Facing Your Fears
“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway” John Wayne
I was surfing the net and perusing tons of other blogs to see how everyone else was doing….well EVERYTHING. Blogging is new to me even though I have had ideas and stories wandering around my head for years and years AND YEARS (I’m an old broad) when I came across Mo’s Musings and it took me back to a wonderful/horrible day that forced me to face once of my worst fears.
Traveling has always been a love of mine. I have this insatiable curiosity about people, places, animals, especially animals and nature in general. Hiking is something that I can no longer do, due to the condition of my back, but even through the horrible pain that comes with both the back pain and my fibromyalgia I have pushed through and taken some amazing walks through places that many people have not been lucky enough to see. I have traveled through both Yosemite and Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse and even the Valley of the Temples and Nu’uanu Pali Overlook in Hawaii.
My ex-husband (well the divorce isn’t final but…) and I created a company that serviced golf courses, parks and many state and county agencies all over the Western United States. Due to the large area that the customer base covered, we spent many hours on the road and traveled to many different states. One of the customers was located in Big Sky Montana in an exclusive…..well I should underline and put in bold that word….EXCLUSIVE place with properties adjoining a super exclusive private golf course. So exclusive in fact that they wouldn’t let ME on the property. Say what? I was a partner in the company but unless I was actually performing manual labor I wasn’t permitted on the property. Alrighty. So we decided I would spend the day in one of the local nature trail areas with a couple of books. (I read really fast)
Here’s the thing, when I was a child there was this horrible incident at a campground wherein 2 women were killed in the same night during horrible vicious bear attacks at a national park. The attacks were brought on by ignorance and the habits of humans to actual dump trash to ATTRACK bears. Back then nobody really understood the dangers and what could happen with these wild animals. This was during the sixties and was one of the incidents that prompted the national park service and others to implement new standards in parks for bear safety for both the public and the bears themselves.
I was nowhere near this incident but even when I was young I was a voracious reader and had a vivid imagination. My father had a second job he did at night delivering newspapers to the machines that dispensed the local papers. On the weekends I would often go to help and it was my job to count out the proper amount of papers to go into each machine. The headlines this particular night were about the horrible bear attacks and the deaths that resulted from the attacks. Over and over and over, all night I carefully counted the papers and by the light of the overhead light in our van, I read. I still to this day, over 40 years later, remember those headlines and the horror that paper contained. To this day, I will have the occasional nightmare featuring a bear. It doesn’t matter how often I remind myself how remote the chances are to have a fatal bear attack, the fear remains and I am forced to face it.
Try facing a fear of bears while stranded in a remote park in Montana. Yeah right. Just to make things clear, there are GRIZZLIES in this area. We had been told by locals that there were bear sightings of black bears all of the time at Ousel Falls and the occasional grizzly. Mmm hmmm.
My heart was racing before I even got out of the truck. We had checked out of the hotel we were staying at the night before, it was on the other side of the mountains closer to the first job we had done. There was no café or any other place for me to wait within miles.
So he dropped me off at the trail head for Ousel Falls. I have heard that since then they have put a port a potty or something at the top of the trailhead. At that time though there were no facilities of any type. There were the usual signs telling you to keep your dogs on a leash and to clean up after them and a sign telling you to pack out what you pack in. (In other words don’t leave trash here)
There wasn’t even a trash can at the top of the trail head because well, that would attract BEARS.
We had actually walked this trail together with our kids on a previous trip. I was scared then but we were in a rather loud group (boys, ’nuff said) and the more noise the better as far as bears are concerned. I recalled that the very bottom of the trail had a little area that would be suitable for me to prop my ass on a rock and read. I really was trying to be brave but my hands were shaking as I tucked a water bottle into my jacket.
There has been a lot of interest in the Big Sky area, fantastic skiing (if you are lucky enough to have the coordination to keep from falling on your ass all the way down like me) and gorgeous views that are to die for. Over the years man has slowly wormed his way into this heavenly spot and residential areas are working themselves into the valleys and up into the mountains. Even back then, about 2005 or 2006 or so, houses were under construction ever closer to the wildlife that called this home. Yeah, that is just asking for trouble.
So here I was, water bottle, 2 books and no toilet. WTF did I think I was doing? Be brave, be brave…….I was an adult, the bears were more scared of me than I was of them……as if.
Often when in bear country I have well, yearned is probably the best word to describe it. I have yearned for one of those canned air horns that you hear at track meets and athletic events. I mean really, aren’t bears supposed to be afraid of loud noises? In most of my bear nightmares I am unable to scream or only a squeak comes out. My fear is that if a bear doesn’t high tail it out of the area my squeak won’t deter it in the least. It might think “mmm yum a little critter for my picnic basket” and try to eat me.
There are bear pepper sprays out there somewhere. I’m not sure what the spray range is, but I am pretty sure that in that situation, given my complete lack of coordination and extreme fear, I would end up taking the full force of the pepper stream in my face. Sigh. I am a klutz.
Now you might say “well why didn’t she stay at the top of the trail?”. Short answer….there was nowhere to sit. I have been fighting my back issues for more than 20 years and sitting on the ground is not an option unless I want to lose all feeling in my legs and well that just wouldn’t work should I encounter wildlife. And then there was the whole Face Your Fear issue. I was trying to be brave.
