Gian, Fear and Taming My Beast at Smith Rock-Day 52 and 53 in My Year of Living Abundantly

“I see dead people.”  The movie with Haley Joel Osment and Bruce Willis  was one of the few scary ones I watched but I still remember  that line.  It resonated with me.  No, I don’t see dead people but I DO see diet messages everywhere.  This week, it’s in children’s stories.  Imagine me with my Haley Joel Osment voice, “I see deep messages in children’s stories.”  Truth be told, I can find deep messages and lessons (ABOUT DIETING) in just about everything.

With Chinese New Year upon us,  I’ve heard several version of the Legend of Gian.  Gian terrorized people on the eve of a new year.  He ate their children and left villages scarred.  The villagers left out plates of food for Gian but it wasn’t until they learned that Gian hated red, fire and loud noises that they were able to scare him off each year.

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Photo by Vladislav Vasnetsov on

When I first read the story, I felt a deep connection with Gian.  His approach to villages resembled my search for chocolate after an especially stressful interaction  (or really any time I’m bored, anxious, tired, frustrated, hormonal, or on days that end in y).  At the end of the story, when the people figure out that Gian fears red, fireworks and loud noises of course I started thinking about what might make my inner monster shy away from unhealthy habits.  I fear food-borne illness, high places and snakes.

If my inner, food craving monster is Gian-like and upon waking will eat anyone and anything in sight, all I need to do is plant the idea that food in my environment is past it’s best by date, and spend more time in places with breath taking views and snakes.

Smith Rock State Park in Central Oregon COULD offer that perfect trifecta of bad food, heights and snakes.   A while back, my husband and I were preparing for a trip to Hawaii.  As we were reading my favorite travel book series Hawaii Revealed by Andrew Doughty, the idea of hiking in paradise seemed appealing.  We were several months away from our trip but already my husband was worried that I didn’t really understand what I would be getting into.  Doughty may have used the word “switchback” just enough that my husband pictured us cliff climbing but I wasn’t catching on.  We decide to explore local switchbacks at Smith Rock State Park.

When I was a kid, my family drove by Smith Rock every time we went to the grocery store.  It seemed like just another rock formation in the Oregon high desert. In hind sight, I realize that growing up in this type of beauty may spoil a person into thinking the whole world is as open and uncluttered.  Because Smith Rock seemed so familiar, I joined my husband  for a quick hike while our kids stayed with the grandparents.

At the trail head, tourists, kids and dogs scampered about.  A light breeze made the late spring day comfortable.  As I look at this picture now, I remember feeling excited.  The trail was just about 4 miles so I figured with lunch and picture taking, we’d be back in less than two hours.  Now, I look behind my smiling face at the rock wall that goes straight up.  I’m not sure how I missed that before we took off.


As we started, everything seemed familiar.  The crunch of cinder rocks underfoot, the smell of juniper and sagebrush, and the dust that coats shoes then sock and teeth.  Before long, I was thinking that if my dad were there, he’d be warning me about snakes.  Though early in the season, rattlesnakes enjoy a sunny day just like everyone else.

My husband led the way and as we walked, he stopped to take pictures.  Again, I remember thinking that I didn’t mind he was taking pictures because I was huffing and puffing and the rest was welcome.   It was a climb but I was focused on making it to the top.  As I look at the pictures now I wonder how I went so long without looking down.  Even at this point pretty early in the hike, we were getting up there.


After another picture, just about the time we reached the top, my beloved spouse pointed out the switchbacks.  He did this as he also pointed out the rolling waves of grain, Mt. Bachelor, The Three Sisters, Mt. Hood and other peaks in the Cascade range.  He was probably getting excited about the Hawaii trip as it seemed clear that I could handle steep climbs.  From his pack, he pulled out the lunch we’d packed and he was ready for a picnic.  The limp cheesesticks dotted with oil had clearly been affected by his body heat and the sun, as had the brown apple slices and lunch meat, mayo sandwiches.

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I turned down the lunch as my tummy felt queasy.  Up top, closer to the sun, it was turning into a warm day.  With warm, questionable and unpleasantly fragrant food and the the threat of snakes I began to feel uncomfortable.  From our perch way up high, I could clearly see the trail, the zigzag pattern of switchbacks cut into the mountain.  I was suddenly terrified!

Monkey Face is one of the most famous parts of Smith Rock.  Rock climbers flock to it and spectators watch.  From where we were, I heard climbers shouting.  Next to a juniper tree, a metal gurney frame was ready for injured climbers.

My knees were weak, my belly churned, and I shook all over before I started bawling.  Going up was fine because I didn’t see that death was just one misplaced footstep away.  From the top, facing the trail that would take us down to our car, I could see the narrow trail, with a sheer drop on one side and a rock wall on the other.   The loose gravel on the narrow trail plus the slope and my size, seemed to be the equation for disaster.  I knew that people had indeed died in this state park and when I read about their sad stories in the newspaper, I’d always assumed it was because they’d done something reckless.  Now I realized that just hiking on the trail was reckless and I cried even harder.

My husband tried to comfort me but his bologna breath made even more distraught.  He consulted with other hikers about whether or not there were other ways to get down the mountain.   I’ve watched television shows where stranded hikers were airlifted from mountain tops but when I mentioned that he reminded me that what would likely happen is the rescue team would strap me onto the stretcher and carry me down on the perfectly good trail instead.   My husband is a great husband and he said this with love (and bologna breath).

The possibility of putting others at risk and taking out a whole team of people in a rescue attempt made me take a deep breath and consider the possibilities.  For each section of the switchback I could travel down on my own, I’d save the rescue team the work of carrying me out.  Though he promised to block my downward slide with his body, the thought of our three kids losing both parents in one day was  too sad so I cried some more before we started our slow descent.

On our way down, I realized that my fear of falling is greater than my fear of snakes. If there was a crack in the rock wall, my fingers were in it as I clung to the wall in order to steady my steps.  I flattened myself against the rocks if other hikers passed us on the trail.  My chest and tear-streaked face were covered with small pieces of earth and plant matter but I survived.   It was painstakingly slow and my husband had to explain to many people that it was just a small panic attack.  He is gifted at small talk.   At one point, an old lady walked by and she literally hopped around me as if she were a mountain goat.  She wasn’t scared at all!  Another time, a young couple in flip-flops, carried their toddler and infant up the hill past me.  I hope the children weren’t scared by my tears.  That other’s didn’t see the imminent threat didn’t make me question my response.  Instead, I worried for them.

When we finally made it back to the car, I felt giddy and drained.  After outdoor adventures, we typically indulge in mochas or margaritas but this time, we just went home and I hugged our kids.  With my new understanding of  “switchback”, I also reread Kauai Revealed and crossed off any hike that included the term.

If my inner dragon (insatiable hunger) could be scared away for a year with red, fireworks and loud noises, I’d live a different life.  When I visited my doctor 53 days ago, I really thought that her words triggered a mind shift that would help me live differently.  By eating well and moving more, I can live more abundantly but I haven’t learned how to tame the sugar beast yet.

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Photo by Stas Knop on

With many around the world celebrating a new year today, now is another great day to say YES to healthier beginnings.  There is just to much life to be lived to let my weight get in the way.






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