When I found myself in the middle of nowhere on my second hiking trip, my mind went racing. Maybe hiking wasn’t what I thought it was, maybe I was too afraid. All I knew was that there was something I didn’t like.
A few weeks ago, Jeff and I went hiking on the Hudson River in Upstate New York, and I was immediately hooked. I couldn’t wait for the chance to hike again, and as soon as we realized we had a free Saturday, we jumped at the opportunity.
This time, we headed to Palisades Interstate Park, an area that goes along the border of New York and New Jersey. Here, the trails run along cliffs that drop down to the Hudson River, with views of Manhattan and Weschester, including both the George Washington and Tappan Zee Bridges.
After parking, Jeff and I headed to a lookout to take in the scenery and then we watched turkey vultures fly above us before heading out on our hike. Unlike last time, the entrance for this trail was perfectly marked, which left me feeling less apprehensive than our previous hike.
But, my feelings changed as soon as we entered the woods. During our last hike, we came across many people while walking along the trail, but here, we were completely alone and in the middle of nowhere. I had an almost immediate feeling of fear because this was already different than our last hike. With each rustle of leaves, my heart rate began to quicken and I squeezed tighter on to Jeff’s hand. First, there were deer hopping through the trees, then squirrels, and chipmunks, but the more wild life we began to see, the more I worried that we’d see unwanted animals during our trek.
Slowly, I could feel myself coming out of my comfort zone. Each step brought us deeper into the woods, and there was no turning back. I didn’t know what to expect of the trail ahead; it was completely unpredictable. That was what I liked about hiking two weeks ago, but this time, the more I thought about it, the more anxious I grew.
The further we went, the more my mind began to wander. I kept hearing noises, noises that almost always turned out to be chipmunks, but all I could think about were bears. What would we do if we saw one? Were we even prepared for that? Jeff had researched what to do if we saw one, but I never really thought it would happen. All of a sudden, here, with no one else around, I began to panic.
Finally, we began to see other people on the trail, and that put my mind at ease. I took a deep breath and reminded myself how much I enjoy going out of my comfort zone and pushing myself to try new things. I also reminded myself that this was a new experience and the feelings of fear would eventually pass. Once I did this, and had Jeff help talk me out of my fears, I immediately felt better and began to enjoy the beauty that surrounded us.
Eventually, we came to an area that was directly on the border of New Jersey and New York. Here the paths turned into stairways made of boulders and rocks and the cliffs dropped down directly to the Hudson River.
Everywhere we turned was beautiful and with our focus on that, my fears truly began to melt away. We didn’t see any more people, but we began to pay more attention to what was around us. And, once we broke through the endless path through the woods, the view of the Hudson River was definitely worth it.
While the hike was generally easier than the one we did two weeks ago, the way back to the park proved to be more difficult. But, that’s what I am beginning to love the most about hiking. I love the challenges presented along the way and the fact that each step is different than the next.
Though I’m not entirely sure when my fear of encountering unwanted wild life will pass, I’m learning to deal with my feelings of fear while pushing myself to try something new. I know it’s not always going to be easy, but the results are proving to be well worth it.