Reflecting on my Year of No Fear

As 2015 winds down, it is only natural for people to reflect on the year that has been and gear up for the year that will be. Many of my friends who have been following my adventures have seen my Year of No Fear hash tag. What most people don’t realized that what started out as a simple hash tag, was actually first a mantra/promise I made to myself in early 2015.

During the Winter of 2014/2015, I was going through a depression that crippled me both mentally and physically. Although I was able to keep up an act at work, on the weekends my act crumbled around me, as I succumbed to the pain, sadness and emptiness that permeated through me. I secluded myself from friends and family who were worried about my wellbeing. My once adventurous and out-going attitude faded behind my ever-growing self-doubt. One day, at my worst, doing everything in my power to overcome a vicious urge to take my own life, I made a promise to myself. “Stop living a life of fear,” I told myself. Fighting back tears, I wrote those words on my mirror with crimson red lipstick. I strategically placed that mantra in a place where I could see it from my bed. I repeated it over and over, growing louder until I was screaming it at the top of my lungs, as if trying to expel the pain and sadness from my bones. It was in that moment that I promised myself that I would live without fear, or “Live Fearlessly”, my final edit to the mantra on my mirror.

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My first snow bike ride. #yearofnofear

It wasn’t until February 16th, 2015 that my #yearofnofear made it onto my social media page. I had used the hash tag as motivation to help me get over my fear of biking to work. Although I became a bike commuter in the winter out of necessity, not choice, I knew that this first triumph over one of my fears was just the beginning. While biking home that night I contemplated how my life would change if I forced myself to do everything that scared me.

Looking back, I can say that my life as I knew it changed that day. I made a conscious effort to change my attitude, which in turn changed the way I decided to live my life.

One thing that changed during my #yearofnofear was the amount of things I was able to accomplish. Whitewater kayaking. Sailing. Rock Climbing. Biking. Backpacking. Making new friends. Traveling with strangers. Traveling to Iceland. A month long road trip. Visiting Texas, Vermont, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and Utah. Visiting Shenandoah, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Reestablishing a relationship with my father. Online Dating. But the biggest reward wasn’t the amount of things I was able to check off on a list, it was the amount of confidence I gained while doing things I had otherwise thought was impossible.

Learning to roll my kayak. Punching through Cucumber Rapid on the Youghiogheny River. Ascending a 5.9 route with an overhang. Solo backpacking for a week. Traveling without plans in an unknown city. Traveling alone. Being homeless for a month. Living on a boat for a weekend. Biking to work for 4 months. Having a one night stand with no guilt. Making peace with my father. Solo Snowboarding. Applying for a new job. These were all examples of things that I considered impossible for me to accomplish. Yet, as I was able to overcome each one, an overwhelming feeling of confidence would come over me. Slowly, as my accomplishments added up, I began to own that confidence. Soon I felt more comfortable in social situations. I was able to hold more meaningful conversations and I noticed the type of person I was able to attract into my life. These were people who also had some ambitious plans, goals, or were just down for more spontaneous adventures. They were more genuine, wore their emotions on their sleeves, more willing to help you out with little to no expectation of having the favor returned. I was becoming the person I had always imagined, and that was the biggest accomplishment of all.

Along with the accomplishments and the confidence, #yearofnofear allowed my friends to follow my adventures, and to even keep me motivated. I had a lot of fun talking with you, answering questions, hearing your admiration, and even being heckled for some of my decisions. “Come on, Bigs, it’s your Year of No Fear,” as I was being called out by my roommate for not confessing my crush on a male friend, was one of the best heckles of the year!

Even though 2015 is coming to an end, my Years of No Fears just began. I’ve decided to continue conquering my fears as it’s become my way of life. My list of things to accomplish has grown. Singing in front of a crowd. Skydiving. Hang gliding. Ice climbing. Exploring my sexuality. Posing for pin-up photos. Dating. More sailing, backpacking, rock climbing and kayaking adventures. Hosting house parties. Connecting with friends on a more personal level. Allowing myself to become vulnerable. Overcoming my emotional ties to my parents’ divorce and my father’s abandonment. Living in a foreign country. Finding my sense of home. These are the things I hope to experience in 2016, and you will see it posted with #yearsofnofears.

So what’s next? In addition to #yearsofnofears, I have decided that this will be the Year of the Empress (#yearoftheempress). It’s not as catchy as Year of No Fear, but it has a deeper meaning. The Empress refers to a chakra archetype, one that relates to pleasure, well-being, abundance, sexuality and a strong emotional sense of life. These are concepts that, for the longest time, I felt unworthy of knowing or experiencing. With my increased self-confidence, I now feel that I can and should experience abundance, well-being and pleasure, and have it come easily.

