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Facing my Fears to Find my Footing.

I’m on a 30+-day camping and hiking trip with my 8-year old son along the Pacific Coast. This means that for the first time since high school, I am officially not working. Harvard Business Review assures us resilience is about how you recharge, not how you endure. We’ll see.

July 15 | Post #2

It’s 1 a.m. on night 11 of our big trip. Something has stirred me awake, and I am scared.

We’ve pitched two pup tents within a massive, moss-covered camp site along the Bogachiel River in Northwest Washington between Forks and Olympic National Park. We’re here to hike the Hoh Rain Forest, which receives 140 inches (3.55 meters) of precipitation every year.

It’s dry tonight. The sky is brilliant with stars, and I’ve stayed up watching the fire until just past 11 p.m. It’s not hard to stay up too late here. It’s so far north that the campsite is still navigable without flashlights at nearly 10 p.m.

Our site backs up to the Bogachiel River, which at our little bend, is just a trickle as it passes by. But not far behind us, it’s a real river, with rounded, gray and black stones perfect for skipping. There’s an old wooden fence separating our camp spot from the day-use picnic area. I’d seen just a few people park trucks there since we arrived. Mostly to hike up to the heated showers within the campsite, I assume.

Bogachiel State Park isn’t far off Highway 101, so there’s a bit of road noise when the logging trucks roll by. But tonight, it’s silent. There are no rowdy campers. No creaking insects or frogs. The zipper of my tent sounds like a whistle.

A whistle! Shoot. Where is my whistle?

I grab in the dark at the edge of my backpack and realize one of the two for $6.99 whistles I ordered on Amazon is no longer attached. I roll to the other side of the tent and feel for K’s baseball bat. It’s there. But I can’t find my glasses, and without them, I can’t see the big E on the eye chart. It’s unlikely I can hit a distinct target without them. And who am I supposed to clobber at close range, inside the tent, anyway?

On our way to Bogachiel, we’d stopped at Ruby Beach, the northernmost of the southern beaches in the coastal section of Olympic National Park. Before we hiked down to the water, we stopped to read the notices posted at the ranger station. Beware of mountain lion, one of the signs reads. K and I had discussed at length in our many hours in the car about wild animals on our adventure. He seemed to possess a mix of fascination and apprehension.

K: What happens if a bobcat tries to break into our tent?

Me: Bobcats won’t try to break in. They are afraid of people. But we do need to make sure

we keep our food secure so that we don’t attract a bear.

K: But how do you know a bobcat won’t break in? Are you paw-sitive?

Me: Dude!

Ruby Beach has massive mounds of driftwood stacked against the sea wall. The evergreen forest of the Olympic Peninsula seems to have been sliced off at the cliff into the ocean by sharp rock. Like trolls, outcroppings rise from the water with tufts of green spouting from their stone tops. As we scoured the tide pools (lots of sea anemone), K spotted a drip castle formation, and I found the remains of a large mammal, with a paw and some fur, long spine, but no skull.

We debated the source of the remains at length as well as what might have killed such a big animal. Was it a mountain lion on the shore? The paw didn’t look quite right. But it was a huge paw. Bigger than my fist. Didn’t look like a large dog. Or a bear. What remained of the hide was almost deer-like. Did someone shoot it? Where was the head? Why was it so twisted in the tides? How long had it been in the water? How did it die?


All of these questions whirl around my mind in the dark at Bogachiel, and I can’t seem to quiet them. It’s unsettling that I don’t know what animal we’d found. It’s unsettling that I don’t hear any wildlife now in my tent. Or people. And yet, I recognize the forest around me is very much alive. Maybe K should be in my tent in case he gets scared. Maybe it’s irresponsible to camp as a woman alone with a young child. Wouldn’t it be safer if I were a man? Because, truly, it’s not the animals I’m afraid of.

I try a few meditation exercises. I put in an ear bud and listen to a podcast, leaving one ear to the outside in case K needs me. Nothing. My heart thumps wildly. The fear is still there. I can’t sleep through it.

