Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

cram_halfEvery word of this story is true. Ridiculous, but true.

There I was, dangling from a cliff over a deep canyon. As I descended, my long braid became tangled in the thick ropes. I twisted and spun in the wind, and when I finally halted my descent, my braid was so badly entwined in the ropes that I couldn’t pull it out.

What was I doing there in the first place? I’m glad you asked. I was in Big Bend, Texas, for a 23-day Outward Bound program. Outward Bound offers wilderness survival courses for people who volunteer to get filthy, exhausted and scared out of their minds.

They have to pay for the privilege.

My particular program comprised 10 men and two women, ages 19-28. I was the 19-year old. On our third day in the wilderness, the only other woman developed a nasty case of bronchitis and had to be evacuated to Missouri. That left me as the only female with 10 strapping guys. It sounds better than it was.

For the remaining three weeks, we scaled desertous mountains, fought off snakes, climbed huge walls of rocks and navigated vast swaths of untouched land using only a compass and topographical map as guides.

Each of us also spent three days entirely alone in the desert. Our only supplies were sleeping bag, tarp and water. The instructors said it would test our resolve and push us to find the outer limits of our potential.

Personally I think the instructors just wanted a few days off.

Back to my story. One day early in our adventure, we rappelled down a steep rock face to a small ledge that jutted out over a deep canyon. Each victim was outfitted with helmets, harness and safety line, given a few instructions, then told to take a back step off a cliff. Yeah, right.

A few guys followed like stupid sheep. Then it was my turn. I was no dummy, so I mentally reviewed my escape options. Unfortunately, we were a hundred miles from the nearest road with no coach buses in sight.

So, like my stupid predecessors, I took a back step off the cliff, then gingerly slithered down the rock face. It was nothing like those glamorous adventure movies where they leap off the rocks like fireflies bouncing off marshmallows. I looked more like a terrified slug.

After a while, however, I began to enjoy the incredible view over the canyon below. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I was too distracted to notice that my left braid had begun to weave itself into the thick ropes from which I was suspended. By the time I stopped to pull it free, the braid was hopelessly entangled in the ropes. It would not budge.

The guys at the top began to haul me back up, but it ripped out chunks of my scalp. With no remaining options, I unfastened the dull jackknife from my belt and slowly hacked off 11 inches of my hair while dangling in midair, sobbing.

Freed at last, I rappelled the final 40 feet to the ledge. Several days passed before I could bring myself to chop off the other braid.

I looked like an upside down cereal bowl with an attitude.

I was never quite sure what life lessons I learned during my time in the desert.

Sure, I pushed myself to my limits, but that was nothing new. Anyone who grows up in a family of all girls and only one bathroom has plenty of experience already.

I did learn to appreciate the splendor of God’s creation, and to call on him constantly. But mostly, I learned that if anyone threatens to push me to my limits, I should tuck my hair into a baseball cap and run toward the closest prairie.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer.