On my 33rd birthday, I decided it would be a good idea to jump out of a perfectly good airplane (I had a parachute and a professional attached to me as I did so, but I still question my thinking).
As I stood at the edge of that massive 12.000 foot drop, the image of my toes peaking over the edge of the door burned in my brain , along with this sense of space, this nothing, this Void. It wasn't just underneath me, it was above me, too. It spoke to my monkey brain and tried to send me skittering up a tree, screeching and throwing my shit at everyone.
The skydive instructor shouted, "READY?" and shoved me into the abyss before I could find the words, "HELL! NO!"
I didn't scream. I didn't have the voice to scream. I tumbled silently ass over head and I was caught in this white noise that could have been wind or my blood running though my ears because it was afraid of heights too. I caught sight of the dwindling plane for a moment before we righted and started our one minute of "controlled free fall", face down.
Somewhere around now, my hands got all tingly and numb. Not completely dead, but like they both feel asleep at once. "I'm going to have a heart attack," I thought, "My pulse must be at like a hummingbird right now." Then I wondered why I was thinking so calmly and clearly.
The instructor tapped my shoulder, "LOOK UP!" he shouted.
The wind filled my nostrils and tried to drown me with air. I could see up out over the foothills, over the closer peaks, out out to the snow tipped peaks of the divide.
Even as I pulled my 'chute and we slowed into a smooth roller coaster ride feeling as we drifted down, quiet after the 120 mile per hour wind during free fall, my stomach clenched and I kept having to remind myself to breathe.
I was floating through the negative space of the sky, and looking at the world through the eyes of Google Maps.
I survived, and I was incredibly happy about that when we touched down. I don't think I stopped shaking for hours, nor did I stop smiling. I did not shit myself, puke, pee, but I honestly think I was actually too scared for those things. There is something about the Void that shakes you, and stalks you, and reminds you how very very small you are.
I have felt the Void at other times, been startled by the Void looking back at me.
When standing at the top of a cliff, or walking on an exposed ridge on a mountain. But it has always been a vertical feeling. A feeling of up and down.
Last week, Boyfriend and I drove down to the Grand Canyon for a little backpacking trip. I was shocked by the feeling of Void I could feel, pressing on me in its emptiness every time I caught a glimpse of the chasm even while we were driving, miles and miles away. This wasn't a vertical feeling at all. It was a space in front of me. Out.
My monkey brain couldn't comprehend it.
But I went towards it, anyway.
|We were walking that-a-way.|
I had originally planned to travel to Europe this summer, but things happened. I needed to conserve a bit. I wasn't even sure I could afford an airplane ride at this point.
Boyfriend and I started looking at maps. Maybe we could go to the Sand Dunes, or Mesa Verde. Maybe we should go through Durango, and then up to Moab, the Grand Canyon...
But the problem was that all of these places could be reached and enjoyed on a long weekend.
I had 9 days off in a row. We needed to do something special.
I was Googling things at random, looking at pictures, and an image of a tall waterfall tumbling into an aqua colored pool popped up. I read the caption. "The Havasupai India Reservation".
Me: "What if go here?"
Boyfriend: "Where is it?"
Me: "Arizona. Grand Canyon."
Boyfriend looked a little dubious. "Do we need a reservation or something?"
I felt my heart sink. We would never get in. It was too late. It would be too hot. I wouldn't be strong enough, fit enough. My vacation was a failure before we got started. Crap.
When I called, though, it was a two minute conversation with the tourist office on the reservation. Three weeks later, we were standing at the top of this drop off, 30 plus pound packs on our backs. My stomach kept clenching and fluttering. It was like falling while standing still.
Were we really going to do this? Walk into that great big emptiness out there?
And then we started. There was no fan fair, no preamble. Just a step, and we were going.
|It was an alien landscape. To make it really realistic, they should have put in an extra sun. Regardless, the forecast was for severe clear, and the desert did not disappoint.|
It was hotter than we hoped, but not as hot as it could be: mid-eighties and not a cloud in the sky. When we were planning the trip, the highs had been in the 100's, but there had been a sudden cool-down.
It was eight miles walking from the Hilltop Trailhead to village of Supai, and then another 2 miles from there to the campground where we would be staying. Walking. On our feet.
There would be no running water but what came out of the springs and in the river. There would be no beds but what we carried with us. And there was no alcohol allowed on the reservation, whatsoever.
Not for the first time, I wondered what the hell I was doing.
The temperature dropped dramatically as we neared Havasu Creak, and was actually pleasant when we finally reached the campgrounds.
It was tempting to just lay down and die right there, but we cleaned up slightly and walked back up to the closest waterfall to splash around and cool our feet.
|It wasn't a trick of the light. The water was actually blue.|
|The water was maybe 65, 70 degrees Fahrenheit, about 15 degrees cooler than the air around. The water was luxurious and strangely thick with minerals.|
|We spent our first evening on the banks of Havasu Falls.|
We went back to camp before darkness, and I laid down on the picnic table and watched bats swoop through the canyon above and change direction so quickly it was hard to believe they could have any mass at all.
At one point, a bat flitted through my hair and made me laugh.
|It might not be the Ritz, but it was OK., I guess.|