Alaska is not for sissies – or is it?
by Jo Hatcher
It takes a lot of energy to not be afraid. Traveling around the world, I’ve come to know intimately the voices inside my head that love to challenge me to not do something, to stay in the comfort and safety of my hotel room. I’ve become expert at hearing these scary little saboteurs in my head and talking back to them defiantly… ”I’m doing what I want and you’re not going to stop me.”
Sometimes the voices try meaner tactics. They try to take control. They say stupid things like, “What if you get lost & you can’t find your way back? What if you can’t find anybody who speaks English while you’re cavorting around by yourself everywhere? What if your oxygen runs out while you’re scuba diving? WHAT IF?”
But until I came to Alaska, none of these conversations included “What if I get attacked by a bear? Or charged by a moose? Or what if my car battery dies (like it did on a beach in Okinawa) and it’s 10 degrees outside? What if I freeze to death?”
I’d been in Alaska for two weeks. I knew it was long overdue that I explore the wildness of Alaska.
So I did. I drove a few miles outside of Anchorage. The drive was stunning. Majestic mountains on my right, the white icy inlet on my left. I was pondering where to pull off the road to take photos of the beautiful scenery around me. “Go here, go here,” I heard myself say and I turned off onto a road that led to a lake. A frozen lake of course. As I parked my car and got out onto the white landscape, I greeted a woman walking back to her car walking her dogs. Another car in the parking lot was empty.
Hmmmm, I thought. There are people around. It’s safe. Right? I felt the familiar uneasiness, exploring a new place by myself. Everything around me was silent, as if frozen in stillness. I looked around. The scene seemed eerie, almost mystical. The barren trees stood together, in a forlorn manner as if burnt.
I looked around and noticed a pathway. I could hear my feet crunch on the wooden boardwalk from the ice and snow as I looked around.
I was drawn in… the trail invited me, begged me. “You can have it all to yourself… it’s really beautiful here, ” it seemed to say.
Suddenly I stopped. I could not go any further. The host of voices in my head started up. “You know, there is absolutely nobody out here.” The WHAT IFS started with a vengeance and shouted inside my head amongst the stillness of the landscape.
“You know,” they said, “the bears aren’t all asleep yet. And there could be moose in here and if you were to run into one of the babies of either of these creatures and mom finds out, you are so dead meat. You are toast.”
And then who would know?
Maybe they’d find your body, maybe not. You are out here in the wilderness, Jo. ALONE. It’s a place where people come, but not really. It could be hours or days before someone comes out here. By then you’d be stiff. Very stiff, possibly without arms or legs. Or a head.
EEEEEkkkk. Shut up, I tell myself to walk slowly back to the car. I feel so vulnerable. I am fragile in this land of freezing temperatures where you can die in hours. Or minutes.
I decide to take action before leaving. I walk over to the wooden board that says “Palmer Hay Flats State Game Refuge” and take a photo of myself with my iPhone, board in background, me trying to smile and look normal. My logical mind seems sensible… If I disappear, at least someone will know I was here. They could pick up my trail and at least find my body. Maybe.
I head back to my car. So relieved. I feel safe again. My feet are frozen, my hands like ice but I have a heater! I can get warm again.
I’d like to say that I followed my heart that day. That I listened to some unknown instinct that said, “You are not safe. I t’s not worth it.”
I’d like to think that I wasn’t taken over by paranoia, that I wasn’t overcome by the voices that are anxious, the ones that get crazy inside my head. But I’m not sure.
I ask myself, when do we know the difference? When is it okay to listen to something inside yourself and when it is okay to say, “Come on, there’s nothing to be afraid of, you’re just being silly.”
I wonder what the answer is? When do you listen to the voice inside of you that says “Pay attention,” and when do you take deep breaths and say, don’t be ridiculous, it’s fine? Is there a moment when you can be sure? What do YOU do when you are faced with this dilemma?
I want to believe that I’m not going to miss anything in life because I get crazy and paranoid. I want to be free to be me AND I want to be safe. What is the best way to know?