I’m not sure when fear became the determining factor for the decisions I make, but it came to a head this past week. It started off simply enough: signing up for a text service called Nudge. Nudge is a company that sends you biweekly text messages with ideas of excursions to take in your area–Seattle is one of the four cities they serve. As a newbie in the city, and an adventurous soul who happens to have an interest in behavioral science, I figured getting convenient reminders about all the cool things I can do in the area would be a grand idea.
My first nudge didn’t disappoint: it was a suggestion to do a sunrise hike at Poo Poo Point, with a stop at a local coffee shop on the way back. I had just decided that I needed to start taking morning walks because of the back irritation that has become a constant nuisance as I spend my entire day sitting on my bum in front of my computer screen, and I couldn’t imagine a better way to start a work day than making my walk into more of an adventure. Poo Poo Point is just a 30-minute drive from my place–easy.
The problem arose when I started looking for someone to do it with me. Now, my options are a bit limited since I have precisely 3-4 people I can invite to hang out: Gonza, Madison, and Laura/Danilo. Gonza’s knees are bothering him, so that was a definite no-go. Madison declined because she starts work at 7:30 am. Laura has a 5 month old nursing infant and a 3 year old toddler, neither of which make an extra early morning all that appealing. I was left feeling a bit bereft, because I wasn’t about to go on the hike alone. As a woman by herself, I didn’t think it would be prudent to go on a pre-dawn hike.
To add to this, the upcoming weekend was predicting perfect weather: 60s, clear, and sunny the entire weekend. Knowing that these types of weekends are few and far between in the Pacific Northwest, I couldn’t imagine not seizing the days and spending the entire weekend outside. And while working from home once felt like a luxury, now that I have no choice but to work from home all day everyday, my one bedroom apartment feels a bit like a prison I have to escape from at every opportunity. So I tried again to make plans for a hike, this time a couple hours’ drive away at one of the famous fire lookouts–and again, no one could or would come with me. I even made a feeble attempt to find a hiking buddy last-minute in two Facebook groups I joined. I started thinking, If I don’t just go by myself, I might never get to go. But I was terrified of going solo. I was worried about my safety, stories of missing hikers echoing through my brain and planting seeds of doubt. I was even worried about driving 2+ hours each way alone. Hell, I had been scared to take my morning city walks by myself!
Feeling distraught at the thought that what I desperately wanted to do over the weekend was being crushed by the simple fact that no one could accompany me, I paused for a moment. If you’d asked any of my best friends from college or even high school, they’d probably list “daring” as one of the first traits about me. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always followed my curiosity, sought out thrills, and leaned into danger. I climbed Half Dome for the first time at 11. I jumped out of an airplane when I was 18. When I was 19, I took a 17-day trip to Guatemala with two girl friends who didn’t speak Spanish. When I was 20, I got into the car of two locals I’d met the day before, and drove with them and my friend into the Mexican desert. When I was 22, I moved abroad. Yet here I was, forsaking what promised to be an incredible weekend because of fear. When did I become this person? I wondered.
Blurry hot springs in Mexico, on aforementioned desert trip; a night boat ride in a very questionable town in Guatemala where we were convinced we were about to get kidnapped; a New Years’ Eve in Puerto Rico that ended at 7 am dancing merengue in a 7-11; skydiving Thanksgiving 2011.
I have some thoughts about it. Maybe it has to do with having lived for four years in a fairly dangerous South American capital city and all the vigilance that it demanded of me. Maybe it’s tied to the fact that I’m married to a more cautious person, who generally provides a good counterbalance for my risk-taking. Maybe it’s because of the generalized fear and anxiety of the past year with the pandemic, uncertain employment and living situations, and the election. Maybe becoming more fearful is a normal part of getting older. Whatever it was, I didn’t like it. I felt like a shadow of the person I used to be: a daring, adventurous, and independent woman–one who would lead friends into exciting and slightly questionable situations and emerge with some awesome memories.
I felt so thoroughly fed up with myself that I decided I was just going to go hike alone. The trail was short, well-trafficked, and according to AllTrails, had no snow. I’d bring Gaby and plenty of warm clothes and everything would be fine. Friday night, I packed my backpack for the day, picked out my clothes, and set an alarm for 5:30 am. Even as I got ready on Saturday morning, I considered backing out of my own plan. Pushing aside my fears, I finished getting ready and made the drive to the south western end of Rainier.
The trailhead was at the end of a 10-mile dirt road with no cell phone service. My trepidation and blood pressure rose a bit until I arrived at a dirt parking lot with plenty of cars that indicated I’d arrived. Gaby and I hopped out of the car and started our ascent. The trail gains 1,318 feet over 1.5 miles, and I worked up a bit of a sweat while taking in the views. I relaxed almost immediately in the peace of the forest and the comfort in having other hikers pass by us every 5-10 minutes, Gaby resolutely barking at anyone who dared try to say hello to her.
As I climbed, the stress started to melt away. We got to the top in about an hour. The views did not disappoint: with the sun shining and not a cloud in sight, Mt. Rainier was out in all his glory. Mountains and forests stretched out for miles in every direction. I couldn’t believe how gorgeous the lookout was for how short of a hike it required. Is this real life? I wondered as I scrambled over the rocks and looked around. After taking some pictures, I headed to a rocky area where I sat down to eat my overnight oats and take in the views of Mt. Rainier before heading back down. I could have missed this, I thought to myself.
The view from the top: breath-taking.
Just then, a woman passed too close to us and Gaby barked. “Gaby, that’s enough” I said–and the woman laughed, saying “That’s my name, too!” We started talking, and it turns out she had done the hike by herself, too. She was from Brazil, and we bonded about having lived in warmer South American climates and our shared appreciation for the beauty of Washington state. When I admitted this was my first ever solo hike, she said, “I started hiking by myself because I got tired of waiting on other people”. I almost laughed, because I felt the same way. After twenty minutes of chatting, we exchanged numbers and agreed to plan a hike together.
Getting down was a breeze, and by the time I got back to the car, I was feeling euphoric. Not only had I just seen some of the most incredible views of my entire life, but I had done it solo. I’d made a connection with another woman who had similar interests to me–something which, as an adult, isn’t always easy. It wasn’t just that I had conquered my fear, but that I had enjoyed my solo hike. I’d never taken an interest in solo travel before because I always had believed that half the joy in experiences come from sharing them. What I hadn’t realized was the freedom–and the joy that comes from it–of doing something you love, alone. As the one who usually is planning these adventures with friends/family, I tend to feel a responsibility to make sure that the other person has a great time. This time, I wasn’t worrying about anyone else’s wants, needs, or comforts. I just focused on my own experience, and it was liberating and exhilarating. For a moment, I reclaimed a piece of myself that had been missing for so long, and I remembered who I’ve been and who I want to continue to be. It wasn’t the just these particular circumstances themselves; it was also a reminder of the promise of possibilities when you confront your fears and emerge joyfully, wondering why you were ever so scared in the first place.
I have a lot of relearning ahead of me to shed the fear that has somehow creeped into my daily life. This reclaiming is a start. I’m taking back a piece of my identity. One of these days, I’ll look in the mirror and see the bold and independent woman I once was winking back at me again.