So I hiked down the trail, notice that I said down…..the opposite of down being up, the way back was gonna be a bitch. The first time we had hiked this trail, my ex our boys and I, we had followed the very well groomed trail to the bottom and beyond. My ex is one of those guys that sees a sign that says “stay out” and has to step over a fence to take a picture there. There wasn’t a sign saying to stop, there was one telling you that beyond that point the trail was not kept up and you were on your own. Sigh. During that trip I end up on my ass, perched on the crumbling edge of the trail crying in fear because I thought I was gonna fall. It took me 30 minutes, a lot of tears copious amounts of snot (I don’t cry pretty) and some very bad words, to inch my way to safety. I was convinced then that they would have to leave me to the bears and go get help.
With the previous trip in mind, I headed down the path. The path through this section of Ousel Falls isn’t really a long one by hiking standards, but it is winding and steep and not something somebody like me should really be hiking alone. But I was a good little wife and did what was necessary. I sipped the water only occasionally, I wasn’t gonna squat and pee on my shoes.
There is nothing like the beauty that you can find in Montana. Just the smell of the pines and the fresh mountain air will touch even the most hardened of travelers. I hiked down about a half a mile and stopped just to look around and absorb the beauty and of course to listen for any unwelcome visitors. They tell you to keep making noise so the bears will go the other way, since there was nobody there to talk loudly to….I talked to myself……loudly.
That was all fine and dandy until this couple with their dog came power walking through. Really people, when you see someone else on a narrow trail is it necessary to up your speed and wiz past them like they are standing still? Well, okay maybe by that time I was cowering in fear that the noise was, well, you know, a BEAR!.
That winding trail down the side of a mountain lush with greenery of all types doesn’t exactly give you a clear view of anything. The couple had brought their dog and obviously they were unable to read because the dog was bounding through the brush zig sagging across the trail, nary a leash in sight. It wasn’t until they were about 20 feet from me that I could see the couple and the dog. I am lucky I didn’t wet my pants. Of course I smiled and said hi, I do that everywhere by the way, I am not the eye averting shy type. They nodded and continued power walking at a high rate of speed down the trail. They may have looked at me a little oddly as they passed, might have been the loud talking to myself stuff.
I was tempted to up my pace but had a quick vision of rolling the rest of the way down the trail and opted to follow at a more leisurely pace. Some of my fear started to ease with the sight of the dog. I figured that either the dog or a bear would sense each other before I even had an inkling that there was a bear around and so I continued on a little lighter at heart and was able to enjoy the beauty and the views all around me. By the time I reached the bottom of the trail the couple was down by the water with the dog playing happily so I settled down on a boulder to read.
It was peaceful and beautiful beyond belief. Although my fear was still there it was pushed back and hiding behind the illusionary wall created by the presence of other people. They didn’t stay long. Perhaps the smell of wet dog?
Ignoring me totally they headed back up the trail, still power walking with their walking stick and their dog. Why hadn’t I thought of getting a walking stick? En garde bear! Yeah, that would work.
I was there for six hours. Six long wonderful yet horrible hours. We had agreed to meet at the top of the trail after six hours. He had estimated how long the job would take and how long to drive back to where I was at and so for about 4 hours I enjoyed the beauty and jumped at every rustle of leaves. A couple of other hikers came and went and I felt the fear rise and fall more than once. It had taken me about an hour to walk down so after about 4 or so hours and into the second book, I began to make my way up that steep ass trail. This was not, I’ll repeat that, NOT an easy task for me.
I was about five or six years post breast cancer and was just starting to realize there was something seriously wrong with me. The first few years I could easily blame my exhaustion on the surgeries, the chemo, the radiation, moving into a new house, moving again to a new state and another house and another and all the while working my butt off. My back was a known issue but the all over body pain and sensitivity was only now finally being diagnosed. I had fibromyalgia but refused to slow down, I was a wife, a mother and a business partner. I didn’t have TIME to stop doing everything for everybody.
So I plodded up the trail. It took forever. Each step was torture after about the first quarter mile. Sitting on a boulder when you have back issues, yeah, not a good idea. I had shooting pains down my right leg, I was exhausted and my legs trembled with the effort of walking up the steep trail. Halfway up I was half wishing a bear would get me, it would have ended the torture. A couple more ridiculously athletic people walked down past me cheerfully waving at my sweaty growly visage. I hated them.
It took everything out of me, but I made it to the top. Not a bear in sight. I thought I was going to die. There was something else not in sight. The truck. Well shit. I was afraid to attempt sitting on the ground lest I be forced to crawl my way into the truck when he finally showed up. So I paced….and then realized something else, I was okay. In pain yes, but I had made it through and I had faced my absolute worst fear.
I’m proud of that day. It wasn’t my smartest day, but I made it and faced a fear that has been dogging me for years. I had conquered the mountain, alone. My body hurt head to toe, but I was okay. He showed up late, asked how the day was, I looked him straight in the eye and said, “fine….Get me to a BATHROOM!”
Posted on October 1, 2014, in Life, Traveling All Over The Map and tagged Back pain, Bear Attack, Bears, chronic pain, Facing Your Fears, Fear, fibromyalgia, Grizzly, hiking, nature. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.