Journal entry 050610: Weight of fear

“The more afraid you are, the heavier your pack will be,” said Dr. Warren Doyle, legendary Appalachian Trail hiker, and his words caused me to stop working and pull out my 3x5 cards to make notes. I was listening to a podcast called ATHiking while working on the drip irrigation system we use to water the potted plants in front of our house. Dr. Doyle was talking about backpacking and how we tend to load too much heavy stuff into our packs “just in case.” The more things we are afraid of the more gear we pack, and the heavier our pack becomes.

I remembered reading a similar sentiment from Erin McKittrick, who wrote a book about trekking 4,000 miles from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands with her husband, titled A Long Trek Home: “Backpacks are the curse of backpackers. If we carried nothing we could be light and agile on our feet. But we would also be spending all our time simply trying to survive.” She continued, “Each ounce we carried made our trip more possible, more enjoyable, more comfortable, and safer. And each ounce we carried made our trip less possible, less enjoyable, less comfortable, and less safe.”

When I go up into the Guadalupe Mountains I take some gear other backpackers would leave behind to save weight. I take a tent because I like having my stuff inside with me and I like my privacy, and because I am afraid of getting rained on. Those might seem silly since I do most of my backpacking in the desert in one of the least-crowded National Parks in America, but it has rained at least one night during almost every one of my trips. I am considering trying a lightweight tarp instead of a full tent during the warmer months. It does seem funny to worry about privacy when the actual number of times I have shared a camp site with other hikers is outnumbered by the number of times I have been rained on.

I take an air mattress because I am afraid of the aches and pains I get from sleeping on the ground.

I take three gallons of water because I am afraid of running out. However, at eight pounds per gallon, I should consider taking less water. I should push myself on this and take some risk and try to lower the weight.

I take a headlamp, not because I am worried about being outside after dark, which I seldom am other than for waste disposal, but because I am afraid of not being able to read my book or write in my journal at night in my tent.

I take an emergency bivi bag on my solo day hikes because it makes Cyndi happy and in case I turn my knee or blow out my ankle and, being unable to hike out, have to wait alongside the trail until someone comes along, which could be days.

Some places where I have reduced weight by accepting risk are leaving changes of clothes at home, taking a smaller first aid kit, doing little or no cooking.

But of course the reason I heard the quote by Dr. Doyle so clearly was because his statement was bigger than backpacking. Fear adds weight to our life. Fear presses down on us and limits our movements and squashes our freedom. Fear makes us heavy on our feet, and unlikely to try new things. Jon Katz wrote in his blog, Bedlam Farm Journal, “Fear is a great depleter, and the more you feel it, the less you feel the wonder of life. Fear kills the adventure of life.”

Wow, I guess I should ask myself, why all these quotes about fear? Where did this come from? What am I afraid of?

I can answer that. I am most afraid of looking silly. That fear shapes more of my behaviors than I am willing to let people know about. I am sure it has held me back from many adventures that God has put in front of me.

However, I don’t believe it is as heavy a load on me today as it was a dozen years ago. Just as growing and maturing as a backpacker means learning what to take and what to leave at home, growing as a Christian means trusting God and emptying my pack. It also means living in community. One of the reasons my fears have declined a bit is because I’ve learned I am not on a permanent solo backpacking trip where all my survival gear comes from my own kit, but I am on an expedition and surrounded by fellow travelers who share their strengths with me even as I help shoulder some of their fears. Being on the trail together wards off fears.

1 John 4:18 says, “Well-formed love banishes fear.” (MSG) Knowing we don’t have to do this all by ourselves is way less scary, and much lighter.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32BU


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