What will the Year of the Empress look like? It will be deeper connections with friends and strangers. I will allow myself to enjoy life, unrestricted and uninhibited. It will be opening myself up to opportunities to experience abundance in material, financial and emotional forms. It will also be a time where I will focus on what I need most, quiet the distractions, refine my character and hone in on what I am meant to do in this life.

This is also the year where I will be telling my story. I will be divulging the unknown chapters of my Year of No Fear, I will be compiling my stories of the road and of my adventures both from 2015 and years previous. I think I have some interesting things to say, and I’m hoping that my friends, family and visitors to my page will concur.

As I begin to prepare for the new year and new adventures, I will leave you with this lesson that I have learned from my Year of No Fear in hopes that it would inspire you:

Fear is but a mindset. Fear is singlehandedly the thing that will hinder you the most in your lifetime. In trying to overcome it, you’ll  learn so much about yourself, and when you do conquer it, it’ll lead to a feeling of ecstasy and self-confidence. Anything is possible, especially when you change your mindset. That is exactly what I did that day, in January 2015. When I wrote those words, “Stop living life out of fear,” I made a decision to change my mindset. And in changing my mindset, I changed the entire way in which I continue to live my life.

Happy trails and adventures to you, where ever they may lead you in 2016!

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When the Perfect Doesn’t Work Out Perfectly Part 1

View from second vista on Giant Mountain

“You’re doing what?!” my mom screamed through the telephone.

“I am going backpacking on my own, with B-dawk in the Adirondacks,” I reiterated,  pausing because I knew what was coming next out of her mouth, a list of all the different things that could possibly go wrong.

“How will you get around? Do you know what you are doing? What if something happens to you? Do you know the kind of people that are out there? And what they are willing to do to a pretty girl like you?”

Silently, I thought of each answer. Walking. Kinda. Well, I guess I’m screwed. Hippies and adrenaline junkies. And no, what are they willing to do?

“Mom, I’ll be fine. Stop worrying.” a half-assed attempt at reassuring her, obviously to no avail. She continued on her tangent of worried thoughts, explaining that she has lived longer, has more experiences to pull from, and that I wouldn’t know how she felt until I became a mom.

I love my mother, but after a certain amount of time listening to her ramblings, her voice transforms into the teacher from Charlie Brown, incoherent utterances of something resembling words. My mind just blocks everything out until I hear a question or statement in which I need to respond.

“Hello, you there?” She questioned.

“Ah, um, can you repeat that?” Shit, she caught me.

“When will you be back?” Repeating her initial question.

“I’ll be coming home Monday. If you haven’t heard from me by Monday night, then you have something to worry about.”

My mother wasn’t the only one who thought I was crazy for embarking on this trip. My co-workers and friends all tried to talk me out of going, stating some of the same reasons.

I just have to do it, I thought to myself. I have something to prove to myself and to everyone else who thinks I can’t or shouldn’t do it. But the reservations of the people around me started to eat at my confidence. What if something DID happen? Would I be able to handle it? Questions about basic survival skills bounced around in my brain. By the time Friday came around, my nerves were working overtime. I had tripled checked the route in which I was taking, shared my route with a few key friends and family members, maniacally reviewed my supplies repeatedly until I was sure I hadn’t forgot anything.

My dog, BDawk and I, at the trail head before we start our hike.

I left for the Adirondacks after work, on a Friday evening, the sun setting,  an eerie start, almost like foreshadowing, to the adventure. It took six hours to get up to the Chapel Pond Parking lot, where my dog and I were going to spend the night in the car. When we got there, it was one o’clock in the morning and I had barely kept my eyes open the past two hours of the trip. My phone had lost service an hour ago, but luckily my GPS had continued to work despite the loss. I pulled out the blankets and cozied up in the back seat. My dog, who by habit sleeps next to me in my bed, had trouble trying to find a spot that was close enough to me. He struggled to find a comfortable position as I had trouble with nodding off to sleep.

In the morning, I was startled by the sound of French Canadian hikers, readying their caravan to start the day’s trail. Now was a good a time as ever to start, I thought to myself, despite having had an unsettling night of sleep due to the constricting nature of my car and the cold temperature.  I readied my things, double, triple and quadruple checking I had all of my gear and supplies for the trek. I grabbed my dog, asked the friendly Canadians for a quick picture, and we were off on foot.

