The first time a boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go hiking, I was confused.
“Hiking?” I said. “To where?”
“Anywhere,” he replied.
“No reason. Just to, you know, walk. For fun.”
Fun? Hiking was not fun! I thought it over for a second and then said, “How about we sit at home and make Excel spreadsheets with numbers in them?”
“What for?” he said.
“No reason. Just to, you know, make Excel spreadsheets with numbers in them.”
* * *
Until that point, walking had only ever been a means of getting from point A to point B, like if point A were the couch and point B were a block of cheese. But if there were a car, a bike, a plane, a shopping cart, or a strong person with an unguarded back in my immediate vicinity, I would not opt to walk.
You see, walking was an entirely unsafe activity. I walked to school from age five to seventeen, and my school was situated right beside a block of assisted-living apartments that housed a colourful spectrum of mentally challenged people. It was not uncommon to find naked strangers masturbating in the bushes around my neighbourhood.
I saw more penises than snakes.
And let me remind you that I grew up in Australia.
To compound the general paranoia I felt over the concept of hiking, I also watched far too many horror films, which meant that forests were places where protagonists got hunted down by killers, or where decomposed bodies were discovered by early morning joggers. A person who grows up on horror films, who lives in a neighbourhood rife with masturbators on the loose does not venture into the woods for fun.
Hiking for fun! Ha ha ha!
As an adult, I refused to walk anywhere unless it was 100% necessary.
That was until I got a dog named Frida. Frida didn’t care if there was rain, hail, sunshine, or a strange panting man in the bushes wearing only a pink t-shirt: come five o’clock Frida would start hassling me to get out of the house and go walking. (This dog looks tiny and gorgeous, but she can tyrannise like Regina George from Mean Girls.)
Come five o’clock, under Frida’s rule, I would close down my laptop, put on some comfortable shoes, and rush her around the block, before returning to lock myself back up in my house as quickly as possible. Every day involved the same boring routine.
Fear does that to you. It keeps you circling around and around the same old block. It keeps you from discovering anything new. The trick to overcoming fear is pushing yourself slowly towards the Scary Thing; going a little closer each time to the place that makes your heart pound. So with Frida tugging me along, that is what I did.
Over many months, we’d walk further and further from home. Our walks would become increasingly ambitious: a block further from safety, the path a little more remote and bushy, my pace a tad less hurried. It was scary, but never boring.
The fear was still a swollen bubble in my chest, but I learned to keep it still and stop it from bursting. I learned to separate that uncomfortable sensation in my chest from the reality of any actual danger. Fear in the chest does not a pervert maketh. Or, to be less convoluted: There is a distinct difference between danger that is felt and danger that is real, and learning to sort one from the other is the key to overcoming.
Eventually I was able to walk alone down wild, empty trails in the dim blue light of dusk without any fear at all.
After a few years of walking five or six kilometres a day, walking became my happy place. Any complicated problems of the day would unravel with each step I took, and I would arrive at inspiring new solutions by the end of the walk. I came to need the walks as much as my dog did.
Who knew an animal the size of a loaf of bread could teach a person to overcome fear?
Every time I overcome a fear, the world becomes infinitely larger than it was before. It’s like unlocking a new level on a game, which allows you to play in brand new scenery with brand new challenges. Until you unlock that new level, your life is confined to the boundaries of the same old level, played on an endless loop.
On a recent trip to Tasmania, I did several long hikes through the wilderness areas of Cradle Mountain and the Tarkine region. Alone in the woods, it was just me, the birds, the wallabies, the trees, and the perfect peace of the wild…
These days I walk whenever and wherever I can. I go nowhere in order to lose myself in thought. Only outside am I able to go deeply inside.
In the woods, by the power of my feet, I can escape news reports and Internet memes and human stupidity to remember there is still beauty in the world. Happy birds and healthy trees, not all doom and gloom. It costs nothing. It consumes no resources. It even burns off that block of cheese that some idiot left unattended on point B.
This post was sponsored by Tasmania Tourism, who probably had no idea what they were getting into when they hired me to write for them. Check out Discover Tasmania for more inspiration on the beautiful wildernesses to explore in Tasmania.
Torre DeRoche is the author of two travel memoirs, Love with a Chance of Drowning (2013) and The Worrier’s Guide to the End of the World (due out September 2017). She has written for The Atlantic, The Guardian Travel, The Sydney Morning Herald, Emirates, and two Lonely Planet anthologies.