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The Fear Factor

The freaky chain ladders on South Africa's Drakensberg Traverse. When I admit I'm terrified about my upcoming hike in the Pyrenees, people are shocked and surprised I'm going anyway.
The freaky chain ladders on South Africa’s Drakensberg Traverse. When I admit I’m terrified about my upcoming hike in the Pyrenees, people are shocked I’m going anyway.

Can we talk about fear?

A number of years ago, I read a fantastic book by Susan Jeffers called, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.

Her main premise is that most of us feel fear – plus anxiety, angst, dread, worry, trepidation, imposter syndrome – which have the potential to hold us back from taking action. She doesn’t suggest we learn to tame our fear, but rather to hear it out, accept it, then get on with things

I’m reaching back to her lessons now as I prepare for my walk of the Pyrenean Haute Route next week. It’s a challenging, 500-mile, off-trail, alpine thru-hike on the frontier of Spain, France and Andorra.

Along with rugged mountains, there are also charming villages to wander through, other languages to hear (and attempt to speak) plus cheese!

I’ve had my eye on this route ever since I completed a thru-hike of the traverse of the Alps on the GR5, but it’s only now that I’ve been able to carve out the 50+ days to give it a shot. 

Am I excited? Why, yes!
Ready to roll? Of course!
Scared out my mind? That goes without saying! 

Wait a minute, why am I feeling such polar opposites, both excitement and fear? 

No Such Thing as Security

It may come as a shock to you that even though I’m the Blissful Hiker who’s-walked-12,000-miles-on-six-continents™, I’m also a human being. I know full well I have zero control over weather, other people, the terrain, if stores are open or not, my aging body rebelling, etc, etc. 

Once that list starts scrolling – usually in the middle of the night – I’d prefer to curl up in a ball of comfort zone. I’d be peachy keen pushing that big, scary, rocky route in foreign lands as far away from becoming a reality as possible, a reality that might actually ask for some form of commitment from me.

But that would make for a boring life, wouldn’t it?

Helen Keller reminds us that security is a myth. So why cling to it? She said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

Here’s one of the ways I uncurl my fearful little self out of a comfort zone crouch and get moving towards scary, daring – and incredibly fulfilling – adventures.

Accepting that fear is just part of what it means to be a human who pushes herself out of her comfort zone, allows for more zesty adventure. That being said, we need to listen to what fear tells us and ask "Then what?" to be prepared for eventualities.
Accepting that fear is just part of what it means to be a human, we can push out of our comfort zone for more zesty adventures like in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. That being said, we need to listen to what fear tells us and ask “Then what?” to be prepared for eventualities.

Then what?

I start by talking to my fears. I ask them, “What if…?”

What if the weather goes to hell?
What if the store closes?
What if I meet some duds along the way?
What if the trail is too hard?

It’s a gentle challenge, a nudge for the fears to come out of hiding and reveal themselves fully.

And it’s at that time I ask them the second question. If that happens, then what? It’s within the answers to the second question that I am able to set the fear aside and see what action needs to be taken.

Here’s what that looks like:

If the weather goes to hell, then what?

Well, I could take a few days off in a lovely Basque village and wait for the weather to improve.
I could choose an alternate route to hike that’s less affected by bad weather.
I could (goddess forbid!) quit the hike.

The “then what” offers a whole list of possibilities. It also causes me to think more rationally about how I might deal with a situation before it happens rather than being paralyzed by my anxiety. 

That might mean packing the right gear for eventualities or ensuring I have an escape plan in place. Even then, the questions can continue.  

What if I bring the wrong gear?! Then what?
If I bring the wrong gear, I can buy what I need at gear shops along the way. 

What if they’re closed, then what?!?
If they’re closed, I can wear everything I brought, or find a gîte d’étape for the night, or, heck, shiver!

And so it goes…

A Leap of Faith

Every adventure out of our comfort zone is realized through a mix of calculated risks and a leap of faith. But when you keep asking “then what?” to your list of fears, you run out of excuses You take a breath and move through fear into a life full of adventures, large and small. 

5 Responses

  1. Good luck on the trek Alison, a friend of mine did it in 2022 I think, he bought a Durston Xmid from me that I had, which I had found a brilliant piece of tent engineering but a bit fiddly in the Australian landscape. Looks like the pick of the Euro traverse routes as long as “you like them challenging”.

    Looking forward to the blog posts!



  2. Works well for musical performance, too! Bidaia seguruak! (Safe travels in Basque…I looked it up!)

    1. I love that! I have google translate for four languages – Spanish, French, Catalan and Basque!

      Yes, I often would tell myself “what do you have to lose? go for it and make music!” to keep myself from getting overly nervous.

  3. Hello, Blissful. Terri (Milkweed Seed) here. I’ve turned around out of fear near the Windows on Whitney as I’m deathly afraid of heights/exposure. I’m headed back and will try twice to get a day permit (or over night) to hike Whitney. I will keep your thoughts in mind and Helen Kellers quote. I plan on crawling across if I have too.

    Adventure on!!

    1. oh gosh! the Windows are trippy, but pretty safe if you keep your eyes on the horizon. Take a friend who will talk you through it! And way to go not giving up. Always there waiting for you. 🙂

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