We All Have Our Fears
Gather around kids, it’s story time.
When I was a young lad, my father and I were headed to the beach when we decided to take a detour to the Okefenokee Swamp. It was a beautiful summer day and we thought that it would be a grand idea to explore the swamp for a couple of hours. We rented an aluminum Jon Boat with a little 5 horse power engine and took off into the marsh. If you haven’t been to the Okefenokee, then I suggest you pay it a visit. This beautiful, protected land will amaze you with it’s sights and sounds. I used to be a nut for reptiles and amphibians when I was a kid, so I was jazzed by the amount of alligators, snakes and frogs we got to see while floating along.
After travelling about 9 miles, we decided it was time to turn around and start heading back towards the car. It was at that point we noticed the ominous, black clouds that were closing in on us. I remember my dad saying, “It’s no big deal, just a quick rain shower that will cool us off on our way back.” He couldn’t have been more wrong about what we were getting ourselves into.
Within minutes we were in the middle of the most intimidating thunderstorm I have experienced to date. We were stuck in a metal boat with no where to go, because it’s a fucking swamp and there is no dry land. The only option was to keep floating and hope to find one of the few wooden platforms built above the water line. Remember when you were a kid and you got scared, but felt like everything was going to be alright because your parents said it would be? That wasn’t the case here. I can still picture the sheer panic in my dad’s eyes as rain, hail and lightning crashed down all around us. I was like a broken record, asking the question, “we’re going to be fine, right?” over and over again, only to get no response from my father as he focused on the swamp ahead. It’s an utterly terrifying moment as a child when you don’t get a verbal confirmation from your father that you’re going to survive. I mean c’mon dad, you could have at least lied to me.
We fell into silence, both of us holding each other and trembling, but it sounded like we were in a war zone. Lightning was striking so close to us that the thunder exploded before the flash of light even stopped. I’m not even kidding when I say all of the prepubescent hairs on my body were standing up. The electricity was so thick in the air that you could taste it, which I would compare to the copper taste of sucking on a penny. On top of all of this, the first of two gas tanks went dry and my father struggled for what felt like an eternity to get the last tank of gas feeding the engine. I was pretty sure that getting struck with lightning was inevitable, and if that didn’t kill us then the gators would. My love of reptiles quickly turned to hate.
After travelling 3 miles in this hellacious storm, we finally found a platform to take shelter in. We didn’t even tie up the boat, we just lept onto the platform and collapsed. My dad began laughing uncontrollably. I began checking my pants, as I was sure I had soiled them. It was another 20 minutes or so before the storm passed and we were able to get back onto the water. When we reached the ranger station we had originally departed from, they were shocked that we had been on the swamp during that storm. They didn’t even realize we were still out there and said we just withstood one of the worst storms they’ve had all year. Really top notch park rangers you have there Florida.
Getting to the Point
So what does this have to do with anything? Well because of this incident, I have gained a slight fear of thunderstorms. Ok fine, thunderstorms scare the shit out of me. I have a hard time even sitting in my garage during one, and this poses a slight problem. There are going to be plenty of moments where I will be stuck in inclement weather while hiking the Appalachian Trail, and this is my primary fear going into this journey. I have been trying to work on it; I plan more hiking trips when bad weather is expected, I force myself to stand outside on my driveway when it’s thundering and lightning and I’ve done plenty of reading on what to do when stuck in a storm while on the trail. I’ve become great at hiding the fact that I’m scared when a storm hits, but every time I still feel like the 12 year old me stuck on that boat again. It’s like a stain that, no matter how much I try, I just can’t scrub it out.
I wish I had some advice about what to do if you’re in the same boat as me, but I don’t. Aside from the basics of finding shelter if possible and becoming the smallest lightning rod if not, there really isn’t much that you can do other than keep trucking. But just because I have this fear doesn’t mean that I’m going to let it stop me. On the contrary, it fuels me even more. If I can overcome my fear and with stand walking, climbing, and sleeping in the middle of a lightning storm, then it will make this journey even sweeter. There is an old saying from John Wayne that goes like this, “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyways.” I’ve always liked that saying because it reminds me that it is ok to be scared, but I won’t let that stop me from living.
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