For the first quarter to half mile, I was surprised to find that I was scrambling up rocks, definitely huffing and puffing, quickly realizing I need to get in better backpacking shape. This realization did not help my nerves. “Am I going to be able to make it all the way?” I scrutinized every detail of my experiences hiking, my present athletic condition and my current mood, as I climbed. Out of breath, I staggered up to the first vista. The first vista point was a nice place to re-energize, take some pictures and reflect. BDawk and I were able to look down and see Chapel Pond, the parking lot and the starting point to the trail.

“This is actually happening, I am doing this all on my own,” I thought. Although, I would have preferred some company, I wanted to do this hike all by myself. I just had to prove to myself that I can do it.

I heard the French Canadians getting closer, so I decided to continue on. At this point, I let BDawk off the leash.

After the first overlook, we came to a lake serenely sitting among the backdrop of trees on the mountains in the distance. The reflections of the fallen trees and debris caught my eye. After taking some pictures, we crossed a man-made bridge and continued to scramble up more rocks.

Although I was wheezing for air, things were going smoothly. I felt confident about the day, and the trip thus far.

Then BDawk and I arrived at the second overlook point on the trail…..

When the Perfect Doesn’t Work Out Perfectly Part 2

In order to get to the top of the second look out, there was a massive, steep, and polished boulder that needed to be passed. BDawk couldn’t and didn’t want to try and pass it. He had become spooked of steep boulders while hiking the AT in Virginia that summer. It was evident that the experience in Virginia had a profound effect on his willingness to climb. I continued to encourage him to climb on his own, thinking he would try to get up the rock if he knew I was up there. I even tried to help him, but his lanky legs resisted every inch. Suddenly, he became so spooked and agitated that he darted off into the thick brush, disappearing within seconds.

“It’s okay,” I reassured myself. “He does this on trails at home and will always make it back to me.”

Five minutes passed.  I continued taking pictures with my phone from the top of the vista.

Ten minutes passed. I walked around the trail and vista point to see if I could find him.

15 minutes passed. I sat, panicking, at the top of the vista, thinking about my mom telling me, “Make sure you don’t lose BDawk!” Damn, her and her fucking comments.

20 minutes passed. An old, stocky, weathered hiker asked me if he has a bear bell on him. “The bear bell would at least alert the bear, before he could sneak up on it.”

21 minutes passed. I’m frantically thinking about BDawk’s lack of bear bell and how that could prove fatal.

28 minutes later, I hear the jingle of his collar. A sigh of relief came over me, as I had just resigned myself to the notion of coming home without a dog. I tried one more time to get him to go over the boulder, to no avail.

“What the hell am I going to do,” I questioned myself. That was the only trail I had considered, my only option. Quickly, I started to trouble shoot. Thoughts of abandoning the trip popped into my head. “I’d feel like a failure if I quit now,” I thought. I still had something to prove to myself.

My mind immediately thought of the trail split, at the lake a quarter mile back. I took out the map to evaluate my options. At the lake the trail did split, the trail to Giant Mountain (which I was on) went right and to the left a trail to Roaring Brook Falls. “It is the only other option,” I sighed, disappointed that I couldn’t follow through with the original plan. But  seeing that I didn’t have any other options besides abandoning the hike altogether, I decided to go with it.

The hike down the trail seemed more difficult than I had expected. The steep incline of the trail seemed exacerbated by the fact that  I was heavy with emotions of anger, disappointment and anxiety.  I hadn’t anticipated my dog not being able to complete the trail with me, what could go wrong next?  In addition, each new group of hikers we passed seemed to rub it in that I wasn’t going to reach the very top, a subtle yet still painful dig at my self-confidence.

We returned to the lake and I took a minute to take in the beauty surrounding me, while trying to regain composure over my emotions.

I started thinking about my hiking partner, my ex-boyfriend who had been on all of my previous hiking and backpacking trips. He always kept me in a positive mood. But this time I had to rely on myself to keep my emotions in check. This time I had to rely on myself for every aspect of the trip. Fuck. I took a few more pictures to quiet my mind and to remind myself that I am surrounded by pure beauty.

We continued on the trail towards Roaring Brook Falls until I found a decent place to set up camp. After setting up the tent, I emptied the gear, organizing the necessities that I would need for starting a fire, setting a bear bag, making dinner and feeding B-Dawk. I was able to put up the tent and bear bag  effortlessly, a small victory since I had never been in charge of either task on my previous trips. These small victories kept me positive for the time being.

Finally settling in at my “campsite” for the night, my mind continued to race with thoughts of my incompetence. Swiftly, in a desperate rush to avoid the negative loop, my mind shifted to another thought.

