The following is the first in a weekly series of member submitted articles entitled “Reflections from the Trail.” Many thanks to Sonja for sharing this with us!
What are you afraid of? Snakes? Flying? Dolls? How about hiking?
I recently completed a 94-mile hike around the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland, with five fellow Trailblazers (Kim, Carole, Brenda, Marybeth and Zi). Before I left, I asked myself numerous times if would be able to survive. I knew full well that the others had far more hiking experience than I and much more long distance hiking than I (Machu Picchu, Annapurna, Camino de Santiago, to name but a few). In fact, I had none. I had hiked and trained somewhat, but gnawing away inside was that constant voice of fear – “You’ll fall”, “You’re not fit enough”, “What if you get hurt?” “The others are faster” – that I couldn’t quiet. I even asked the others “Do you think I’ll be able to manage?” The wholehearted response was “You’ll be fine.” So, I went.
The trip came at a crossroads in my life. A rough job change, the end of a long-term relationship, the usual. I needed a break and I needed to get away. Far away. I’ve traveled extensively in Europe and the United States and usually I’ve got things down to a science. I know what to pack and I know what to expect. But, on this occasion, I felt unfocused and distracted for the two weeks prior to departure. I couldn’t sleep and packed and re-packed. And then it hit me. I was afraid. I was afraid of hiking too slowly. I was afraid of getting left behind. I was afraid of being a burden on the others. I was afraid of rocks and stream crossings. I could go on.
And then we arrived. And we started walking. I was taken in by the beauty of the landscape. I was overwhelmed by the views. That first day, we battled 40 m.p.h. winds. We clambered up rocks and through bogs. We came face to face with a herd of cows. But, we kept walking and I felt fine. I don’t deny I was tired and somewhat jet-lagged. I don’t deny that this and that ached. I don’t deny I wasn’t the fastest. But, reaching the bed and breakfast that first evening, I realized that I’d been challenged. That I was tired. That my feet ached. That I’d survived a day without makeup. That my hairstyle was non-existent. But, there hadn’t been a single moment that first day when I told myself I couldn’t do it. Or, didn’t want to do it. There hadn’t been a single moment when I wanted to curl up in a fetal position and wish myself back home.
And then came the second day. And the miracle was that, when I woke up, I couldn’t wait to start walking. More views. More valleys. More coves. More birds. More sheep. More sunshine. More peace. More thoughts. No wind. I was getting to know my fellow hikers even better. We were friends before we left but traveling together brings you closer. I was relaxing. The day before, I’d hiked more miles than ever before. I had survived. I knew then that I would complete the trip (although, I did take a rest day and did not complete the entire 110-mile circuit). I knew then that I had nothing to fear. I knew then that there might be some moments that scared me but I also knew that I’d manage. (Thank you, Brenda, for talking me over that gap in the rocks on day one!). I had the support of my friends. I knew that we would help each other in times of need.
And then came the third day. And the fourth. And every day, the feeling continued. A feeling of empowerment and fearlessness.
I returned to Richmond changed. That long walk had changed me. It had shown me that I need to simply strap on those metaphorical boots in my life. There will be curves in the trail of life. There will be hills and steep descents in life. There will be times when we all face what seems like an insurmountable rock wall in life. But, strap on those boots and keep walking and the fear will melt away.
As you read this, you might well be asking what this has to do with Central Virginia Trailblazers. You might even be thinking what a self-indulgent load of rubbish. But, hiking has taught me to conquer my fears and to do things I never thought I would do. It has taught me camaraderie and reminded me of the beauties of nature. It’s taught me how much I value peace and quiet. It’s taught me hikers are good people. It’s taught me you can still be a hiker and still have a great manicure. So, when you peruse the upcoming CVT events and read the descriptions, be smart. It’s vital to know your limits. It’s vital to be well-equipped. It’s vital to know your fitness level. But, do push yourself (sensibly) and don’t let fear limit what you can do in life. Take the training wheels off and cycle into the sunset knowing you have nothing to fear.
Next week, read more about the Dingle adventure from Carole’s perspective!