Fear is the mind-killer

There’s a lot of things that go through your head when you make a monumental decision like the one to attempt a thru-hike. There’s definitely a sense of elation and a “fuck yeah!” that goes along with it. That lasted a few weeks for me. I was gung ho, rip-raring to go. There was nothing that was going to stop me on this earth.

Then comes the doubt. The apprehension. Most of all the fear. It seems like everyone you tell has a story about someone getting mauled by a bear, bitten by a snake, falling off a mountain or kidnapped and murdered while on the Trail. And it’s always that old “I had a friend who knew a guy” kind of story. Easy to dismiss as bullshit when you’re conscious and logical.

That’s not the case when the lights are out, you’re laying in your comfy, safe, air-conditioned room about as far from the wild as you can get. That half asleep part of your mind begins to wreak havoc. So here I will describe the fears that I most have- in hopes that talking about them will lessen their impact.

Fear #1: Bears. This summer I have had occasion to see 2 bears here in Maine. The first was in my car, driving to a friend’s house in broad daylight in a sparsely populated (but not all that remote) area. I came around a corner and there it was, standing in the middle of the road. I slammed the brakes on, muttered some expletives and it took off running. I was stunned at how big it was. The second one I saw was in a local wildlife refuge, where they help rehab injured animals before releasing them back to the wild. This bear was even bigger than the first.

So in the dark, picturing myself in a tent and one of these giant toothsome beasts rummaging around outside looking for the crumbs of the candy bar that are probably still stuck to my tee-shirt, makes the blood run a bit cold. I know about the precautions and safeguards, and I know that I’ll take them seriously. At least at first. What happens after one of those long, exhausting days that I keep reading about and I forget I jammed some cookies in my backpack before I put it in my tent? Hence fear #1.

Fear #2: Injury. Walking 2,200 miles is no easy feat, and my forty year old body has not been treated gently to this point. I have been a distance runner, a rower, a weight-lifter, and all have lead to nagging injuries, that still trouble me from time to time. I’ve got knees that sound like shotgun blasts when I squat, 2 big toes that have been broken multiple times and still are quite painful some times, and a variety of daily aches and pains. What if they’re too much? What if I can’t handle it? What if I get hurt on the second half of the trail, when I’m alone?

This leads to Fear #3, the biggest one I have. Fear #3 is failure. I’m undertaking this endeavor for not only myself but to raise money for a very worthy cause. I’m looking for sponsors and people to commit to helping me achieve my goal. People are donating money based on how far I’m able to go, and damn it, I want the whole shooting match! I want to raise as much as possible. What I don’t want is to call it quits because I couldn’t handle it. It’s going to be emotionally and physically the hardest thing I’ve ever undertaken. What if I’m not up to the task? I feel like it will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Fears are like that. They call to you in the dark, telling you that you’re not good enough, not strong enough. What fears do you have about your hike and/or life in general? Maybe if we can shed a little light on them, we can learn to live with them, and not give in.


The title of this post is a direct quote from Frank Herbert’s book “Dune”

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Comments 2

  • Nichole : Aug 8th

    I’m with you on the bears! I know it is unlikely and statistically quite safe, but I’m still worried about bear attack.

  • Matthew Riley : Aug 31st

    I am so glad I found this site and your story to walk the AT. I too have had lots of nagging injuries over the years (several broken ankles, reconstructive surgeries).

    I put it on my bucket list years ago but never followed through. I am currently planning on hiking the AT starting in March next year. Maybe see you out there.


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