Packing Our Fears

Within my role at Backcountry Women, I started a Monthly Members “Fireside” Chat. It is an informal yet structured and unique learning opportunity that brings women together to talk about topics related to the outdoors. The goal is to learn from one another, meet new people, and enjoy local restaurants. We went to Prairie Ink Restaurant for our first meeting and the topic was Packing Our Fears.

Packing our fears is when we knowingly over pack for every possible “what if” situation. What if I starve? What if I am cold? What if I get hurt? The list goes on and on depending on the individual.

It turns out that everyone has something that they fear including being too nonchalant about packing for a hike with the mindset of ‘I’ll make it work if something happens’ but also knowing that they are unprepared. I was truly fascinated by the different experiences and stories that were shared.

For those who over pack, fears can literally be a heavy burden. Food was a common theme that was mentioned in our round-table discussion and is a fear that I share.

I am not going to wither away anytime soon but that still doesn’t stop me from over packing food. I once carried two weeks worth of food for a ten day trip that had a resupply on day five. My backpack was so heavy and it was beyond ridiculous how much food I packed.

I gave my fear of hunger on the trail more thought after our gathering and I came to a realization. I know what it feels like to be hungry and to have no food in my pantry or fridge. In what feels like a different lifetime, I needed help from Winnipeg Harvest many, many moons ago.

I have since organized countless food drives, I volunteer, and I donate food in support of Winnipeg Harvest. I give food to people on street corners with signs that say “anything helps,” and I have baked cookies and taken them to people lined up outside Siloam Mission. I love to bake but I don’t want to always eat an entire batch of cookies to myself.

I am not mentioning any of the above to brag. I have realized that the extra food that I pack when hiking and camping is not just for me. It’s for people in my group or random people on the trail who may not have enough. I don’t want people to be hungry in my regular life so why would I want it in my trail life?

Fears stem from an experience that we have a connection to, whether it happened to us personally or someone close to us. Even stories that we hear through the media make their way into our subconscious and can cause worrying thoughts.

Black bears traditionally want nothing to do with humans but all it takes is a couple of stories in the local media about an encounter with a bear in the Whiteshell and suddenly people on forums want to hike with a .22 rifle. Instead, people should channel that fear into learning everything they can about black bear behaviour and how to respect their home that we are guests in.

I read Mastering Fear: A Navy SEAL’s Guide by Brandon Webb and John David Mann last year. The authors describe how to make fear work for us instead of against us. The idea for the book came to the authors when Brandon was teaching an adult friend, who was fearful of water, how to swim. Previous instructors had only tried to teach him skills where as the author taught him to master his fear. The book has so many excellent points and I highly recommend you read it.

During our round-table discussion, we talked about physiological fears and vulnerability.

I feel that it is necessary to preface this next section. I truly believe that most people in this world are good and I have had far more positive interactions with men than not. Some of the nicest people I have ever met are men so please do not think that I am painting all men the same as I share my story below.

As a female hiker who is often solo or with my daughter, I feel vulnerable around some men that I meet on the trail. I am thinking of four particular men right now that made my skin crawl. In the city, I have been touched inappropriately while minding my own business and I have had countless comments yelled at me about my body.

Wild animals do not phase me. If one is going to kill me for food, it will most likely be swift and my death will make for a cool story at my funeral. Humans (women, too) are a lot more twisted and sadistic. I have experiences to back up the way I feel and I know for sure that I am not the only woman who wonders about negative encounters with two-legged animals who do not have good intentions.

Getting more women into the outdoors and feeling empowered and comfortable is one of the reasons why I created the “fireside” chat (plus, I love the idea of checking out a new restaurant every month.) While our goals of spending time outdoors are similar, each of the women who gathered for our chat have unique experiences that make them who they are. By sharing their stories in a judgment-free zone, it allowed all of us to grow in meaningful ways.

If you are a Backcountry Women member, I invite you to join a future “fireside” chat. Future topics may include: women’s health in the outdoors from menstruation to pregnancy to menopause, leave no trace, and planning for solo trips.

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