For my birthday this year I wanted to do something that would be memorable and make a statement. A statement to myself that I was still capable of pushing my own limits. The day before my birthday I thought about going skydiving over the Grand Canyon. However, I found myself struggling to book the jump because I was too scared and not sure if it was the best decision, despite how intriguing it sounded. Years ago I had been skydiving 🪂 in Boulder, Colorado and remembered how terrified I was, how the adrenaline rush from it was overwhelming. I thought about how I had an extremely sensitive nervous system and POTS and how my body was more vulnerable and sensitive to extreme situations. But, I am no stranger to putting my body in extreme situations- liking bicycling across the country, thru hiking thousands of miles and undertaking challenging adventures in the Grand. Maybe I find strength in doing extreme things because I know all too well that my body has health problems and I want to overcome or compensate for those issues by forcing myself to do the extreme. The morning of birthday, I woke up super early and called to book the jump for 11 am. I spent the morning biking with Zoroaster and then around 945 headed to the Tusayan Airport.
My mom called me during the drive and was not too excited to hear that I was going to go skydiving, but, my parents have gotten used to my crazy adventures and ideas and in some ways it probably wasn’t that much of a shock to them. Upon arriving at the airport my nerves began to act up. As I got all geared up and ready my anxiety grew my nerves were screaming. At the LZ I met my tandem instructor and within a few minutes I was walking towards the plane.
There was another guy and his instructor with us in the plane. They were going to be the first pair to jump. As the plane flew higher and higher the view of the Grand Canyon filled the sky, the sky was sort of hazy, but, it did not matter, the view was spectacular. Thousands of feet above my favorite place on earth I began to tear up, I was so scared! I was crying and quietly trying to justify to myself what I was about to do. The door of the plane opened, the first two guys jumped and then disappeared from sight. My tears began to come faster and faster as we scooted to the open door. My heart pounding. My hands shaking. My stomach feeling sick. My brain too scared and too frozen to think clearly. My instructor asked me if I wanted to go back down. A big part of me wanted to go back down and forget this silly idea. yet, another part of me wanted to jump, wanted to feel the fall of racing towards the ground. I let him know I was good to go. BUT, I wouldn’t say I was GOOD to go 🙂 I titled my head back on to him and dangled my feet out of the plane. Seconds later we were free falling, my brain couldn’t process what was happening, neither could my body. I wanted to close my eyes as I did the last time I jumped, but, I kept my eyes open as we fell towards the earth. The rush was insane. Every single part of my body felt it. We were falling towards the earth so fast, I felt as though I was going to die, but, I couldn’t truly process or understand that feeling while it is happening because I was so out of control, doing something that is so unnatural and scary. Then, 45 seconds later, the parachute deployed and that is the very moment the experience became all worth it. I was safe, I was okay, now all we were doing is floating through the sky while taking in views that usually only birds are privileged to see. My body was still trying to understand and make sense of the free fall. I could feel the toll it took on my body, but, I wanted to stay in the sky all day. I did not want to land. A few minutes before landing the Grand Canyon was no longer visible, the San Fransisco Peaks grew smaller and the LZ was in sight. We landed smoothly and before I knew it, it was over. There are no words that can truly do that experience justice, it made me feel SO ALIVE. So incredibly alive!!! What an amazing way to start my birthday off. I thanked my instructor and headed back to the main office with the other jumper. He was so kind, he bought me a birthday jump shirt and we chatted for awhile. I could still feel the rush. My body was exhausted and anxious, still, even after being back on the ground. I left the airport with this unique intense feeling inside and called my parents.
When I explained to my dad how alive it made me feel, he said jokingly to me, “I feel alive when I wake up in the morning, skydiving is nuts.” I don’t think I will be skydiving with my dad anytime soon 🙂 I drove into Grand Canyon and tried to calm my body and relieve the nauseous feeling of all that adrenaline. I got some chocolate milk and lunch and then found the wild horse herd on the rim. I sat with them for awhile and watched them graze. The day was warming up and I still wanted to go for a big hike, so I headed towards New Hance and packed up my pack for a long hike. I only made it a few miles below the Rim before I had to stop. My body was still very much feeling the impact of skydiving, so I decided to not continue to the River. Usually, I would be angry with myself for wimping out and not going too far, but, for some reason I did not judge myself that day. I just sat down on the Trail and enjoyed the view, the peace, the Canyon. I thought of the past times I had been down and up the New Hance and about other Grand Canyon trips, trips that had changed my life, carved me into who I was. I thought about how for the last handful of years, my life had been obsessed with the Grand Canyon and it’s magic. How I was never ever going to be ready to leave that place and find new adventure grounds. I reflected on another year, another birthday and I thought about how much I missed my sister, how I wish I could have heard her say, Happy Birthday, and how I had so many things to tell her.
