Friday, June 6, 2014

Back into the Woods


I have often been asked how I can go deep into the woods for a few days with only another woman, and no means of communication.  People wonder why that is not the most triggering of experiences for me, being that Daphne and I were alone in the woods at the time of our assault.  

I am often puzzled by that question as well, but I really don’t have an answer for it.  

Perhaps its because my love of the woods was deeply ingrained long before the attack.  Perhaps because I have always felt such a spiritual connection to nature that that overrides the anxiety.  More likely because of when and where I go, there are seldom any other people around to fear.

I mostly hike in the Adirondacks mountains where the trails are rated by difficulty, 1 being very easy, 7 being for experts.  I generally stick to the difficult trails but that was not always the case.  In fact, one of my favorite places to go is a short, gentle hike in.  And because of that, it attracts lots of people,  many who carry alcohol in.  Years ago we made camp there and late at night we could hear a group of very intoxicated men, although it was difficult to tell how far away they were.  That was a very triggering experience for me and we wound up packing up and hiking out in the dead of night.  Definitely not recommended.  I would only return there now in the off, off season.   Maybe.  Okay, maybe not.

We usually choose trails rated 5, 6 and sometimes 7 (when we were younger).   These are not for day trippers.  Forest rangers are usually at the trail heads checking your equipment and making sure that you are prepared and capable for the hike.  This generally weeds out any people who are out in the woods to party or create a problem.  These trails are for serious hikers and it is rare that we even encounter anyone else in these remote wilderness locations.  And when we do, they generally share a greeting, some advice if they have been where we are going,  and continue on.   It is very rare that I have felt frightened in the woods - at least by people.  In fact, the farther away from people I get, the safer I feel.  All the anxiety, the hyper vigilance, all disappear as soon as I am away from civilization.   Perhaps thats why I love it so much out there.  I am instantly calm and at peace.

We are still planning our 2 night trip for next week.  We have a date.  We have our food and supplies.  We are ready EXCEPT we still haven’t decided where we are going.  Neither of us is in great hiking shape yet, in fact, my hiking partner is still not fully recovered from ACL surgery.    Challenging trails are physically out of the question but easy trails scare me for the reasons mentioned above.   As much as I feel like I have gotten control of the PTSD, anxiety about possibly putting ourselves in danger is growing in the background and my mind is wandering to places I don't want to go.   I think I have finally put the trauma behind me, but I find it still has this power over me. I hate that.  I want to go back into the woods, but not back into the dark wood.

Still, I am very excited.  It has been too long since being out there.  I need the physical challenge of it.  In many ways it feels like a capping of all the health problems of the last few years.  And spiritually I am in great need of a long quiet commune with nature.  There is nothing better than sleeping under a full canopy of stars to get my spirit soaring.  


12 comments:

  1. The kids and I often hike in the Catskills and I have this same feeling - the farther away from people we get, the safer I feel. It's when we are on busy trails that I feel the most afraid and those hikes are EXHAUSTING because of the hyper-vigilance I just can't shake. We are certainly not up to the level you're speaking of, but do tackle moderately difficult trails just so I don't have to worry as much about encountering other people. I'd rather deal with tired legs and a sore back from strenuous exercise than the other various issues that crop up after a panic attack.

    The weather should be great next week and I'm sure you'll enjoy the time together and the solitude and re-set that it should provide.

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    1. Nice to see you back KR. And thank you for this. Sometimes I think I am going a little crazy because the anxiety doesn't seem to match the circumstances. Its nice to know that someone else experiences this too.

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  2. It's a strange conundrum, for sure. I love the solitude of nature, but the woods are not in my comfort zone. Which is unfortunate since I live in one of the most densely wooded states in the country. I prefer the wide open spaces where I can see if anyone is coming close. Plus, my claustrophobia extends to the environment - too many trees equals borderline panic and shallow breathing. Fucking ptsd!

    I'm glad that you are going. Even if you both have to take it slower and choose less strenuous trails, you will still get that soul-grounding, restorative reunion with the Earth. I'm happy to think of you hiking in the woods with the silence broken only by birdsong.

    Enjoy the peace.
    xoxoxoxo

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    1. I am enviously of the lushness of greenery I see in pictures of the PNW. Someday . . .

      I am highly claustrophobic too but the forest does not bother me. Strange. One of my favorite things is to hike to the top of a bald mountain, not only for the view but most especially for the stars. Awesome.

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  3. Happy trail-selecting and happy hiking.

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    1. Thanks MS. And it's nice to see to back too!

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  4. I love the woods, but I am more birder than hiker. My style has always been lots of walking/long pauses, etc. Nothing like your expert level hikes. (Reading about Cheryl Strayed hiking the Oregon Trail/ Wild was eye-opening to me.) "Sleeping under a canopy of stars" sounds wondrous. Have a good time.

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    1. My hiking partner can identify every tree, even in winter with no foliage. She has been saying that she would like to now learn to identify birds. I imagine this will slow us down quite a bit, but I don't think that's a bad thing : )

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  5. I recently read Wild and cannot imagine putting myself through that. I am more of a slow stroll under a manicured park kind of person. That said, I will pray for a safe and peaceful trip for you and your partner. I hope you will tell us about it on your return.

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    1. I can't imagine doing what Cheryl Strayed did either. The most I have been out on a trail is 10 days. And nowadays I don't want to carry more than 2 days worth of supplies. It's enough for me.

      Thanks for the prays and well wishes. I will report back.

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  6. While never a, "being in the woods" person I do appreciate the beauty and majesty within, albeit from afar. Enjoy getting back to nature in a way that feels good to you.

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    1. I really encourage everyone to try it at least once. Not campground camping, but to really get away from civilization. It is such a restorative practice.

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