Being in and exploring Scotland has become a pure curriculum of limitation transcendence. I wouldn’t say I have been a mere “daisy walker” in the past, but have possibly remained in faithful service to enjoying my outdoor endeavors without confrontation. AND,I’ve done most of my walking in Arizona, where weather and rock cradle all but the deliberately endangered. I wouldn’t accuse the Scottish environment of overt mean-ness. It does carpet it’s surface terrain with heather, moss, and mud and it’s damn near impossible to lose one’s way here without the aid of alcohol. But I did show up well past curtain time for hospitable weather and I did choose a superhero as my primary walking companion, so I was bound to be challenged. I’ve had boisterous experiences here with snow both deep and icy, horizontal rain, deep mud, pathless terrains, cold, endless ups and downs, navigation without the sun, midges, and skin-stripping winds. I’m okay with those things now. What I thought I might escape Scotland without having to overcome, and I’ve entertained the idea that I might possibly even get through my entire LIFE without overcoming, is my fear of heights. It’s been too icy to pursue any pointy bits this winter beyond our early season climb up Goatfell, on which the fog mercifully stepped up to protect me from perception. But indeed it was I who suggested, at the free and clear 2 weeks before departure mark, that we do the Elie Chain Walk along the Fife Coastal Path, knowing that the North Sea’s open mouth lay right below that cliff, that the chain would be cold and slippy, and that there was a good to excellent chance that I would paralyze with vertigo. However, the Fife Council offered this posted sign to promote a soothing confidence.
I think it is close to common knowledge that 80% of fear is in the anticipation of the confrontation of it. Once you are busy with it, you don’t have time to entertain the fear any longer. I’ve learned that lesson over and over again, and shock beyond shock, it applies to the fear of heights too. You just have to begin. My strategy was to approach the walk “chain by chain”, to not think of the next chain or the next rock face, but to keep busy finding one foothold at a time.
It helped that the “gaping mouth of the freezing North Sea” that I anticipated wasn’t at all. It was low tide, an intentional co-creation of walking conditions, and a fall would mean a bath, but not certain digestion. Some areas were completely free of water at all, and could, with guilty gait, be walked on, avoiding sections of the chain entirely. But who would do that? We were here to properly risk our lives and have swanky fun doing so. A fall to the rocks was just as perilous as a fall into the sea and peril was the “wheeeee (!)” we were here for.
One of the side effects of doing a walk that requires real effort and concentration is that you miss out on relaxing into the scenery. I was only able to remember that I was in Paradise in short little bouts. I’m used to the beauty being the point of it, but it was an interesting orientation to have it be so “by the way”, like remembering a chocolate muffin in your pack. It was truly a beautiful day, full sun bath, wild ocean, pure rocky gorgeousness and I was happy when I remembered to notice it.
In the end, the experience was too short. We contemplated turning around and doing it again in the other direction, yo-yo-ing the chain walk, but the incoming tide and hunger steered us through mud fields toward the car park instead. I won’t say I conquered my fear of heights, but I most definitely contributed to an accumulating vault of experiences that are diminishing it. And it was without question very good fun.