Fearing A Walk In The Woods

I have long been drawn to the idea of a long hike in the woods. The Pacific Crest Trail is so close to my home. My older sister used to ask me to hike it with her, as I’ve mentioned before. I have a friend who plots out a solitary hike into the back country every summer, figuring out where she wants to go and getting the needed permit. And then off she goes, with all she needs on her back, up into places like the Alpine Lakes wilderness. I asked her once if she wasn’t afraid, out there alone, and this petite woman looked at me as if she didn’t understand the question.


There are a lot of books about people who have gone off on long treks and I read many of them. Some, that are so popular movies have been made from them, like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I didn’t like at all. Some make me laugh, like Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods, although there is a lot in that book that isn’t funny. And then there are some, like Walking Home, by Lynn Schooler, where every page is a story that resonates with me, even though it starts out with a terrifying bear encounter.


Another friend of mine recently told me about a hike she went on. Two women, packs on their backs, take off on for a few days on their own, into the wilderness, like it’s just another jaunt around the block.

I even follow a group on Facebook called ‘Fat Lady Takes a Hike’. I thought it would be inspiring. But then I look at photos and think ‘Fat? Her?!?’

And so, like I’ve written briefly about before, I daydream about striding forth, life on my back, to daydream in the forest and find stories in the trees.


Then reality steps in.

I remember the horrible story in the news a few years ago about a mother and daughter murdered on a hiking trail. Experienced hikers, but someone found them out there alone. The murder is still unsolved.

I think about gear. When we go camping we need a big truck. How would I fit all that into a backpack? Clearly I’d have to go shopping for equipment based on weight. I know many people base their needs on how many ounces that cook stove will add to the pack. And I wonder how many ounces my bottle of blood pressure meds weigh, or the pad of paper and pens. The camera. The extra pair of eye glasses.


And what about the pillow? And the thick pad of memory foam?

I think about being old and definitely not the lean hiking type. Aching knees and hips. Sore lower back.

Then my thoughts wander down the path of fear. That would be easily solved by taking along the husband. He knows how to read maps and compasses. He knows how to orienteer. He knows how to tie a multitude of knots. He knows how to cook over a fire. He knows how to fix everything. I’m always, always safe when he’s around. And I’m never ashamed of my limitations around him. I wouldn’t worry about lagging behind or slowing him down or being a hindrance.


But I don’t think he’s ever had any desire to, shall we say, shit in the woods.

Am I afraid to walk in the woods? Not as long as I leave my imagination at home. I love being out in the woods. But I do have an active imagination. What if a bear comes along? What if a cougar stalks me? What if I fall out there and break a leg? What if I got lost?They couldn’t use my cell phone to ping my location and find me because I have a little old flip phone.

What if I got out there and gave up and turned around and disappointed my companion and let myself down?

What if I learned my dream was just that?

What if I failed?

What if I was too afraid to take one more step?

What if I was too afraid to take the first step?

I think I’ll just go reread Walking Home and continue dreaming.


The husband’s office


14 thoughts on “Fearing A Walk In The Woods

    • Ah, another ‘what if’ question to add to the list! But yes, regrets at the end is definitely something to think about. And I also think about Sam, and how after he died, everyone talked about how he lived his life, and how, when you’re hesitating to leap into life, we should remember ‘Sam would go’.


      • I was so timid when I was younger, would never take chances. I still consider outcomes and risks, but as I’ve aged I’ve become more aware that if something is important to me, I can take steps to accomplish them. If I fail or fall short, it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. I can live with that.


      • (I hit “enter” too soon!). I didn’t know Sam, but he sounds like he was a kind person who figured out early on how to embrace life. He was lucky in that. It takes some of us a long long time, and others of us never shed the “wishful thinking” stage — for any of a variety of reasons. I believe we should each live our best life. That’s a big enough challenge.


    • That’s a good question – what does happen? I took off to Scotland when I was 18, for six weeks, with $500 thinking I was rich, when I’d never even gone by myself to a city an hour away. Is it just reality and responsibility and learning about all the things that can happen as we get older that makes us lose that sense of being immortal that we have when young?


  1. If you are truly interested then give it a try. I’d be happy to put heads together on finding a local backpack trip that isn’t too long or so difficult that the joy of the experience is dimmed by the arduous-ness (arduosity?) of the walk and I’d even come along if you’d like the company.
    As to some of your practical questions I have both a pillow and a sleeping pad that are inflatable, super lightweight and are also really comfortable.
    When I’m hiking I rarely if ever think about bears and cougars, not at all the same way I think about the horrible drivers I share the road with on a regular basis. I know that I need to be mindful of animals and weather and not getting too hot or cold or thirsty but I don’t let it detract from the overall experience.
    I also recommend reading Ray Jardine’s book Beyond Backpacking, it changed the whole way I thought about what i really need to take with me. (I’d lend you my copy but the dog peed on it this week on our car camping trip into the north cascades).


    • I’ll look for a pee-less version of that book, although I love the idea of the dog peeing on it. I am sure I know that dog…and I think I also would love you giving me a recommendation. You and Nora are my idols when it comes to heading out into the wild, fearless.


      • Oh for crying out loud, that’s way too much! Who among us knows how to remove the smell of pee from a book? It’s been living outside for a week and the smell is still strong…
        Have I lent you the Grandma Gatewood book? I think that you could relate to her approach to hiking. And she was much older than the average hiker when she got started. We could start with that one if you haven’t read it yet.


      • I haven’t read that one, and now want to just because of the title!
        Wonder if you could sprinkle baking soda between the pages of the book and on the cover?


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