by Samantha Donat:
For my family and me, hiking and backpacking are the bread and butter of our lives. On Christmas morning you’ll find us climbing Windy Hill. Over long weekends we’ll be camped out in Yosemite National Park. It’s an understatement to say that I can set up a tent in record time. Considering all this, I think it’s safe to say that hiking, camping and the like fall into what most people would call my “comfort zone.” They are areas that I’m familiar with, that I feel at ease with. So, when my parents informed us that we would spend two weeks of the summer exploring Zion National Park in Utah, I shrugged in approval, knowing that the trip would be nothing out of the ordinary. Or so I thought.
On the third day of our trip to Zion, we buckled up in harnesses to go “canyoneering”—a sport almost like the opposite of rock climbing, where instead of climbing up rock walls, you rappel down them with only the assistance of a “belayer” below you. We hiked deep into a narrow canyon in order to reach the 14 different cliffs we would be rappelling down, each one ranging between 15 and 120 feet. After the eighth rappel the sky began to darken with angry clouds, and the temperature dropped noticeably. The canyon walls on both sides of us towered overhead, so that only a small sliver of gray sky was visible. The distance between the walls was at most a mere 15 feet.
As we continued onward, a steady rain began to fall, and a small trickle of water began to follow us over each rappel. Our guide’s eyes began to show a sense of urgency: Zion National Park is infamously known for its flash floods, and a narrow canyon is the last place you want to be when one strikes. As my dad began the descent over the ninth rappel, that small trickle suddenly turned into a gush
The rappel behind us was now hidden behind a 100-foot thundering waterfall. As our guide yelled over the edge to warn my dad of the coming water, my mom, my two brothers and I sought what little refuge we could find on a small patch of dry ground, barely big enough for the five of us. We were forced to wait there for 30 minutes and watch as the flood inched farther and farther up the dry ground, eventually forcing our sodden backs against the canyon wall.
[pullquote]”As I watched the water creep closer to my feet, the possibility of being swept over the next 85-foot rappel became very real to me.”
As I watched the water creep closer to my feet, the possibility of being swept over the next 85-foot rappel became very real to me. I suddenly realized how utterly terrified I was. My hands were shaking; my heart was pounding; my senses were on high alert. I had been in dangerous situations before, but never anything life-threatening like this. I had never felt so nervous before while being in the wilderness—I wasn’t used to this sense of uncertainty. This wasn’t right. I was officially out of my comfort zone, and I didn’t like it one bit.
Thankfully, after two more strenuous hours of rappelling, hiking, and at some points, swimming, my family and I made it out intact, save for a few cuts and bruises. A week later, I found myself back at home on an ordinary day, when, like a brick wall, it hit me: I had gotten more than just a good “what did you do over the summer?” story out of my experience. I had also learned the importance of popping the bubble of security that we so often take refuge in.
In our society, we fall into daily routines and habits. We often shudder at the thought of stepping out of our comfort zone. Why? Because it makes us feel insecure, uncertain, uncomfortable—feelings we have been taught to avoid at all costs. But it has occurred to me that by avoiding these feelings, we are playing it safe. We aren’t taking risks, we aren’t trying new things, we aren’t stepping out of our comfort zone. And we’re limiting our possibilities in doing so; we’re missing out on some of life’s greatest opportunities.
I’m not saying that you need to go find a flash flood in order to step out of your comfort zone. All you need is even just a slight deviation from the norm in order to make your heart pound a little faster. As the wise words of a Baz Luhrmann song say: “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Each time you do so, a new door of opportunity is opened for you, and I guarantee that you won’t regret walking through it.