Last year, a friend and I did a run through the swamps and prairies of Florida’s Fakahatchee Strand. The day turned into more of an adventure than we expected. About 10 miles into the wild, we left the path to take a “shortcut” cross-country to another trail. The next hour or more was spent pushing and pulling ourselves through dense foliage and skirting around the edges of areas of standing water of unknown depth and inhabitants. I never doubted that we would be able to find our way out, but the further we moved from an identifiable location, the more I worried that finding our way out would take a very long time. I find uncertainty to be anxiety producing, and this trait has come into play many times during my outdoor adventures.
While bicycle touring in New Zealand In 2012, I endured days of anxiety leading up to riding up Arthur’s Pass. Getting over the pass requires cycling many miles in a remote area with few services and includes lots of steep climbing. I spent a lot of time worrying that Mary and I would not be capable of making the climb and pondering whether we should skip it and take the train across the mountains. Mary was more confident in our abilities and, more importantly, secure in her faith that even if we struggled and were turned back that we would be okay.
Early in the morning, we pedaled away from the beaches of the West Coast and turned our bikes inland towards the mountains and Arthur’s Pass. At one point late that afternoon, the grade of the climb became so steep that we had to dismount and push our loaded touring bikes through a section of road with a roof that allowed a waterfall to pour over it and into a gorge. It was one of the best days of the trip. If I had not fought through my anxiety about going into the unknown that day, I would have missed out on one of the most memorable days of my life.
You can’t discover anything new without going where you haven’t been before. Sounds so obvious, but how many times do we consciously do it? Life will take you places where you have not gone whether you are ready or not, so why not practice dealing with uncertainty by intentionally placing yourself in situations where you do not know what the end result will be?
Stepping into uncertainty does not need to involve crisscrossing a swamp or bicycling across a mountain range in a foreign country. It could involve learning something new or calling a friend you have not spoken to in years. Maybe it’s deciding to approach a situation you face every day in a new way.
There is a saying we use at Outward Bound that comes up at the end of almost every course:
A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.1
I find that this rings true. We are all ships and we have a choice. We can choose to stay safely at anchor in what we think is a protected cove, or we can head out to sea for places unknown. One choice provides a feeling of safety and comfort, while the other contains the possibility of growth and discovery. Which option to pick at any given time is situational. Sometimes we need to rest and recharge and sometimes we need to stretch our boundaries. Think about what you need right now. Make a choice.
- John A. Shedd, 1928 ↩