Category Archives: Anxiety

Vertical space

Feeling daring, feeling brave? Got phobias? Here’s an experience I had dealing with a lifelong fear of heights and how I pushed to overcome my anxiety and succeed!

Write in Front of Me

English: Warren Wilson College's Ropes Course ...

The tower was a medieval-looking structure – a tripod constructed of massive timbers which looked like over-sized telephone poles.  Wrapped with ropes the thickness of my upper arm, the structure rose into the grey afternoon sky.  There were climbing holds stapled along the legs at various points, and climbing ropes draped from its height.  There was a platform on top where one could stand and look out over the Connecticut countryside.  My first impression was that it looked like a siege weapon from a Lord of the Rings movie, only missing a few attendant orcs.  It was at once challenging and forbidding.  And the closer I walked toward it the more uncomfortable I felt.

It was the afternoon break during a conference.  Participants could snooze, chat, read, play ball or –as was my case — check out the “ropes course.”  But this was unlike any challenge course I had seen. …

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Filed under Adventure, Anxiety, attitude, challenge, Courage, danger, Decision making, Fear, Fear of heights, Goals

What to do after the Appalachian Trail? “Strike Iron!”

It’s no secret that after completing a long distance hike on the Appalachian Trail depression can set in.  There’s no shame it that, either!  “Coming down” from any extreme endeavor is to be expected, and you need to give yourself time to do it.

But what to do, and how long to take a break, and what then?

My own backpacking summer on the AT ended at Pinkham Notch at the foot of Mount Washington in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

I had been backpacking alone from late August until mid-September, and for the most part the thru-hiking crew had fled for home.  In an effort to extend my journey I flip-flopped to Katahdin and headed south.  Even the few I was hiking with at the time gradually faded away.  Some were bored or homesick.  Others had obligations take them off-trail.  Me?  I had nothing to prevent me from sojourning into the autumn, so I continued alone.

Not surprisingly, by mid-September the days were feeling way too short, and human company rare.  I was feeling out-of-place, alone.  To add to that bleak turn of events word came of an impending late summer hurricane bearing down upon New England with a bead on the White Mountains.  So, though the lure and spell of the White Mountains had called to me, a bout of norovirus put the nail in the plans I had made.

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I called a friend and found myself quickly swept down to Boston, hopping a plane just in time to avoid the hurricane and land in North Carolina.  Being “home” did not feel like home at all.  I felt like I had landed on a distant moon!  Another friend gave me room and board for a month, for which I was thankful.  But all too soon moodiness set in, then things got dicey as I became irritable and argumentative.

One afternoon my friend sat me down and commenced to preach to me the “here’s what to do next with the rest of your life” sermon.  It did not sit well.

Before I realized it, I fell into a vortex of action combined with a series of what almost felt like knee-jerk responses.  I told my friend farewell on short notice, packed my few possessions into my old Dodge, and ditched North Carolina completely.

I drove north, landing at the hiker hostel in Pearisburg, Virginia.  I needed time to think, to consider options.  I also needed a “touch” of the hiker community.

Turns out the hostel had a few day hikers drop by, along with a guy who wasn’t sure just what he was going to do next.  We commiserated and traded ideas.  I wasn’t sure just what the “right” decision was, but one thing I did know.  For the first time in my young life I knew I needed to “strike iron.”  I needed, in other words, to act.  To make a move.  Not recklessly, mind you, but with enough consideration of what my heart was telling me to keep me heading toward something as joyously risky and bold as hiking the trail itself had been.

For me, that was moving to Boston, Massachusetts.  To find a job.  To settle down.

Years before, while in the Navy, I had spent a year in the shipyards in Charlestown while our ship was being refitted.  We were docked right next to the USS Constitution, which itself was undergoing dry dock overhaul.  I fell in love with Boston; a city which combined culture and great people, wonderful attractions and places to dine, along with a weave of natural wonder.  Boston was a city of walkers, studded with parks and trees.  It felt like a combination of some place wild with civilization, but without the concrete sterility that one might find in Manhattan.  I knew that if I were ever to consider living and working in any major metropolitan city it would be Boston.  So when it came time to “strike iron” I knew I had to go there.

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Transitioning there was more challenging than hiking the AT.  Finding work, looking for living space — all that and more challenged me in ways that required I cope differently than I had when on the trail.  But, after about a year of turmoil and toil I found my feet.

I think “striking iron” was a way for me to convert the self-reliance, bold action, and personal power into fulfilling what once seemed like an unlikely dream.

Looking back, had I not acted; had I fallen into uncertainty and discouragement, or succumbed to depression, I might have never made the move to Boston.  I would have “settled for,” though I’m not sure what that might have been.  I do know that I would have been miserable, unhappy and unfulfilled.

