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Anyone battle fear on the trail?

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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby sparky » Mon Nov 26, 2012 5:38 pm

I can say I have never "battled" fears. When in sticky situations, I don't stop and get emotional until the crisis is solved. I have always looked foreward to trips, I have never experienced fear and anxiety about a trip beforehand, even when I push the envelope a bit.

My first long solo trip I do actually remember being anxious. It was pretty minor and the thought of not going or questioning myself never came into play
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:43 pm

I agree with the concept of getting more fearful as we age. It really should be the opposite! We get more experienced and have lived more of our lives (therefore should fear it ending much less). However, I used to have lots of nightmares as a kid, now none. As I age, I am more aware of dangers so my level of anxiety goes up. Having experienced more "near misses" I am more aware that nobody is perfect. I definitely was a lot more scared, more often, when I did technical alpine rock climbing. Backpacking, even off trail, is pretty tame compared to that. Being alone or with someone makes little difference. In fact I have this "Jewish mother" aspect where I worry twice as much about everyone with me. Being alone is really less stress.

I do not battle fear of backpacking in general - just specific cases. I would more classify myself as a worry-wort than fearful. There have been REAL FEAR moments though. I have had too many close-up encounters with bears, and EVERY time I am scared out of my wits! I am totally in fear at big river crossings - very stressed by being pulled equally by fear and intense concentration on the task at hand. I have been stuck in snowstorm in a very remote area with no way out in poor weather and with grizzly bears to add to the edge. Really exposed passes (with a pack on my back) gets the fear going too. But I think I have come to be able to separate "good fear" from "bad fear". Good fear keeps you from doing stupid things; bad fear keeps you from doing what should be normal.

I took my kids backpacking when they were babies and did was not fearful or worried. I was relatively young and oblivious of dangers at the time. I taught a 3-week winter mountaineering NOLS course 5 months pregnant with my first child, carrying 65 pound pack. That kid is now an OB-GYN and says that it was very dangerous. I am definitely more worried when I take my grandchildren out nowadays.

I really think anyone who says they have never had fear backpacking is in denial. It is not overwhelming or constant, but you bet I have been scared!
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Nov 27, 2012 3:21 pm

Perhaps there is a differentiation to be made. I get nervous, not terrified. I hear a noise and suspect a mouse, or a friend heading out to pee. Some of the noobs i've gone out with have been scared, didn't sleep a wink, because they convinced themselves my snoring was a bear... I know that bears in camp make little to no noise.

If I were to come face to face with a deer, or any large animal, close range, i'd be fearful due to the unusual nature of such an encounter. Animals that behave unusually should set off alarms in your head. Yosemite is one exception where you expect that. Anywhere they're supposed to be wild, all bets are off. Yet people will let animals walk up to them...

Fear is an expectation. Train your expectations well and make fear work in your favor.

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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby papasequoia » Tue Nov 27, 2012 5:56 pm

Hikingfamily wrote:walking our 215 miles with our kids on the trail and the thread of my own fears, as a mom, outside of cell phone service, has surfaced a lot.

I really believe that fear keeps a lot of families home. Sure there are now technologies (we carry a SPOT) that will call the cavalry if an emergency happens, but it's not like the ER room is around the next bend.

If not actual fear, what are some internal struggles you might have to work through to get on the trail, or once in the backcountry?

I think that there are (at least) two kinds of fear: the one you seem to be referring to which is more of a dread about what can/could/might happen, and the fear that one can encounter when actually faced with a certain situation.

Fortunately, during 45 years of backpacking, I have never experienced the former. A little nervousness perhaps (first time hiking in grizzly country, for example) but nothing that really approached fear or dread. On the other hand, I have felt the adrenaline rush of fear or some related emotion many times: bear encounters, rattlesnakes, high water river crossings while solo, steep rock where it appears that I can't go forward or retreat, thunder and lightning storms when I am out in the open, etc. etc. However, I have never felt fear or dread about these beforehand such as while on the trail or getting ready for a trip. Rather, these are the momentary "fight or flight" reactions to a dangerous situation.

On the other hand, with age and the addition of a wife and kids, the types of things I do or the trips I attempt have definitely mellowed from the things I did when I was young. Not sure if that is wisdom (finally!), fear or just getting old. :D
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby dave54 » Tue Nov 27, 2012 9:10 pm

Like Papa above, I have no dread.

