Overcoming fears: hiking through “what ifs” and a fear of heights

Do hiking, canoeing, backcountry camping or car camping force you to face your fears? In this guest post, my backcountry camping partner Cheryl explains her mental battles. She wrote this after our 8-day, 90k hike along the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park.

I truly believe this hike was equal amounts mental and physical. Maybe more mental.

And it started before I put one boot on the trail.

In the days leading up to our trip, my brain was overloaded with all possible “what ifs”, each involving various degrees of plausibility. What if I twisted an ankle four days in. What if a bear ate our food. What if someone got sick. What if a monster serpent of Loch Ness proportions emerged from Three Narrows and swallowed Kyra whole, leaving me alone and without the Personal Locator Beacon, that was, in an ironic twist wrought with chapter-ending suspense, carried by … Kyra.

You get the idea.

At night, in the tent, I would listen to podcasts that I had downloaded at the last minute, to distract my mind from the next day’s hike. 

The words, “almost 30-metre vertical descent”, printed in bold lettering on our map to describe a steep section of trail after H21, weighed on my mind for the first three days.

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Cheryl on Three Narrows Lake, contemplating the next day’s 30-metre vertical descent?

This trip, more than any others I’ve done, taught me to “be” in the moment. Breathe. Experience. Enjoy the journey. I reminded myself to do this throughout the day.

Kyra is right: I’m not a fan of heights. 

Sometimes, in the midst of descending a steep, rocky section of the trail near the top of a mountain peak, and fighting a heavy pack that always seemed to push you forward, looking out into the distance was scary.

I learned to focus on the path in front of me. One step. Then another. And maybe, in a moment of either planned courage or unfortunate miscalculation, I’d sneak a peek at the stunning view that extended below my feet.

Some days were long, and we were exhausted by the time we reached camp. I think the human body, and the inner spirit, is designed to just keep going, when there’s no other viable option available,  like asking Kyra for a piggy back out.

I’m very proud of our accomplishment. And, oddly, I am both relieved that I’m home, and sad that I don’t have one more day in front of me, in Killarney.

Cheryl

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Cheryl at the bottom of the 30-metre vertical descent.

Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete

Follow me on Twitter: @kyrapaterson

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