Presumed Perils and Prevalent Pleasures of the Outdoors

Growing up, my mother used to tell me stories about people who went on nature walks. They usually ended with small children huddled together against the cold in an abandoned car, while the parent wandered boldly to his death in the mountains, searching for help. These stories were probably meant to instruct me to make wise decisions. Instead they created in me a festering fear of anything hiking. If someone said to me, “Come visit me in North Carolina. We’ll go hiking. It’s absolutely gorgeous here,” I would titter nervously while I silently imagined myself wandering half starved through the trees, my voice too hoarse to scream for help.

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I’ve been on a journey during the past year of facing my fears head on. I started small and have been gradually building up. Tuesday, October 20th was the day Timothy and I tackled my fear of hiking. We packed up my lime green backpack with three water bottles, charged our cellphones so we could take pictures, and filled a ziplock baggie with snacks. I laced up my new black and hot pink sneakers, waved goodbye to friends and family, then hopped somberly into the car. We drove 50 minutes to a trail in the Delaware Water Gap called “Tumbling Waters.” I’d never seen a real waterfall. I mean I’ve been to Niagara falls, but to me that hardly counts. Niagara is a deafening deluge of power. It needs a name bigger than waterfall, like Grandiosely Majestic Deluge Of Death Or Something (GMDODOS for short). Basically, I had never seen a naturally occurring stream trickle magically down into a pool of shining water. I hoped this light at the end of the tunnel would provide me extra incentive to complete the three mile loop.

Notice the Lime Green Backpack

It was a perfect day; too warm really to need a sweat shirt, but cool enough that we weren’t wiping sweat from our eyes. I didn’t see a single insect. The sky was cloudless and the sun was bright, shooting rays of light through the trees to illuminate the acorns, pine needles, rocks, and fallen leaves. Autumn is my favorite season and it was still early enough that half the trees had yet to turn. This made the landscape a delicious pallet of orange, yellow, red, and purple to accent the fresh green of life. The air smelled clean and fresh and of dirt and late October. I heard blue jays and saw chipmunks.

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And I got so freaked out I nearly turned back…

About a mile in, I began to get dizzy. Not an oh-no-I-think-I’m-sick dizzy, but an oh-no-I-can’t-see-the-road dizzy; an oh-no-are-you-sure-we’re-not-hopelessly-lost-ohmygoshIcan’tbreathe dizzy.
I swallowed and said in a chipper voice, “Buppy? You said the waterfall is the half way point, right?”
He smiled at me, “Yep.” He was totally in his element, arms swinging merrily at his sides. Outside, fresh air, exercise, and my hand in his. What more could a man want?
I nodded. “So…uhh…how much farther to the waterfall?”
“We’re about halfway there.”
“How long have we been walking?”
“About thirty minutes.”
My head began to spin and my breath quickened. Visions of forever wandering in the barren wilderness began to dance in my head. “Can we sit down for a minute?”

“Of course.” We plopped onto a nearby rock and I broke down. I said many things, but the gist of it was, “I’m scared. Are we lost? How can you be sure? Can we go back? Take me home.” Timmy held my hand until the panic attack passed. I swallowed my fear and told myself that I could do this and if I didn’t I was just feeding the lies that had taken root in my brain.

We got up and finished the hike. I managed to keep my fears at bay, only regularly reminding Timothy to look out for rattlesnakes and copperheads. Now, I can’t wait to go hiking again. I loved it. All of it. Including the panic attack. 😉

All of the photos here are from our trip. I’m not a photographer, but sometimes nature is, in and of itself, so photogenic that no matter the angle, or how inept you are, the image is still spectacular. Here’s a few more of my favorites.
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babbling brook we had to cross on rocks
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my first “real” waterfall
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This is probably my favorite picture from the trip. My mother-in-law said it looks like the path to Middle Earth.
© Rachel Svendsen 2015
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