I am quite at peace and comfortable with myself when hiking solo off trail. That is not to say I am blissfully unaware of the added risks, I just do not 'dread' them or let them dominate my emotions.

I have been backpacking solo since my early teens, and spent 32 years with the woods as my professional office. I am in my element when outdoors. I have a more heightened feeling of caution when walking the length of a mega-mall or driving to the trailhead.

With someone else, especially someone you have responsibility over like children, the feelings may be different. Since I do not share that experience yet (grandkids are still too young) I cannot comment on that situation.
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby LMBSGV » Tue Nov 27, 2012 11:00 pm

Like others have so eloquently said, I'm at peace when hiking in the wilderness. I never feel fear for myself in the wilderness. There's anxiety about the weather or finding a fantastic campsite, momentary “oh ****” (I noticed on the preview the word I used got switched here but you know what I actually wrote) moments, and lots of times on creek crossings and steep ascents and descents when my level of concentration to negotiate them leaves me momentarily exhausted afterwards. I haven’t had a bad bear encounter (though lots of humorous ones) since the 1970's at Cora Lakes (which in retrospect is also pretty funny-–my wife charged the bear and whacked it on the nose with a rock so it ran away).

As others have mentioned I find the drive to and from the trailhead more dangerous and possibly fearful than anything encountered in the wilderness. Someone crossing over into my lane on the Priest Grade or on the ascent or descent from Tioga Pass is downright scary. Once I get to the trailhead and hiking, I am in the transcendence of being in the wilderness, whether solo or with my wife. I do find there is more anxiety about certain things when I am with my wife since I’m the one who is the principal navigator, etc., and feel responsible for her having as much fun as I do.

The one time I did feel fear is recounted in this post. It’s not me I worry about as much as others I’m responsible for:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=7782&start=12
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby kpeter » Wed Nov 28, 2012 12:27 am

No fear of backpacking. No fear of being alone in a wilderness. No fear 99% of the time. But definitely fear in certain situations.

I have mild fear at tricky river crossings. I have felt genuine fear the few times I've been caught hiking in an exposed place when a really vigorous thunderstorm starts. (But fascination at the same time.) I have a mild but annoying fear of exposed heights. When a trail takes me near a lot of exposure I do feel twinges--even, for example, Bishop Pass. But it is not debilitating.

Years ago I witnessed several bear attacks on hung food and did feel fear as we yelled and flashed lights in the dark. That was in the pre-bear canister era. Watching a large bear standing on its hind legs reaching for food while grunting and making angry sounds did make me fearful.

As I think about it, most of the time I am in the wilderness I experience tranquility, but the knowledge that fear could be around the corner does give the experience some spice.
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby Jimr » Wed Nov 28, 2012 1:07 pm

Papasequoia made a very valid point. There are two types of fear: Reasonable fear and bare fear. Reasonable fear is a feeling based on the thought that there is a high probability of danger and is predicated on the idea that a dangerous situation is, or is about to occur. Bare fear is based on nothing but our brain playing "what if" games with us. It is not your friend.

A woman is walking down a street at night and notices a man walking toward her. Her head says "oh my god, what if this man attacks me?" Bare fear.

Her head says "oh my god, this man is about to attack me" Reasonable fear. Something in the situation alerted her ( probably an unconscious cue) that something was not right and danger was a high probability.

Many responses have pointed to feelings of reasonable fear appropriate to the situation, but lacking bare fear (dread).

Personally, I can't recall any time I've experienced fear while backpacking. Concern, yes.

I take that back. This year, while bivying on trail on a steep slope, I did experience some fear with sounds of animals walking in the forest duff in pitch black. After several attempts to locate the source of the sound with my flashlight and once, getting out of bed to search around, I let it go. A big cat or any size bear was the primary concern.

Also, a bit of fear on this same trip when my kid walked away from camp in an upset state of mind.
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby Flux » Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:57 pm

I live with my anxiety every day. It showed up a couple years back and continues to rear it's ugly head. The pressures and stresses of my life coupled with my vivid imagination pushed me into this genetically predisposed fearfulness. I deal with it constantly. My body can literally react to an imaginary thought of a threat as though it were real.

