Fear – does it control you or do you control it?

Fears are usually irrational, some are based on experiences we have had, many have no real cause. I have many fears. Heights, failure, being alone, old school FIAT Panda’s (those square ones, I told you fear was sometimes irrational). But I also have a strong sense of challenge, I like to push myself, to achieve, to constantly push at my boundaries. My fears are my biggest boundaries.

I want to tell you a little story at this point, please bear with me.
In 2007 myself and my partner went on a road trip to California, we hired a convertible Mustang, spent 17 days visiting cities, driving coastal roads, and visiting national parks. While in Sequoia national park we stopped at Moro Rock. I actually was very ill when we made this trip, and I was unable to climb the rock and take in the views. When we were getting ready to leave, a coach pulled up, with a lot of older people on it.

They got off and most of them gave their cameras to four of them, who took them on the hike and took pictures for those not able to climb. They said they had been waiting a long time to take the trip and see the sights. But they weren’t, they were there but not able to experience. I vowed that would never be me.

Facing my fears

Since that point I do all that I can to conquer my fears, I do not want to be someone who waits a long time to do something that they then can’t do. So from that point onwards I have tried to do things that really push me to the edge of comfort, and beyond.

We have been on several walking holidays in Italian, Austrian, German and Welsh mountains, I have hiked at 8,200ft next to sheer drops, I have ridden cable cars to get there. I drove on roads that were ridiculously narrow and two way. We returned to California and climbed the mist trail in Yosemite, a 1,000ft ascent on a 1.8 mile hike up the side of two waterfalls.

So what was my latest challenge?

Ebiking in the mountains

We recently went on a trip to the Swiss Alps, to the ski resort of Verbier, which actually offers a whole lot of things to see and do all year round. Amongst the things we planned was an ebike tour, starting in town, heading to the mountains, taking in some forest tracks, roads, views and lunch.

Bicycles are a great way to cover a lot of ground, but I am not a regular (or confident) bike user, the idea of a mountain bike tour of the mountains wasn’t for me. The energy levels and fitness required don’t match my levels. This is the benefit of the ebike (a mountain bike with built in battery and motor to provide assistance either constantly or on demand).

My guide met me at the hotel and we as we walked up to the bike hire shop we had a chat where I outlined my lack of ability, but also my fear of heights and how I try to overcome it. He assured me that although we were going high we would be on decent tracks and had options of different routes and complexities.

Reassured we set off and started up some gentle roads and forest tracks, all was good. To be fair for 90% of the time all was good. Two reasons really, firstly we had chatted and accepted my limits, secondly the ebike, the gentle assistance from the motor when setting off meant starts on hills were less wobbly, more controlled.

The first section, up into the hills and forest, then back down and into the town, to ascend another slope up to the restaurant was all ok for my fear. We stopped a few times to take in views and take pictures, I stayed further back from the edge than my guide, but enjoyed it, as the breathtaking views made it worthwhile.

The final stages of the climb to the restaurant was slightly different, a lot of big drops, on a road we were sharing with the (relatively sparse for a Saturday) traffic. A lot of high steep drops, a slowing of pace for me and more concentration.

However concentrating on the peddling, checking the route ahead and focussing on simply riding and enjoying the experience meant I was too distracted to worry too much about the height. We reached the top and the views were amazing, we had a lovely lunch and a brilliant chat.

Then we set off to head back down and into Verbier, I was given the choice, back down the road or a more challenging off road section and meet the road later. So obviously I chose the off road section as I was pushing myself.

We started narrow path, which led behind a farmhouse with a gentle slope in front of us and through a tunnel. The other side of the tunnel the path was narrow, the drop steep. I lost focus here and tried to stay as far away from the edge as possible. By doing this I kept having to stop, as I was too close to the side and kept getting grounded.

This was where the fear zone of my mind had taken control. One of my stops was on a bend, I went to start and couldn’t, my mind was telling me I was too wobbly, if I started here I would pedal off the edge of the mountain. Now the rational part of my brain knew I was in no way going to ride off the side of the mountain, that’s stupid. But the fear part is quite strong. So I got off, pushed the bike around the corner and restarted.

Fairly soon we got to a more muddy, rocky steep track which would lead us down and back onto the road. As I said earlier, this was all about challenging myself and so we decided that I would try and relearn the standing position for this downhill section.

Now this was totally my choice, my guide gave me the option to remain using the seated position but I didn’t I wanted to push myself. You can see what is coming next right, long story short, I had a fall. I fell off my bike, on a steep muddy mountain slope, close to the edge.

This was actually a good thing for me at this time, the fall was not serious a little tumble, slightly muddy, pride bruised, bike and rider fine. But what it did was to relax me and overcome some of my fear messages. I had fallen, I wasn’t injured, I hadn’t skittered off the side of the cliff. I was a lot braver on the next few sections until we reached the road.

Once on the road I even exceeded the speeds I had been comfortable with earlier. So the good points for me were I had ridden up and down steep slopes with big drops, I had fun, I survived, I fell, I didn’t fall off a cliff. In total the ride was just over 14 miles with a 2,907ft climb (and descent). Another good push on my fears and worries.

So whats the point Pete?

I know I have basically written a post that says it is about fear but is just bragging about holiday experiences. Partly yeah. But mostly I want to show that most of my fears are irrational, and I have decided not to accept them.

Never will I be a climber, a serious mountain walker, someone who enjoys heights. The day after ebiking I got a gondola up the mountain and I was scared witless the whole way. On the way down I gripped less, looked around (usually I take my glasses off so I can’t see), it stopped on the way down, the sudden halt making it swing wildly. I didn’t enjoy that, but it didn’t scare me as much as it would have previously.

So my point is, some fears are really difficult to overcome, some need professional help to start to get over. But some we can control ourselves. I enjoy pushing my limits, taking myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. The challenge, the pride in knowing that I have achieved something that I never thought was possible. Money can’t buy that feeling.

My question to you – have you ever thought about some of your fears, and questioned whether you think you could over come them? Take some small steps and work towards things. Once you experience that pride in achieving it is slightly addictive.

So give something a try, whats the worst that can happen?