The mission was to try out a new trail. I headed out to a large wooded area with trails, just on the edge of town.
It looked beautiful. The trail cut through a hilly area covered in trees. I trotted along, anxious to explore this new spot. The foliage grew dense overhead making everything look a little dark.
It wasn’t long before I came to a barricade notifying me that the trail there was closed. I looked beyond the sign, down towards where a creek ran through.
Fortunately, there was another branch of the trail that remained open. So, I veered left and headed along that one. For a little while, it paralleled the creek way down below me. Then, the trail took another turn and I was back into the silent, dark woods.
It was right about here that I could feel my hackles going up.
Every now and then, this happens to me. I am out on a trail alone, and fear just takes over.
Not so long ago, I was out on the Pacific Crest Trail day-hiking alone. When I started out, I was pretty scared, but I forced myself to push through the fear. After all, there are quite a few souls out there who do much more than day-hike sections of the PCT by themselves. It was worth it – I ended up truly enjoying the solitary hiking out there. I met several thru-hikers, too, out there doing their thing, and there was nothing scary about it.
I know I’m not the only one who feels fear out on a trail, though.
Heck, I remember a hike I took with a friend in Florida. Both of us were unfamiliar with Florida’s flora and fauna. We were also keenly aware of the existence of alligators and snakes.
We both bravely made our way along the trail, neither of us admitting our discomfort. We got pretty far into the place, all the while with a heightening sense of fear and remoteness. The idle chitchat disappeared, as we gravely traversed the terrain.
Then came the alligator warning sign topped off with one of those massive orb-weaver spiders hanging in a web that stretched across the path in front of us. We came to a halt, looking at each other. We both confessed the immense fear and discomfort we were feeling. We decided to head back, much relieved.
The return trip, however, only seemed to grow our terror. The buzzing beehives up in the trees spurred us to hurry along the trail. We dashed along the trail, panting toward the safety of the parking lot.
When we reached the trailhead, sweaty and out of breath, we became acutely aware of just how normal everything around us actually was. We looked at each other and simply burst out laughing.
I hiked Florida trails after that both with company and without, and never felt that level of fear again – although alligators do make me very careful.
Usually, the fear I feel on a trail is not, however, from the environment. It is people that cause wariness out there when I’m alone. This is despite the fact that people I meet on trails are generally pleasant, friendly lovers of the outdoors just like me.
The fear got the better of me on this week’s little outing, though. I couldn’t shake it. I pressed on, anxiously looking both ahead and behind me in the quiet woods. The trail, thankfully, turned out to be a relatively short one.
There was a car sitting there in the parking lot when I emerged, with an individual sitting in it. I practically bolted to my car, hopped in, and fled.
I know. It’s ridiculous. I felt safer out in the wild mountains of California than I did here on this trail in close proximity to a bustling town. And that, right there, I think is precisely why I felt the anxiety. I felt alone, maybe just not quite alone enough.