The drive to Amarillo was a breeze, mostly because I was counting down the minutes until I would be on the Palo Duro Canyon Lighthouse trail.
When I first arrived at the park, the heaviness of truly being alone sunk in. I watched as couples walked past me in pairs at the visitor center, many of which would not be hiking, rather just there for the scenic overlooks.
I changed from a dress into my boots and hiking gear in the visitor center bathroom. I grabbed a map on the way out. The man behind the counter eyed me with skepticism as to why I would willingly go on a hike alone (as a girl).
He shouted, "I hope you have enough water!"
"I do!" I shouted back as I headed for my car.
The trailhead began down a long windy path at that bottom of the canyon. I arrived to find two middle-aged gentlemen who were coming off the trail as I was parking.
"Did you like it?" I asked from across the small parking lot.
They looked surprised as to why I was talking to them, but quickly snapped out of their daze. "Yeah!" They said in unison.
The younger one continued to tell me how it was the most beautiful experience he has ever encountered in his life. I couldn't help but think that was a heavy claim!
They left after opening the two bottles of water I hadn't been able to open since Dallas. My hands were beginning to blister after so many attempts.
Then, it was trail time. I gathered my backpack and was off!
I wasn't a tenth of a mile into the trail before my breath was taken away by the scene that surrounded me. My jaw dropped to the red dirt below my feet, as I was nearly paralyzed by what I was seeing.
"Not bad," I said out loud to the big guy upstairs. "Not bad at all."
Every turn was another crest of cliffs and multi-colored rock. The trails were lined with plants that were both beautifully dead or green with youth.
I was on an incline nearly two and half miles, but I began to notice as I got closer to my destination, the peaks only started looking taller (which was a scary sign).
About half a mile out of the peaks arrived an incline like a son of a gun, far worse than any staircase exercise you've probably completed at the YMCA. Not only that, it was super slick!
I watched as hikers, in front and to my rear, tripped and slipped and grabbed hold of the nearest boulders around them, all before hitting their bottoms so hard on the ground. My face looked like the wide-eyed emoji.
At first, I started trying to go the shortest route. I was taking big leaps and challenging my legs far beyond their limits. I know this because I did almost fall and after one of those holy-crap-I-almost-fell-to-my-painful-death moments, I had to reevaluate my tactics.
All of the sudden, I realized I was making this harder than it needed to be.
I looked down at my feet and the nearly 90 degree angled trail ahead and I told myself, "baby steps."
So I found the smallest little steps, even if that meant zig-zagging my way up that peak at three times my previous pace.
I made it up fine. I was tired, but I wasn't hurt. I did't fall on my face and embarrass myself. I didn't even almost fall or embarrass myself!
I hit the plateau between two of the tallest crests in Palo Duro Canyon and I screamed, "I DID IT!"
"I did it... did it... did it.." echoed right behind me.
I sat up on this giant rock in the sky and I played.
I took pictures, I listened to music, I talked to people who were also exploring the area, and I couldn't believe I successfully made it up that hellish rocky incline!
It started to sprinkle on me while I was enjoying this "play time" and I still didn't want to leave. The air was so peaceful, it was addicting.
Eventually, I looked down below me and the path I took up looked even scarier going down. My heart raced only for a second before I reminded myself again, "Erika, baby steps."
Back down I went, slowly but surely, watching every step and remembering not to get ahead of myself.
Before I knew it, I was back on level ground. I had officially accomplished what I came here to do.
It took an actual mountain to remind me I'm still starting small and taking baby steps in this life... and that's perfectly okay.
Today was beautiful.
Next Stop: Santa Fe, NM