Facing the Fear Factor (for PCT 2013)

I think the thing that is most daunting to me about training for the PCT in 2013 is purposefully going out there and hiking solo, camping solo, and ultimately backpacking solo. It’s one of those things that I’m tempted to just hold out and wait until I’m actually on the trail to experience, but I’m pretty sure that would be disastrous. It would suck to get to the trail, only to find out I truly am too scardey-cat to hike it solo.

Sammy understands my fears about “out there”.

And it is possible I am too scaredy-cat. One of my first backpacking trips was a week on the PCT in Oregon. My husband Aaron and I ended up at Mt. Jefferson park at the end of June in a big snow year. It was too early for most PCT’ers and too snowy for most hikers, so we were the only ones there, and it was beautiful. (I think maybe seeing snow covered Mt. Jefferson so close and personal sealed the deal for me to want to continue this whole backpacking thing.) By this time, for various reasons, we were already considering feasible ways to get off the trail. Mostly, we were just hoping to run into somebody, anybody that could take us back to civilization.

Mt Jefferson snow

At the time, the snow was scary, too. But beautiful. But scary.

It was Breitenbush where we saw our first person, a big man in a white truck setting up camp down the way. At first I was so excited to not just see a person, but a person with transportation! Aaron headed down to his camp to ask for a ride while I set up our own tent. As I set up, I kept looking over toward where Aaron had gone, feeling more and more ill at ease. Suddenly the fact this guy was here all by himself struck me as odd. Why was he here? What was he doing? All alone? So early in the season, and in all this snow? After a long time, Aaron came back and said the guy couldn’t/wouldn’t give a ride, and his reasons were vague. My husband just shrugged, but to me it was a kind of validation to my suspicions. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and that night, even though Aaron fell asleep and began snoring almost instantly, I tossed and turned with growing fear and paranoia.

I was absolutely sure without a doubt that this is what was coming for us

What’s to stop this guy from coming over here with an ax and killing us, I wondered. Nothing. He could be heading over here now, blade in hand, planning where to bury our bones after he raped us and ate us, or whatever it is that ax murders do. I began to admonish myself for never taking self-defense classes. The scenario played and replayed over and over in my head, becoming more clear and tactile with every pass through. Every sound confirmed approach.

My husband re-creates how harmless the man probably was by….um….dressing up like a captain with a penchant for cheap beer.

I got out of my sleeping bag so I could kick and punch and flail about if I needed to, but I was too afraid to actually look outside. I tried to wake my husband up and whispered my fears into his ear, but he just mumbled and turned over. I was pretty much stuck like that all night, frozen in fear, unable to sleep until the last few hours of dark.


Of course in the bright morning light, I laughed at myself for my over active imagination. Obviously everything was fine. When we passed his camp, he wasn’t even there anymore, and my irrational fears of the night before gave way to the more understandable irritation that this dude had no qualms leaving us, who needed a ride, for no good (as I saw) reason. We found a ride later that day at Ollalie Lake. Thank you Mark and Tim from Lincoln City, Oregon!


So. My much belabored point is that I can work myself up into crazy fear. Even when I’m with somebody, and with no evidence of there being anything to be scared about. I figure this tendency toward ruminating over scary scenarios, in effect making them stronger and scarier, is going to be even worse all alone in a tent.

“Pariah” by Rob Fingerman is a great book, and pretty scary to read while camping. Fun!

Thus begins a new phase of my PCT training: Exposure to the thing that scares me in effort to make those fears more manageable, so that I can hike the PCT successfully, A.K.A. “Operation Man-Up, Lady!” More to come!