Balanced Rock, Big Bend National Park

2.28 miles total. Only, it’s 581 miles from the comfort of my home. It takes no less than 9 hours to drive to, requires not only stretching and stamina training, a very early start, but $8/pair (on sale) merino wool hiking socks to reach. This hike had been a sore thorn in my side and pride over the past 2 years ever since I attempted and failed with much less preparation an unsafe climb to the same location.

On my first attempt, I started much later in the day, thinking that I could manage the dry heat of a desert afternoon with a cowboy hat, survival instruction bandana (basically, how park ranger search teams identify your body) and a Nalgene.

“I’m tough” I reassured myself as I started ignoring signals of obvious dehydration midway through my walk across sand covered trails. Walking seemed simple enough, even if sand deceptively reminds you how expensive each step is in effort. My body was crying out with sweat that I had not accounted for enough water. The sun, less forgiving that the sand oppressively beats down your brow and by the time you reach a convenient sign that had the name of your destination as .25 miles away up a nearly vertical rock ascension, you have to question whether or not you have it in you. On that first attempt, I made a decision to start paying more attention to my body at that quarter mile sign. Something wasn’t right that day, and in hindsight, I am glad that I decided to trek back to the car and re-up on water, saving this particular challenge for another day.

The now warm water awaiting me in the car was a rough but necessary thing to swallow, perfectly juxtaposed to the sting of defeat. Chalk one up to Nature in the “W” category, I thought. My stomach ached as it had to be evacuated on the trail before I decided to return to the car. The water didn’t really help the pangs, it only stood to mock me.

I refused to let that be the story. I struggle to say that it was anything but pride that shoved me to retry that trail. Nearly 2 years later, I arrive at an earlier hour with more of the hiking essentials required, though I was rocking a pair of low- top, red @Reebok Classics instead of more precise trail boots. The @Nalgene has been supplemented with a @Camelback water bottle from Austin City Limits fest a few years back. The Cowboy hat is replaced with a @Yeti brand Cooler Giveaway Hat I won by nearly freezing my buns off waiting for a Sporting Good’s store grand opening. I usually carry a black @Northface “Surge” Backpack which holds most of the above along with a boombox you know and are returning to find weekly about.

I saw the etching of the moon in the clear blue sky, scattered with clouds decorating an otherwise open and almost reachable atmosphere. I was walking with a wooden staff, punching below my feet at the trail ahead to ward off potential snakes, objectively fast lizards and reassuring me that the path was indeed solid below. I tried setting a pace that would motivate me to complete the trail, but also listened to my body when I needed to take a break for water or more air.

Hitting the .25 mile ascent sign felt like an accomplishment, though I did not realize how much climbing I was going to do on the hike. Climbing takes as much awareness about your situation as it does vision for the next move. Sometimes rocks slip and it can alter your plan immediately. Open climbing up the side of a rock face, for me is about balancing challenge and safety. Even if there are suggested mile markers along the way, there is not a clear path always present. There are no hand rails by which to steady yourself. And looking cool isn’t even a factor, you make your way up by any means possible.

I haven’t seen “127 hours”, but I wasn’t wanting to be the next person looking for help or having to take matters into my own hands for rescue options. Google that reference if you need to, I’ll wait.

Anyway, about 3/4 of the way up, I realize that the narrowing paths don’t make for a great area to carry a staff. I chose to leave the staff, that which stabilized me through the sand, along this rock face that I would then traverse. The thinning air at a higher altitude made pauses along the trail a much more frequent occurrence. Every time I took a minute to try and regain the clarity of thought to assess the situation, I was reminded about how much I value stability on solid and level ground.

Dessa has a song called “The Crow”, which I considered using for the post that has the line “Nobody fears the height, you only fear the fall; go to the edge sometime and prove your body wrong”. My body reminded me how true the words of that song are for me, though I also knew that if I didn’t make it to the Balanced Rock, this would be a really anti climactic story.

After the third “it should just be right here” I had convinced myself of and failing to find it, I was ready to just cut my losses. The way that the formation sits, when on the actual rock face, you can’t really see a beacon of the boulders to guide you. You are sort of walking on this journey to some unknown elevated destination with nothing more than the word of others who have seen it that it’s up there somewhere.

As the water started to take a little bit of a hit from it’s full mark, I began to question whether or not I had even prepared well enough for what this adventure entailed. Had I balanced the physical training with knowing what to actually carry with me? Also, for those curious, Even if you have a pretty solid center of gravity, the backpack with a vintage boombox is a sure way to offset any of those natural reflexes you possess as a slight gust of wind approaches. The same wind that cools the sweat on your brow could be the one that you overcompensate for in your pacing.

I scraped my leg a little on the final ascent, determined to make it. I didn’t even notice the scrape until back in the sand. I spent two years waiting for the opportunity to return and mark this in the win column. There was quite a bit that could have gotten in my way, chiefly, my own self assessment and expectation. However, I consider this single ascent easily in my top 10 life experiences. This was more than a bucket list item for me; it was equally a lesson in balancing how to prepare and execute, a journey into a new territory which peaked on higher ground.

The track this week is by Stevie Wonder, who I had the pleasure of seeing perform a few years back. He has such an amazing presence, and I am more than happy to develop that as you see in future posts. For now, I am going to sign off this long read with a smile on my face and Stevie Wonder in my headphones.

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