I found myself just sitting there, thinking, reflecting, planning, questioning and grieving. Grieving my sister, my marriage, the years long gone. I reflected on my life up until that day, on my hopes, my dreams, my failures and all of the wasted time I had not used well because I was stuck in depression or anxiety and not focused on living, but, rather focused on just making it through the day. I thought about how skydiving made me feel ALIVE and how I had missed that feeling. I sat there for around 2 hours and then slowly made my way back up to the Rim. I drove out to Lipan Point and scrabbled down off the viewpoint to watch the sunset. It was one of the most beautiful Grand Canyon sunsets that I have ever seen. The colors were perfect, they lit up the horizon, the earth was still and warm. Moments like that are what my soul craves and what continues to sustain me as a human being. To most the Grand is a pretty day drive of visiting viewpoints or a beautiful social media picture. For me, it is home, it is anything and everything that I could ever dream of. Ever wonder about. It is all of my reasons for adventure, for creativity and inspiration. It is a place every single part of my body needs. I ache for it when I am not there. As the final colors of the sunset faded and the sky began to go dark, I looked up into the sky and smiled, proud of myself for jumping out of that plane and experiencing how the sky felt, how the earth looked from the sky. I was content and then cold, the warmth of the day was gone. The day was over. What a perfect birthday it was.
Tonight, I found out that my friend, Billy, who drove me to the Canadian border to start the Divide committed suicide right before Xmas. We weren’t that close of friends, but, it was his kindness and generosity that allowed me to get to the start of the Divide and then complete it. He was the beginning of my journey on the Divide. I am so sadden by this news. Life is so fragile. It hits home for me because I too struggle with depression and anxiety and I’ve been to that dark lonely place many times of wanting to end my life. In fact, after I lost my horse Hayduke in 2016, I attempted suicide and I woke up in the ICU on a ventilator. That wasn’t my first attempt either.
I am happy to be alive today, however, I know the secret deep struggle of depression and having suicidal thoughts. I know the storm clouds that suffocate you when you are at your lowest point. I know the feeling of wanting to disappear, to feel like a burden to others, to dislike yourself so much you feel it’s best that you aren’t around anymore, to feel exhausted by life, overwhelmed by life and to feel completely and utterly alone and drowning in pain, pain that’s just too deep and too difficult to talk about. I know that pain and that scary place and I’ve spent many days trapped in that place within myself. The struggle is always there, it never goes away, at least for me, it doesn’t. It’s a daily battle within yourself to get through the day, to cover up the saddest parts of who you are and to bravely face the world. It’s so hard. It’s so fucking hard sometimes! People are scared and or uncomfortable with the topics of depression and suicide so sometimes the conversations that need to happen, don’t.
The world can shut down the chance for honest conversations about true feelings and the reality that some of us face. Most people who struggle with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, do it in private and no one suspects it, but, we need to change that. We need to rid society of the stigma that all of this carries and we need to open up the channels of communication, understanding and love. You never know, maybe your kinda words to a total stranger or a simple phone call to someone you know will make all the difference in the world to them. You don’t ever truly know someone else’s struggles- so call your loved ones more, say hello to strangers, for God Sakes smile at strangers, give a stranger your extra dollar or two, listen more- listen with the intention to listen. Because of Billy I was able to have the adventure of a lifetime on the Divide and now as I sit here and write this I feel so god damn sad, I should have reached out earlier to take him up on his offer of going on an adventure or a trip, but, I didn’t. I didn’t know.
So, if you read this remember to check in on those you love, to create memories with them, to talk openly about things like mental health- even if it’s hard for you- talking and loving one another is the only thing that will change things. Hold on to your loved ones and encourage them to talk, write, adventure, whatever they need to do to honor themselves and to help them get through the day. This world needs more love and more open ears, more kindness and more true humanity. Mental health is so important to us all, to everyone whether you know them or not. We all need to be better humans to one another!!! In loving memory of Billy❤️