Fear and Self
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” -Tolkien
I think it’s worth mentioning fear as it relates to the evolution of self.
I grew up in the small town of Buckley, Washington nestled in the shadow of Mount Rainier. My sense of self revolved around the idea that I was a small town rural kid and inherently good at all things associated with the outdoors. I hunted of course, but only for pheasant and duck. If we are being perfectly honest, there is not a lot of woodsman skills associated with the pursuit of birds—which did not stop me from thinking there was.
Upon graduating high school I found myself off to college during the school year but my summers were spent in southeastern Montana working on my grandfathers ranch. It was there I realized how far off I had judged my own abilities as an outdoorsmen. I learned how to run a chainsaw, clearing burned timber from a five-hundred acre fire that had almost claimed the house and barn the year prior. We would then cut those high-desert pines to six and eight foot lengths and sell them as fence posts. It was grueling, intense, and occasionally dangerous work.
I loved it.
His ranch was nearly twenty-six thousand deeded acres that was the southern section of landlocked BLM land. I had plenty of room to roam. It was this wild land that I credit as the catalyst for my transition to manhood. Riding and tending horses, fixing irrigation lines, setting fence posts, learning how to garden and trap rabbits. I learned how to drive a stick shift on an old CJ-5 Jeep, and spent as much time hiking as I could. I was bucked off my first horse, and jumped right back on. I was nineteen years old and pushing boundaries at an exponential rate. I did not have the knowledge or awareness to be afraid. I flourished.
I began big game hunting in earnest after moving to Vancouver, Washington when I joined a established elk camp a friend of mine had been hunting in since he was a kid. My first day in camp someone killed a bull, but I would not see another elk taken for almost three years as I learned how to walk quietly in the cascade jungle of western Washington.
Five years after I had started hunting in that group I had a nice Washington four point mule deer and a spike elk under my belt that I shot during a quality “any bull” hunt. As one might expect, my sense of self was quite inflated. I was an accomplished public land hunter of both big game and waterfowl. I had endured brutally hot summers in Montana, learning how to cowboy. When I met Scott in 2013 and we became obsessed with the idea of hunting the backcountry, I knew I was capable. How different could it be from the collection of growth opportunities I had already experienced?
I was not prepared for the answer.
After we began backpacking I found that the growth I had previously experienced had been nothing more then a preparatory class for the big stage. I floundered and made mistakes. It was harder then anything I had ever done. It was scarier then anything I had ever done, and it was in those moments of fear that I experienced the most meaningful growth.
I have come to the realization that self actualized growth never stops unless you quit pushing your self to explore self imposed boundaries. What must be most often challenged is nearly always rooted in fear.
Every single person brings an aspect of their fears with them on a daily basis. Some are more pronounced than others. Most are unnecessary baggage that we can not help but bring along. But fear in the back-country is an entirely different animal.
The topic of packing your fears has been discussed ad-nauseum in various applications and mediums for years. The premise being that we over pack for fear of the unknown. Or more commonly we pack for what went wrong on a previous trip. That notion is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does tend to exponentially increase your pack weight.
My first trip into the wilderness was quite memorable. We were scouting for deer and had hiked over five miles and nearly five thousand feet of gain in late July. Winter was still holding in pockets and there were aspects of my own fears everywhere. I have always struggled with heights, and walking over slushy snow near large overhangs was borderline paralyzing for those me.
But I pushed through those moments and experienced an evolution of self. I still struggle with heights (and spiders), but those fears have begun to evaporate while running ridge tops. In my opinion there is no better forum for growth than on the mountain. It has a way of forcing you into uncomfortable situations so that you may experience growth. Many people do not enjoy the process and so their trips to the mountains are short lived. Or worse, spent in mundane, safe places that give the illusion of solitude and experience.
We all bring individual fears to the wilderness, be it weather, injury or bears. Read any forum post on bear safety and you will find that a massive amount of people have, what I consider, an unreasonable fear of black bears. I’ve personally had more trouble with mice! My hunting partner Scott is relatively fearless, with his primary concern being running out of wine (the horror!). But at the end of the day, it is on the mountain that we find out who we are.
So many people find themselves doing unimportant things every day. Most spend there whole life being safe, living on the precipice of monotony. They argue over politics or religion. We stress about what people think about us and what to wear. When the reality is, in twenty years, you will not be telling anyone about the tax argument you won on social media.
But you just might tell them about your trips to the mountains.
Of course we have been talking about fear as the driver. When I evaluate my feelings on this topic now, my greatest fear is not having lived. It absolutely terrifies me to think about wasting my life not doing great things. That does not mean you have to climb Everest or cure cancer, but failing to challenge yourself to be greater than the person you are is nothing short of a disservice to the life you have been given.
Of course, this is not an easy task. I live in a binary world of safety and adventure. I have bills to pay, a family to support and raise, and an intense obsession with the alpine. Yet I find a twenty fifth hour to do it all.
Of course, this is how all of this came to be. The book, this blog, this website. Fear, adventure and self actualization. Seek growth, accomplishment, failure and fear.
Within those walls you will find adventure, and within adventure, you will find yourself.
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