Fear Not 6

Even for me and even for you, things don’t always go wonderfully. In 2018, for my spring hike, I walked from the middle of West Virginia to a day before Cincinnati, Ohio, connecting my two pieces of previously walked trail. I met some wonderful people and saw some beautiful and interesting country.

But the last half of the hike was hot, humid, and buggy and the trail was unmaintained, overgrown with blackberries and Green Briar. I had to backtrack to take the bike routes on roads instead of the foot trail. I am getting older and I cannot make good time on bad trail. Thunderstorms released deluges of water on me. The weather sucked.

Near the end of my hike someone called the cops on me. It was the mother and sister of a woman who hospitably gave me a shower and a spare bedroom for the night. I had no trouble with my hostess. Pat and I had a great time talking but she told me her mother and sister were afraid of everything. We were surprised when the young policeman knocked on the door. But we convinced the polite policeman that I was harmless, and he left.

Another day or two later, I was tired of hiking and I wanted to be done. I was tired of the weather. I was tired of knocking on doors and asking strangers for assistance. I didn’t want the cops to be called on me ever again. I was a little ahead of schedule, but I decided to just walk straight through to Milford, even though I knew my ride to the airport couldn’t pick me up early. I knew there was a park there. I would just sit there for a day. I said, out loud, I think, the only way I was going to stop was if someone jumped out of the bushes and offered me a bed. And no one had ever done that before.

And then, exactly half-way to Milford, someone did. I was walking up a road and saw a house to my left past a big lawn and nice landscaping. A man and woman were getting out of their car and unloading groceries and the woman saw me. She walked across the large midwestern lawn to the road and asked if I was walking the American Discovery Trail. She knew what it was. To my amazement, she said they had hosted other hikers before. What could they do for me?

I stammered that it was really hot, and I wished for some shade to eat my lunch. Of course, she said. Come on over to our house. We have a nice covered porch. What would you like to drink with your lunch? Why don’t you just come inside? We have air conditioning. One thing led to another and I was offered a shower, and dinner and a bed. They wouldn’t let me use my sleeping bag on the pull-down bed in their spare room but insisted on nice clean sheets. And if there was any doubt that my arranged pickup in Milford couldn’t come when I got there, they would be happy to come and drive me to the Cincinnati airport to catch my flight. Oh, and did I like ice cream? She sent her husband to the store to get their favorite brand of ice cream for me. And I hadn’t really asked for a thing.

In my amazement at all of this, I could hear God laughing at me, saying, “It’s what you said you needed. Didn’t you think I could provide it?”

Have you ever been completely surprised by God’s gracious gifts given to you by strangers when you came to the end of what you could do?

Fear Not 5

In 2016, I decided, since I had such an interesting time on the American Discovery Trail in 2015, I should start at the beginning of the trail on the Atlantic Ocean and take a hike west. So I did. Now, the ADT goes through both Annapolis and Washington DC as well as numerous smaller towns. It also goes along the C&O Canal for 156 miles and through some of the mountains of West Virginia. That was about 500 miles and I figured that was enough for a spring hike.

In my pre-trip research, I decided to use church connections going through Washington DC, as I do get a little nervous about big cities, and I did need a rest day and a place to send my food box. I sent a letter by email to a number of Washington DC/Georgetown Lutheran churches with an appeal for help and now I have friends in the DC area.

Annapolis didn’t look as big as DC, and I decided to wing it through there as usual. When I am planning my trips on the ADT, I have no real idea what an area is going to be like on this trail. I have what is called a Turn by Turn, which is a set of directions that say things like, “Turn right on x Street and go 3 miles; turn left on Y street and go 6 blocks to Z Park and take the trail west of the Parking lot to CR 346. Directions like that. I also read what journals I can find written by other hikers who have walked this trail, but there are not a lot of those and generally those hikers are much stronger hikers than I am, so they don’t always tell me what I need to know. I simply plan my hikes by how many miles I want to walk in a day. I am gradually planning less miles as I get older. But that year I think I was planning about 15 miles a day.

So, on a day in April, approaching Annapolis, I stopped at a little Deli for lunch. A couple there pegs me for a hiker since I am carrying a backpack, which is a little strange in the East unless you are on the Appalachian Trail. This couple struck up a conversation with me and I had a very pleasant lunch break.

