Comfortable Fear: My Backpacking Journey

“Fear, as I explore, is an important tool. It’s an important emotion because when used properly, it keeps us safe. It raises a warning bell that says, ‘Don’t go. Don’t do that. Don’t,” – Michelle Obama

Hello! My name is Amanda Hughes (she/her). In a few days (!) I will be attempting a thru-hike on the Long Trail. I am intending to state at the northern terminus near North Troy, Vermont, and hike to the southern terminus in North Adams, Massachusetts (southbound or SOBO). As my start dates approaches, I feel myself toying between the lines of fear, excitement, anxiety and enthusiasms. This will be my first solo, multi night backpacking trip and my first time ever summiting basically anything.

Although the views on the Superior Hiking Trail weren’t always impressive, the thimbleberries were!

How did I get here?

The Bruce Trail follows the Niagara Escarpment through many different landscapes. This spot is only 1.5 miles from my childhood home in downtown Hamilton.

I was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. However, I did not fit into the stereotypical Canadian adventurer. Yes, we made an ice rink in the backyard every winter. However, instead of becoming a hockey player or figure skater, I stumbled into gymnastics, gradually becoming a national level athlete and once-upon-a-time was national champion on floor. But I was born in the inner-city. Like took a city bus to school inner-city. Like didn’t drive a car until I was 22 inner- city. However, little did I know, in this inner-city was the Bruce Trail, a 550-mile trail starting in Niagara Falls and ending near Tobermory.

Eventually, my family would start camping at KOA’s. First in the little cabins, then upgraded to a tent. I will never forget one of the first times we camped in the rain and the front vestibule collapsed, drenching everything. Soon, we branched out camping in New York where I crossed paths with the first thru-hikers. I will never forget seeing the first thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail and the first shelter. It blew my mind that they had all of their things in their bags. And their beards! And the smell! Wow! I could never.

Crossing Bridges

Our eldest dog, Dan, looking over an ice cold, stormy Lake Superior in October outside of Copper Harbor.

When I graduated from high school, I had accepted a scholarship to Eastern Michigan university for gymnastics. As a graduation gift, I was granted a session with a psychic. During my “reading,” I was told that I would cross large bridges over vast bodies of water. As a 17-year-old, I laughed thought it was fun but hokey and went on with my life. After graduating college with a degree in Elementary Education and Language Arts, I ended up staying in Michigan and meeting my now husband. Because we were very broke after getting married, I was in graduate school and we were paying to go through the immigration process, we took a very simple trip, camping around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

For those who have never been, to get to the Upper Peninsula, you must cross the five-mile bridge, The Mackinac Bridge. You can either drive over the grates, feeling the vibration of the small bumps pull your car here and there, while also being able to see through the cracks in the grates or drive near the edge overlooking the Straits of Mackinac (ice cold water from the Great Lakes Huron and Michigan). This was the bridge that changed my life.

My favorite piece of infrastructure.

A year or so later, a good friend and I decided to plan a weeklong camping trip to the Upper Peninsula, in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. For a week, we goofed around in the UP. We did day hikes around the picture-perfect cliffs, made AMAZING meals (we also ate a whole bag of onions- a story for another time) and were introduced to backpacking.

Like I said, whole bag of onions.

One of the days we were hiking the cliffs, we were playing leapfrog with a small family. They would pass us, we would pass them. They would take our picture, us theirs.

One of the coves along the Pictured Rocks National Lake shore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

As we hiked, we chatted with them about their plans for their UP trip. They told us that after Pictured Rocks they were headed to Isle Royale. “Isle Royale, what is that?” we asked. Upon arriving back at our site, we had already decided that next year we were going to that little island in the middle of Lake Superior and we were going to need to learn how to camp in the backcountry.

“But the other side of fear, if we don’t really understand it, is that fear can keep us stuck. And it’s that fearful mind of getting stuck and not being able to move outside of your comfort zone that I refer to as that I have to fight back against that.”- Michelle Obama

Little did I know we were well beyond my comfort zone and we were only going to push further.

Type A Meets Backcountry

As I talk about my adventure on the Long Trail, I think it is important to remember that I am a serious Type A. I plan everything to the last detail. I want control. I want to know it all. That combined with 22 years of competitive gymnastics equals a person who is wanting control and details and perfection. For 22 years it was my job to think of every detail and then to execute it perfectly. I brought this to everything in my life and backpacking was no different.

I consumed everything Isle Royale from informative books, to narratives, to REI workshops.

I could talk about Isle Royale until the cows came home. This what I would consider our first thru-hike.

Sunrise over Rock Harbor on Isle Royale.

We hiked 60+miles, end to end, side to side over seven days. There were moose, foxes, beavers, hundreds of birds, and a WOLF! We carried bags that were 50+lbs, used sleeping bags that were 50 degrees for 39-degree weather, and had WAY too much food. I had been a national level gymnast for 22 years and I had never felt so strong and so in touch with my body.

Isle Royale’s rocky shores along Lake Superior from the seaplane. There are only two ways to reach the island: seaplane and boat.

Comfortable Fear

From here, backpacking has brought me amazing new friends, memories, to new places and experiencing the unimaginable. But the fear is still there. This upcoming trip on the Long Trail has presented these comfortable fears that I never thought I would face.

As I prepare for my upcoming trip, I look forward to sharing my why’s, adventures, laughs, and challenges with you! Thanks for coming along for the ride!



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Comments 2

  • Alison : Jun 30th

    Hi Amanda–hoping to see you out there!! My two dogs and I started NOBO at the beginning of June but the flood and the air sent us home til later this summer. Perhaps we’ll see you along the way. Best of luck!

    • Felicia : Jul 10th

      Thanks for sharing ❤️ I hope the LT is everything and more for you!


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