Autobiographical

How I’m Writing My Way Out of Acrophobia

Picture this: A grown-ass woman in her late twenties is clinging tearfully to a rock in the middle of an incline that makes the Appalachians look like the Alps. As she stands there contemplating her inevitable demise, a couple of children in hiking sandals literally skip past her. It is powered only by the unadulterated shame they leave in their wake that she’s able to reach the top.

This was me five or so years ago. I was hiking up Mt. Kineo overlooking Moosehead Lake in northern Maine. The memory of those children haunts me to this day, reminding me of how badly I’ve let acrophobia kick logic to the curb and prevent me from doing things I might legitimately enjoy.

Why on Earth Did I Move to Colorado?

Fast forward to today and I’ve been living in Colorado for a few years now, looking out at the Rockies with a mixture of wonder and dread. Why did I move to Colorado of all places? Good question. Maybe I’m masochistic or something. The point is, I’m here now and I’m trying to learn to be a good Coloradoan and love the mountains as much up-close as from afar.

Finding Hikes that Are My Speed.

So where does writing come into play? Well it starts with the painful process I go through every time we try a new hike. I’ve managed to finish hikes in the past, but the Rockies really up the ante, and I’ve quit my last two hikes before I even got started.

I mean honestly, is it too much to ask for a hike that gives you great views of the mountains without being very steep? That’s wide enough to put two people between you and the edge without feeling like a road? That’s strenuous but never requires you to hand-over-fist your way up some rocks? My gut is telling me the answer is yes, but I’ve tried finding those hikes all the same.

Of course, the online guides and rating systems were no help. If a hike is considered easy, that doesn’t mean it’s not terrifying. That just means it won’t tire you out (the fear will take care of that). Those are the hikes where I’m likely to get outclassed by toddlers.

What about hikes that are “family friendly”? Nope. Mostly flat? Big no. Good for runners? Even then, there’s no guarantee they’re good for me.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

My experiences trying to find hikes for me and failing to complete the ones I do find have lead me to two key realizations:

  1. I need to spend less time obsessing about finding comfortable hikes and more time learning to do the hikes that are available to me.
  2. There needs to be more information out there for acrophobics who want to hike in the Rockies, so they can find good hikes for getting started and gradually pushing their limits.

Therefore, I’ve decided to combine my love of writing with a little DIY exposure therapy to create The Acrophobic’s Guide to Hiking in Colorado.

Starting with the Lion’s Lair Trail near Boulder, I am employing a variety of strategies, the most important being exposure, to eventually push myself to finish hikes. I then write about what strategies worked and rate the hikes on criteria that matter to the fearful.

Writing as Guide and Therapist

The act of writing may not actually help me get over my fear in and of itself, but it does keep me going back to learn and experience more. Otherwise, I’d have nothing to share. And if nothing more comes of this project than a dry manuscript and some photos from the top of the Lion’s Lair Trail, then it’ll still all have been worth it.

Finally, by using writing and a humorous lens, I can laugh about the fact that while I was carefully pacing back and forth along a steep trail, my 2-year old son reached the Lion’s Lair summit. And you know what they say – sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying.

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