The only thing I actually can control is how I react.
Since we are on this topic of control I thought I would talk about a situation that occurred this past weekend for Part 2 of my Control Series. One of those situations where truly the only thing I had in my control was how I reacted to each situation I was presented with. Saturday night some deep fears became reality and I had a choice to either let them win or take a different path.
This past weekend, Eric, a friend of ours, and I decided to go on an evening bike ride one that none of us had done before but had been wanting to do for a while.
We looked at the maps and determined that if we rode at a consistent speed without long rests, we could make it down the mountain before it got too dark. We packed some extra snack and our headlamps, just in case, and got in the car. This ride required us to shuttle, which means we load our bikes into one car, drive to the top of the mountain, ride down, grab another car and drive back up to retrieve the parked car.
On this ride we were going to tackle Puke Hill, a hill that is well known in Park City among the mountain bikers. And if you can’t tell by the name, it’s no piece of cake - consisting of a total of 350 vertical feet of climbing in about ½ a mile. After climbing this hill though, it was all downhill from there.
Before we start any ride I tend to get monster butterflies in my stomach and today I couldn’t tell if it was because of Puke Hill or the fact that we were getting a later start than I was hoping. Being new to the sport, riding already makes me a tad nervous but adding any kind of darkness into the mix makes my heart beat a bit faster. Not being able to see obstacles sends my “what if” head game down a bad rabbit hole.
We got to the top of the trail and quickly hopped on our bikes. We started flowing through the trees, with huge mountains in the distance to my left and the evening sun poking through the clouds behind them. The trees were starting to change colors and my “holy shit this is so beautiful,” commentary and hoots and hollers started flying out of my mouth as soon as we started riding. The giddiness on my face made me feel like a little school girl. “I am so grateful…”
After about 10 minutes or so we made it to the bottom of Puke Hill. I took a deep breath, put myself back in my Bike and Build climbing mode, switched to the ultimate granny gear, and started pedaling. I haven't felt that kind of difficulty in a while, my lungs were burning and under my breath I spoke words of affirmations to myself. I kept my head down and my pedaling steady.
Before I knew it I was at the top - I did it.
I caught my breath and looked around. At that exact moment, the sun, once blocked by rain clouds started exposing itself and the world around me had this alpine, fall, golden glow a reward I certainly didn’t take for granted. The smile reappeared on my face and I bathed in the glow, sweat, and achievement.
We regrouped quickly and made our way down Pinecone trail. The hard part was over, the trail and my surroundings were breathtaking. But the nervous feeling in my stomach didn’t disappear. It was that gut feeling of “I’m not sure I should be here..”
As we made our way down the mountain, I started realizing how far off our estimate was, we certainly were not going to be down in time. The sky started getting darker as the sun set behind the mountain and we stopped to put on our headlamps. I realized as I turned mine on that it wasn’t as bright at I thought it was going to be and the lump in my throat reappeared realizing the light I thought would guide me wasn’t going to be as bright as I had planned.
My heart started beating faster.
We decided to stay close together for the rest of the ride, this way we could call out obstacles and ward of anything wanting to take out the smallest/weakest rider (ahem, me).
We weaved in out of trees, my brain started to go into moments of, “oh gosh, I don't like this, actually I really hate this, why did we leave so late, why didn't we just do something by the house, I don't want to be here.”
Darkness. Something about the absence of light really digs into some of my deep rooted fears. I think it's because you are completely submerged into the unknown. You have to pay such close attention to recognize your surroundings. You have to trust yourself when you can’t see, when you don’t know what's next. Each move is made out of careful consideration and the only thing you know how to do is just keep moving forward.
We stopped at a trail and a double track intersection. We could gamble and take the double track, knowing it could be a straight shot down the mountain or take the trail we were familiar with but knew would be a lot longer. At this point our only goal was to get to town, to get down the mountain. The sun had completely set at this point.
We decided to take the double track.
We made solid travel in a short amount of time, I fell behind ever soo slightly and as I was rounding a corner I saw our friend and Eric stopped in the middle of the double track. I reached them and noticed a look of concern on their faces.. Eric looks at me, “Do you see eyes?”.. I gaze in the tall grass to our left .. and my heart drops.
