Week 16: Facing anxiety on the Deer Lick trails

The blazes were difficult to see. Some of them were faded while others were obscured by fallen trees and branches and other natural debris of the forest. The path wasn’t clear. We had to bushwhack. And truth be told, it made me nervous.

We hiked from blaze to blaze, trusting in the markings of the orange trail at the Deer Lick Conservation Area. While Scott had hiked this area before he had never been on this trail, still he had utmost faith we were fine. In my depths I knew we were fine, but there was a level of nervousness that appeared and the gremlins started asking a whole lot of questions in my head. What if the trail is poorly marked? What if it’s supposed to be closed? What if it’s longer than we think and the sun sets and it gets dark? There was a complete ridiculousness to those questions and I knew it. I wanted to chastise myself for this anxiousness, for these silly questions. I wanted to suppress them. I didn’t want Scott to think I couldn’t handle the feeling of being lost.

That was the thing — the feeling of being lost. We weren’t actually lost. That was an important distinction to make and one I was only able to see after allowing  myself to be anxious. Here was the learning from our hike at Deer Lick.

But first, let’s start at the beginning.

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The waterfall at Deer Lick.

With the weekend off in the middle of an extremely hectic block of work, Scott and I decided to decompress with an overnight in Springville (about a 40 minute drive south of Buffalo) with plans to go hiking on Saturday then hit up some of the local producers for the annual New York State Maple Weekend. We went to Deer Lick Conservation Area, part of Zoar Valley and administered by the Nature Conservancy. It was a cool day with temperatures only in the mid-30s, but with plentiful sunshine and only a light breeze. With proper layers it was a perfect day for a hike and surprising to us, we were the only car in the parking lot and the only people on the trails.

We started with the red trail, going through a meadow and nearly missing the turn right, but eventually finding the blaze. We expected mud and while there was some, it was not as mucky as anticipated. (Perhaps the ground is still too frozen to release all its water content. At least that’s what we guessed.) The forest was beautiful and peaceful. The trail led to a waterfall, which was gently flowing, carving into the shale that lined its bed. We paused to take it all in then set down our gear for a snack.

Then came challenge No. 1 — after walking across the stream (which was thankfully low) the blazes looked to go straight up the side of a large hill. The first few steps were difficult and steep but quickly it became manageable. We carried on the yellow blazed trail and came upon a large red oak. It was massive. I went to hug the tree and my arms barely made it around half its circumference. It was magnificent and made me want more deeply to visit the Redwood National Park in California. My wanderlust was sparked, but I came back to the present as we continued on the trail.

We came out to “Melissa’s Spring” where the yellow and white trail meet. The spring looks like an open hose and is curious. Where is the water coming from? Why is it basically being dumped here? Obviously this was the worst of the mud although it didn’t last for very long. Our plan had been to hook up the the white trail where it looped to go past old growth trees, but somehow we missed a turn or read the map incorrectly. We decided to continue on the main road and look for the orange trail which we found only by happenstance as I stopped to retie my boot.

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Hello Orange Trail.

Enter the orange trail.

it didn’t take long for me to get a bit anxious as the trail seemed not well maintained, or at least not cleared yet for the spring season. I noticed my anxiety rising a bit. I wanted to push it away, but what good would that do? How could I learn from the emotion if I never let myself feel it? So I felt my anxiety. I listened to the questions of the gremlins. I felt their concern. I tried to follow Scott’s jokes about getting stuck in the woods overnight but as my anxiety rose I said, “Ok, no more jokes about getting stranded right now” allowing myself to be vulnerable and the subject of teasing and ridicule. The teasing and ridicule never happened. We were fine. I knew that. But to get there I had to allow myself to feel the anxiety. I had to give myself permission to be vulnerable. And as I did that, I was able to also appreciate the beauty of the trail, deep in the forest along a creek.

We then hit challenge No. 2 — a steep uphill that was muddy and eroded. There was a rope along the side of the hill to help hikers up. Scott went first. I went next, grabbed the rope but was unable to get my footing and slid back down after two steps. I took a deep breath and noticed my anxiety was actually reduced. I had already faced my anxiety earlier. We were buds now and instead of creating chaos, we were getting ready to try again. That’s when Scott yelled to wait and pointed over to my right. There was an easier way up if I went off the path and used a few trees for leverage. He walked over to where he saw the best angle and I followed him from below. The first few steps, again, were challenging, then with the help of a few sturdy trees (thank you trees!) I got myself up and over and back on the trail.

We had some more uphill to go, but the blazes were easier to see and the trail became more intuitive. A short while later we emerged onto the main road.

Scott asked if I was getting scared. I wasn’t quite at scared. I was at nervous and anxious. But it was good I was nervous and anxious. Those are the emotions I have the most difficulty dealing with. Those are the emotions I try to white-knuckle through. The more opportunities I have to encounter them, the more I’m forced to sit with them, the easier it becomes to move through them. Is it uncomfortable? Hell yes. But it’s worth it.

Hike 52
Week 16
Date:
March 19, 2016
Location: Deer Lick
Trail: Red, Yellow and Orange
Total distance: 4.87 miles on the GPS watch (but trail maps indicated closer to 6)
Elevation: 471 feet
Duration: 3 hours, 40 minutes
Weather: sunny, 34 degrees
Hiked with: Scott