As we talked, they looked at my maps and my plan for the day and suggested that where I was planning for the end of the day was not a good place to stop. They suggested I stop earlier but they didn’t really tell me why and I did not ask. I walked on to Annapolis and crossed the Severn River looking down on the Naval Academy on a beautiful day.

While I was walking, I was thinking about the conversation in the Deli. I wondered if their cautions to me were about race. Now, I don’t always take advice given. I didn’t want to cut my miles short as that would just mean somewhere I would have to increase my miles to keep to my schedule and hit my rest days and lodging arrangements and food drops farther on. And I thought to myself, I stand in the pulpit and preach that God loves all people, of all backgrounds and all races. And I believe that with all my heart. How can I justify stopping early to avoid people of color? I have to walk the walk I talk.

Well, yes, it did turn out to be a neighborhood that was obviously all black. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood. It was a lot of nice-looking rentals, quadplexes and such. Now rentals are not usually the best places to ask to stay, as people may be hesitant to agree when it is not their house. And every night I am a bit nervous as I wonder what will happen when I ask for a place to be. I was about to go past this neighborhood and be in a commercial area. That’s not a good place to be. So, I screwed up my courage, and at the last set of duplexes I knocked on the door.

Larissa met me at the door after a kid inside yelled, “Hey, there’s a white lady at the door.” Larissa was the Grandma and matriarch of the clan who lived there. “Yes”, she said, “Of course. We would be honored to have you stay in our back yard.” Honored? Wow. I hadn’t had anyone say that to me before. We chatted. (I figure I am the entertainment for anyone who offers me a place to stay. I always plan on spending a bit of time chatting about trails and such.) Then I put up my tent, had my dinner and they let me use their bathroom. Yay! And I crawled into my sleeping bag in my tent and went to sleep.

Sometime later, probably about 11:00 at night, I woke up with a start, sat up and grabbed my tent pole, because, as I sat up, the tent started to fall down around me. A man had been peering into the tent and as I suddenly sat up, he jumped back and had tripped over my center guyline that holds the tent up. It was a kind of scene that would have played well in a sitcom.

I doubt there had ever been a tent in any of that neighborhood. Carl was on his way to work at the local Target in the commercial area just ahead and I seemed to have put my tent in the short cut to that commercial area. He was curious what was in the neighborhood and had investigated. When this strange white lady suddenly sat up, I think I almost scarred him white.

He started babbling, “I’m sorry, lady. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I broke your tent. I’ll fix it. I can pay for it. I have a job. I have two jobs. I have three jobs. Here’s my card. I can pay for your tent. I’m sorry, lady. I’m sorry.”

I told him. “Hey, it’s OK. See that silver thing in the grass? Pick it up and give it to me.” He handed me my tent stake and I put it in the guyline loop and gave it to him as I said. “Pull it out as far as you can and stick it in the ground.” There. Tent fixed.”

Then Carl and I had an interesting conversation in the middle of the night about long- distance hiking and the American Discovery Trail. Before he went to work, he begged to take a selfie with me, as no one would ever believe why he would to be late to work. So, I too have a selfie of me and Carl Robinson. And if you need to have your car detailed in Annapolis, I have his card and I’ll recommend him.

And I learned what white privilege is. It’s when someone of another color is honored to have you stay in their yard and when someone of another color, who accidently kicks out your tent stake and sees you’re white, feels they have to justify themselves as being super responsible by saying they have three jobs.

Sometimes I get past fear by knowing I have an obligation rooted in my faith and my values demand it. I cannot preach of God’s love for all people without living that, even by knocking on someone’s door when they are different from me in color of skin. And then I learn so much.

Have you ever gone past your fear because your faith or your values demanded it?

Fear Not 4

Way back in 1965-1967, I was in the Peace Corps in Turkey. That’s another chapter in my life. 78 years is old enough to have lots of chapters. Anyway, while in the Peace Corps, I had leave time, on some of which I decided to visit Egypt. Another Peace Corps Volunteer was doing some different traveling on her leave time, but we decided to meet on a specific date at the American University in Cairo. I flew there and she didn’t show up. There I was in Cairo, a 25 year old single young woman. By myself. In a strange Moslem country. Instead of having another person to hang out with and gain courage together to go sightseeing, I was alone.  What was I going to do? I knew I would most likely never be in Egypt again. And, in Peace Corps training and in living for more than a year in Turkey, I did know something about how to act in a Moslem country.

