Over a Beer: Fear Is a Manipulative Bastard

Rider: Thomas Genon. Photo: Dean Treml / Red Bull Content Pool

“Fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.” -Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Sometimes fear is healthy, and it keeps our bodies in one piece. Choosing not to huck our meat off that 15-foot cliff (or 40-foot cliff like the photo above) is generally a pretty good idea. But then at the same time, fear “is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life,” to quote Donald Miller.

Just last week I headed out for an after-work ride, and I planned to complete a roughly 16-mile out-and-back on a portion of trail I hadn’t ridden before. I anticipated it being very arduous, but when I had covered a grand total of three miles of trail, mostly on foot, in the first hour, I started to get concerned.The problem was, this ride wasn’t a clear, climb-to-the-top-of-the-mountain-and-bomb-back-down-in-20-minutes hike-a-bike. Rather, it was an up-and-down along a mountainside. I started doing the math and calculated that I could be out there in the woods for up to five hours, which would put me well after dark with no light. As I crested a knob and the trail began to turn back downhill, I stopped and decided to turn around.

I was afraid.

I was afraid of mundane things, like missing the time that I planned to be home. But I was afraid of other things—whether my feet would blister in the brand-new shoes I had never worn and would cripple me for the next two weeks of out-of-state travel. That I would run out of daylight and end up stranded on a sketchy, washed out, loose, ridiculously-remote motorcycle trail on the edge of a Wilderness area.

So I decided to cut my ride in half, doing a measly 7 miles in total.

But as I turned around to head back, it turned out that yes, while I had a little-hike-a-bike on the return, overall I had climbed much more on the way out, and the return trip was mostly downhill and much faster overall.

You know what? Maybe I made the right decision. I didn’t get stranded in the woods, and I made it back home when I said I would. But you know what else? I may have been able to complete my full route if I had put my mind to it.

In many senses, fear manipulated me into a boring evening.

One of the few sections of trail that was rideable in both directions.

This is just one small example, but fear manipulates us in many areas of our lives. We’re comfortable in our boring jobs, pulling in a reliable salary with good health insurance. We’re afraid of stepping out and pursuing our dreams, taking a risk, and losing our security.

Sometimes we fear offending people, and to avoid stepping on anybody’s toes, we make ourselves smaller and less honest to our own selves, so that everyone likes us (a false facade of ourself) and keeps smiling through the entire social event.

Here’s one that I always do: I’m afraid of hitting a long security line at the airport and missing my flight, so inevitably I end up at my gate two (or more) hours earlier than necessary. What more exciting things could I have done besides typing on my laptop at the airport?

Have you ever driven over 100mph in a car before? No? Fear. Boring. As a general rule, going fast is fun (and dangerous, and sometimes illegal).

Don’t let fear manipulate you. Tell that bastard to go pound sand, while you go out and live an interesting life!

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.