Around 3:30 a.m., I hear the first logging truck, and this sound, though loud and mechanical, I find comforting. Someone else is awake. Someone has made coffee, gotten dressed, fired up the truck, and is headed out into the woods to begin the day. At 4 a.m., I’m drifting when I hear what sounds like a goose or a duck honking repeatedly, and then a yodel that reminds me distinctly of Goofy falling off a mountain top. It is LOUD. I sit up quickly, focused on the noise. Mostly certain it’s an animal, and a not a person in distress. But still, I am scared. I yank the headphone out of my ear and listen. Heart pounding. The sound comes again, and it is not human. It is an owl. Not long after, the songbirds start to sing. I’m drowsy now. No longer scared. The birds are awake. It’s okay. We’re going to be safe.

Later that morning, I played the Cornell All About Birds app and shared the call of a barred owl with K. We discussed how barred owls are beautiful and destructive. Thought to be partly responsible for the recent decline of the northern spotted owl, they have expanded their range from the eastern US and Canada into the Pacific Northwest.

The next night, it rained for several hours after K went to bed. I slept hard until about 4 a.m. when he busted into my tent. That zipper again. ZEEEEP!

K: Mom! Did you hear that? 

Me: Pawing for my glasses. Huh? What? No. Hear what, Bud?

K: Teenagers! They are throwing firecrackers at our tent!

Me: Ahhh. No. It’s the trees, Little Man. The trees are throwing baby pine cones onto our tent. It rained all night. Those pine cones are heavy from the rain. It’s okay. We’re safe. I promise.

Be it teenagers, strangers, or headless animals, it’s just as hard to face your fears when you are 43 as it is when you are eight. I believe my son is better at this task than I am. And I admire his bravery.

So much of this trip has been scary. I’m a wee-bit scared of the dark without Jeremy and our dog. I wish they were with us. I’m scared of making the wrong turn on our hike and getting us lost. Of not bringing enough food or bug spray or sunscreen. I’m scared that this month is rushing by, and I am somehow wasting it being scared, instead of savoring it. I am scared that he won’t truly understand I’m trying to show him the places we’ve helped to protect, promote, and restore. That these parks, forests and open spaces are why I’ve been away for so many weeks and months of his young life. These irreplaceable outdoor havens (and many like them) are why I have missed every school open house he’s ever had. I’m scared we’ve not done enough. That I’ve not done enough. And that soon, I’ll decide to leave him again to do more.

Field Notes

Bandon, Oregon: Shout out to the staff at Bandon Ace Hardware, where for $1.20 and borrowed set of pliers, I bought parts to fix my broken camp stove. Put it back together in the parking lot.

Astoria, Oregon: Despite mom making a slight wrong turn that added two extra miles to our trek, hiking around Fort Clatsop National Memorial at The Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is worth it. I recognized we couldn’t tackle the whole Fort to Sea Trail (6.5 miles one way), but there’s a great section toward the overlook. Fort Clatsop was the winter encampment for the Corps of Discovery from December 1805 to March 1806, and is one of the only spots where we’ve found National Park Service Staff still working with visitor interpretive services. K learned how to play several traditional Native American games, including double ball. I’d last visited this park nearly 20 years ago, as I joined my former Conservation Fund colleagues to celebrate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. To date, the Fund has helped conserve more than 20,000 acres along the famous route.

Hoh River Rainforest, Olympic National Park: Hiking in the Hoh River Rainforest was flat out some of the best days of our trip. I’m convinced that L. Frank Baum visited here when he wrote The Wonderful World of Oz. The Emerald City was born from hikes like these through a temperate rain forest. Clearly marked, clean trails and a great waterfall. Payoff was soaking our feet in the Hoh River. We heard bald eagles laughing at us from above, but didn’t see one.

Forks Outfitters, Forks, Washington. Best shopping experience of our trip. Combo grocery store, bakery, deli and Ace Hardware. Twice we bought cookies here the size of my hand. Once again, the team at Ace saves the day. I’d shown the photo of the Ruby Beach paw to a state game ranger, the staff at the Olympic National Park Visitor’s Center, and passing hikers. The reigning theory was that the remains were mountain lion, but we all agreed the claw pad wasn’t right. The head of sporting goods is a nature photographer and set me straight. It’s a sea lion. His partner said they are often found without heads. Cause of death? Unknown, but he speculated it might have been shot by a fisherman.

Miles Traveled: 1,800+


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