I’m now just over two weeks away from starting my 800-mile Arizona Trail thru-hike.
My departure date is soon enough that I’ve reached the point at which my fears have begun to overshadow my excitement, and I’m having nightmares almost every night about all the things that could go wrong.
Not to mention that Oregon is engulfed by wildfires, and the air quality is bad enough that hiking outside has not been safe for a while now. And yes, I’ve been hiking on the treadmill, but hiking on the treadmill is exactly as boring and awful as you might imagine and I haven’t been doing nearly the level of mileage I had planned to be doing at this point in my training.
So now, not only am I battling all of my previous fears (being alone in the wild, water scarcity, tricky navigation, unpredictable weather, sharp/poisonous things, loneliness, bears and mountain lions, etc), I am also terrified that my fitness isn’t where it needs to be and that I won’t be able to handle the necessary mileage to finish the hike in around 6 weeks, which is my allotted time frame.
I am very afraid, and I am consumed with self-doubt, and no amount of positive talk or encouraging words from myself or others is helping. Because no one can truly tell me what I want to hear: that I will be safe, that nothing will go terribly wrong, and that I will be able to complete this hike.
Because the truth is that no one has any idea what will happen, which is why this type of challenging adventure is appealing in the first place.
This is the hard thing about doing hard things – the very reasons we want to do them (because we want to push and challenge ourselves, because of the potential for growth, because of how proud we’ll feel afterward) are reasons that sound great from the comfort of our homes, but these same things feel absolutely awful once we’re actually experiencing them.
Challenging ourselves is, of course, challenging. Doing hard things is, obviously, hard. But there’s a difference between knowing something will be hard/scary and then actually having to feel the fear and push through it.
For about a week and a half now I have been trying to find a way out of this hike. This, plus the nightmares, is very normal for me. The closer I get to doing a hard thing, the more I look for a way out. The weeks leading up to a marathon or a public speaking event or, now, a long hike, are filled with the mental gymnastics of trying to quit.
This is the time, more than any other, when I need to be brutally honest with myself. Because it’s okay to quit or to change paths if something isn’t the right fit anymore, and knowing the difference between when to push on vs when to walk away is crucial. And I am the only one who can feel that difference for myself.
For me, the only way to do that is to ask myself blunt, honest questions to get to the heart of what I’m feeling. I need to ask myself what I’m afraid of, how I’d feel if I quit (both how I’d feel today and how I’d feel a month from now), why I want to do this hard thing in the first place, what I stand to gain from doing it, which fears/obstacles are solvable and which are just inevitable, how I’ll feel if I’m able to complete it, etc.
All of this self-reflection has made it clear to me that I do not want to quit. I want to do this hike. Which means, unfortunately, that I’m stuck in the fear pit for a while.
I can’t do a hard thing without doing the hard thing.
I can’t complete this hike without experiencing every single one of my fears and self-doubts.
There is no antidote to these thoughts and feelings, to the fears about whether I’m strong enough, tough enough, skilled enough, to do this. There are no easy answers. There is only my willingness to try, and the act of waking up every day, filled with fear, and choosing to move forward anyway.
Deep breaths. Feel the fear. Do it anyway.
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