Back in 2001, my husband and I spent a month in the Black Hills of South Dakota. My son was getting married, and I wanted a lengthy visit so that I would be familiar with the area he was about to call home. Geoff and Kiersten were working most days, though, so Doug and I had plentiful time for exploring the area on our motorcycles.
One day, we decided to drive out of town on Nemo Road, which begins in Rapid City, and runs for miles and miles through the Black Hills to the town of Lead. What would be interesting about this ride was that there were warnings posted, that bikers should avoid Nemo Road due to road construction. But we had heard some other bikers talking about going that way, so we decided to do the same; we had heard that it was a beautiful ride through some of the prettiest parts of the Black Hills.
“Road Construction” hardly describes what was going on, though. “Earth Moving” is more like it. In many places one couldn’t yet determine where the actual road would be. We were in a line of motorcycles all on the same journey, and I was terrified. I didn’t have more than a few years of experience, didn’t feel very confident in my abilities as a biker, and I thought I was done for. Seriously. The “road” was soft dirt in many places, mud in many others, and we were dodging construction vehicles and some formidable road equipment. There were uphills, downhills, and lots of curves, all in places that had no firmament.
It was the most scared I’ve ever been.
But I couldn’t just pull over and quit. There was no place to pull over TO, and I couldn’t quit because there was no place to leave my motorcycle. I had no choice but to keep going.
I fought back tears. I prayed. I coached myself with positive affirmations. I think I can, I think I can. And somehow, I made it through.
I made it through.
It was a huge personal triumph that has stayed with me, and it will always be a symbol for me of triumph over seemingly impossible obstacles. Nemo Road is my Rubicon; it was a point of no return that changed me forever.
Yes, Dear Readers, this story does have current applications. During our travels this summer, I have had two occasions to use my “Nemo Road” experience to face my fears.
The first time was at the Grand Canyon. I have been seriously afraid of heights for much of my adult life, and the first time I visited the North Rim, in 1997, before Nemo Road, there were some walkways that I did not attempt. This year when we were planning the visit, my husband challenged me about it; I remained skeptical. But he had planted the seed, and after thinking about it for awhile, I approached Bright Angel Point with new resolve. I wasn’t sure where in ’97 I had turned back, but I recognized it right away when we got there.
It was a narrow bridge with no shoulder, but it did have railings, and this time around I took a deep breath and strode across. Doug was so proud that he told the people around us what a great accomplishment this was for me. Several people in the group cheered me on and one lady offered to take a picture so we’d have a great souvenir for the record book. It was a great moment.
The second time I remembered Nemo Road was this week, at Mesa Verde National Park. This park encompasses an astonishing number of ancient cliff dwellings built into deep canyons. Most of them can be seen from roadside overlooks, but the park offers several ranger-guided tours so that visitors can actually walk through the dwellings. There are severe warnings for people who want to sign up: “Caution: All tours involve climbing narrow, uneven steps and climbing ladders. They are strenuous.” It was the ladders that got to me; my old fear of heights raising its evil head one more time. Doug and I talked about it, though, and he again commented, “Remember Nemo Road. You can do this.” I considered it overnight and decided I would never have this opportunity again to see these amazing cliff dwellings. I did it, and it wasn’t scary at all.
The moral of this story, of course, is about facing your fears. But it’s also about having that one turning point when you know deep inside yourself that you are capable of more than you ever believed possible. I don’t know if my fear of heights has actually disappeared, but I do know that it has lost a lot of power.
Do you have a Nemo Road?