Some people call me fearless because I ride my motorcycle and camp solo, but the truth is, this shit scares the hell out of me.
Don't get me wrong, Belle and I make a pretty good team (“Belle” is my Harley – I named her that because she’s Beauty And The Beast) but I’m still solo a lot of the time. It isn’t that I’m against riding with other people, but a lot of the time I just crave being alone with my bike and the road. I actually really enjoy being alone, which is going to sound like a contrary statement in a minute, but bear with me.
I've talked about this before, but I was an extremely fearful child. I was afraid of everything. Creatures, ghosts, images from TV, the monster in my closet. The one under my bed. Cemeteries. Strange noises. Drowning. Fire. Choking to death. Death in general and in its many forms. And of course, bears 🙂
Surprisingly enough, I’m not afraid of Bigfoot. Especially since, at the time of this writing, I’m camped in the heart of the region with the most “sightings” on the planet. And honestly, after riding the 50 some odd miles up to Mt. St. Helens and back, I was struck by the pure density of the forests absolutely covering this landscape. One of the thoughts that actually crossed my mind was “Wow. If I was a Sasquatch, this is definitely where I’d hide. Still, somehow in a weird juxtaposition of thought I imagine he/she/it to be relatively shy and quite misunderstood. I digress…
So I’m sitting next to my yurt, trying to get a fire going (and having more than a little trouble given the rain). It was barely crackling, even though I bought dry wood. Suddenly I heard what I thought was a low growl coming from the woods and I literally jumped out of my chair and made for the door of the yurt, stopping briefly on the porch to reassess the sounds of the forest.
Just then a man came walking up the trail into the clearing. It wasn’t even a threatening man. This guy was maybe late 20s, tall and skinny and wearing a beanie with his hands stuffed in his pockets as he walked. For all I know he was just clearing his throat.
I know, I know – everyone thinks these stories are hilarious, and they are – in hindsight, but sometimes hindsight can give you insight.
Earlier I’d gone for a hike on that same trail. It’s a marked trail, but one that leads you through miles of old growth forest, with ferns spread like carpet across a dense forest floor and lush vegetation climbing enormous moss covered trees. It was gorgeous and still wet from the afternoon downpour. I snapped some beautiful pictures and shot a little video. The daylight was fading but I knew I had at least another hour before dark. Still, there wasn’t a soul around. It was just me and the deep silence of the trees. The only interruption to the beautiful silence was the occasional bird’s song.
It was peaceful. Quiet.
And yet, I found myself afraid.
I don’t know what I thought would happen. I knew there was no threat of bears, and while I’m certain the rainforest has its share of snakes and critters and creatures, there were no posted signs about dangerous animals. That only left dangerous humans.
I wasn’t that far from my campsite, but I failed to bring my gun on the hike (don't worry, I have a permit). I also felt my pocket and realized I didn’t bring my knife or a flashlight.
Not even a whistle.
What the hell was I thinking, venturing off into the forest alone like that? It occurred to me that I am almost always on guard. Always afraid of attack. Even if there isn’t supposed to be a threat I have no trouble imagining one. Fear doesn't ask you if it’s logical.
I am even afraid of feeling vulnerable and afraid. How’s that for pathetic? In reality it's kind of preposterous, because I’m really quite strong, am usually well-armed, and I know how to fight. I know how to be alert and watch for danger, and I do. Constantly.
In fact, I went to the eye doctor to get contacts and after the exam he told me that my eyes never fully shut. Even when I think they’re closed and I’m sleeping I’m never really fully relaxed. Talk about sleeping with your eyes open!
The hyper vigilance is not new. It’s part of the PTSD I deal with from a history of multiple attacks from multiple attackers, to the point where each new situation has the potential to add insult to injury, even those where the threat wasn’t real or didn’t come to fruition. They build an ever expanding wall I keep having to dismantle brick by brick. Even the bear encounter that everyone likes to tease me about shook me to my core, and clearly I’m still getting over it 😉
I know why it happens. That doesn’t mean I know how to fix it.
In my favor, I suppose, is that I’ve always been a rebellious sort. I really hate being told what to do, and the only thing worse than being told what to do is feeling out of control. When I realized that fear was controlling me and telling me what to do (and therefore what not to do), a huge lightbulb went off over my head.
No, seriously – I’m pretty sure the beacon could be seen for miles.
I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’m tired of being afraid, and I am not willing to be controlled by anything or anyone. So I started standing right in the face of anything that made me afraid. Doing it anyway. Doing it just to prove fear wrong. Doing it and doing it again until I could prove to myself that the imagined threat is so much worse than reality.
Reality has to win. The games in our head are just stupid, continuously-looping propaganda designed to keep us enslaved to our fears.
The time has come to stand up to those fears. To say:
“No. No fucking way. Not anymore. Not ever again.”
I feel so insulated sometimes by society that I’ve been lulled into thinking that my walls and my weapons protect me. I’ve built an imaginary cage around my life and I need to break free of the notion that I am safe. The world is a dangerous place. Safety is an illusion. A series of precautions sprinkled with unpredictable events.
When I feel safe, I am infinitely happy and at peace being alone, but I never learned how to be alone and at home in nature. Even on my hike, I had to keep telling myself it was ok, and going through the list of possible threats and ruling them out one by one. But here’s the thing: When I stopped my thoughts long enough to take it all in – to be astounded by the beauty surrounding me, I felt temporarily unafraid.
The experience of being in the moment was stronger, viscerally – than the fear was.
Living in the moment – truly living in it, is the best fear-buster there is.
Am I still out riding alone? Camping in the middle of nowhere with no cell service and no one to watch my back except my good friends Smith and Wesson? Yes. Because with each successful ride, each successful trip, I am breaking down those walls and those triggers and those barriers to my own peace. My own happiness. And I will continue to do these things, because I am determined to get to the point where fear has absolutely no control over my life anymore.
The point is, you have to choose your battles and calculate your risks. Figure out which ones are worth taking, and then live your life.
Ultimately, I decided, I would rather die facing back my fears than cowering in a corner with my head covered.
And so, I ride on…