Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 63 - Gibraltar Rock/Sitting on the Edge of a Cliff

I have never been to Gibraltar Rock. While I have known of this towering mass of rock in central Wisconsin for some time, I never made time to visit the natural area and take in the sights from atop one of the highest natural areas in the state. As a fan of a good hike and a great view, I knew I wanted to make it to Gibraltar rock eventually, but the trip never landed near the top of to-do list. Like many things that fit that mold, my “I have never…” adventure proved the perfect motivation to finally make time to visit Gibraltar rock. With the inspiration I needed to finally act on my intent, I made plans to visit the park with Rachael, our friend, Adam, my brother, Ian, his significant other Mitzy, and my nephew Bennet. As a result, we packed up and headed to Gibraltar Rock early this morning in hopes of beating the inevitable heat that was bound to set it as the day progressed. The trip proved an amazing way to spend a Sunday and eventually helped me cross more than one “I have never…” event off of my list.

Our trip began around 9:00 this morning. Adam met Rachael and me at our house with plenty of time to meet my brother Ian at a pre-designated meeting location along highway 90/94 that we would pass on our way to the rock. Once on the road we traveled quickly to the North, making short work of our jaunt on the interstate and our route through the county roads surrounding Lodi, Wisconsin. I was surprised to find how quickly we made our way to Gibraltar, which made me realize how foolish it was I had not visited the park previously. Ultimately, our ride led us to a small, unassuming dead end road at the bottom of a hill. The cliffs of Gibraltar were nowhere to been seen on our ride to the natural area, which left me a bit skeptical we had arrived at the correct location. Adam, who had previously visited the site, assured me we were in the correct location, which gave us impetus to exit the car and grab our gear. Ian pulled in behind us as we got ready, parking his car in a small gravel space near our car. Minutes later the six of us began walking toward a small gate at the end of the asphalt road in preparation to begin our ascent to the top of Gibraltar Rock.

The road to Gibraltar
Following Adam’s direction, our group climbed around the gated area and began walking down an old, single-lane asphalt road. The path’s crumbling surface and cracks green with plant life made its age apparent. What was once a road clearly designed for vehicle traffic had now become a footpath being slowly consumed by the old forest around it. As we walked we talked and took in the sights of the forest around us, with Bennet pointing out plants and objects he found interesting and different. The slope of the road steadily increased as we progressed, which posed little difficulty but made us all recognize the humidity in the air around us. Rounding several more curves on the deteriorating road, we came upon a decrease in the incline of the road. To my surprise, roughly a quarter mile from our cars Adam raised his hand before him and said, “This is it.” Stunned we had climbed to the top of the cliffs so rapidly, I looked forward and noticed a pocket of blue sky between the trees ahead of us. In response I heightened my pace and began walking straight toward the patch of blue. With Adam at my side, I walked until I met a stone with a plaque on it that explained the natural area’s history and listed the elevation at 1,234 feet. After reading the plaque, I continued through a disjointed series of rock surfaces forcing their way out of the ground as the hill crested and declined slightly. Looking out past the rocks, a single flat rock surface sat perched between two trees. Beyond it was nothing but the sky and an endless view of brilliant green countryside.

The first view
Astounded by the sight before me I approached the flat stone surface at the edge of the cliff and let a quiet “Wow” escape my lips. With the rest of the group joining us, we stood in silence for some time before Ian spoke up. “This is quite the view” he said as he stood behind us with Bennet and Mitzy. Coming to terms with the scope of location, Ian quickly reminded Bennet of rules and boundaries while on top of the cliffs. Following his remarks, I piped up “Don’t go anywhere I go when I’m near the cliff, ok?” I asked Bennet smiling. He nodded his head in agreement as he looked on, mesmerized by the beautiful scene before us. Together we stood looking out to the horizon until someone suggested we walk on to explore more of the views offered by the cliffs of Gibraltar.