The American University in Cairo had a dormitory that was a safe place. After visiting the Pyramids and the Cairo Museum, I took the night train to Luxor in the Valley of the Kings. I took the night train so I would have one less hotel bill. I expected there to be several other people in my train car. There is safety in numbers. No one else was there. That made me even more afraid. What if someone would come in while I was sleeping? I didn’t get much sleep that night.

I did survive the night. And when the train arrived in Luxor in the morning, I, and lots of other people, got off the train. I got off the train and pretended that I knew what I was doing. There were no buildings in sight. But everyone was walking in one direction, which I assumed must be the town. I picked up my bag and purposefully strode off, as if getting off a train in the Egyptian desert was a perfectly normal occurrence for me. And I have a long story about that adventure. But the important part for this talk is that I pretended I knew what I was doing. I pretended I wasn’t afraid. I acted like an experienced world traveler. And I had one of the most marvelous adventures in my life.

Leaving your fear behind is not the same thing as being fearless. I guess, it’s courage. Or maybe courage is just pretending. Courage is not being fearless. It is deciding to do something even though you are afraid. Sometimes, it is acting like you are unafraid even though you are shaking in your boots.

On the American Discovery Trail, I have walked city streets and country roads. I walk up to people’s houses and ask for a place to put up my tent, or for water, or a place to go to the bathroom; and most of the time, I pretend. I act like I am unafraid. I consciously try not to act like a mark, in street language. I stand up a little straighter and make myself walk exuding confidence. To tell the truth, I use that when being a pastor getting up in front of people to preach too. And after lots and lots of pretending not to be afraid, it becomes kinda true.

Have you ever gotten past a fear by pretending? By acting like you were not afraid?

Fear Not 3

This is the third installment of my talk on fear for the Women of the ELCA in Southwestern Washington. More will be coming weekly

 

When I wrote Old Lady on the Trail, I did not know much about the book business. I also had never been on Facebook. I had a journal on Trailjournals.com and figured that was plenty and why would I ever want to add Facebook. It would just be more work. But as I learned about getting news of my book where someone might consider buying it, a friend at church put me in contact with a successful self-published author. He told me to get on Facebook and join every hiking group I could find, to tell them about my book. And I did. And principally, that is why the book actually sold – well more than 6,000 copies so far. So now I’m on Facebook, and, yes, it is added work to read stuff that keeps popping up from all those Facebook groups.

But it is enlightening too. Fear is a frequent topic raised by a multitude of women, who want to hike or camp solo and leave their fears behind. And on Facebook, they help each other.

On September 12, I read a thank you from Annie to the group All Women, All Trails. She said, “You gave me all the best advice and I tried it all … meditating, breathing, putting myself in a place of fear to get used to it … I did it all and it worked. My mantra now is ‘I’m not trying to not be afraid, I’m not letting my fear be my focus.’ And It’s working – for all kinds of things.” Fears can be left behind, or at least out of focus.

How might one leave a fear behind? I hope you did not miss in my story about fording a river, that a friend helped me get past that fear. And Annie asked a whole group on Facebook and got lots of ideas to help. That is one way to help leave fear behind. God at work through others.

Here’s another story:

I am a very ornery and opinionated person. Sometimes that helps me. When I was not yet a pastor but was a pastor wanna-be, the ELCA clergy women held a retreat and invited me to come. That evening as we sat around and talked, the discussion was about the state of the world and how horrible it was that women could no longer walk anywhere alone at night. This was in about 1989 or 1990. It was a distinct moment in my life. I did not say anything in that discussion. After all, I was the new person in the group. But I clearly remember sitting there and saying to myself, “I refuse to live like that!” I refuse to have my life ruled by fear. I am just too darn ornery to agree to that.

Please understand that did not and does not mean I am never afraid. But I do refuse to have my life ruled by my fears.

So, how have I left some fears behind? I have learned about what I am doing in the wilderness. I have learned about the critters who live there and how to be a good visitor there. I have had friends who have helped me get past my fears. And I’m just an ornery person who decided I would not let fear rule my life.

How about you? How has education/learning helped you leave a fear behind? How have other people helped you with your fears? Have you ever just been ornery enough to say no to a fear. You have three minutes to turn to your neighbor and share.

