Category Archives: Safety

Overcoming Fear: Put The Rattlesnake In Its Place

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Teri on the fear factor trail.

Hi, my name is Teri and I am afraid. For as far back as I can remember I’ve been afraid and the world around me has been very accommodating in justifying all of my fears – encouraging them and fanning the flame right on schedule: no time off for holidays. Whether it’s the certainty of catching Ebola from a stranger or being snarked on by the Facebook grammar police (my daughters) who at this very moment are muttering, “snarked is not a word”, the universe is intent on keeping its fellow humans in a constant state of anxiety. Presently I’m beginning a new chapter titled Blow It Out Your Pie-hole, You Can’t Scare Me, but the past has been a very different and fear-filled story.

My previous life had me stressing over things as varied as being an inadequate dolt in the presence my ex’s highly educated friends while they compared notes on the agony of GRE prep to the surety that my four kids would wind up in juvenile detention if I stopped breastfeeding them before they entered grade school. The one thing the previous life taught me about fear is, like weeds, it grows when left unchecked.

As I moved through adult life, my weedy, pesticide-resistant fears pretty much centered around who I was in the world and this led to the powerful conclusion that extreme insecurity and false bravado were simply two sides of the same coin. I had dabbled in both a sassy ego and a shredded self worth and finally come to realize that the reason I feared not being smart enough, sophisticated enough, witty enough – was because I wasn’t. And I still am not.

For years I’d wandered into connections with people that were constant reminders that I was unworthy and not up to snuff but the vacating of a job and a round of multiple crises in a short period of time offered up an unexpected victory. The win was the realization that I was just an average Teri and that turned out to be joyfully freeing. Exhausted from the self-worth battle, I’d finally surrendered and in that surrender my fear gained perspective, I need not make any further attempt at special. Average was acceptable.

This embrace of average is something most goal oriented people do not understand: those who cut their teeth on grade point averages, yearly income, and an inability to laugh at themselves as energetically as they do at everyone else are allergic to average but for me it was empowering. It was freeing. There was no longer a quest for extraordinary and most profoundly, any strategy designed to convey my own specialness was finished. Who’da thunk it, that this search for the above average was truly the root, the nucleus of all of my fears.

Once self worth and ego were given a time out, fear became a force that could be deciphered on its own and dealt with head on and lucky for me, a robust, middle-aged rattlesnake was waiting to help me out. In the split second it takes to make a dumb decision and head down an overgrown and very narrow trail, I was transformed by Slytherin, a rattlesnake the size of an Anaconda yet somehow hidden in the grass. This deadly serpent fired up a rattle that sounded like a chainsaw and caused a very rational response from me: I first froze and then ran like hell while grabbing my cell phone because everyone knows a snake can be warded off with a call to a boyfriend who lives thirteen hundred miles away. My desire for an off grid hike always mysteriously vanishes at the first hint of a snake.

Yes, I lived through this but the result was a terror every time I went near the trail that I had so coveted pre-Slytherin encounter. Over the next few months, I trekked past the trailhead and stared enviously down the dusty path at other hikers sauntering merrily along, not a care in the world. A half a year passed and then one day on a hike with my daughter’s significant other, I relayed the story and my fear. Of course Jules’ Dutch to English response was “We go, yes? We must take this trail now”.

And so we did, with me inexplicably going first. Jules had previously shared that snakes are gratefully unheard of in Holland and though he was in agreement that I needed to face my fear, he saw no urgency in facing his. Like the true leader and snake expert I am, I conquered the terrain by clapping my hands loudly and shuffling my feet in a grumpier old men fashion. Evidently the snakes recognized my superiority as we saw none on our two and a half mile stretch. What we did see was a spectacular trail that was reminiscent of Lord Of The Rings and as I walked through the forest, I found that the snake focus abated and my attention shifted to the trek.

As it happened, the week of the snake face-off coincided with my attendance at two documentary showings, both dealing specifically with fear and self worth. MERU is a story of tenacity, friendship, courage, and honor while JEFF LOWE’S METANOIA explores both determination and surrender and how those two can coexist. These mountain climbing tales made me hyper-aware that the guys involved seemingly managed any fear by literally looking upward. In every camera shot, they fixed their gaze and attention on the top of where they were headed. As storms raged, food diminished, and their bodies and psyches became battered and bruised, they simply narrowed their vision to exactly what it would take to progress to the next level. Sometimes they made it, sometimes they didn’t, and sometimes life stepped in and avalanched their worlds more than anything had on any mountain. Did they have fear? Yes. You can see it in their eyes. Did the fear at times influence the outcome? Of course it did as they used the fear like a tool, carving reason into a pragmatic equation, but did they allow the fear to dominate and define who they were? No.

Fear will always be part of being human. How we navigate it and what role it plays in our lives can be dictated by the world or it can be dictated by us. Perspective is up to the individual. Just how dangerous is it to hike, canoe, rock climb, ski, snowboard, run, skateboard, bike or for that matter, make a grammatical error, say something less than brilliant, wear mediocre clothing and on and on and on? For the beautifully teeny-tiny, average person – compared to sitting it out – statistically, diving in is either scary-dangerous or slap happy-safe. Only you can decide.

