May 24, 2009

Facing My Fears

Ubehebe Crater
This whole existential crisis I'm in now really started about a year ago, when I took a weekend for myself - by myself - in Death Valley after a business trip brought me to Las Vegas. The only desert I'd ever visited before was Las Vegas and the nearby Valley of Fire. I didn't know what I was in for.

I was a little scared in Death Valley. Maybe it was the name. Maybe it was all the signs that warn you of having enough water and not overheating. Maybe it was being the only car on the road for miles, with no rangers in sight. Or, maybe it was the sign on top of a huge volcanic crater that showed a man falling into it, with no railing or anyone around me to prevent me from meeting that same fate.

I drove a little too fast in Death Valley, hypermiling in my rented Prius, coasting 80 mph down a huge hill across a dried, salt flat riverbed. Sometimes I would take a bend around the Panamint Mountains a little too fast and scare the crap out of myself. And when I slept in the Panamint Springs Resort, a couple of ghosts - real or imagined - did the scaring for me.

But I conquered a lot of fears in Death Valley. It's not that I wasn't afraid anymore - at the time, my life was terrifying - but I was able to move past the fear. I came back to the real world and stood up for myself at work, and faced the consquences of retaliation. Four months later when I went to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, I even drove in the desert at night, something I refused to do in Death Valley.

Sometimes I think that the things that scare you the most are those that are most worth doing. I'm not talking skydiving, though I've done that too. I mean taking a real leap, like quitting a job to reclaim your sanity and sense of self, and giving yourself over to the universe.

Things have gone pretty well since I left my job in January, and whereas last year I sought solace in the desert, I now am drawn to it for inspiration. My trip to Joshua Tree in February has given me the opportunity to return there for the summer and be inspired further, to once again feel small, as I did at Badwater in Death Valley. It's the lowest point in North America and my visit there immediately preceded the lowest point in my life. But it's good to see the bottom, so you know how far away from it you are once you're not there anymore.

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