Fear Not 2

This is a continuation of the talk given to the Women of the ELCA Convention for Southwestern Washington Convention on October 12, 2019. Some may make its way into my next book. This is a multipart blog, as I talked for a long time interspersed with sharing time for the ladies at the convention. Perhaps you would like to consider the questions I ask after section of my talk.

In 2015, I began hiking on the American Discovery Trail. I really just was looking for a flat place to walk a long way and not work too hard. So, I chose one day before Cincinnati, Ohio to Moline, Illinois on the Mississippi River. Now, the American Discovery Trail is a very different kind of trail. It is a waymarked trail for foot and/or bicycle. And it goes all the way across the United States.  Now, if you’re going across the United States, you might notice there’s not much wilderness from Cape Henlopen, Delaware to the Rocky Mountains. Except for a few smallish sections (like the AT running north and south while I hike east and west) it is private property, or common public space, like roads or parks, but not wilderness.

That means on this trail, I can’t just pitch my tent at any good flat spot I find or even get water from passing streams due to heavy pollution from towns, cars, businesses and the run-off of farm chemicals.   Nor can I take care of nature’s needs by popping a squat all by myself, whenever the need arises, like I can in the wilderness. Hiking on the American Discovery Trail means I must ask complete strangers for stuff – like a place to put my tent, or water to drink or a place to go to the bathroom. Because I must ask people for things, I meet locals all along the way. And that has turned out to be the charm of that trail for me. I have had marvelous, wonderful, incredible experiences meeting the people along the way.

On this trail, at the end of a day, I go up to a door, knock and say, “Hi, my name is Mary Davison. I’m hiking on the American Discovery Trail. It goes coast to coast across the United States. You probably have never heard of it; but it goes right by your house. I have been hiking all day and I’m tired and I need a place to put my tent. May I put up my tent in your yard, please.”

Often the conversation goes like this: “You’re WHAT?” And I repeat my little spiel. And as I talk, they are looking around me to see who is with me – nobody – and they ask in amazement, “Are you alone?” I explain, yes, I do long distance hiking and I have hiked other long trails. I and many long-distance hikers hike alone. And their response often is then, “Aren’t you afraid?”

The American Discovery Trail has given me the opportunity to reflect on and talk about fear with many people. Generally, I use images or stories as I talk about fear.

First is the illustration of packing a pack for backpacking. A truism in hiking circles is that we pack for our fears. Now, if you have some piece of gear to meet every possible contingency you can imagine you would ever run into, you will not be able to lift your pack; it will be too heavy to carry. On the other hand, there are some things one carries for a bit of insurance against possible disasters. We fear being hungry, so we carry food. We fear being wet or cold, so we carry a jacket, raingear and bring a tent. Our level of fear is often the determining factor in what or how much we carry. I’m an old lady for backpacking. I try to carry as little as possible – which means I think about what fears and gear I can leave behind.

Non-hikers have told me that’s a good image for life. Sometimes, they have said that it was a new concept to think that they might leave some of their fears behind because they have become too heavy to carry.

Why might you want to leave a fear behind? Here’s a hiking story.

In 2014, the anticipation of crossing a particular river in Wyoming that was a 3-4 days hike from a road in any direction, completely psyched me out with fear. Now, I had forded rivers before. I forded the Gila River in New Mexico solo more than 200 times. Fording a river was not new to me. I had learned the best ways to ford a river and, though it was a bit scary the first few times, I was experienced in fording rivers.

But that particular day, I was hiking with my friend, RockStar. We set up our tents and I went to the river to get our water. I saw the damage the Soda River had done in the spring run-off, ripping the river bank away, leaving large trees uprooted and tossed and I remembered all the horror stories I had ever heard of people falling in rivers and being washed under log jams and dying and I totally spooked myself.

I came back to our campsite with water and told my friend we were going to die the next day. And no one would ever find our bodies. She looked at me like I was nuts and said she would worry about it tomorrow. The next morning, with my friend’s calm presence it did not turn out to be any worse than numerous other rivers I have forded. There wasn’t anything different, except my fear.
Although fear can be a good thing to help keep us safe, fear does not always seem to be a particularly reliable guide in hiking or in life.  I have known people whose fears have crippled their lives in some way or another. Sometimes it is good to leave fears behind, to free our lives for new experiences or even for something God calls us to do with our lives.

So, what fears would you like to leave behind? Have you ever thought that it might be possible to leave a fear behind you? What would that look like? You have three minutes now to turn to your neighbor and share a couple fears you might like to leave behind.