See MERU

and JEFF LOWE’S METANOIA

5 Ways To Safely Connect w/ Men While Traveling

Connecting with fellows travelers while on a journey can be a great experience or one that becomes a challenge depending on circumstances. I’ve had nice times with couples, gals, and guys but this post will focus on safety for women when the camaraderie involves men as on a recent Death Valley getaway where I enjoyed platonic camaraderie with two guys and felt comfortable and at ease. Please understand that this is the perspective of a female solo traveler who enjoys alone time so adjust accordingly for what it is you desire.

Mowgli time
Beware of guys in trees, JK as this one happens to be my beloved cousin! 🙂

1) BE SAFE – I encourage safety by sizing up the situation and avoiding connection with males traveling alone with a few exceptions (if large groups of people are around and it is a busy area and the solo guy makes very casual and sober conversation). It’s been my experience that several men together, in their SUVs, and especially if they appear to be family guys, are more likely to be polite and in possession of social skills that render it less of a possibility that they are engaging in behavior dangerous to me and/or are a current Son Of Sam (definitely dangerous to me). I’ve heard of serial killers, in rare instances, traveling in pairs but not of them in groups of 3 or more – yes, I realize I just invited my mom to send me an article 😉 I also consider my comfort level and if the guys are exhibiting energy that includes racy banter, profanity, and excessive alcohol consumption, I distance myself immediately.

2) BE CENTERED – This may sound airy-fairy but I have learned to be clear about what I like in travel and I am only open to situations that are compatible. I like to share that I am in a relationship early on so that it is communicated that I am not traveling to party. I believe most men hear this and are respectful of it and if they are looking for romantic possibilities, move on politely when it’s very clear that, that is not on any agenda. The evening I spent around a campfire with the two gentlemen I got to know in Death Valley was polite, humorous, and respectful with interesting stories and travel information swapped and when I excused myself early on all three nights to retire to my tent and read, they remained at the campfire talking quietly. The energy of the evening never veered from calm and chill.

3) BE ALERT – Ignore the childhood rule about eavesdropping being rude. Listen to the convos around you. I was on a patio and am here to tell you that two different tables of men were having two very different conversations and both tables were in the same age group (40s-50s) and out to ride dirt bikes for the weekend. One convo was pretty raunchy continuously while the other one was about the wives, kids, school choices, and a hilarious mishap on the purchase of encyclopedias right before the internet made the $600 purchase obsolete.

Watch alcohol consumption (yours and others) when flying solo and I will be perfectly transparent here, I enjoyed only one drink in the evening, around the campfire on my Death Valley trip and the guys were conservative in their alcohol consumption also. Over-consumption too often can lead to off color banter at best and off color behavior at worst from people who would not act this way when sober.

4) BE CLOSED – Say what? Initially, I keep to myself in order to, as I mentioned above, size up a situation and if I decide I am not interested in the energy around me, I use barriers to communicate. No, I don’t construct a literal wall but I have found that having my books, camera, and journal and focusing my attention on those will generally halt any interaction I am not open to. I also have discovered that a hat with brim can work as a way to shield from unwanted eye contact and allows me to feel a sense of privacy when I desire it.

5) BE SPECIFIC – Mixed signals have no place when traveling so I am clear when I communicate. The guys I met in the desert had individual agendas that included separating daily, with one going for adrenaline filled dirt bike rides while the other went in search of back-road photography on his motorcycle. I was very enthusiastic about solo hiking and spending time with my books and camera, with idle chat being put aside for the bulk of my day. All three of us got what the others were after and the crossover only happened at the campfire. This worked for everyone and when I neglected to stake my tent down the first night and navigated wind, I borrowed a hammer from one of the guys but handled staking in the stubborn rocky ground myself. Part of being empowered for me when traveling, is handling myself and not sending mixed signals of male/female connectedness in what can sometimes become a confusing manner.

Finally, I know there is a lot written about clothing choices and I realize I am barking up a tree here that might appear anti-feminist but it feels disingenuous and irresponsible to not share that I choose different clothing when traveling alone as opposed to when I am with my guy. I wear jeans cut off just above the knee and string tops when alone on the trail but generally wear these same bottoms and a t-shirt when around other travelers and when I went to the Panamint deck which has a bar and restaurant on my Death Valley trip, I donned jeans,  a t-shirt, and my hat. My cutoff shorts are reserved for traveling with my family and/or my guy or when I am not around other travelers. I am at an age where unwanted attention is not anywhere as common as it would be for younger travelers and I enjoy the anonymity that my age encourages but at any age, strategy can be put into place to up the odds of a comfortable experience.

Please enjoy yourself, be practical and be safe but don’t bow to the fear-mongering that often takes place around hiking and solo travel. To reassure yourself just compare the stats on crime against travelers and the stats on heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure from sitting at home in front of the TV.

Rock on and have fun!