Sunday, February 18, 2018

Silencing Fear and Doubt

            I enjoyed very little hiking during the six years I lived in the New York City Borough of Queens. The time and tolls it took to get out of the city to a trail head were prohibitive. Instead of hiking, I drove the toll-free forty five minutes to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge where I paddled my sea kayak or sailed my twenty-four foot sailboat, but I missed hiking in the wilderness.

            When I left New York City and returned to West Virginia, I left my kayak, sail boat, and most of my outdoor gear behind. How could I go hiking? Making a bee line to the nearest REI to buy the ten essentials was easy. Overcoming the excuse of feeling I had lost my trail legs and allowed my wilderness hiking skills to atrophy were harder to overcome.

            During a mid-November stay at a cabin in West Virginia’s high alpine Canaan Valley, with the Dolly Sods Wilderness minutes away, I knew I had the minimum gear I needed for a day hike in the Sods; however, I still had some fear and doubt about my abilities. I was in my mid-fifties, over weight, and out of shape.  Even though I had previously hiked and/or backpacked every trail in Dolly Sods, I wasn’t feeling comfortable about the prospect of undertaking a solo six to seven mile day hike when daytime temperatures were predicted to stay below freezing, and there was an inch or two of freshly fallen snow on the ground.

            The Dolly Sods Wilderness can be unforgiving, especially from late fall into early spring. The area is prone to wild weather fluctuations and high winds. Nevertheless, I decided to confront my doubts and fears and to go hiking. I drove to the Laneville Cabin trail head at the southern end of Red Creek Trail and set out with the intention of making it to the top of Lion’s Head.

            Route finding along Red Creek Trail was easier than expected. I safely crossed Red Creek to access Big Stonecoal Trail. Employing the mountaineer’s rest step, I managed to ascend the steep climb without suffering a heart attack. I even enjoyed the sound of waterfalls cascading over the rocky ledges on nearby Stonecoal Creek as I hiked. Finding the side trail leading from the Rocky Point Trail to the top of Lion’s Head, I finally arrived at my destination, enjoyed the tremendous view, and reveled in the accomplishment. Then I headed back to the car, following the same route I had taken up.

            By the time I returned to the car, I wondered why I had ever doubted my ability to safely enjoy a solo Hike in the Dolly Sods wilderness in sub-freezing temperatures on freshly snow covered trails.  I was glad I had silenced and overcome the fear and doubt that almost prevented me from enjoying this wilderness adventure. Through that single day hike, I rediscovered and reclaimed my trail legs.

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