Heights have long headlined a list of phobias too long in my life, so why did I move to a place as mountainous as Korea? Crazy? No. That’s one of the many reasons why I travel. To overcome fear, and triumphing over those obstacles feels much better when the ground is too far below to make out with the naked eye.
Wolchulsan National Park
Facing anxiety triggers flight. Coming in many forms, staring them down is never easy. But above all, it’s the heights. The insurmountable wall that’s hard to face, in all directions. Not too steep is okay, no counting steps to cope. Not necessary to take the mind off the abyss underneath and all around. That’s the fear winning.
The feeling that one bad step could mean a world of hurt and hospital bills or maybe worse. Dramatic but sensible enough at that moment. A comfortable hike steering clear of “black” (expert) trails on maps always seems smart and safe enough. Never beyond “purple” (intermediate) and things remain okay. That is, until Wolchulsan National Park. Seeing its most popular spot requires some time in the black.
No reason to visit Wolchulsan National Park without getting a look at the well-known Cloud Bridge connecting two adjacent mountains. No support other than well-constructed, reinforced steel and wires. No other rationale for getting up early on a Saturday morning to drive there without seeing and walking across that bridge. This is why I travel.
My wife and I start at the park’s less-popular rear entrance, gradually reaching those views one anticipates while hiking. Blue skies above and as the elevation increases, a look at the day’s beginnings down below. Peaks grow clearer and we choose between the park’s highest point or to push on towards the Cloud Bridge. Others have completed both but the mission is clear: conquer that fear. Get to the bridge. This why we came. Peaks come and go but mitigating that fear is the main mission. Enter the black.
We share a brief downhill break before reaching the rail-supported ridge that intersects with the Cloud Bridge.
“If it becomes too much, turn back.”
Groups don’t allow for space when crossing paths, but not out of rudeness. Nothing personal. Peak hiking season in the land where one jockeys for position everywhere. Find a spot and fill it as quickly as possible before the others gobble it up. No time to queue, though some do wait and allow passage. Not everyone is in a hurry, it seems.
The Cloud Bridge comes into sight but a steep descent towards it must come first. Thankfully the people ahead are cautious and approach this part with care. Anxiety levels spike as people behind are not as sensitive to the tension. A group from the other direction approaches and a lady slips, almost falling over if not for the rail. Safe. The nerves don’t need that. A hiking stick continues to jab my right leg. No time to wait. Looking back, he can see not anger but fear.
Counting steps along the way, the hurdle’s clearance inches closer. A simple “let’s go” started the walk across but a fresh reminder hugged my coattails. The challenge is never over until the last possible reminder leaves its mark. Two boys directly behind jumped up and down in succession and to their hearts’ content, having some fun on the bridge.
Thankfully, the father yells for them to stop and that maybe some people are afraid. Thank you, sir. That wasn’t helping but you saved the day. Another man tells the boys that nobody is scared. It’s okay. The jumping ensues. So does my counting. In fact, it never stopped.
Passing onto the other side and looking back on it all, an amazing view presents itself. Rocks and canyons on all sides. And that bridge. The boys move on with their father. Looking around and taking in all the scenes, it’s time to go. Challenge completed. The walk down goes through a variety of stairs ranging from steel to rock and just as rough on the knees as the initial climb was on the thighs. One last look at the bridge from underneath made clear just how beautiful yet dangerous it looks.
“Have fun in Wolchulsan today! The bridge is cool, you guys will love it – tackle those fears!”
An encouraging message from a friend proves that the trip really means something. There was a reason. Travel to overcome fear, if only for today. It’s one of the many reasons I’m here and traveling. Those heights are still a haunting prospect but next time, the challenge won’t seem so difficult. Fear lost. Score one for the good. It proves why we should all be out there, overcoming something nagging and holding us back. This is why, Why I Travel.