Life Between the Waves

Land! As the LA Harbor fades beyond a veil of fog, the gentle peaks of Catalina rise out of the horizon. “Hoist the foresail!” Three of us run forward against the salty spray of the ocean. We’ve caught the wind again.

Where did this all begin you ask? Well, as part of my last semester of university, I decided to utilize my last few free units and take a sailing class. The first half of the class is spent in the classroom, learning about types of vessels, navigation indicators, and who turns away in a “you’re coming right at me” situation – basically, the rules of the road, or should I say, sea. The last portion of the class though, before the final, is a two-day sailing excursion from San Pedro harbor to Catalina Island.

Thus, under the guidance of our Captain (who is also our instructor), I and four other sailing class students sailed to Catalina! And when I say “sailed”, I mean sailed. We hoisted and lowered all the sails, plotted our course by hand, and even steered our sailboat for a majority of the journey! While we still couldn’t have done the trip without the constant direction from our Captain, it still felt like we were in control, holding the ship afloat amidst varying winds and guiding the ship through various manoeuvres as sails were adjusted.

When we first set off, we were all a bit nervous, questioning our ability to raise and lower sails or even wondering about the threat of seasickness. Due to some high winds near the coast, we began our journey on a 50-60 degree tilt as the boat leaned with the wind and we got our first taste of real sailing. It was simulataneously exhilarating and terrifying because even though I knew our Captain was a professional and would never capsize the boat, my brain still freaked out everytime the boat swung closer to the water.

After a while, however, the winds calmed and we enjoyed a peaceful ride to Catalina. If you’ve never sailed before, you’d be as surprised as I to learn that once you’ve caught the wind, most of sailing is just steering the boat and maintaining course. With so many of us on board this led to a fairly peaceful journey – blue waves, warm sun, and the quiet of being the only breathing souls for miles. Even as I was holding on against the tilt of the boat, there’s something so calming of being out amongst the waves, just you and your thoughts.

It puts the whole world back into perspective for you – we are tiny little creatures amidst a world full of so much beauty, danger, and excitement. Sailing really proved that to me.

After a night’s sleep in the Avalon Bay at Catalina (with the boat gently rocking us to sleep), we journeyed back LA, running the motor for most of the trip as the wind had officially died down from the day before. It was incredible to imagine sailors from centuries past piloting vessels through month-long voyages, navigating without any electronics to verify position calculations or trying to sail when there was no wind to be found. Luckily for us, we did have the luxuries of modern technology and we returned safe and sound.

Overall, the entire experience of sailing was eye-opening and exhilarating. While I may not throw away my current career plans for a life between the waves, I would eagerly sail again. And I encourage anyone who has even the slightest interest – give sailing a shot!

Adventure vs. Anxiety

Today I’m going to talk about why I haven’t been posting anything recently, why I’ve been so stressed out, and why I hate making large life decisions. It’s a simple word – we’ve all heard it and used it in less extreme cases and really it’s something so simple and psychological I sometimes want to just smack myself for letting it stop me. Did you guess yet? It’s anxiety.

Anxiety is one of those things that no one ever wants to talk about (which is ironic that I’m talking about it on my entrance back to the blogging stage). According to Merriam-Webster, anxiety is “an uneasy state of mind”. In plain English, it’s the thing that makes you want to stay in at night instead of hanging out with friends, or it’s the thing that makes your mind run at a thousand miles an hour, or it’s the thing telling you your blog posts are crap and you should find a new hobby (cough). Anxiety is really quite annoying.

But you know what? My blog posts aren’t crap (or maybe they are) and I want to keep sharing them with the world regardless. Who gives a shit if they’re not as prime as some of the bloggers I look up to? They’re still mine to share and mine to love and nothing else matters. Anxiety be darned.

As much as I joke about anxiety though, it’s a real, confining thing. Recently, a friend and I have been making plans to go camping in Yosemite over the summer. When we were discussing our schedule for the few days, she mentioned she wanted to hike Half Dome and told me I should start training and arm conditioning now. My brain went, ‘Training? Arms? Aren’t we just hiking?’ After some quick Googling though, I learned that Half Dome is one of the most iconic and difficult hikes in Yosemite. And why train your arms? Well because the last 400 ft of the hike involves you pulling yourself up by some cables attached to a rock, requiring a fair bit of arm strength.

Huh.

My first reaction to this idea was “Wow! This sounds awesome! I’m gonna do it!”, quickly followed by, “Shit, that looks terrifying.” A bit more Internet research and hiker testimonials has now put me right around “Okay, it’s manageable but it’s really hard but OMG what am I doing I’m going to die.” And thus I’ve hit my wall. Because I am so convinced that with some regular training I can conquer this hike, and with a bit of fear-of-heights-swallowing at the end, I believe I could even finish the cables section and get to the very top, I am so determined to do this hike. But this also doesn’t stop me from having a panic attack about every other day about it. What if I slip and fall? What if I get a muscle cramp? What if I let my friend down? Whatifwhatifwhatif?

That’s the root of anxiety – the questions that buzz through your head at a million miles per second, making you want to call your friend and tell her you can’t do it, even if you know you can. It’s a life-freezing thing that stops you in your step, freaks you out, and makes you want to hermit away from the world until it’s too late to accomplish the things you missed out on. It’s debilitating, it’s annoying, and it’s heart-breaking.

One of the hardest things about this whole anxiety-blocking-my-hiking-dreams thing is that I absolutely love hiking. I’ve only really gotten into the activity in the last year but it has swept me up in its path. Just this past weekend I hiked Escondido Falls and, while most of our group stopped at the bottom of the falls, I dare-devilishly ventured to the top of the falls with a few other girls to witness a grander waterfall and feel more accomplished than before. I’m constantly looking for new iconic hikes to expand my hiking repertoire. Between the exercise and the return to nature, hiking has become the perfect activity for me. And then anxiety has to get in the way of all that.

People hate talking about anxiety, along with many other mental illnesses and instabilities, but I’m all for starting the conversation and making it louder and louder so that everyone can understand the struggle that accompanies these things. That’s a blog post for another time but for now, I making myself a public pledge: I will not let anxiety stop me from accomplishing my goals. I will post my blog posts even if my brain says they’re crap and I will do the Half Dome hike this summer. I can do it. And so can you.