Hiking Away From Fear

While I was on my way to the mountains for my writer’s retreat, I continued  listening to the book, “You are a Bad Ass.” The book was queued to Chapter 20, “Fear is for Suckers.” This chapter challenged me to think of fear as a choice and provided some handy tips for navigating through fear. Little did I know that I would be putting this chapter to good use the very next day.

The second day of my retreat I spent the morning writing and working.  Around midday I decided to stretch my legs and enjoy the brisk Fall weather.  I donned my brand new pair of hiking boots, filled up a water bottle, stuffed a couple of snacks in my pockets and drove out to trailhead for Castle Rock Trail.

Brand new hiking kicks.

The guidebook said it was “one of the most popular trails” and “after a steep elevation gain the first half mile it leveled off to well marked trails.”  Halfway through the 2.4 mile trek, I would be treated with an “impressive granite rock outcropping providing 360 degree panoramic views.” Now, I am no Cheryl Strayed, but I enjoy hiking. It is one of the few forms of exercise that does not begin with me complaining and thinking of dozens of reasons why I can’t do it.

I found the trailhead easily enough and parked along the highway.  I noticed that there were very few cars.  It occurred to me that perhaps one of the “most popular trails” would not be that busy on a Wednesday afternoon in the off season. Hmm. I sent my husband a text to let him know where I was, just in case I got lost or injured along the way.  I was just about to reconsider my choice of hikes when I saw an older couple approach the trailhead. They didn’t look like axe murders and appeared friendly.  We exchanged greetings as I quickly passed them on the “steep elevation gain.”

The trail was beautiful and I began to relax. I kept stopping to enjoy the Fall color and didn’t notice that my walking app on my phone stopped working, or that I lost cell service.  I wasn’t quite sure how far I had gone when I realized that the “well marked trail” did not seem so well marked.  I began to worry that I had veered off the trail.  I started thinking about all those stories of lost hikers dying from exposure. I thought about how people who are lost tend to walk in circles. Did I just pass that tree? As I felt myself become more worried, I remembered that “fear is a choice.” Okay, I will not choose fear. That is when I noticed footprints in the sand and found my way back to the trail.

Actual Fall color in Southern California. I only had to drive 2 hours to find it.
The well-marked portion of the trail.

As I ascended the trail, I noticed the silence around me. Where were all the people?  Being an LA girl who sometimes takes local hikes on weekends, I can’t go a hundred yards without encountering a Boy Scout troop, hiking clubs and dog walkers.  This was very different. Maybe it’s the criminal attorney in me, but I started thinking about all those cases of young women who are assaulted. What would I do? I was completely alone.  I didn’t have any mace.  Who would help me if I screamed? Ugh.  I reminded myself not to choose fear.  That helped keep me calm.  It also helped that right about that time I saw two young athletic women making their way down the trail. Okay, I guess if they were safe, I should be too. I puffed up my chest to make myself appear bigger to any nearby assailants and continued up the trail.

I made my way to the top and sure enough, there it was, “an impressive granite rock outcropping providing 360 degree panoramic views.” I made it without getting lost, dying of exposure or getting assaulted along the way.  As I stood below looking upon the granite tower, which surely gave the trail its name, Castle Rock,  I thought about how much nicer the view would be from atop.  I tried to find a way up but could not find an easy path. I decided with no one else around to find my body if I took a fall while I was attempting to scale the boulders, the view from where I stood seemed just fine.

The Castle Rock boulders looked like they would provide a good view.
I decided this view was just fine.
My lunchtime view.

I found a nice rock to climb on and enjoyed my snacks and the view.  I was feeling pretty proud of myself when a squirrel approached me from behind another rock.  I tossed a bit of apple to the squirrel and took in the mountain scenery.  I was in the middle of communing with nature when my thoughts started swirling… Ah wildlife.  Wildlife like squirrels. Birds. Maybe lions? These were mountains right? Mountain lions live in mountains.  My heart started racing as I stuffed my half-eaten apple in my pocket and scrambled down the rock.  I didn’t want to make myself easy prey for a mountain lion.  That’s when I heard voices, and not the ones in my head.

The elderly couple I met at the base of the trail had made it to the top.  They were laughing and chatting.  We struck up a conversation and before I knew it we were encouraging each other to try climbing to the top of the granite rocks. The woman scrambled a quarter of the way up until her husband warned her that they still had a lot of vacation left and she shouldn’t risk injury.  Then, another guy appeared from around the trail.  He asked if we were going to make it to the top and said he had seen a You Tube video that showed a girl using a rope to scale up the boulders. Uh, no thanks. I may be fearful at times, but I am not stupid.

As I made my way down the trail I looked up and saw that the You Tube guy had made it to the top.  Good for him. And good for me.  Several times that day I felt fear overtake me and several times that day I beat it back.  I said “No” to fear and ended up having a great day, and meeting some nice people.  I even got in some exercise without complaint.

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