Shadows of What If
I’m feeling the fear now.
There, I said it. A little more than a month out from my start date, and there is this feeling of being on a roller coaster ride right as the bar has come down, the cars pull away, and you realize there is no stopping what’s to come.
Like it or not, you are on the ride, come what may.
It’s not a gnawing terror, more a growing trepidation as I begin to wind down my day-to-day life. My last week at the gym is about to begin, followed by three merciless weeks of shakedown. I’ll endure the tail end of Washington’s winter, sleeping in my backyard all the while undertaking 15 miles of road hikes during the day.
Clack-clack-clack, goes the ride up the tracks, carrying me to the precipice that is my initial destination, until…
My mind has been fixated on that last moment before I start, as I watch my husband drive slowly away from Campo. I see myself turn round and take in the scope of the Mojave in front of me as a quiet voice whispers within my head, 2,600 miles to go.
However, it is not just the enormity of the task ahead that fills me with dread. A million tiny whispers surround my preparation. Have I bought the right gear? Am I physically ready to take on such a task? Will I actually make it?
Hell, let’s go for the big one… Will I die?
That may seem a touch over dramatic, but it is at least a little bit possible. From scorpions and rattlesnakes, to falling tree limbs and forest fires, the trail is not without its dangers, but actual death, probably won’t happen.
What’s more likely than death is failure. The statistics are clear that most people who begin the trail won’t finish it. Injury, finances, and the hardships of life in the wilds take many from the halcyon dream world to an often shocking and cold reality that it’s too much, and there is no shame in that. To even attempt a thing like the PCT, to walk along its paths, and dare to try is to do more than most will ever do.
And there it is. My biggest fear, hiding among the shadows like a lurking predator.
Can I really do this?
I’ve trained hard to get ready for the PCT, pushed myself through hours of workouts, scrimped and saved, had long talks with my family, and talked to life insurance agents. But even after all that work and preparation, I still don’t feel like I’m ready, which is why I’m afraid.
Fear, as Frank Herbert famously wrote, is the mind killer. It is the little death, something that, with my anxiety disorder, I’m all too familiar with, and while I do have concerns, I realized something.
The what-ifs, those small, critical thoughts that force me to question, are related to shadowy phantoms I’ve already had to beat in my pursuit of the trail, and battle almost daily.
Let’s call them the “Icants.”
When I’m at the gym, long into a cardio session or sore from the day before, the time can stretch out like a winding road in the rain. Amid the panting of my breath, and the hammering of my heart, a quiet whisper rises over the din of my exertion.
You’ve already pushed hard today; go easy.
No one is going to judge you for stopping; everyone sees that you push hard.
It’s just one day.
These voices all seem logical at the moment, far more logical than pushing through onto my time or distance goal, but to give in to them, grants them a power, all at the cost of my own agency.
Though those shadows urge me to quit, quitting is a choice. It is something I must decide to do. I’m the one who’s going to slap the stop button. I’m the one who’s going to grab my keys and walk away, and I, alone, will be the one to bear the consequences of those actions.
They are just shadows after all; they have no real form or substance. They are the manifestations of my doubts, and the coalescent nature of my fears, but just as I have a choice to give into them, I also have a choice to push back.
This is where the real training begins. Physical development will come with both time and regular effort, but to beat your own mind, to slay the shadows, you have to get comfortable with making the choice to be uncomfortable.
Hike like you train. It’s that simple. If I surrender to the call of comfort now, then a pattern is forged and fate is set. I must push past the familiar and easy now if I expect to be able to do so on the trail.
All my own choices. All my own doing.
So am I going to let myself fail? No. And it is out there beyond the shadowy barrier of the Icants and what-ifs that the Northern Terminus will slowly come into view.
I must choose. Not once, not twice, but every moment of every day to look beyond my doubts, my concerns, and my cravings for comfort, toward something greater.
The first battle will also be my last, because it is the one that never truly ends. It is the battle that exists within my own mind.
Let’s do this!
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