I just arrived home from one of the more majestic places I’ve been among majestic places- Nicaragua- and I’m thrilled to sift through a mountain of photos to bring you the best of visiting this insanely gorgeous country.
Today, though, before I unpack, before I do anything… I had to write this.
This was not just a luxurious adventure with silence and sun. It was punctuated with wild adventure. I battled some pretty paralyzing fears on this trip that I didn’t realize I had- sliding down the side of a volcano at 27mph, braving the stormiest lake waves in a boat that was about to toss over for a full hour in the midst of nowhere, and facing my own personal fears of self-expession, of living in total quiet with no technology to lean on and no control over it, being super-vulnerable— and every step along the way I needed help.
Was it life threatening? Maybe or maybe not. It felt like total doom at times… and from that doom I was able to rise to incredible heights I didnt realize were possible. With help. A lot of it.
I talk alot about facing fears and in my life those fears are usually more emotional and less primal. Primal fears have a way of testing how much you’re really living your life philosophy.
Here’s what happened when I climbed up and slid down the side of a volcano at 27mph and got the most tactile life lessons on facing fears and living bigger at my core. What I gathered – not in my mind but in my body- was the ultimate in embracing fearless living.
When I booked this awesome volcano expedition from the US all I read was that a Mercedes supertruck would take up up a volcano and then we’d slide down wearing protective gear includng goggles and a suit they provide. It seemed simple enough, yet a thrill with not knowing what the slope would be like…
Bigfoot Hostel ran the service. They are the “cool” hostel in Leon that is teeming with an international mix of folks who are ready for an adventure. Some of the cool kids from the US work there living the surf paradise lo-fi dream, it seems. When we arrived there after a 2 hour drive through the countryside from Managua where we stayed, it was like arriving at a US college bar on Gilligan’s Island. Fun, welcome and we were in good hands. Go there if you want to do this and you’ll enjoy it fully.
When we actually found our way to the volcano itself on our big orange bus, it was my first surprise.
“Now, grab your board and we’ll start going up!”
“Up? Um… Aren’t we up already?!”
Yeah, no, we weren’t up. We had a hour, it seems, to hike straight up a volcano single file. Carrying 30-something pound boards in our hands.
I had my first meltdown. Here, I’m about to quit before we started. Staring up the side of the cliff and barely able to hold my board up straight nevermind carry it one step, I let the overwhelm get me bad. Marie Kondo would say that this doesn’t “spark joy.”
But… I had heroes. Many. The biggest: my boyfriend Sam who carried my super-heavy sled along with his up a volcano side. He cheered me on every single step of the way. He made me see I could do it, chanting it like a mantra, never once complaining as he lugged our stuff, totally rising up…
I told myself over and over that only my mind could get the best of me. I could hike this thing for sure, even if I only ate a banana and had a tea. My mind would help me up the hill.
So we went, Sam leading the way up. And it was pretty simple until the winds started. 60 mile an hour winds. Imagine yourself on the side of a volcano at the end of a single-file line of tourists holding heavy boards in these unpedicatable high winds.
I made the mistake of looking down as I swayed in that wind.
I see it clearly now:
Don’t look down.
Only look up.
Sam was cheering me on the whole way… over and over again wanting me to look up as I stooped down, frozen in fear.
The guide, Emelio, who held my hand while I clung to a giant lava boulder crouched down and crying on the side of that volcano – Cerro Negro- I will never forget. While Sam took our boards through the cliffside winds, he literally held onto my hand and forced me to look up and keep going.
It’s part of survival, not just a New Age law of the universe:
People who lift you up are a necessity.
Having this incredible, fearless help around me made all the difference. I quietly said over and over again out loud, ” I can, I can, I can, I can.” I didn’t look backward. I didn’t stop moving even though I was going slow.
