke of. She was absolutely right about it. The views were breathtaking. Words cannot begin to describe what I felt at that moment.

I was able to clearly see Clouds Rest, some waterfalls that I had never spotted before, and an impressive view of what appeared to be a heart carved into one of the rock formations in the distance. God was showing me that He loved me.

A new angle of a familiar object was also visible. I saw the Half Dome cables and the people ascending and descending them, like Jacob’s Ladder. They looked like little ants or a slow-moving caterpillar. Excitement began to well up in me, even though I felt like I was playing on my last string.

I saw little Katelyn and her family again. They were taking a break before heading up to Sub Dome. I stopped and chatted with them, and we took some pictures together. They were about to leave and head toward Sub Dome to begin the next climb, when Katelyn asked if I was going to join them.  I told her that I didn’t think I could make it. I was seriously beat and couldn’t handle any more torture.

You only have a little bit more to go, then you’ll get to Sub Dome, then you’ve got just a little bit of steps up Sub Dome and you’ll reach Half Dome, and you just got a little way to go up some cables and then you’ll be there at the top.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 12)

For a little while, as we passed through Little Yosemite Valley, we had a stunning view of the back side of Half Dome. The view was intimidating but encouraging. The goal was in plain view and the very sight of it beckoned us onward. But as we progressed through the switchbacks that steadily climbed up, Half Dome was no longer visible because of the tall trees.

The switchbacks were a killer. I was second to last as the rest of the group, including Rosemarie, went on. The only person left behind me was Mike, and he eventually passed me too.

I found myself having to stop every few feet or so to catch my breath because of the steep incline and altitude. People passed me left and right. I was going so slow that I didn’t think I’d ever make it to the top. Worse, I thought that if I did at least make it to Sub Dome, I would be too exhausted to even consider going up that last set of stone steps, let alone the Half Dome cables. I was also mindful of the fact that I was terribly afraid of heights.

Whenever someone passed me on the trail, I felt worse. Discouragement settled in and took hold of me.

Maybe this was a bad idea after all. I’m not in the best shape and look how I’m huffing and puffing. The group is probably already on top of the dome by now.

Those thoughts alone tempted me to quit right there. I noticed all the slender and healthy-looking people passing me by.

I can’t move that fast. I should never have fooled myself into believing I could do this. Who was I kidding?

Despite the agony I felt and the negative thoughts warring against me, I continued placing one foot in front of the other, up the switchbacks that grew increasingly difficult. I literally felt like I was going to die. And I wasn’t going to die happy.

I am so disappointed in myself for doing this. I came all this way and I’m not even going to make it to the top. I thought I had trained and prepared enough, but apparently, I didn’t.

I pressed on further, hurting in every way, remembering how badly I wanted to conquer Half Dome and place my rock at the top as a memorial. The rock! Yes! I had to take the rock to the top of Half Dome. It was my mission. I couldn’t give up on that. Yet, my body screamed as I tried to go further. I pretty much convinced myself that the others were probably waiting for me at Sub Dome and were upset that I was taking so long and holding them up.

Prior to the hike, our leaders, Lynn and Neil, suggested that everybody wait at Sub Dome so that we could all go up together as a group. I certainly didn’t want to turn back while they were waiting and expecting me to show up, so I continued on.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 5)

First of all, I have a back condition called scoliosis. It’s not some contagious or debilitating disease. It just means that instead of being straight, my spine is curved. It has never hindered me from participating in any of the activities I like to do, but I try not to lift or carry things that are too heavy.

What a normal spine looks like

My spine looks like one of these

Second, I was tired from lack of sleep and my energy level was probably at just 35% or less at the beginning of the 16-mile trek. Come on, let’s say it altogether: C-R-A-Z-Y. Third, the big toe on my right foot was broken years ago and healed wrong, so occasionally, I have pain when I put too much pressure on it, such as when I do strenuous hikes.

When I was in my late teens, I trained in figure skating and also joined a company ballet troupe. Although I was never a skinny girl, I was much smaller than I am now, so I was able to do those activities successfully. Somehow, and apparently without my knowledge, I fractured my toe. My guess is that I must have broken it while dancing en pointe in ballet class, or maybe during one of the tough rehearsals for a production.  Yeah, somebody say, “Ouch!”

My ice skates were too sturdy and stiff for me to have broken a toe that way. To make a long story short, my mom took me to a podiatrist after I had been complaining of moderate to severe pain for a while. I had an x-ray done and the doctor told me that my toe had been fractured at some point and had healed incorrectly, causing the pain. He told me that he could re-fracture the toe and allow it to heal normally, or he could leave it as is and I would experience occasional pain. I chose the latter.

To this day, I still experience that occasional pain in my right foot, but it doesn’t prevent me from hiking or any other exercise. However, the hike to Half Dome was pretty miserable because I had hiked earlier in the week and aggravated the toe. The one day of rest in between didn’t help much, so I tried my best to ignore the pain.

The fourth challenge was that I wasn’t in the greatest shape as I had not participated in the rigorous training schedule that our leaders had designed for Team Half Dome several months prior to the hike. I went on a few more hikes than I normally would and chose some fairly difficult ones to do, but there’s nothing like getting up at 5am to run up and down stadium stairs to get you ready for the Mist Trail and Vernal Fall steps, as well as the dreadful Sub Dome steps.

Mist Trail Steps Leading to Vernal Fall

Steps Toward the Top of Nevada Fall

My fifth and final challenge, which was perhaps the greatest one of all, was that my backpack was overstuffed. Our leaders, who didn’t accompany us on this hike, had told us in our briefing not to fill our backpacks up with too much water because there were people hiking with us that had water filters. We would be able to refill our Camelbaks with spring water along the way if we ran out.

Well, I wanted to be over prepared rather than under prepared, so I packed a lot of food and filled up my 2-liter bladder with water. (For those of you who are non-hikers, the “bladder” I’m referring to is a sack that you fill up with water that fits into a special slot in a backpack with a tube that allows you to conveniently drink water while hiking.)

This Camelbak is similar to the one I carried

In addition to that, I carried an extra liter of water in a plastic Camelbak bottle.  I packed all those things because I didn’t really know what to expect on this hike and didn’t want to be out in the wilderness starving and/or dehydrated. I later discovered why our leaders advised against overstuffing our backpacks.