“Fire! I must start a fire!”

I thought if I could start a fire and keep it going, then maybe I would feel less incompetent. To me, keeping a fire going was a matter of my survival for the night. The ground was wet and there was a damp, chill in the air. I was skeptical that I would even get a spark to catch, yet I scavenged around my campsite for any kindling that was remotely dry.  Then in the distance, I spotted a Birch tree shedding its bark, in large, papery stands, perfect for starting a fire. I grabbed two handfuls of bark, and returned to the kindling I had scavenged. Methodically, I broke down the tree branches into more manageable pieces, continuously thinking about how to start the fire. I decided to lay down the largest piece of bark on the ground and tear the other pieces into thin strips, easy enough for any spark to catch hold of it. I put the meager pile of strips down, hoping that my logic would work. I took out my zippo lighter (yea, I cheated, you backpacking purists) and struck the cog. Instantly the spark started to smolder and caught hold of the bark, creating a tiny flame that continued to consume the thin strips. Immediately seeing the flame, I felt a simultaneous feeling of accomplishment and urgency.

“I can’t let that flame go out!” I told myself. In my mind, letting the fire go out would add to insecurities and incompetence. I hurriedly yet strategically placed the kindling over the flame, hoping it would grow. Slowly it did.

For 3 hours I sat staring into the fire constantly thinking about life: my recent breakup with my ex of 5 years, a failed attempt at dating a coworker, a run in with a crazy man who threatened me and my dog with a knife 20 feet from my house, a recent car crash that totaled my car, an unstable father and his ailing health and the various emotions that went along with all of that. As much as I was nervous to go out backpacking by myself, I felt like I needed this time. It was time I needed to escape the crazy, to sit in silence and reflect on what had happened, what was happening and try to figure out what needed to happen next.

I started thinking about what all of these recent events meant. I started second guessing my breakup. Maybe I really did want to focus on a family, settle down and that traveling was not as important to me like it once was. I sat by the fire and let the warmth surround me. I hoped it would fill the emotional void I had in the pit of my stomach.  As the darkness consumed the light of day, the fire died down and the kindling ran out. I decided to go to the tent and read to quiet my mind.

I took out On the Road by Kerouac and started reading. I was temporarily comforted in knowing that Sal, Kerouac’s protagonist, would have been able to relate to my fear of being alone despite my quest to find solitude. I read until my eyelids became heavy and then disappeared into my cocoon of a sleeping bag to go to sleep.

Although I was heavy with emotions, I slept lightly. The mixture of the cold air, hard ground, and my own anxieties did not provide a good night sleep. In addition, B-Dawk, who was not equipped to sleep on the cold ground without a crash pad, was shivering profusely. He huddled next to me to absorb any heat from my sleeping bag. Eventually, I ended up giving him my jacket to use as a blanket.

In the morning, I made breakfast, gathered our things and decided to head back to the car. The three day adventure was cut down to one night. My emotional state and lack of gear to keep B-Dawk warm at night prevented me from wanting to stay any longer. We returned to the trail, taking in the beauty one last time before returning to our car. The remaining time, I decided to take a trip to Lake Placid, see the Olympic training center, and then over to Lake George just to say I saw it. I was disappointed that I was unable to finish the trail, get to the top of Giant Mountain and spend a few more nights out on the trail.

When I came back home, friends and co-workers had asked about the trip.

 “It was great!” I replied, lying through my teeth. It was better than telling them the truth, I thought.  No body wanted to hear the truth. I didn’t even want to admit the truth.

 REFLECTIONS ON THE TRIP:

It has been two months since going to the Adirondacks. Reflecting back, I can say that if I had been in a better state of mind and not dealing with all of the emotional crap, I would have enjoyed the trip. I have later realized that the trip was not as bad as I felt while there. The disappointment of not finishing the trail was the most painful part of the trip, but I have decided to try again in the Spring.  Most importantly: I SURVIVED! I was skeptical that I would even survive a night alone in the woods. I also learned some valuable tips about backpacking/hiking that I only could have learned through experience. Talking to other more seasoned hikers, it only gets easier with experience. In addition, looking back, it was a trip that needed to happen. I needed the growing pains as I learned a lot about myself, about what I want out of life, and my limits physically and emotionally. In the end, the trip wasn’t as perfect as I had expected it to be, but such is life, imperfect. It is the imperfections that keeps life interesting. Here’s to more life experiences full of imperfections, mistakes and the knowledge, strength and courage to overcome them!