Gorge of Death

The Setting

My wife and I decided to take a day off and have an adventure. That alone is newsworthy – for me. We had both been working hard, and a little time to relax sounded wonderful.  The only problem is that the words relaxing and adventure don’t usually go hand-in-hand. Friday’s adventure was no different.

I awoke energetic and enthused that morning – I usually wake up energetic and enthused until I see the front door and realize that I have to go through it if I want to do anything.  That’s when the troubles start.


I was determined to confront my anxieties head-on that day because I knew I wanted to go out.  I didn’t give it a second thought.  I was looking forward to a drive in the county with my trusty camera at my side, looking for beautiful sights to photograph.  That was enough incentive to bolster my resolution to do something, no matter how difficult.

And, We’re Off

The day was sunny and crisp – just perfect for hiking. I wore my hiking shoes, packed some water and grabbed my camera. I was all set. We got in our car and drove about two hours to a beautiful section of New York State: the Finger Lakes area, our goal being a scenic, national park.  I was confident and happy when we arrived – until the Park Ranger began his speech.


He wore a big hat that looked like the one worn by Smokey the Bear and a happy look upon his face as he approach our vehicle. We handed him the entrance fee, and he handed us a map, a list of rules, and a brochure on how to survive certain death.  He wasn’t kidding.

He also warned us that there was no phone reception once inside the gorge area, and the rescue shuttle wasn’t working; so if we got into  any trouble, we were on our own. He reminded us that if we saw any dead bodies along the way, to just leave them be, as the bears would tidy up when they got hungry. He suggested that we use the restroom before we entered the park, as there were none along the way, and the fines for littering were stiff.

My enthusiasm was beginning to wane. Then I took a look at the list of rules (below – click to enlarge) and the survival guide. I grew concerned when I saw the part that talked about how to recognize the signs of a heart attack (below – click to enlarge). My zest for adventure had turned into concerns for my well-being and an overall unwillingness to become bear food.

Park Rules        Heart Attack

Crunch Time

There was still time to turn back without too much embarrassment or loss of life – but I didn’t.  Fifteen minutes later, I started to question my decision to forge ahead. While the park itself was gorgeous, navigating its trails was treacherous. In most spots, the trail consisted of flat, wet, wobbly rocks, made slick by the constant dripping of water from the walls of the gorge and the abundant waterfalls encountered along the way. Many of the rocks shifted or cracked as boot was applied, making the footing even more dangerous.


As hikers progressed through the park at a steep incline, they would, on occasion, be forced to climb narrow stairways that hugged the walls of the gorge – the worst part being that the “ safety railing” to one side was a foot-high rock wall.

Yeah, sure, I thought.  That thing is never going to prevent me from falling over the edge.

My heart beat out of my chest most of the time, as we wound through narrow passage, slick stones and mud puddles, all the while trying not to look down at the 500-foot drop. To put it mildly: this was incredibly difficult for me. I had to “use every trick in the book.” And I did.

The Solution


I never once thought of turning back, even when my wife gave me the option, and even when she heard me gasp  out loud. Heights bother me – falling off of heights even more so. I walked slowly, hugged the wall of the gorge  when I could, paid careful attention to my footing, and  used positive self-talk to enable me to continue. I distracted my mind from negative thought by focusing on my camera and the wonderful pictures I might be able to take. Every once in a while, I would inch my way to the edge of the precipice and snap some shots.  It was only after that was done that I realized where I was.  Another gasp would follow, and my heart rate quicken once again.  This was  the pattern for the whole day.

The Outcome


We made it to the spot that was our goal, saw the magnificent waterfalls, and then headed back, my  heart still racing – only this time I was flush with a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

On the drive home, we discussed our outing and how difficult that was for me to do. I said that I wanted to keep going – to keep doing things no matter what, having adventures if possible.  And I realized that it didn’t matter what I did, where I went, or even if I set my sights on doing something and fail at doing it. The only thing that matters – and this is the promise that I always make – is that I am always going to try my best.


My day off turned out to be a day of great fun, even though my heart got a workout; but that’s one of the things that makes life fun.  I won’t lie and say that, in looking back, it was easy.  It was never easy.  But it was worth it. Soon I will post some additional photos of the adventure so everyone can share in the beauty that I observed.

Yes, my day was a success, nothing bad happened, and Godzilla never showed up – I think


About Joe

Freelance designer and writer whose goal is to help others by writing about my experiences with fear and anxiety (agoraphobia), health struggles (cancer) and my wonderfully-happy life as a husband and stay-at-home dad. I want to empower everyone to have a happy life.

3 responses »

  1. Colleen says:

    Great fun Joe. Beautiful photos. Was this Watkins Glen?

  2. […] Source: Just Gorge-ous: A Survivor’s Story […]

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