Turning Away

As I grabbed my pack out of the trunk, I could barely keep the tears inside my eyes. My husband said “Your friends are meeting you in a week at the half-way point and I will pick you up at the other end in two. You can either stand here or you can walk towards us.” He made me angry, but he had a point. Inertia is hard. It makes you want to sit on the couch and drink coffee instead of getting up and going to work. It also makes you stand at the trailhead with 132 miles in front of you and not be able to move.

This was the first time I had backpacked for more than two days alone and now I was going to do it in a place I had never hiked, in the middle of black bear country. I had spent most of the winter laying on a couch and writing because I had strained both sides of my abdominal muscles so badly that I couldn’t even do normal household chores without pain. I had started my normal training routine as soon as I felt good enough to put on a pack, but as I took my first steps into the wilderness, I wondered if my injury would flare up and make carrying this 35lb pack unbearable. I could see everything bad that was possible.

I walked forward anyway. That first day was a long thirteen miles. I think I spent most of it shaking a little. I know how to prevent hypothermia and how to make shelter and fire under the worst circumstances, but I didn’t know how I was going to do this hike alone.

At the end of the trail, having reached my goal, I thought about how easy it would have been to give in to the fear and stay home. I thought about the fact that I picked a hike outside of my comfort zone as my first solo backpacking trip because nothing feels better than beating something so overwhelming as your own thoughts.


Sometimes things don’t go like that though. They aren’t straightforward… confront your fear and achieve. Sometimes things go bad. After you face mother nature in her unforgiving glory, or injure yourself in a place that you considered your sanctuary, can you go back? The unknown is scary enough but how do you face the known danger?

Goosebumps rise all over my body as the wind cuts through me. My pack is heavy with four days of food and my winter gear. Ascend, descend, ascend again. I stand and stare at the cliff face, that is the trail I am supposed to follow, and eventually have to wedge myself and my pack against a tree limb to crawl to the top. On the way down, my knees shake with each step. My thighs burn. Suddenly, there is hail hitting my rain gear and my visibility is cut in half. The trail is slippery and steep. If I put on more clothes then I will overheat, but if I can’t pick up the pace then I will start to shiver. I am not moving but I am cold and sweating at the same time. I have to get off this mountain or I am going to get hurt, maybe worse.

I pull out my map and find a side trail that will get me down. In the parking area, I sit down on a rock and cry. It’s not that I am glad to be alive. I sob because I couldn’t physically accomplish my goal because of fear. I made the right decision, but the defeat hurts deeply.

My mom asked me after that, if I would continue backpacking. Was I so afraid for my life that I couldn’t go back and face that fear. Sometimes you need time away, and a really good cry for all you didn’t achieve and for all the experiences you missed. You need to be safe and comfortable and surrounded by those who love you.

Then there are questions to ask yourself. Why did I love what I am now scared to face? Can I still feel that love knowing what I know now?

If you can answer yes, then you face that inner demon, and that is something we all know how to do. We do it every day when we ask someone for a date or go on a job interview, and as an artist, we do it every time we look at what we have created.

If the answer to the question is no, I don’t think you run away from what you loved, but I think you have to make the effort to fall in love with it again. Go back to the beginning and prepare yourself for how to deal with the known dangers. And if you fall in love again, then you go for it. Risk is life.

Have you ever been on an adventure and been faced with something so frightening that you can’t go back and do that type of adventure again? Do you turn away from the thing you once loved or do you fight back?

6 thoughts on “Turning Away

    1. znara Post author

      It turned out to be a wonderful turning point for me. I wish you had been able to join for the second half though 🙂 I hope you and E will go back to that great campsite, where we met, one day.

  1. mindreadinghorses

    Emotions in the wilderness or on the cliff – or even on the farm in a snowstorm – are the intuitive calculators that we ignore at our peril. The art of surviving in these conditions is a terrible tension between actively adopting risk and not making the three wrong decisions in a row that can end your life. You were right to choose the safer side of that coin.

    For me, the way to look at these things is to say “I’m really glad I’m smart enough not to bull ahead into danger for fear of being afraid. I’m glad I’m mature enough to make the judgments that let me get home safe. I’m glad I can trust myself enough to be sure I won’t be stupid enough to get killed or need to be rescued. That means I can safely go again into the wilderness, and go safely again to this very place where I was afraid.”

    Because if you weren’t that smart, you should never go back.

    1. znara Post author

      It is so important to know the difference between acceptable risk and ridiculous danger. That is the measure of a true adventurer in my opinion.

  2. Sue Cashman

    I’m so proud you faced your fears to accomplish your goals. I’m prouder still that you are able to see through the bravery and past the goal and still be able to make good decisions. Truly that might be the hardest of all.

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