A few days ago I was refreshing my memory with what I should do if I see certain animals in the wild. Grizzly bears : get small, do not run, and do not show yourself as a threat. Black bears: get big, let them know you are a threat. Mountain lion: make lots of noise and DO. NOT. RUN.
I watched the eyes crouch lower into the grass, they were big, they were not afraid of us. We started making noise and cracking rocks together. The eyes crouched lower and started slowly moving towards us.
That’s when I knew, this was a mountain lion. This was serious. My heart was beating so fast and for a split second my mind went to “what if this thing attacks, what if I don’t make it out of here.”
Eric expressed his calmness and leadership, which I was so thankful for in that moment. We decided to slowly walk towards it while making a lot of noise. I saw the eyes start moving quicker as it made its way towards the trail we were standing on. It darted in front of us to cross to the other side and I couldn't see the eyes anymore.
“Steph, are you on your bike, get on your bike, everyone get on your bike,” Eric yells. I had a rock in my hand and threw myself on the bike. Rock in hand we started moving down the path all together in a triangle.. Slowly at first and then with some speed.
I couldn’t help but peek behind me, thinking that thing was following us.
The path started leading us up hill and I started thinking, “this is wrong, we shouldn’t be going up, oh it’s so dark, we are going to be stuck out here, we are going to have to backtrack and go by the mountain lion again.” The darkness, dying young, being stuck in the mountains overnight unprepared - all of my worst fears, started consuming me in full force.
In her book “You are a badass,” Jen Sincero talks about fear. At one point, when faced with one of her own greatest fears she plays out her two choices in her head,
“I realized that with absolutely zero effort, I could unravel into a claustrophobic freak out of such scratching, biting, high-pitched crazy-lady screaming colossal-ness, that it would leave both me and my friend staring at the wall, playing with our lips for weeks after they dragged our limp and bloodied bodies out of that cave.
The choice was mine”
In that moment I had to stop and breath, I closed my eyes and thought, "I can’t let my fears take over right now." In that moment I had a choice, even though everything seemed so uncontrollable. I had to send my trust into the universe, into the people around me, and into myself. I had to stay calm.
In that moment of quick decision making, I turned around to see this beautiful super bright light coming out of the trail we had been looking for but missed. We started screaming down “Hey, help, hey!”
The moving light stopped and faced us as we speed down the hill to greet the light hero in this darkness.
Turns out, he had planned to ride a trail just past where we saw the lion. We quickly warned him of the animal we just encountered and he decided to turn around. His bright light guided us down the remaining trail. It started to rain as the town became visible and I started recognizing my surroundings.
We made it.
Why I tell this story? To demonstrate a real life example that we can control how we react to situations and better yet, to show that we control whether or not we choose to listen to our fears.
The darkness was going to be there, the mountain lion was going to be there, the long trail ahead was going to be there whether or not I decided to go into a full blown panic attack and let those deep fears take control of me. Just like Jen mentions, we can either freak out, or not. Thats our decision.
It is important to learn how to recognize and acknowledge our fears in life, because I think they can tell us a lot about ourselves. But the power lies in deciding not to let them overtake us. Whether your fear is darkness or listening to the voice in your head that tells you you can’t, choosing to not let it consume you can present you with a completely different outcome. Deciding that you are not your fears, that they do not define you, and choosing to trust in yourself can be the difference in a mediocre life or one that you are so excited to live.
In the end, my gut feeling of “this isn’t right” was trying to tell me something and learning to tell the difference between a life threatening fear and an internal fear is important - so I am not saying go ahead and put yourself in situations like the one I just talked about (because we really should have been more prepared) but rather to understand the difference between knowing what you can (your reactions) and can’t (the situation occurring) control in life and to learn what kinds of fears are holding you back because you are choosing to listen to them.
So next time you are presented with a difficult situation, or with one of your fears - take a second and examine all of your options. Know that how you react and what you decide is in your control. Were you presented with the option to move across the country? Or to go rock climbing? Or to take a promotion? What are you afraid of? Trust yourself, know that your fears don’t define you, and you have the power to control how you respond.