Facing Our Fears

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller

In September, I was fortunate to travel out west with my husband Ken. His sister Mary was vacationing in Missoula, Montana for a month, so we started our adventure there. My husband loves going to the mountains. I am less enthusiastic. I fear driving on mountain roads without guard rails and walking on trails that overlook deep drops. Before we went, I told him, “I don’t want to be on the edge of cliffs!” And he respected that. Throughout our trip, we chose paths with lower elevations—maybe a 200-foot rise. Yes, I was within 3 feet of an edge at times, but never closer than that.

What I hadn’t reckoned with was my fear of bears. We hiked in Missoula at Rattlesnake National Recreation Area. Mary had seen a black bear there the week before. “I looked at him, he looked at me, and he walked away.” OK, I could deal with that. We, after all, had three people in our group and made more noise when we hiked. Bears would probably stay away when they heard us.

But when we got to Glacier National Parks, I started seeing these signs:

clear sign about grizzlies

Sign at Glacier National Park

The sign says “Entering Grizzly Country” and warns hikers to carry bear spray and not hike alone. We did not have bear spray—it’s expensive and you can’t bring it home on an airplane. Also the day was breezy. Maybe I’d end up spraying myself instead of the bear. With a little persuasion, I hiked with Mary and Ken in two of these “high frequency bear” areas that first day.

glacier national park pic 1 for blog DSCN9165

Glacier National Park – Photo by Ken Ekins

But that night, I could hardly sleep, picturing myself turning a corner and surprising a grizzly. The next morning, I laid down the law, “I am NOT going in any of these high-frequency bear areas! You two can go—leave me in the car and I will happily read.”

That didn’t last long. The bear-warning signs seemed to be everywhere, even posted on short hikes along a lake. So I went in three high-frequency bear areas that next day. Mary and Ken let me take the middle spot most of the time. We figured a bear would be more likely to attack the first person or the last.

glacier national park pic 2 for blog

Hiking behind Mary at Glacier National Park – Photo by Ken Ekins

But I had anxiety and insomnia until we left the mountains several days later.

I don’t know what makes some of us more fearful than others. Neither Mary nor Ken was afraid of heights or bears. And my friend Julie had recently gone to Zion National Park. She climbed up a very steep path, two feet wide, with drop offs on both sides and only a chain to hold onto—and she described her trip as “very relaxing.”

We’re all different. I remember as a kid, driving with my family on mountain roads without guardrails, and my Mom covering her face with a hat. Maybe I developed my fear of heights from her anxiety during such experiences.

We all have different tolerances for fear depending on our histories, and that’s OK. But we can’t be afraid to live. I know people who are afraid to leave their homes. One friend suffers from chronic pain and seldom goes out. I asked her if she goes outside in her yard for fresh air. No, she doesn’t. An acquaintance doesn’t walk, even around the block—she is “more comfortable” at home.

We need to make our own decisions about what fears to confront and what risks to take. I did have options during the trip. I could have been more assertive and refused to enter areas with warning signs about bears. I could have insisted we buy bear spray. However, although we did see a couple of bears from the safety of our car, we never did see any bears as we hiked.

I am not recommending anyone take life-threatening risks. That is not a healthy way to live. But Glacier National Park says this, “Just to keep things in perspective, bear encounters are very rare. Consider that roughly two million people visit Glacier each year, and more than one million venture into the back country. On average, there are only one or two non-lethal bear incidents in a given year. And there have only been 10 bear related fatalities in the history of the park. Only three of those fatalities involved hikers, and at least two of those were solo hikers.” The risk I took was slight.

I am glad I confronted my fears and hiked in the beautiful parks out west. If I had given in to my fears, I would have missed seeing stunning scenery and experiencing fun times with Ken and his sister.

bison pic in front of old faithful

Bison in front of Old Faithful Geyser, Yellowstone National Park – photo by Ken Ekins

What are you afraid of? Are your fears reasonable? Have you faced any fears recently?

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About Susan Ekins

Freelance writer and blogger at Women Making Strides. Interested in personal leadership and empowerment. Wanting inspiration and to inspire. Leader in church ministries. Blog: http://www.WomenMakingStrides.com/ Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/WomenMakingStrides1
This entry was posted in Challenges, Healthy living, Nature, Proactive and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Facing Our Fears

  1. Julie Benes says:

    Gee Sue, You mentioned the bear issue when we discussed your vacation, but I didn’t realize the extent to which it affected you and the trip. I thought, ya, who isn’t afraid of bears and didn’t think to much more about it.

    We are all afraid at times. Lately my fear is worrying about what’s to come & interviewing. But I tend to be a worrier which makes me try to do my best no matter how tiny the challenge. It gives me confidence to know I am prepared. Also, I try to work out the odds of the bad thing happening and that puts logic and less emotion into the mix which really helps me. I mean, really, who cares if I screw up an interview. There will be more interviews, and I do believe everything happens for a reason. I am willing to fail and learn.

    A great thought I ran across in the past few months is: “Never let your fear decide your future”. Life is too short. I enjoy hiking & climbing too much to succumb to my emotion, because I know the view at the top is worth it.

    Love you,

    Julie

    On Sat, Sep 30, 2017 at 3:00 PM, Women Making Strides wrote:

    > Susan Ekins posted: ““You gain strength, courage and confidence by every > experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able > to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next > thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you th” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sarah says:

    Another great post, Sue! I really identified with this. Most of my life, I feel like I’ve lived with very little fear but have developed a few fears as I’ve gotten older (mild heights, mild claustrophobia to name a couple). Much to my surprise I, too, have a fear of bears that has prevented me from venturing out. When I was staying in Colorado a few years ago, each morning the resort would post that there were bear sightings in various places around the resort. The bears were just looking for food left by humans and we were told that, really, we needed only to be cautious and not to be too fearful (for the same reasons you stated…that it really is rare to have a deadly encounter). But after hearing about the first sighting I was too fearful to venture out on the many trails that were available to hike on even if I went with a friend. I was saddened to know that such a fear prevented me from enjoying one of my favorite activities – – hiking in nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susan Ekins says:

      Sarah, I emphathize with your Colorado situation! It sounds like a lot of sightings where people were staying–so those bears wouldn’t stay away from people. That’s scary to me too. Like you, I think my fears have gotten worse as I’ve gotten older–they certainly keep me awake more as I age. You and I should go for a hike in nature here in the Midwest. 🙂

      Like

  3. What an awesome post, Sue! I must confess that I would have been quite leery of hiking in bear territory as well. Good for you for giving the trip a try. I’m so sorry that you lost sleep over this. Fears seem to become more magnified as the night wears on, don’t they? I’ve had a few sleepless nights lately and they can become dibilitating in their own way.
    My fears – right now, my biggest fear is being left alone. There are some serious medical conditions with loved ones. One is terminal. I’ll write about it someday soon on my blog, when the time comes. Odd as it seems, I’m not afraid of death but worry about being the only one left behind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Enjoyed this post! I’ve hiked both Glacier and the trek you mentioned at Zion (the one with the drop-offs and chain). An expert told us bears don’t attack groups of three or more, so hiking with your loved ones gave you better odds! Still, it can be a bit spooky out in bear country. Thanks for sharing your experiences and photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susan Ekins says:

      Thank you for visiting, Victoria. I should have clarified that for the second part of our time in the mountains, my sister-in-law wasn’t with us, so we were hiking as a couple. Still better than being alone, I’m sure. Kudos to you for being a mountain-hiker.

      Like

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