Friday, September 4, 2020

Thickly Settled: Slow Down, Part 2

Do I go in the cave?
Sera in IllumiNITE Eclipse Headband,
Vigor Bling Singlet, and Reflective Shortie
Like most children, I had a favorite stuffed animal—a teddy bear named Theodore Bear, or Teddy for short. Teddy went everywhere with me; every night, I read him stories under my blankets with a flashlight long after bedtime, and I told him all my secrets.

I have photographs of me at eleven years old camping with my dad, happy as can be in the woods, with Teddy in tow of course. Yet, everyone who knows me now knows I am terrified of bears, the real ones. I don't know when this phobia began, but it's kept me out of the woods for most of my adult life. Until one day, I decided I had to face my fears. I started trail running and fell in love with the woods and the mountains all over again. This brings me to the second part of my two-week respite from the world: my White Mountains escapade with Mike (Missed Part 1? Read it here).

Date night
on the screened-in porch
After eight days alone on the Cape, I was ecstatic to get back home to Mike. I quickly did all my laundry (IllumiNITE athletic wear hang-dries so quickly, it's amazing!), packed our suitcase with hiking essentials, games, and new books, and pre-packed my hiking backpack—including bear spray and a knife! The next day, we set off.

Sunday was our travel day, so we checked into our cabin before heading out to find dinner. The one-room Pemi Cabin we stayed in was so adorable, perfect for a couple. Due to COVID-19, they also had contactless check-in as well, so we didn't have to interact with anyone. At dinner, we analyzed the mountains' weather patterns and decided that Monday was our best bet for our long hike: Mt. Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail Loop.

Climbing the waterfalls was so fun!
The 9-mile loop included hiking up alongside a waterfall, climbing up boulders and tree roots, and walking up-down-up-down a ridge over three four-thousand-foot mountain peaks.

Being so deep in the heart of the mountain felt magical—like I was a kid exploring mystical lands in an imaginary faraway kingdom.

The only world that existed was one of massive entities: trees that stretched to the heavens, boulders stacked so high they created caves between them; waterfalls so powerful, they carved rivers into rocks.
This picture doesn't do this tree justice!
Sera in IllumiNITE Mockingbird Shirt
When we arrived at the top, our view was obliterated by the whiteout of the fog. Mike was disappointed because he really wanted me to see the view, but I enjoyed the drama it created. People faded into the mist. Entire mountains evaporated into thin air. Miraculously, the fog dissipated just as we began our descent back down, revealing magnificent views of the Ridgeline we ascended as well as a view of Cannon, the next mountain on our agenda.
Reaching for my IllumiNITE Packable Jacket
while resting after a vigorous hike
to the windy mountaintop;
Sun came out as we hiked back down;
so thankful for my IllumiNITE Multi-Wrap
to protect my head from the sun and pesky bugs!

We saw enough people on the trail it curbed my anxiety about bears. The sheer beauty of the natural world around me truly made me forget all about my everyday life. Nine hours later, we made it back down to our car. I was exhausted yet invigorated.

The next day was a rest day, but we wanted to explore! We happened upon the Franconia Falls Trail in Franconia State park, a flat trail that used to be a railroad track (you could see the ties!). I'm so glad we hiked the 3.6 miles out to the promised Falls. The trail opened up to a swimming hole that gushed water through boulders, creating natural waterslides and surging waterfalls.

Enjoying the numbingly cold water of Franconia Falls;
love how quick-drying IllumiNITE athletic wear is;
made for a comfortable hike back
The water was so crystal clear it looked blue, and its numbingly cold temperature felt really good after the previous day's hike.

Walking back made for a total of seven-point-two miles, but we weren't done with our "rest day" just yet. We headed over to the Flume Gorge and walked the three-mile loop, marveling at the sites. Though, my anxiety came flooding back when I saw the Bear Cave. Mike laughed at the sign and suggested I go inside the cave so he could take my picture.

Don't let my smile fool you;
I hide my anxiety well

ME: Is there a bear in there?

MIKE: I'm positive there's no bears.

ME: Why deny you sit in there first?

MIKE: I'm pretty sure there's no bears.

Logically, I knew Mike was right. There were no bears. But Anxiety is so exhausting! Sometimes, I just have to prove Her wrong with real proof. I'm not ashamed to say I made Mike go all the way in the cave to scope it out first. In my defense, Mike knows I'll "leave you for dead" if a bear comes along. Being the greatest boyfriend in the world, he obliged me. Once he came back out of the cave in tact (as my logical self knew he would), I shakily walked into the darkness, sat on the cold rocks, and smiled for the camera, despite my fear. 

