When I took up wilderness hiking and backpacking 5 years ago - in a country I hadn't grown up in, there was a lot that scared me. As much as I craved being out on a trail, I was always fearful I’d be attacked by something. Even the vegetation was a potential threat, as I couldn't tell the difference between Poison Oak - that could cause a nasty rash, and other plants I could safely brush past. Other than Rattle Snakes I'd seen in Hollywood movies, I had no idea which snakes were venomous and which were harmless. I laugh now when I remember the tarantula that crossed my path on one of my first hikes, it still amazes me that I can run in mid-air when I need to. Then there’s the bears, moose, coyotes, wolves, bison, elk, deer, big horns, alligators....😬
With each new adventure came the fear of what I didn't know I should be fearful of. In some respects, the fear added to the adrenalin rush I'd come to love, but it also distracted from the enjoyment of being relaxed. I knew I had to deal with my fears and find middle ground between being aware of the dangers and relishing in the thrill of discovery. It's only been through constant reading and asking lots of questions about the areas and inhabitants of where I'm hiking that I've found that balance. There are many nuances to how you prepare for or react to an encounter on the trail - be they four-legged, environmental or otherwise. Having a basic level of knowledge as the first form of defense has completely changed how I respond to fear now. What was paralyzing at times is now a respectful exhilaration. Fear loathes knowledge.