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Caution vs Fear: The Healthy Balance


Hi Lynda,

I have a question about riding in some of the most remote regions of the world (like Mongolia and Central Asia, for example). Sometimes I’m riding a road that nobody uses, or uses extremely rarely, so if something happens and I injure myself, help would not come for days or even weeks. How do I balance between reasonable caution and fear?



Dear Loner,

I admire your willingness to wander to some of the loneliest parts of our planet and to experience adventures most of us can only dream about. You are definitely facing fears many cannot comprehend when help is only a phone call away.

I like to split fear into two major categories: gut fears and head fears. Head fears come from the chatter in your brain, the ‘what ifs’ and negatives, the irrational thoughts that often predict doom and disaster. When you stop and listen to them is fairly easy to recognize them as irrational or so unlikely to occur that they are simply cluttering your brain. Research shows that up to 90% of these fears never occur, so it’s a waste mental energy worrying about them. I simply acknowledge them as thoughts with no power and let them float in one ear and out the other.

Gut fears are the ones that deserve my undivided attention. They are the nagging tugs, the uncomfortable feelings in the pit of the stomach, the sixth sense that something isn’t quite right. The sensation you get when your bike sounds ‘off,’ the tingling when the guy following you seems just a bit too close, and the genuine hesitation you have when you look at a map and think the road you are about to take may just be too far out there. Learning to hear your gut when it is a quiet voice, rather than a swift kick in the head, is an important skill to build.

When my gut speaks I pause and listen. Just because I feel alarmed, does not mean I have to cease what I am about to do, I simply need to study it a bit more. Are the fears real? Do they point to something I need to consider? Am I fully prepared to go out that far alone? Do I have needed supplies to hold me over if I break down? Do I have contingency plans in case something does happen, like a satellite phone or a SPOT tracker that someone will be watching who can summon help? Am I okay with the idea that help may arrive too late and that I might suffer significant consequences, even death, as a result?

We take risks every time we walk out the door, and we add to that as soon as we hop on the bike. What is risky for one person can be a breeze for another; we have to determine where that line is individually while taking into account all the shareholders in our lives (friends, family, work, etc). Once you have decided your personal capacity for tolerating some level of fear, you are free to gently nod at the head chatter, and make sure to pay attention when your gut speaks.

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