Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Roger and I were recently in Seattle, WA with plans for a day hike.  Roger is an excellent trip planner, so I had not researched the hike at all.  All I knew was what to pack – hiking boots, hiking clothes and camera!

The night before the hike as we settled in the hotel room, I decided to research our excursion a bit.  Backpacker Magazine features great hikes for each state and Marmot Pass was the one for Washington.  However, in the paragraph describing the hike, it reads: 

Traverse old-growth forest and mountain meadows to gaze across the Olympics on this 10.8 mile out-and-back.  Parallel the surging Big Quilcene River under 150-foot-tall hemlock, cedar, and Douglas fir, ascending through bands of meadow and Alaskan yellow cedar.  Watch for bears foraging for huckleberries.  Top out at 6,000-foot Marmot Pass to peer across the Upper Dungeness River at sharp-edged, 7,788-foot Mt. Deception.
-September 2013 issue of Backpacker Magazine

As the title of this blog reads: Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!  I am a Texas and Iowa outdoors girl and normally not afraid.  However, I do not know about bears.  I do know that when you hike in bear country that you’re supposed to wear little bells on your backpack to alert bears of your approach.  Hmm…no bells on my packing list.  When I said, “Um, honey, have you thought about bears?” Roger didn’t recall reading about the bears and thought I was joking.  But not to worry – Roger assured me we could stop in the morning and pick up some “bear bells” prior to our hike. 

Of course, the next morning, we discovered that the appropriate store was not open. So, we began to drive the hour and a half to the trailhead.  We drove on dirt roads – very windy dirt roads, I might add – and for an hour and a half we didn’t see another car or another human.  At this point I was secretly hoping we would see a bear – a big, scary bear that would make Roger call off the hike.  Things got worse when I realized we hadn’t left any information with ANYONE about where we were hiking – the very thing we ask our adult children NEVER to do.  And of course, by then we were miles away from cell phone coverage.  There wasn’t a single soul who’d know when we got eaten by the bears.

As our minds can do, within minutes I had the headlines of the Seattle Tribune reading, “Couple Found Dead – Mauled by Bears – No Way to Notify Kin.”  Oh, I’m sure your mind has never developed news stories over anticipated events, but mine was quickly and effortlessly spinning out headlines.  “Clueless Campers Wander Directly Into Grizzly Territory.”  “Hiking Boots the Only Trace of Missing Iowa Couple.”  Our imagined fatal trip was also going to qualify for a “What Not to Do” story in Backpacker Magazine.

Fear had gotten the best of me, and there was no stopping it.  My mind continued churning full steam ahead.  I remembered that FEAR can be an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real.  Well, my thinking was that if the bears were false evidence, then why would Backpacker Magazine suggest that we beware? The cycle of fear-fueled thinking got so ridiculous that finally I caught myself and began practicing the thought-changing technique I’m writing about in my current book project, Stop Breathe Believe™.  Stop: I interrupted the flow of my fearful thoughts and became aware of my “out of control” thinking. Breathe: I took a deep, cleansing breath that enabled me to recalibrate my mind and my racing heart. Believe: I created a true, calming self-talk statement that I could believe.  In this case, it was “If it is desolate when we arrive at the trailhead, we will need to have a discussion about the safety and wisdom of this hike.”

As we pulled up to the trailhead, I was greatly relieved to find 20 other cars there.  Great!  I wasn’t scared anymore.  We were not alone! 

The hike was absolutely beautiful.  We began at 9:30 am and reached the top of the mountain at 2 pm.  Maybe it isn’t officially a mountain – but by 2 pm, it was a mountain.  The hike was wonderful – instead of lions and tigers and bears, oh my! – it was breath-taking.  In more ways than one.