So, while I do not recommend reckless action; I do suggest giving yourself space and time to consider further bold options and perhaps dive into one.  It beats stagnation.  It’s healthier than getting depressed.  And it may be the wild seed of a fresh, vibrant dream which will transform the next stage of your life.

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Filed under Achievements, Adventure, Adversity, Anxiety, Appalachian Trail, attitude, Backpacking, challenge, Decision making, risk

Snow Foolin’ – Stranded in a snow storm – Part 2

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Photo courtesy of Raymond Shobe at Flickr

Since nothing betters the disposition like hot soup, I put some on the stove in quick order.  I mulled my state of affairs over as the brew simmered. I was grounded on the summit in a snowstorm, the extent of which I could only speculate.  I had checked the weather forecast before setting out and no storms were imminent.  Yet, I harbored no illusions.  I realized New England mountain conditions could wax volatile and cruel abruptly.  I was in for a doubtful spell of waiting.  As this was my first day on a week-long trip, I was provisioned with ample food.  I reckoned if the situation turned dire I would break into the summit house, set off the alarm, and precipitate a rescue.  Hopefully that would summon help.

The tram cables screeched long into the night and into a foggy Monday morning. The winds wailed and raged but did not diminish.  I did a full inventory of my gear, read a book, and ate an early lunch while being entertained by the violin from hell that the White Devil played outside the windows.  By late afternoon I became bored and anxious.  The storm had not lessened.  How long would it last? Having never been stranded on a mountain in a blizzard I realized my options were limited. Was this a brief accumulation of snow or the beginning of a more furious, longer storm?  At what point should I send for help?

Monday night the cantata of rattling and sing-song cable screeches moaned on, backed by pounding winds which begged to get in at me.  I tossed in my sleeping bag, wishing I had earplugs, and finally resorted to wads of tissue to block out the merciless racket.

Morning came.  Silence.  Visibility out the windows was mere feet.  But sunrise had come.  The snow had lessened, but I could not judge its depth by looking out the windows.  At least the battering wind was over.

I set to making hot oatmeal and put coffee on.  After breakfast, around midmorning, I observed a stirring in the clouds outside.  Moments later I was thrilled to see them dissipate enough to show patches of blue sky above.  I reined in my elation.  This might be the end of the storm — or only a reprieve.

Within the hour the cloud cover dissolved completely, revealing the most lavish sky blue I had ever seen.  Elation changed to euphoria.  I ventured to the door, elbowing against the door hesitantly.  It opened with little effort, revealing a half-foot of snow on the ground.  I was relieved the exit was unblocked.  Tromping out the door, I basked in the rays of sun that blessed Jay Peak.  I waded through a knee-deep drift to reach the upper level, which allowed me a more distant view.  The area around Jay Peak was mantled in snow for about a mile, but the lowlands seemed snow free.

Vermont trail cabin

Vermont “lodge” style cabin.  Picture courtesy Flickr

My journey down the other side of Jay Peak consisted of slippery and slow going through pockets of blown snow, and the repeated need to scout for blazes on tree trunks to confirm I was still on the trail.  After a long and anxious hour I emerged from the snowbound region and walked onto bare ground.  Hazen’s Notch camp was my glorious reward, a fully enclosed cabin with wood stove.  A local caretaker had kindly laid in nearly a half cord of firewood.  I was giddy.  That night, I enjoyed the company of a young married couple hiking to Canada on the Long Trail from Johnson, Vermont.  Over hot coffee and tea we traded stories about the trail, the mercurial weather, and our adventures during our journeys.

Past hiking expeditions have had me doing a dance with lightning on Mount Moosilauke on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, grappling in a heart-stopping rock climb eighty feet above the ground on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield in cold, saturating rain, and dealing with the incapacitating pain of a torn Achilles heel while trekking in remote Maine wilderness.  My unplanned delay on Jay Peak may be another chapter to add to my adventure journal, but it’s also an important reminder to habitually manage outdoor challenges with practiced knowledge, flexibility, and a good dose of humility.

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Filed under Adventure, Adversity, Anxiety, Backpacking, Decision making, Fear, Hiking in snow, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Winter storm

Appalachian Trail Lessons: Of reading, planning, and logistics

A pathway into the wilderness.

ORIGIN

It began with Ed Garvey’s book “Appalachian Hiker II,” which I discovered at a backpacking outfitter.  I read it to enjoy a first-person account of walking the legendary footpath which runs from Georgia to Maine.  I didn’t realize I would find myself tracing Ed’s footsteps just over a year later.

