“Know Fear” or “No Fear”

By Randy Pierce

A treacherous bridge provides a good opportunity for risk assessment.

I am often asked about my relationship with fear in dealing with blindness as well as my many adventures. I prefer to think about it in terms of a healthy respect for dangers, both real and perceived.

As a planner and problem solver, I like to understand the potential risks as best as possible and then evaluate a range of possible solutions for these in advance. A strong part of my approach is knowing that a problem solver should be able to undertake every experience of a risk taker with more success and fewer bruises!

My experience is that attempting to practice solutions to challenges can lead them to become routine. The risk management can be reduced to acceptable levels before things are attempted. Part of this is to ensure that when reaching a moment of particular danger potential, I will be as prepared as much as possible to avoid the “paralysis by analysis” situation of over-thinking in an instant when an immediate reaction is necessary.

The first decision in situations of danger is whether or not an immediate reaction is needed at all. If, for example, I begin to lose my balance on a stretch of trail for which I don’t know the full dangers present, I probably need to make a quick decision about the level of balance loss.

If the chances of falling are high enough, it is likely best to immediately allow a fall in a more controlled fashion. That is, if the spot my feet are on is sufficiently known to me, then landing there is probably the lowest risk of the other unknown options. I similarly know that my pack is a cushion that landing upon will typically be preferred. So I tuck my head and drop back if at all possible.

I’m not eager for that fall, but often it’s the best reaction for an unanticipated dangerous situation. If my balance is such that I have time, then I might call out to someone around me to get a quick terrain understanding or I might explore myself with the hiking/support stick. In that moment of uncertainty, I feel concern that can border on a fearful moment. The more I know the situation, however, the more I know a range of possible reactions and likely consequences to reduce or remove the fear.

Sometimes, it's safer just to fall backwards and sit down.

There’s an old expression, “don’t borrow trouble.” I find a similar approach to allaying fears. By trying to fully understand the real cause of fear, I find that I get to truly know the fear and this is a major step in achieving a goal of having no fear.

In the above example of balance loss, I’m likely facing varying levels of concern for possible injury. In the moment of uncertainty for how big my risk is at that point, I can envision more significant injuries. Ultimately though, planning has reduced the likelihood of injury. By thinking through this in advance, we accustom our minds and some of the emotional surge in the moment to the realities of those risks. Considering the worst case scenarios and our reactions has diminished the “fear” to “concerns” and the advanced paralysis of anticipatory fear can be eradicated.

So in planning any adventure or experience that could make you anxious, I suggest taking the time to think about what are the real and reasonable risks. Get comfortable with the approaches you might take if problems occur. This is where the preparation not only aids in your likely success, but also may enhance your comfort or courage to undertake a task. Practice often makes perfect, as the expression says, and practice with mentally breaking down our fears or concerns is a means to build confidence to manage them.

This is not to say you don’t want real solutions or are trying to avoid things for which reasonable risks have not been addressed. It is to say that in truly and thoroughly knowing fear, we may eventually get to a point of low or even no fear! I know that at this point in my life I have little time or attention that is spent unnecessarily on fear. This additional time and energy is placed instead on more rewarding things in my life!

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Scary Mountain Ledges and Trust

by Tracy Pierce

Our hike of Mounts Whiteface and Passaconaway on June 18 & 19 was a fantastic success. We completed the overall trip with just a few minor injuries (scrapes, bug bites, and a single turned ankle) and in record speed. We overcame a thunderstorm, bugs, and super challenging ledges. We enjoyed beautiful views and great camaraderie. I also learned a lesson that I hope I won’t soon forget.

View from Tracy's safe perch

I am incredibly afraid of heights and this hike certainly tested that fear! When we approached our first ledge, I was leading the group, and I came upon a sharply slanted ledge that dropped off to nothing. I thought that the trail traversed the ledge and instantly I froze. Our hike leader Kyle
stepped forward and determined that the trail took a 90-degree turn and we didn’t need to cross the ledge, which scared me so much. The views of the Lakes Region, Ring Dyke Complex, and the mountains in the distance was incredible, yet I moved to what I felt was a safe spot, and clung to a tree as Kyle bravely looked out onto the view below us.

