You’ve Got This

In Pacific Crest Trail discussion forums, occasionally people mention their worries about doing the trail, such as “I just had an operation on my foot, and it hurts to walk. I feel as if I’m walking on glass. I don’t know if I’ll still be able to the PCT this summer.” And the unvarying response, “You’ve got this.”

I hear (and see) that remark all the time. “You’ve got this.” What the heck does that mean, anyway? Well, I know what people who say the words mean — “you can do it” — but as it stands, it means nothing. In my case, I don’t “got” anything except maybe the raspy fingers of cliché scraping up and down my back.

I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to track down the origin of the phrase, but can’t find it. It had to have started from somewhere, but unlike many clichéd and annoying phrases, such as “bucket list,” it doesn’t seem to have come from a movie. And I can pretty much guarantee it doesn’t come from Shakespeare like so many common phrases do.

There is a song, “You’ve Got This,” but I can’t tell if the song came first or the statement did.

Not that the origin of the phrase matters.

What does matter is the way people use it, telling others they can do something without any sense of the person or what the person can actually do. Seems dangerous to me, and in addition, reeks of false positivity.

In my example above, the people who offered the encouragement knew nothing about the woman except those three brief sentences. How do they know she can do it? Why are they even urging her to try? No one suggested she check with her doctor first to make sure she won’t further injure her foot. Admittedly, most of the women in the group seem young (young-ish, anyway), and so they have not yet gotten to the point where their bodies refuse to do what they tell them to do, so I’m sure it never occurred to them that others might not be able to do what they themselves can. The fact that some of the women hiked the trail without ever having been on a single backpacking trip and many had only been on one or two short trips is an astonishing acknowledgement of the power of youth.

(Oddly, it’s almost four years to the day that I first began writing about and dreaming of life on foot. In that initial research, I discovered that potential hikers often spend months in preparation, taking long hikes and backpacking trips, drying foods, mapping water holes, sending ahead care packages to themselves at various places along the trail. They need to be prepared for emergencies, all weather conditions, and whatever might overtake them on the trail. And yet now I’m reading about people that aren’t doing any of that — just buying their gear and setting out. Ah, youth!)

People often say that hiking the trail is more mental than physical, that the sheer distance and immensity of the trail get to people more than the physical activity, but I don’t see how that can be the case with everyone. Even after all my walking, hiking, trudging with a backpack, there is no way I can hike twenty miles in one day, let alone day after day after day. Even when I was young, I couldn’t do it.

And yet, I’m sure if I posted my reservations in a PCT group, I’d get a spate of “You’ve got this.”

Someday, perhaps, I will attempt to hike the trail, or at least a small portion of it, but if do, it will because of a lot of hard work in preparation and not because someone told me I’ve “got this”.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Risk Management

I have never been a risk taker. I do not like pain or discomfort of any kind — not taunts, not scoldings, not broken bones, not cuts, not illness. For most of my life, my adventures were the literary kind, and oh, I was intrepid. Actually, that’s not true. I never identified as the hero. I was always sort of a companion, analyzing the risks and trying to figure out how not to have gotten into the scrapes the character did, and thinking about how I would get myself out the situation.

The habit of analyzing risks followed me into real life. For example, although I had no aptitude for dancing when I was young and there was no way for me to take dance classes, I’d still decided at a young age that dancing wasn’t for me. I didn’t want the foot pain and bleeding toes, the horrendous hours of work, and all the rest that goes into being a dancer. I still don’t want any of that. As dedicated as I am about taking dance classes now, at the first sign of debilitating pain (other than the muscle aches from too many plies), that will be it.

Even before I fell and broke my arm, I’d fall-proofed wherever I lived — stayed away from area rugs, made sure the night time trek from bed to bathroom was completely open. Now I have bars in the bathtub, but I’d always been careful getting in and out of the shower, been especially careful picking up soap if I dropped it because I knew that’s how and where most home injuries occurred.

How did I know all this? I have always been a researcher. And I think things through and rethink things to the point of overthinking.

That being said, the truth is, there is no way to avoid risk. Many terrible things have happened to me over the years, from being held up at gunpoint, to having to deal with devastating grief when Jeff died, and most recently, the destruction of my arm. Everything bad that has ever happened to me has happened in the city, sometimes even when I was with someone else.

If I were still with Jeff, or if I hadn’t had to deal with the horrors of grief, my adventurous spirit might never have been kindled, but now the wild woman in me is struggling to get out. I have an inordinate desire to live. To experience. To be. To become.

I realize this call to adventure (whatever the adventure might be) involves more risks than reading in bed (though I have known people who broke hips when they fell out of bed), but all I can do is minimize the risks. As I have always done, I research ways to be safe, I imagine myself in precarious situations, learn what others have done and what I would do to get out of them. Even following a well established trail, it’s easy to get lost (as many people have discovered too late), but my years of venturing into the nearby desert have taught me to mark the way back to the trail if I have to leave it, to pay attention to my tracks (and the tracks of other creatures).

I make sure my cell phone is fully charged, and I am always wary, never acting as if I am in a safe place, though the truth is, I am safer wandering in the desert than I am in the city. (A lot safer than driving, that’s for sure!) The most dangerous thing I do is cross a street. I’m not joking here. To get to the dance studio, I have to cross one of the busiest and most dangerous intersections in town where six roads with multiple lanes meet, cars going all directions, and no cross walk. (Sometimes I jaywalk, which is safer, unless I’m caught, and then I face an $80 fine).

I have driven cross country alone, hiked in national parks and wild places alone. I have camped alone. It’s not as if I have no experience being alone in potentially dangerous places, but still, people worry about me.

Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate the concern. I really do. It’s pleasing — and comforting — to know that people care. Lately, though, so many people have cautioned my about putting myself at risk, that I’m getting scared. And I don’t want to be.

Of course I’m at risk, and I will be at even greater risk when I take my trip in May, but so what? I can’t live my life in fear of something bad happening to me. I take more than reasonable precautions, but I will not be bounded by fear, mine or anyone else’s. If something happens, will it be worse than Jeff dying? Will it be worse than being held up at gunpoint? Will it be worse than destroying my arm? Will it be worse than living in fear? Will it be worse than stagnating, worse than squandering this opportunity of freedom where I am still healthy enough to go where adventure calls, worse than squandering myself?

I understand that terrible things could be waiting for me out there, and if any of those things happen, I’ll deal with it then.

But think of this. What if I can handle whatever comes as I have always done? What if nothing bad happens? What if something wonderful is waiting for me if I only have the courage to grab hold of adventure and life?

So yes, please worry about me, but don’t forget to encourage me, too. I need both.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.