Looking across the cliff face
In response, our group began walking down one of several dirt paths leading along the cliff. Several yards later we encountered another perch atop the cliffs the reached out over the forest below. Our group spent some time looking beyond the rock surface, with Rachael, Adam, and I spending time on the area closest to the cliff’s ledge. After taking in the view, everyone walked back toward the main path at the top of the cliffs in preparation to continue exploring the area. Still standing on the rock surface nearest the cliff, I notice a narrow tongue of rock at the cliff’s outer most point. Knowing I had never sat on the edge of a cliff in my life, I stared at the rocky outcrop for several seconds before I called back to the group. “Hey, Adam! Can you grab my camera? I think I’m going to climb out and sit on that thing,” I said pointing to the narrow stretch of stone. I turned back and looked at the group with my arm still outstretched. I immediately took stock of the concerned faces that greeted me. Unprompted, I followed up with convincing remark, “I used to rock climb. I can handle this, guys.” Even now I don’t know if that statement was meant to give reassurance to Rachael and the rest of the group or whether it was truly intended for me.

Realizing I was committed to taking on the task, Adam walked back down toward the edge of the cliff and grabbed my camera. “You’re sure about this?” he said as he wrapped the camera strap around his neck. “Yeah, it will something I remember for a long time. Let’s do it.” In response, Adam turned and started walking on the trail leading further down the cliffs. I looked on as Rachael and the rest of the crew moved further from the cliff to watch on from the top of the hill. Then, I turned back to the cliff and started a slow, low climb out to the edge. With the rock surface narrowing to expose 200 foot drops on either side of my location, I checked my footing and grip at least three times with each movement I made. My heart began pounding as I looked down on the forest canopy below me and came to terms with the distance between me and the ground. Finally on the edge of the cliff, I slowly rotated my legs and draped them over the edge of the rock. Taking my position, I gripped tight with my hands and checked my body position before I looked back out over the countryside. The beauty from my new perspective gripped me, causing my nerves dissipate slightly. While the scenery was the same, it somehow felt entirely different as I sat floating over the green space around me. The new perspective evoked a feeling similar to what I felt hang gliding some weeks prior, but it was not the same. There were no harnesses, no cables, and no manmade objects supporting me. It was just me, the stone, and the air, and that was an amazing feeling. 

Sitting on a cliff...

...200 feet above the ground
After several minutes of sitting on the edge of the cliff I worked my way back to the hill behind me and continued with the group down the trail. Moments later, we encountered another scenic outlook that provided views of the nearby cliff we had just left behind. Taking in the views of the cliff against the green and blue backdrop, we talked about the rock formation and the beauty of our surroundings as we absorbed the moment. We stood together, with members of our group periodically breaking the silence to point out features of the scenes around us. Breaking from my fixed view on the rolling hills below us, I looked over the group as they looked over our surroundings. Based on the expressions of those around me, it was safe to assume Gibraltar Rock had captivated us, and that was more than enough to make me happy we made the trip.

Our trip concluded shortly after our stop on the last outcrop of Gibraltar Rock. As we walked back down the old asphalt road to our vehicles, we chatted about the views and the experience and caught up on matters we had not discussed earlier in the day. Once we made it back to our cars, Ian, Mitzy, and Bennet parted from Adam, Rachael, and I to make their way home. Not yet satisfied with our outdoor experience, Adam, Rachael, and I trekked to the nearby Parfrey’s Glen to bask in the cool canyon air during the hottest portions of the day. After spending some time in the glen, the summer heat and time outdoors took its toll, which prompted the three of us to call it a day and head back to Madison. Later in the day, I sat thinking about everything we had done and seen during our daytrip. The thought of everything we encountered made me realize how lucky I am to have the experiences my “I have never…” journey has brought my way thus far. While actions like today’s cliff sitting experience provide an added degree of risk in my life, I’m learning so much about the world around me and about who I am. It took me 30 years, but it’s good to feel like I’m starting to open my eyes.

Rachael and I on top of Gibraltar Rock

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