Randy asked Kyle if he could join him on the ledge so Kyle might trace the outlines of the mountains in the distance. I’m ashamed to admit that I, as the scared and concerned wife, promptly said “No way!” Randy, ever
mindful of my feelings, said nothing and waited at a safe perch instead.

I’m embarrassed to share this interchange, because my own fear caused me to do something that is in opposition of emphasizing ability awareness that 2020 Vision Quest encourages. In placing my own fear onto Randy, I prevented him from having an experience that he would have enjoyed. I was so scared on that ledge that I didn’t even realize or remember what I’d done until Randy and I talked days later. I’m glad Randy brought it up. Certainly, I’ll be scared again in the future, but I’ll have this lesson to help me remember to
trust our team and the care that Randy exhibits when undertaking something dangerous.

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Veni. Vidi. Vici.

by Tracy Goyette

Tracy and Randy celebrate on Mount Field

Wow, instead of merely a week, it seems like months since I shared my fears regarding this past weekend’s back country hiking and camping trip. I’m pleased to report that I had a fantastic time and cannot wait to camp in the backcountry again. I did promise to share how the trip went, so here’s my trip report as it relates to my list of fears.

Fear 1: I’ve never camped in the back woods before.

So? I have camped in a variety of other, more populated places and the main difference is in the preparation and the carrying. Randy, Carrie, and Kara helped remove this fear by communicating what our needs should be. Also, Randy and I bought all of the appropriate gear that we would need. In fact, some of the setup was far easier than the more complex, larger tents I’ve used in the past!

Fear 2: There is bear activity in the area.

Yes, this is a reasonable and unconquered fear. Thankfully, we did not encounter any bear activity, so I count this one as a victory. I was pretty scared when we went to sleep and it took me a bit to relax enough to fall asleep, but the belief that Quinn would bark and wake me if a bear came into our campsite gave me a great deal of comfort.

Fear 3: I wonder if I can handle carrying the extra weight needed.

Sadly, the answer was no. I was limited in the weight I could carry; however, the rest of the team was fantastic. My biggest challenge with this fear is feeling as though I was not doing my share of the work. This was self-imposed guilt, and the rest of the team was fantastic in communicating that they felt I had other jobs that offset the weight I could not carry.

Fear 4: I fear I’ll be the slowest hiker because I’ve lost a bit of fitness these past few months.

Tracy and Randy setting up their tent.

This was not an issue. I am often the trailblazer because Quinn likes to follow me. I set the pace based mostly on Randy and Quinn’s speed (though a few times my short legs were the limiting factor). Ultimately, I ended up not caring about my speed.

Fear 5: What if I can’t sleep on the ground and I’m too sore the second day?

The first night in the campground was my first try with this gear. I slept poorly. The second night I corrected a few issues with the initial setup. I slept like a baby in the backwoods, with only the sounds of a breeze blowing gently through the pine grove and the sounds of Randy and Quinn breathing. I loved the stillness, and I didn’t want to leave!

Fear 6: What if we run out of water?

I did run out of water on the second day due to caring for Randy’s wound. Again, preparation and teamwork saved the day. Others gave me some of their water, Carrie and Kara knew just where the water sources were, and Carrie implemented a plan to make sure nobody was out of water for long.

There were some bad aspects to the trip – Randy fell and injured himself twice. I was astounded at how well the group mobilized. They swiftly transformed into a Cracker Jack wilderness ER team. Their competence helped me to stay calm so I could be the most help possible. I believe it was our team preparation (Thanks Solo Wilderness Medicine!) that made this work out so well.

Ultimately, this was a magical trip for me. My first backcountry camping trip with a group of people I was very happy to spend time with. I bonded with some very close friends of Randy’s and saw things I’d never seen before (but that’s a story for another time!) I am proud of myself for being conscious of my fears, facing them, and finding a new love in the process. I can’t wait to have my next adventure.

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