One of our main reasons for leaving home to live in England was to be able to spend time with family. Since moving to Minnesota after college we were lucky to see Haley (Taylor’s sister) maybe once a year over holidays, and had only spent a total of a few weeks with our new brother-in-law, Sam, as he is originally from Wales. We looked forward to going on trips together as we lived over here, but it’s been a challenge to find time to do so with their work schedules. With that said, we were super excited to have a weeklong adventure with them as our tour guides in northern Wales: Sam’s old stomping grounds, where Haley studied abroad, and where the two ultimately met and fell in love.
I’ve had the privilege of knowing Haley for eight years now, and watched her grow from a quiet-spoken teenager to the fierce woman she is becoming more and more each day. The greatest growth and development I’ve seen happen within her was during the time she studied abroad in Wales. At this time in her life she pursued her passion for art, stepped outside of her comfort zone to another country, and in that place and time met her husband Sam. During this period of her life I witnessed Haley step into her own; she stepped out of a shadow of being a little sister, and was awake, alive, and full of happiness.
There’s been this large and important part of our sister’s life that Taylor and I have only heard stories of and witnessed as a spectator. We were excited to walk in her footsteps and see first-hand the people, places, and culture that shaped her so greatly.
After a few months of planning our own trips, we looked forward to taking a back seat as Sam and Haley took the reins for the week ahead.
Our journey began at an outdoor adventure center that Sam worked at for one summer a few years ago in Llandysul. Thanks to this connection, the owners were kind enough to let us all stay for free and borrow wetsuits for our upcoming adventures.
Sam has his masters in Outdoor Education and currently works for Ultimate Survival, a company based outside of Oxford. He has lead numerous groups of people through a variety of outdoor adventures. His beliefs are rooted in an ancient Nordic philosophy of outdoor life called friluftsliv. This term refers to an open-air lifestyle, a return back to nature, our true home. Sam’s love for nature and outdoor lifestyle is what initially drew him to me. I have a deep connection and respect for nature, and am happy to see someone pursue a career in strengthening the relationship between humans and the outdoors.
Throughout the week Taylor and I had a wonderful time witnessing his training, knowledge, and passion firsthand as he lead us gorge walking in the Brecon Beacons, coasteering in Aberieddy, and hiking in Snowdonia.
The life lessons and meaning beneath an outdoor experience is the true purpose of Sam’s work as an outdoor educator. The experience itself is fun, which is purpose enough, but what one learns about oneself through the elements of challenge is where the true magic and importance lies. I agree with this philosophy wholeheartedly, but did not expect its affects to take course on me as we set out for our adventures.
I pride myself in having developed a level of comfort in nature after my years of experience in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota, but on one of our excursions I faced an unexpected challenge. One may guess that the scariest moment of our trip would be when I stepped out onto the Kjeragbolten rock in Norway, with a 1000-meter drop beneath me. Instead, fear found me at the top of a slippery, steep rockface in Aberieddy while coasteering.
“Now, we’re going to run down this rock and jump into the water,” Sam says to us, “It’s only a couple steps.”
I took one look down the wet slope. “You have got to be kidding me.”
“It’s perfectly safe,” He says as if it’s nothing, “I’ve done it a number of times.”
I studied his face. I looked at the slanted slope. I looked at the others with me. The water. The rocks. My oversized water shoes. And back to the rocks I envisioned hitting my head on.
I kept asking questions over and over again as if Sam would give me the perfect answer that instantly transported me safely into the water. But there was no such answer.
Then I proceeded to make every excuse imaginable as to why I couldn’t do the task before me: I have bad balance, my shoes are too big, the rock is too slippery, I’ve never done this, my legs are wobbly, I’m going to hurt myself… I was shivering cold and being absolutely pathetic.
“You’ve got to trust yourself and go all out or you will get hurt,” Sam yelled up as I tried putting one foot over the edge. Him and Taylor had gone before me and were now at the bottom in the water waiting for me to get the courage to go. No matter what they said to encourage me though it didn’t work. I just couldn’t help but see myself slipping and falling down this slope, landing in rocks instead of water.
Then Sam’s words broke my thought pattern, “Sarah, live your greatest life!”
I froze. “You tell others to take chances and to live their greatest life,” he reminded me, “so why don’t you do that for yourself right now?”
I considered this deeply for a moment and agreed. If I am to encourage others to face their fears, I must do so myself and lead by example. I must prove to myself that this can be done. In that moment I chose to think less of myself, and more of others. I chose to make this act for the purpose of a greater cause with deeper meaning.
With a nudge of competition, a change in focus, and a countdown from three, I threw my weight forward and ran down the slanted rock with my eyes fixed on my destination of the water below.
Before I knew it, within just seconds, I was safely underwater, coming up for air. Wading in the icy water below, the rock slope and gap between the water didn’t seem as scary with this change in perspective. And just like that, I grew deeper in myself and in my understanding of life. An experience in nature brought me face to face with fear, and I trained my mind to overcome it.
I’ve faced fear since this moment in time, and I will continue to face it for the rest of my life, but consciously choosing to overcome fear on a consistent basis conditions us for less setback because of it in the future.
We look at fear and we want to analyze everything, just as I did on top of the rock. We want to avoid fear, but at the same time, we are almost obsessed with it. We sit in fear and waste time. We invite it into our hearts and minds and ask it questions. We search for a different way, instead of choosing to take the only way that truly moves us forward and makes us great in our lives.
I turned these thoughts over in my head as we continued our journey…
Before returning home that night we visited Tenby, one of Haley’s favorite places to visit while studying abroad. It was dark by the time we got there but still very beautiful. It is a quaint town on the coast that Taylor and I would like to go back to sometime when the sun is out. As winter was upon us and the sun was setting around 4:30pm, we were racing to fit in as much as possible while we still had daylight.
The next day we left Llandysul and our wetsuits behind to visit other places in northern Wales: Carmarthen, Llensteffan, Aberystwth, Caernarfon. Eventually we landed that night in Llanberis at a YHA hostel at the base of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. We set out the next day to hike despite the wind and rain. Luckily the first half of our journey contained patches of sun, but on the way down our backs were pelted by hail. In that odd and unexpected way however, nature showed us her beauty among seemingly bad weather. To our surprise, we loved our walk back down the mountain in the pouring rain and hail. Often, times like this make you feel much more alive.
The Snowdon area is absolutely beautiful and Taylor and I have decided that one day wasn’t enough, that we will come back for a week in the summer sometime in our lives.
We had a great time seeing a greater part of Wales and understanding where Sam and Haley’s hearts are in these places in different ways. Thankful for this time together as family, and for the lessons learned along the way as we get to know ourselves and one another better.
What fear are you sitting in that you need to face?
What will you lose by staying in fear?
What could overcoming your fear open up in your life?
Take time to consider these questions NOW. Take action in your life NOW.
We’re rooting for you!
Sarah + Taylor