Love and fear and bears oh my…

This past weekend I celebrated my 33rd birthday and I was lucky enough to do it surrounded by the beauty of the Santa Fe mountains with my beloved. 

The morning of my birthday we decided to hike the Rio en Medio trail just northeast of Santa Fe. Brandon had ridden the trail before and knew there was a pretty amazing waterfall a couple of miles in. We had already done a couple of hikes and I was excited to get back out there one last time before we headed home. 

I happened to get online to do a little research as to what to expect on this particular trail. Brandon had said it was relatively easy but I always have to check for myself. After doing some research I decided this trail looked great and I was onboard. Until I came across a forum about the trail with a post that rocked my world…

“Multiple people have seen a bear in the area.”

To be fair, this post was made a month prior but it was enough to stop me dead in my tracks. Nope. I’m not going. No way. I don’t want to be bear food. I’ll just stay home. 

Brandon was very patient with me and after several attempts was able to convince me to stick to our plan and head to the trail. I was apprehensive. And scared shitless. 

He assured me that there was not a bear on the trail and everything was going to be fine. 

But, my mind did what it always does in situations like this. It took a story and it ran with it. Full speed! In my mind, I had already made up a story of how I was going to be attacked by a bear and how I wasn’t going to make it out alive. That’s exactly how our hike was going to end up. In my death. 

As we were driving to the trail head my heart was racing. I was a nervous wreck. And for those that know me well, know that when I’m nervous, upset, anxious or mad I close up. I get super quiet and don’t say a thing. And that’s exactly how I was that morning. Brandon was commenting on how beautiful the drive was and all I could think about was how bad the bear’s teeth were going to hurt as they dug into my fragile little body. 

Seriously, this is the shit that goes on in my head. 

We arrived at the trailhead and started on our journey. Again, my heart rate was sky high and I was anxiously looking all around. I was making sounds to let the bears know we were there so hopefully they would scatter off and I was on full alert for any sounds nearby. The trail follows a beautiful mountain stream. At one point I had looked up the mountain and saw a bunch of trees and in the distance I was sure I saw a bear. I freaked out and called for Brandon to come back and look at it. “Please tell me that’s not a bear up there.” I cried. “It’s a burnt tree.” He said. Well, hell. Upon further observation, he was right. 

In that moment I had to have a conversation with myself. “Get it together, Melott. What the hell is wrong with you. Seriously.” 

I had allowed something I saw online get in my head and completely spiral into something so much bigger than it should be. The trail was gorgeous. Singletrack that went up into the mountains with various creek crossings. It was mellow enough for the most part that I could actually look around and take in the beauty around me. (Unlike the other trails we had hiked that were very steep going up). But instead, I allowed fear to take over and completely ruin part of my hike. If I never would have seen that post I would have just been ignorant and happy. But, I allowed my mind to make up stories and completely take control of my experience. 

In that moment I made a choice. I was tired of letting fear hold me back. To rob me of my own joy and to stop me from living my life to the fullest. Little things had happened all week that had caused me to face fears but I knew that this was the point where I was ready to fully commit. To take back my life. 

I’ve always preached to choose love over fear and its so easy to just say those things. But truly allowing ourselves to act upon those words is much harder. 

I heard a podcast on our drive home about a chic who road her bike from LA to Glacier and then hiked the Pacific Northwest Trail. She talked about fear and how although she was scared at times, she never let it stop her from accomplishing what she set out to do. She said something that resonated so much with me: “I don’t allow myself to fear something that hasn’t even happened yet.” 

Yes! Yes! Yes! 

Those words spoke right to the depths of my soul. 

Fear is something that we far too often allow to make our decisions for us. 

And there are two types of fear: 

Intuition based fear– fears that are valid. These are based on facts. If I eat spoiled yogurt, I’ll probably get food poisoning. Or, if I jump off a cliff without any safety gear, I’ll prob get seriously injured/die. 

Stories we make up in our mind- these are fears that we feed. We take things we see on the news, Internet, social media, movies, etc and we create stories in our head of what we think could happen. i.e. My bear story. I had seen a newspaper article the day before about a woman who was mauled by a bear while running a marathon in New Mexico just a week prior. That set the stage for my fears to play their game with me on my hike. While it is a possibility that a bear could attack me, the chances of that actually happening are not that likely. 

Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It can help keep us in check when needed. Without fear, this world could be a much crazier place. But fear doesn’t have to completely control us. I want to feel my fear but not allow it make my decisions for me. I want to open myself up to new ideas and experiences and face my fears head on. I am bigger than my fears. They do not control me, I control them. 

So this year, as I turn 33, I make a commitment to myself to be more vulnerable. To step into the darkness and come out the other side stronger and more courageous. To be brave even when it’s hard as hell. To stop letting the stories in my head be louder than the love in my heart. To experience the beauty of this life without being held back by what ifs and shoulds. To find freedom in the unknown and to be okay with allowing things to unfold without my needing to control the outcome. I’m choosing love. All day. Every day. And it feels damn good. 

The beauty of this waterfall was well worth the hike.

“I have been absolutely terrified every moment of my life- and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” ~ Georgia O’Keefe