The “Fear” List: Five Fears I’m Packing on the AZT
“You pack your fears.”
If you’ve ever planned a backpacking trip this phrase has most likely come up. It’s second only to “hike your own hike” in frequency. Most often when people talk about packing fears, they are referencing pack weight. It’s meant to prompt rational thinking about what is truly necessary to bring. If you’re hiking in the summer, you probably don’t need a snowsuit. The urge to bring a snowsuit is a reflection of your fear of the cold, not the actual conditions you expect to encounter. However, even if your fear doesn’t result in carrying extra items, you carry that weight nonetheless. It’s just mental weight. These are the fears that I’m packing mentally and emotionally as I begin the Arizona Trail.
This one doesn’t require any metaphor. I am paranoid about running out of food, so I’m packing too much of it. Despite having the opportunity to resupply about every five days and my longest carry only being seven days, I am terrified about running out of food while on trail. You can survive weeks without food, and in the grand scheme of things being a little hungry isn’t the worst. Nevertheless, something about being hungry spooks me. I tend to get hangry easily and wonder if that has anything to do with it. Interestingly, I don’t share this fear about water even though I am hiking through the desert and dehydration becomes a serious medical concern long before hunger.
Typically I do well with creepy crawlies. I’m always the designated spider-killer of the house because they don’t bother me that much. That being said, there is one exception. Scorpions. For some reason as a child, I latched onto scorpions as the single scariest animal. I remember a reoccurring nightmare where a scorpion crawls up my bedsheet and stabs me in the face, killing me. Tarantulas? Fine. Rattlesnakes? Don’t love them, but have encountered them before. Scorpions? Hell no.
Ever since I announced my intention of attempting a thru-hike folks have acted as though it’s certain that I will complete the trail. I do not share that confidence. Many people have to get off trail because of weather, injury, life events, or even because they simply don’t want to walk anymore. I’m not immune to these things. After some self-reflection, I’ve come to peace with the potential that I might not complete the trail. I feel certain that if I need to decide to leave, I can do so with a somewhat contained emotional fallout. My friends and family, none of whom have thru-hiked, don’t seem to share this perspective. I am not necessarily afraid of failing to complete the trail, I’m afraid of not being able to live up to their expectations and being labeled a failure in their eyes.
I’ve written about this previously on The Trek (go check out https://thetrek.co/taking-the-leap-hiking-post-injury/), but I tore my ACL last winter and am only a little over a year post-op. Following all my preparation and physical therapy, it’s unlikely the ACL is going to cause issues, but if there’s one thing I learned from that injury it’s that injury can happen at any time. Even when you’ve taken preventative precautions. I feel like I’ve finally gotten my life and my body back, I desperately don’t want to lose it again.
There’s literally an acronym for this one. I have FOMO. By choosing to thru-hike I’m gaining so much. After all, not thru-hiking would mean missing out on thru-hiking, but it would be amiss to pretend like hiking didn’t come with some sacrifice. I’m a whitewater kayaker, and across the country, the best rivers run in the spring, whether from seasonal rains or melting snowpack. My friends are out chasing the flow, while I will be walking through the desert and dreaming of any water at all.
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