As we walked away unscathed, I laughed at the ridiculousness of my anxiety. But Mike stopped me, held me close, let me have a moment to recover. Before I met Mike, I always thought I had to manage my anxiety on my own. I am so grateful to have such a supportive, understanding, patient partner. We don't have to suffer alone. That's truly freeing to learn.

So accidentally, our rest day turned into a ten-mile hiking day. And while the terrain was relatively flat with little elevation gain, it definitely took its toll on our bodies....

Despite my misery, I smiled all the way up;
check out the video of my ladder climb
and more White Mountain adventures
on my Instagram
...which might explain why our third day on Cannon Mountain, a six-mile hike with just 2,400 foot elevation gain, made me so miserable I couldn't even stand my miserable self! My anxiety tested me on that mountain more than I could have anticipated. Besides the steep ascend 2,400 feet straight up a darkly-shadowed mountain that loomed over me, the trail was so narrow in places I feared I'd fall off the edge. Oh, and then there was that ladder bolted into the side of the rock-face I had to climb, followed by the narrowest trail that dropped off the edge of the cliff. There were the boulders that were so steep I had to  scale them with my hands and feet, and the ones even steeper Mike had to hoist me up. I cut my knee, cut my ankle, and bruised my shins. We were the only people on the trail, and that amped my anxiety even more. Not a single soul in sight the entire way up. 

The terrain would have been magical if I wasn't so scared. It reminded me of my childhood fairytales: The Labyrinth, Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland—a place where mystical and mythical creatures safely hid away from the world; a place where ominous monsters lurked, waiting to capture their next victims. There were mossy carpets so lush with green that sprouted tiny red mushroom houses, and forests so dense shadows danced ominously around me on all sides. 

The silence and shadows
made for a dream-like state
I wondered if I'd see
a caterpillar smoking 

I am not amused...

On our way back down, the boulders were so big and spread so far apart, they created caverns in between them. As I stepped down, I wondered what creatures might snatch me. When we ran into our first humans, two women climbing up as we climbed down, one of them said, "Be careful. We heard a growl a short way down, the direction you're heading, but we didn't see anything."

Did she say a growl? As in a BEAR? When we were out of earshot, Mike said, "Bears don't growl. They grunt." 

"They growl!" I said. "When they feel threatened...Or, hungry!" I shouted back. "I know. I've seen it before!"

Despite my growing fear, I couldn't hasten my pace. The descent was just as steep as our climb up.

By the time we got to ground level, I was so miserable I refused to walk around the beautiful landscape of Lonesome Lake. I wondered if it got its name from the number of break-ups that occurred after climbing Cannon. "You better ply me with drinks tonight," I told Mike. "Or we're through." 

The best thing about this miserable hike
was knowing if we got lost in the dark, my
IllumiNITE would shine like a beacon
so the rescuers could locate me

Don't worry, don't worry. I was totally joking. As we sat on a log recovering from our exertion, we laughed about my misery together. But in all honesty, Cannon Mountain truly slayed me. I'm determined to go back next year and conquer it. In hindsight, I was in a real-life fairytale, but I couldn't appreciate it until after the fact.

This picture captures my inner child;
exploring with no cares in the world...
dreaming of endless possibilities
After three days of hiking with a total mileage of 26 miles (that's a marathon!) and almost eight thousand feet elevation gain, we did reward ourselves with drinks that night! The next day, we lounged by The Basin, reading books in the sun before heading back home. It was a nice to get away, to push myself physically and mentally, and enjoy the natural world around me like I used to do as a child.

As I mentioned in my last post, I believe in exposure therapy. I won't let anxiety rule my decisions. But just because I face my phobias head-on doesn't mean I do so gracefully. And I'm okay with that. I've accepted that my anxiety is a part of me, lingering in the background, making me slightly on edge at all times. But our quirks are what makes us who we are, and I love the woman I am. It took me a long time to love me for me, but it's a beautiful discovery. 

When I set off on my sixteen-day respite from the world, all I knew was that I needed to escape everything and everyone so the loudest voice I heard was my own. I knew there'd be introspection, but I didn't expect to discover my inner child; the girl who loved her Teddy more than anything; my purest self before world experiences influenced me. When is the last time you've been alone with your thoughts? Maybe now is the time to listen again. 

I'm alive! I shouted inside my head;
Every nerve of my being on fire;
I'm alive!

So I ask you...

What do you fear? 
How do you cope with that fear? 
What do you do to face that fear? 

Please share in a comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts and advice.

Check out the clothes I'm wearing (and more!) at Use my discount code RunBrightly15 for 15% off your order.

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