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My heart is booming. My pulse is rising. My stomach is churning. A drop of sweat rolls down my face. I can barely breathe. “You’ve already made it so far Cayley, you can do this,” exclaims one of my more stable team members. I take a deep breath and look down: the ground is roughly 12,000 feet away, separated from me by miles of jagged crags and magnificent boulders. I take another deep breath and look up: Peak Elle – a few hundred feet away. Two of my team members refuse to summit as the rest of the team continues. I think to myself, “You can always do that,” but am I really going to let my fear of heights hinder potentially one of the best experiences of my life? Did I travel 17 hours and 1,189 miles from home to only halfway face my fears?
I recall my wake-up this morning: the ever-so-lovely alpine start at 3 A.M. with my enthusiastic instructor dragging me out of my tarp by my feet, exclaiming, “It’s peak day, gang!” I return focus to my current situation: I came 1,189 miles from home for this experience and I am not going to let my fears take this from me. Several of my teammates have already begun summitting when I slowly lock my carabiner into the fix line. With tears strolling down my face, I carefully find a place to secure my foot as I climb. After a few minutes, I begin to panic. “Don’t look down. Whatever you do, don’t look down,” I tell myself.
Unfortunately, I ignore my own advice and look down. My body loses all feeling. This is it; this is how I’m going to die. Once again I take a deep breath, but this time I do not pause before deciding my next move. Almost as if I am a professional climber, I race to the top of the peak. I do not let my fear stop me; I do not look back. I only look forward.
I drag my heavy boots over the final sharp crag and stand at the top of the peak. I look forward and see the Gore Range in its full glory. From this height, I see the long, treacherous route from our hike yesterday. I see the pathway I have taken this morning: several miles of hiking along with the route up the mountainside to the summit. In this moment, I realize the importance of the journey rather than the destination.
Sometimes life brings discomforting experiences that are in many ways terrifying, but in turn unveil an inner strength and purpose. Personal challenges not only can take your breath away, but can also provide direction and motivation. This course challenged me beyond measure, yet I enjoyed every minute of it. Even with tears streaming down my cheeks, I was still smiling.
My three weeks of constant physical and mental challenges pushed me to realize my true passion. I began the journey as a girl with a novice interest in nature, semi-experience in camping and hiking, and a genuine fear of heights. After three weeks, I completed the course as a woman who is extremely passionate about nature and the environment, who would rather sleep in a sleeping bag on the ground than in a bed. Most importantly, I completed the course as a woman who conquers her fears, rather than allowing her fears to conquer her. My experience in Colorado opened my eyes to the way I want to live my life, and most importantly to where I want to live my life. However, these moments only have value if I can apply the lessons beyond the experience. As I look ahead to college, I seek an institution that offers similarly enriching opportunities – academic, athletic, and social – that will continue to test my potential and drive.
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