While there are many worse situations to be in, I volunarily enlisted in this one. It was the kind of life-and-death seeming stuff that was raw and surreal, like: What will happen when I get to the top of this volcano and I have to SLIDE down?! And why did I do this to myself? And… how can I back out of it? (Answer: you can’t once you’re there)
I realized I couldn’t turn back. Our awesome and very relaxed tour guide, Ryan, actually told me that I could go back the way I came up (um, not ever again) or I could walk down the slope (!) or… I could actually lean into the board and make it go slowly.
Leaning into the board means leaning straight down the volcano slope, literally leaning into the fear physically when your every impulse is to lean away and run away.
Leaning into the problem actually gives you far more control over it.
When we got to the top of Cerro Negro I did some intense Buddhist chanting while the group watched how potatoes wrapped in foil would cook overnight when burried in a hole in the volcano. They ate volcano potatoes. I prayed to the highest cliffs and clouds. Sam kept an eye on me to make sure I knew I was OK…
We all need help. It can be hard to ask for it. It can be hard to find it. We might resist it and then… when we really need it and are forced to accept it… it’s nothing short of a miracle.
With so much help I didn’t realize I needed, I got to the sliding part of the volcano, the seemingly fun part.
It looked like this on top. Pretty majestic, right?
Here’s how it worked.
I had to slide down… so I lightened myself up with more help. We drank all our very heavy water. Sam took my purse and slung it over his neck so that I wouldn’t feel any more burdened than I was in my mind.
Hero stuff in my book.
We lined up to slide, and I scooted my butt and my board along the hot black gravel with my goggles on and bandana wrapped around my face while everyone plodded past me confidently.
I couldn’t compare myself, I could only remind myself that my way was my way. As long as I was moving forward, that was what mattered.
As I mentioned, when you lean into the board, leaning literally straight down the side of the volcano, staring down the challenge, you gain control and slow down.
So… I leaned in when I was told to go…and very slowly started. It was a cakewalk and soon I leaned back on this gentle slope to move faster and faster…
Very soon after, I was in spontaneous joy and feeling totally awesome.
Then… boom. The volcano gets suddenly incredibly steep. Like a freefall you don’t see coming until you’re there, in the middle of the slope.
That’s when I tried to quit again, leaning in so far and digging my heels in so hard that I was at a dead stop. I screamed and pleaded to the guide to see if the rest of the people could go around me.
Either I walked down, slid down…or the rest of the group wouldn’t be able to go.
Accountability is a powerful force. I didn’t realize just how powerful it was until I was breaking on the side of this steep hill. I couldn’t walk this…and I couldn’t ruin a trip for 30 more people who came from all over the world waiting behind me… So I brushed myself off, literally taking the gravel off my sled with my glitter nails black from volcano dust…
And went for it.
I can’t think and do at the same time. My mind shut off. And this happened:
Pure epic bliss.
It wasn’t that bad.
In fact: it was EPIC.
Thinking and anticipating was the worst part of it.
Thinking, wondering, trying to find a way to back out, wondering my exit options…
What a mess I made in my head. And how crazy that I let it take over.
I took off my big suit videoed Sam’s birthday slide down the side of Cerro Negro.
We found a private beach on the outskirts of Leon after a victory lunch as the sun set and swam some of the volcanic ash off of us in the pink sky and warm water for about 40 minutes… all alone in total majesty.
I’m reminded… viscerally reminded…
The way out is really the way through.
Minds can make problems so much bigger than they are. Thinking less and doing more are where it’s at.
Help is a necessity, not an option.
There’s no way to compare yourself on the steps to take to get there.
Leaning into things rather than running from them brings so much more control.
Once you get started, it’s way easier than it seems.
And being accountable to others is quite a mobilizing force…
Because fear can’t win.
While you may never want to go volcano boarding, we all do this same fear-facing all the time. I see how I’ve leaned away rather than leaning in. I can see where I’ve got even more to let go of in my mind. I can see how much more help I can be…and how much more I can get the help I need… and how necessary it is…
You can face anything and come out of it into your own personal paradise. Tell yourself every minute that you can, you can, you can, you can, you can… And don’t look back. Don’t look down. Keep on going…!
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