A Place Beyond seemed to have just landed on my lap during the disorienting year that was 2020. When met with a decision to either stay at home in isolation while taking online classes or be in a community with other college students in Prescott National Forest, Arizona, it was a no-brainer. APB is an in-person, remote learning community for college students who cannot or do not want to return to their physical college campus during the pandemic. The program provides community, mentorship, educational workshops, and outdoor recreation programming such as mountain biking, hiking, and bouldering. As a result, I had the opportunity to both try out hammocking and bouldering, two activities that have similar stages of doubt, embracing the unknown, and joy of being in the moment.
“So, you are saying this is supposed to hold me?” I asked Noah, one of the instructors at A Place Beyond, as I gestured incredulously at the thin piece of fabric in front of me shaped like the waxing crescent moon in winter time. He grinned and excitedly said yes. My eyes darted between the hammock and his encouraging smile. I couldn’t help but remember the same animating smile from Brandon, another APB instructor, as I stared at the rock face in front of me in disbelief when I first attempted bouldering earlier that week. As a curvy Mexican-American, I have always been conscious of my body especially in an outdoors setting. The looming granite rock face in front of me casted shadows as it sheltered us from the sun. It did me no favors as I contemplated how on Earth I was going to stick to the rock. As these thoughts swirled in my head I turned around to see Brandon handing me a bag of chalk and putting crash pads on the ground. I gulped.
Embracing the Unknown
Noah tightened the straps of the hammock, causing it to lift from the ground. We were at the edge of the campsite overlooking the Prescott National Forest. The wind swirled around us causing the hammock to sway erratically. Noah gestured to me to sit down, just as he did so on a separate hammock. I observed as he leisurely set his weight into the rocking boat-like hammock and attempted to imitate it. I lowered my body slowly, cautiously, but as soon as I squatted down to the level of the hammock my body, feeling no solid substance, panicked. Frantically grasping at a branch near me, I pulled myself up. As I opened my palm, mean red scratches covered my skin from the rough bark of the tree.
Sweat covered my palms as my nails desperately scratched the rock to maintain a hold, the tips of my toes ached as they suspended my weight on a thin section of rock about five feet from the ground. This was my fourth attempt at this problem, and as I felt my foot slide from the hold and my arms stretch out to hold my weight, I realized it was my third time cheese grating to the ground. As I landed, I turned to look at Brandon who was observing the spots where my holds had been. I was undoing my climbing shoes, getting ready to call it quits when he all of a sudden said, “Try grabbing that hold,” as he pointed to a hidden nook at the edge of the rock face, about a foot up from where I had been. I swallowed hard as I realized I had to go higher up than I thought.
Joy of Being In the Moment
Once again I looked out to the forest around me for encouragement. The trees swayed gently around me, casting shadows and beams of light across the clearing. The only sound that could be heard were the leaves rustling as they danced on the branches of the trees. I looked down at the hammock and then at the branch I was holding tightly in my fist. Decidedly, I lowered my body down and closed my eyes tightly as I lowered myself into the hammock, trusting it to hold my weight just as Noah had. I slowly opened my eyes and gasped at the sight of the tree and sky meeting together in front of me. My body felt weightless and as the wind began to blow once more, a beam of sunlight hit the clearing revealing the bright green color of the leaves and blanketing my body and the hammock in warmth.
“You got this Ms. J!” yelled Brandon as I got stuck on the same hold. My body was beginning to ache, and as I stayed still on the rockface, my arms and legs began to shake. “Try to reach for the hold, remember if you slip I got you,” said Brandon. I looked up at the hold about a foot in front of me and then at the sliver of sky above it, my goal. Making a quick decision, I lunged up to the hold and grasped on to it with all my might, willing my fingers not to slip. I heard Brandon’s excited yell from below me as my legs scrambled for a different hold and my calves and thighs pushed me to the top of the boulder. All of a sudden my head popped up at the top and I could see a whole new section of the boulder field. As I dragged myself to safer ground, I laid on my back and closed my eyes listening to my labored breaths and Brandon’s cheers. I looked up and saw a large expanse of sky over me, seeming just a little bit closer to me than before. I closed my eyes once again in gratitude, basking in the warm sun.
Authored by Jennifer Delgado
Learn more about A Place Beyond at www.aplacebeyond.com