What am I doing climbing up Bear Mountain alone at 7:30 am? In Sedona, Arizona’s Red Rock country I usually hike into the canyons or up slight inclines and I can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea to scale a mountain. The first 30 minutes were easy—a gentle up and down across the open land punctuated with cactus and wildflowers. At the beginning of the climb, the trail was well-marked and, although steep, the dirt path was wide. Once I hit the mesa, the trail disappeared and I had to find my own way amidst the rock. Missteps meant rocks tumbled downwards. Fortunately, I remained upright, but the sound of small rocks cascading downwards sounded internal alarms. After a few dead ends, I found a way to continue up the mountain. At the second mesa, I thought I had reached the top. I looked up and gasped when I saw the steep ascent above the tree line awaiting me.
At that moment, I thought, “what am I proving?” I was hiking alone, I didn’t have the prescribed amount of water for the hike(1 gallon!), and falling was a distinct possibility. What if I had an accident and needed help? I would be beyond embarrassed. What if I died? How would the rental car get back to Phoenix? I literally talked myself down the mountain. To complete the ascent would be moving beyond the boundary of risky into reckless. Gingerly, I retraced my steps down Bear Mountain. Once on flat land, my eyes followed the trail up to the second mesa and I understood how much higher and harder I would have had to climb to reach the summit. No wonder the Rangers warned this was a five-hour hike.
Just two days earlier I had embarked on another kind of risky business—speaking in public about Jewish Luck. I have spoken to over 45 different groups so one wouldn’t think a book talk would be risky business for me. Public speaking is not my forte although once I start I have a tough time concluding a discussion. Over preparing and arriving early so I have a sense of the audience reduces my anxiety. Before each talk I remind myself how much I enjoy the audiences no matter how nervous I feel beforehand.
Self-promotion is even tougher than talking about Jewish Luck. I groan when I think about trying to book a new engagement. By the end of my Sedona trip, I still hadn’t climbed Bear Mountain, but I talked myself into a meeting with Doreen, the resort’s scheduler. No matter how many times I repeat the process, I have to steel myself for the emotional risk taking.
Why bother? It would be a lot more comfortable if I spent my retirement reading, playing with my grandchildren, cooking, and walking around the lakes. It’s exhilarating, that’s why. Whether I’m climbing a mountain and taking a physical risk or convincing myself to pick up the phone and call a stranger to promote Jewish Luck, adrenaline courses through my body.
During my Phoenix book talk, one of the women remarked that she would not have taken the risks that Vera and Alla did—their behavior could have earned them a prison sentence or harmed their family. I’m not sure whether I’d have the courage either to take those risks either. But, Vera and Alla intuitively seemed to know the border between risky and reckless and stopped themselves at the edge. My own risky forays have been much less dramatic and the more times I push myself, the easier it becomes to widen my comfort zone.
Bear Mountain reminded me that not every challenge is worth undertaking, but with a better water supply and a hiking partner, I might try it again.