Finishing my read, I considered what sort of preparation it must take to complete  the 2,000-mile trip.  Curious to find out, I purchased one in a series of Appalachian Trail Conference guidebooks.  The “North Carolina/Tennessee” guide came with colorful but serious topographic maps.  The chapters showed mileage, road crossings, resupply info, reliable water sources, local history, as well as the flora and fauna a hiker might expect to see.  This was intensive logistical and planning material!  I was amazed by the necessity of planning and preparation required of anyone heading out to hike.  Walking the Appalachian Trail would not be a matter of simply shouldering a pack and hitching a ride to the trailhead.  A successful hike meant planning and answering a lot of questions:

  • how much money would it take to hike the entire Trail?
  • how far could one expect to hike in a given day?
  • what sort of food would a hiker need to eat to sustain their energy?
  • what physical preparation was required?
  • what risks/dangers were involved?
  • what if it rains? snows?
  • how much weight could a hiker carry?
  • how big should a pack be?

The list of considerations seemed endless, and overwhelming at times.  Priorities would need to be set.  Decisions weighed.  As if on autopilot, I found myself awash in the details involved in making preparations, which was where my own personal journey on the A.T. began.

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Filed under A.T., Achievements, Anxiety, Appalachian Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Backpacking, Climbing, Competitiveness, Consequences, Courage, Decision making, Earl Shaffer, Fear of falling, Fear of heights, Foot travel, Goals, Hiking, Life changes, Living, The Appalachian Trail

Vertical space

English: Warren Wilson College's Ropes Course ...

The tower was a medieval-looking structure – a tripod constructed of massive timbers which looked like over-sized telephone poles.  Wrapped with ropes the thickness of my upper arm, the structure rose into the grey afternoon sky.  There were climbing holds stapled along the legs at various points, and climbing ropes draped from its height.  There was a platform on top where one could stand and look out over the Connecticut countryside.  My first impression was that it looked like a siege weapon from a Lord of the Rings movie, only missing a few attendant orcs.  It was at once challenging and forbidding.  And the closer I walked toward it the more uncomfortable I felt.

It was the afternoon break during a conference.  Participants could snooze, chat, read, play ball or –as was my case — check out the “ropes course.”  But this was unlike any challenge course I had seen.  Instead of cables strung between treetops there was this lone structure in a field, tended by a staff of three whose task it was to ensure the safety of climbers who would ascend belayed in harnesses.

I was the first to arrive, and wandered below the three-legged device.  I looked up and felt slightly dizzy.  No one had come to climb the tower yet, and I had no intention of trying to climb it.  My plan was to hang out and watch more valiant souls do it.

Being curious, I peppered the climbing safety team with questions, such as who made the tower, how it was used, and how safe it was.  Admittedly, deep down, I had always wanted to address my own long-standing fear of heights.  Sure, I’d had limited encounters with vertical space, such as clambering up the Forehead of Mount Mansfield in Vermont and scaling Katahin in Maine.  But those, while risky, never involved as much anxiety as the notion of climbing this tower seemed to.

After a few questions, one team members offered a candid comment.  “Even kids love climbing this thing,” she said.  OK, I could understand how fearless children, restrained with rope and safety harness, would not hesitate to tackle this over-sized Tinker Toy.  But then came the clincher.

“They even climb it blindfolded!”

Next:  Up!

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Filed under Achievements, Anxiety, Apprehension, Camp, Climbing, Climbing tower, Competitiveness, Courage, Fear of falling, Fear of heights, Outdoor safety, Outdoor skills, Outdoor sports, Rope climbing, Timothy J. Hodges

Factoring in fear

3617957829_ecd0b3916f_bIt seemed like a bit of retro viewing when I noticed “Fear Factor” was back on television.  Contestants competed for money by escaping from cars submerged in water, diving into gallons of cow blood for cow hearts (you heard right!), and engaging in an Indian-Jones-like stunt involving a bus, helicopter, and boat in an attempt to “blow up” a floating barge.

Clearly, fear may not have been a factor for winning contestants, but the point that reality shows dealing with fear are still prime-time viewing choices.

Juxtapose that with the previous post and story about endurance athlete Gerry Duffy, certainly a man who overcame resistance and fear.  I found the piece to be challenging and inspiring and intimidating all at once.  I also wanted to become Gerry Duffy, and to achieve what he has.  And, having finished the piece I came to two conclusions:  I did, and I can.

First, on the next section, let’s deal with the “I did” part, the lessons I learned from it, and where I am with the entire fear issue right now.

 

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Filed under Achievements, Anxiety, Apprehension, Camp, Climbing, Climbing tower, Competitiveness, Consequences, Courage, Decision making, Fear of falling, Fear of heights, Goals, Life changes, Living, Outdoor safety, Outdoor skills, Outdoor sports, Rope climbing, Timothy J. Hodges