Me and My Fears

Funny thing about fear: you defeat it in one place and it promptly crops up in another. Right now I’m afraid of my next riding lesson. Last Wednesday we rode out onto snow-covered fields for the first time. The horses were full of themselves, ready to go at top speed, but the terrain was uneven and the ride rough. I tried to canter twice and almost lost my seat. I know that tomorrow we will go into the fields again and I will have to canter. It would be easy to call in sick or say that I was too busy for the lesson. But I won’t. First, because I have booked a horse trek in Mexico in February on which we will have to canter across meadows (and so far I have cantered only in an arena). Second, I just hate to let fear get the better of me.

As a mountain climber, backcountry skier and solo backpacker I’ve faced fear many times. Fear keeps me alive. I know that I have to check and recheck every belay point on a mountain, avoid slopes that are likely to avalanche, proceed with caution in bear country. Realistic fear drives me to prepare for danger, and being prepared, I am less afraid. Two summers ago I was face to face with a grizzly bear while I was lunching with food spread all around me. Because I was prepared, the bear didn’t get the food and neither of us came to harm. I have dealt with my fear of bears by learning how to deal with them. But I’m terrified of cougars; where they are concerned I take refuge in statistics – in the areas where I hike cougar attacks are very rare (scant consolation if the “rare” attack is on me). The danger is there but I find the level of risk to be acceptable.

It’s so easy to yield to fear, to stay within a safety zone. Scared of spiders? Squash them! Scared of snakes? Stay out of snake country. Scared of public speaking? Stay silent. Scared your kids will be abducted? Never let them out of your sight. How our lives become circumscribed by fear!

I followed a conversation on Twitter the other day about fear. Most tweets gave ugly critters like spiders or the death of a parent as the primary fear. I tweeted, “Not facing up to my fears.” I know that my wonderful, exhilarating life of adventure would never have happened if I had yielded every time my stomach played host to squadrons of butterflies. I live by two rules: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “Failure is more rewarding than not trying.”

So tomorrow I will give my horse the signal to canter and will keep doing so until I can sit firmly in the saddle – or go flying off, break a bone and have to cancel my Mexico trip. Or I could slip getting into the bathtub with the same result. The world is not a safe place.

Facing the New Year: a life on fast forward

Looking back at 2011, I know that for me it was a very good and eventful year, even if not everything that happened was good.  After spending a week snowshoeing at Mistaya Lodge, high in the Canadian Rockies, I was forced to make the hard decision to put down my beloved Alaskan Malamute. A few weeks later I left for the Yukon to mush a dog team in the magnificent Tombstone Range, camping out in the snow, meeting wonderful people and getting very attached to my dogs.  After that I sold my house and moved into a rented condo.  In June I spent a month in Mongolia, horse trekking and touring; that country so won me over that I plan to return in 2013.  I managed a few days at Shadow Lake Lodge in September, just in time for the golden larches to display their finest.  Since then I’ve been taking riding lessons and riding as much as possible in preparation for a horse trek in Mexico in February.  Unfortunately in early December my mother (97), fell twice and has been in hospital ever since.  She will have to give up her apartment and move into a nursing home.

So now I face a new year that is already stressful.  My next adventure to Patagonia and Mexico begins January 13, and before then I must move my mother’s belongings into storage, clear out her apartment, find a nursing home for her, deal with all the loose ends of her life, and find time for riding lessons, workouts with my trainer and daily visits to the hospital.  Trying to conduct business in the week between Christmas and New Years was all but impossible, but at least I was able to pack for my trip.

One more big trip is on the horizon: dogsledding with the Thule Inuit in Greenland (late March, early April), followed by a short hop to Sweden to drive a dog team in Lapland and maybe spend a night at the Ice Hotel (though why I would do that after 10 days of sleeping in a tent on the sea ice in Greenland baffles me).  Next summer I will spend another week at Mistaya Lodge (where the hiking is as good as the skiing and snowshoeing), do at least one multi-day backpacking trip in the Rockies, and possibly take a September horse trek in the Yukon.  And, of course, I will also be planning my trips for 2013.

Is this a life on fast forward?  Indeed yes.  Each year brings me closer to the time when I will have to give up many of the activities I so love, even if illness or injury doesn’t stop me before age does.  So I fill my days with dreams, plans and adventures, living in the present and future, not in memories.