Overcoming Obstacles – by Alexa Zielkowski

We had begun our trek upwards. The withered winding path twisted and turned like a desert snake. I couldn’t see the whole trail, but I knew where it led- all the way up the side of a mesa to the flat top where rumors of dinosaur tracks lurked. It was a hot and muggy Utah morning. Blistering in a blue sky,  the sun was fully out, producing rays that raced towards the earth and seeped into my skin and eyes. The mesa that we needed to climb in order to see the dinosaur tracks was made of layered rock compiled of once fiery colores, dulled by the effects of time; a faint red, a sandy orange, a sliver of grey or pink. Muddy colored evergreen trees appeared here and there towards the top. Everything about the scene made my mouth feel as dry as the dust underneath my feet. This desert was truly deserted, it was one of the locations that I found when I looked up areas of dinosaur tracks in Utah. I was hoping to find a tourist-friendly location where we could stop on our way to Zion Canyon (our next destination on a  South Western road trip we were taking). Somewhere to take a pleasant hike out to ground that hosted dinosaur tracks, an awe-worthy fossil. But instead, I found myself at an unmarked trail off of a truck stop with not even a sign to acknowledge its existence. This made me squirm with fears; What if we have to hike on the edge of a cliff? There could be a countless number of deadly snakes and insects! What if we end up hiking five miles instead of two?. Yet, now was not the time for doubt, because we were already on our way up, just me and my dad finding our way towards the top by following small stacks of orange and red rocks that looked as if they had been freshly cut out of a sand dune. These rocks had been stacked by the hikers who had challenged the climb before us and had marked the general path to the top.

 So far, the climb was not really physically difficult, but as we began to creep higher up the giant block of rock, my fear came alive. It pestered me as we reached a spot where the path was only a couple of feet wide, and if I looked over to my right, I could see how high we had gone. And not only that, but to my right was also a long drop off- a cliff. I could hear my own strangled breathing as the sight of the cliff took my breath away.  My dad took the lead and reminded me that we could stop and go back at any moment. I responded with a bland and quiet “okay”, and told him that for now, I wanted to keep going. Even though being higher up caused my fear to fester, the hike was still not that bad yet, so I at least wanted to keep going until it was. I had little faith that we would ever get to see the dinosaur tracks, not here where we were the only ones in control of our safety. That was something I was not used to. My legs walked forward one step after the other. I attempted to numb myself of fear, but that was almost silly, it was too strong. Then came a point of steep upwards ascend, too steep to even master on two feet. Trailing close behind my dad, I sank to my hands and knees, grasping onto sides of gritty rocks and boulders as I pulled myself up the side of the mountain, careful to stay away from the cacti which thrived in this parched environment. Soon enough we reached level ground once again and resumed our walking hike. Looking over the edge of the mesa, I shook with fear. My throat was bone-dry and I felt wobbly and helpless. I thought that maybe it would be a good time to mention my fear to my dad and how I might want to retreat. Yet, before I could find a good opportunity to call out to him, he called back to me with his own observation. “Oh! Just a bit further, we’re almost there!”. A whole new surge of hope took over my body, my rubbery muscles tightened. “Okay” was all I said, but I suddenly began to wonder if we could make it to the top.

          We were now on the side (versus the front) of the mesa and the path changed. Small rocks grew into boulders, and the cliff that was once to my side was now a steep slope behind me. I knew that now I couldn’t die from slipping and falling, I may be injured if I ran into a cactus, and it would certainly hurt, but it was a low chance that sliding down the slope would be fatal. Even with this realization in mind, I felt more terrified than ever. It seemed that my greatest fear was losing control, slipping at all. My dad continued to walk, but I resorted to crawling. We had once again reached a steep spot. I began to whimper and pant. I was so scared, my whole body seemed to be shaking. I could see on either side of me how far we had gone, the ground seemed miles below us. The whimpering continued to persist. My lungs were on fire, my hands and legs itched, my breathing was raspy. I wanted to cry. Taking notice of this, my dad asked if I would like to hold his hand. I shook my head no, but soon I got to a rough spot and asked for help. I was frightened because he was higher up than me, reaching down. I was afraid that I would pull him down too, but he gripped my hand and pulled me up with reassuring strength I had forgotten he possessed. That point was the most emotionally challenging for me, but once I had gotten past that steep climb, I could almost see the top and knew we would make it,  I just had to go a small bit farther. I picked up speed so that I was just in front of my dad, and was reaching the top faster than I had imagined. I pulled myself up the last steep climb, which was as daunting as the others, yet I had almost managed to block my fear out this time, the image of rest and accomplishment coating my mind. Then, there I was, at the flat top of the whole mesa, sitting on the grey stone and looking out over the edge. There were just a few trees up here, and the flat top was only about 10 yards wide, but I wasn’t panicking anymore. I was panting so hard, I seriously thought I might throw up, but I was smiling too. It was one of the best feelings I had ever felt, making it to the top. I took a moment to take in my surroundings but was already thinking in my mind- I don’t care if we don’t find the dinosaur tracks, I am glad that we decided to take the challenge and made it to the top anyways. Even so, I began my search for dinosaur tracks. Almost immediately, I found two or three next to a large bush. Even though the tracks were not extremely large, it was still magnificent to imagine the dinosaurs that once walked on the very same ground that I was now standing on. The dino footprints were literally imprinted into stormy grey stone and looked like huge feet with three pointed toes, or even like drastically oversized maple leaves. As I looked out past the stone floor of the mesa, out into the sky, trees, truck stop, and rock formations below, I realized that sometimes journeys aren’t memorable and life-defining by the reward at the end, but by the climb you take to get there.               

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