My biggest fear in the backcountry is that my cardio self will not handle the exertion. This is simply my anxiety. I've been checked out by a cardiologist, carried heavy packs over high passes, grunted up steep slopes and I am still here. I've maxed my heart rate peak bagging and had to sit for a while and calm it down. In short, I have passed the ultimate stress tests but still worry about it. What I try to do is adjust my pace, watch my breathing, and stay steady. It's an irrational fear, but one that sticks with me. I get anxious before a big hike and usually the first few miles until I get through a few heavy breathing sessions and see that I'm fine. Again, totally irrational, and a "bare fear".
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Nov 28, 2012 3:49 pm

Jimr- I think you are over-simplifying things. Each person has their own "breakover point" concerning what probability is sufficient to cause fear. Few people sit there and calculate probabilities. Fear is a feeling - needs to be validated, before you can deal with it. When I am sacred and someone tells me I am "over-reacting" or my fear is not justified, I just want to punch them in the face.

A lot of fear has to do with your past experiences, gut level intuition, and how vulnerable you feel. The elderly become quite fearful simply becasue they realize they no longer have the quick reaction, strength or mental capacity to deal with once they dealt with and that even minor injuries can baloon into life and death injuries. Many 2 year olds have no fear at all (that is why parenting a toddler is so challenging!). What we fear, why we fear and when we fear change throughout our lives. In our society, boys have traditionally been raised to supress fear (and feelings in general), whereas girls have traditionally been raised to avoid fear. However, I would guess more men fear social situations than women.

There is a wide gray area between what each person perceives as reasonable fear and bare fear. I do not feel it is my place to judge what is "reasonable" for someone else. That said, if someone recognizes their fear and wants me to help them learn to deal with it, I certainly would offer advise.

Past experiences matter. If the woman walking down the street has been raped in the past by a man walking past her, she has reasonable fear that the current stranger walking towards her is danger. I was driving and broad-sided by another car while I was making a left turn. It took me three years to get over it- I still hate left turns. A good number of my friends have died mountaineering. At one point, the fear just got to me and I quit technical climbing and began to do more backpacking. The few times I have returned to climbing, I no longer enjoyed it as much. It is possible that in the future, a string of poor experiences backpacking could result in my quitting. I am a long way from that right now, but not so cocky as to think it could not happen. More likely I would simply avoid those specific situations that caused the bad outcome (such as solo in grizzly bear habitat).

I am not a thrill seeker - I backpack for enjoyment and peace of mind and challenge (but not "thrill"). There are people who like feeling fear (adreneline junkies); I am not one.

There are inherent risks in backpacking. I have put a great deal of effort into reducing risks and it has resulted in reduction of fear. This is probably the main reason I am never going to be an XUL backpacker-the safety issues far outweight the discomfort issues for me.

Back to the original post - good for you for working through your fear issues.
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby Flux » Wed Nov 28, 2012 4:06 pm

Hikingfamily:

Do you know that your fears are a form of PTSD??

Not sure if they will ever really go away fully, but you have to train your mind and use each and every good experience as a way to break the pattern.
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Re: Anyone battle fear on the trail?

Postby Jimr » Wed Nov 28, 2012 5:33 pm

It is an objective look at fear from a categorical perspective, not a judgment about another persons feelings. Feelings are always valid. Their source is worth evaluating, especially if there is a crippling affect on one's life experience. It doesn't take a course in statistics or logic to do it. Reasonable is not my judgment as to whether or not another person should fear (should is a judgment, btw), it is in response to the question "is the fear I'm feeling pertinent to the situation at hand." I'll put it in an equally contentious manner:

Reasonable fear = feeling = always valid
Bare fear = emotion = never valid

(reasonable and valid are synonymous here)

What's the difference? To me, a great deal. Feelings are what is real and in the now. Emotions are feelings + a story about those feelings and are not in the now. Most likely a story that involves anybody or anything that brought the feeling up in the past; a script that runs in our heads. While the feeling is real, the story tends to amplify the feeling into something that is no longer relevant to the situation at hand. It is the stories of the past that blows the feeling out of proportion as well as the reaction to it.

Everybody has a mix of feelings and emotions. We all act from time to time based on emotions that just don't seem to fit the situation. Some more, some less. Some to the point that they are crippling in some or all aspects of life, PTSD.

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