Transcripts > The Tim Ferriss Show > #227: Conquering Fear and Reducing Anxiety - Caroline Paul
Hello, boys and girls. This is Tim Ferriss and I’m recording this introduction inside a phone booth, literally. Welcome back to the Tim Ferriss Show, where every episode it is my job deconstruct a world class performer from any given field; could be sports, chess, entertainment, business or otherwise. And this episode is going to be a little bit different. This is a follow-up episode by popular demand and don’t worry… it doesn’t matter if you listened to the first episode or not– although you should.
So, back by popular demand Caroline Paul returns to the podcast for a round two. She’s answering your most popular questions as upvoted. And this is a stand alone piece; you can enjoy it by itself. Caroline’s the authors for four published books. Her latest is the New Times bestseller, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure. I read this. I’m not a gutsy girl; I try to be a gutsy dude. But, it is fantastic. It is not necessarily gender-specific and there’s a lot to learn from Caroline.
She used to be scared of a lot of things. Then she decided that fear got in the way of life she wanted– one of excitement, confidence and self-reliance. She has since flown planes, rafted huge rivers, climbed gigantic objects– mountains, Golden Gate– which I don’t recommend. And she fought fires as one of the very first enough firefighters in San Francisco. She is amazing and she’s a very gifted writer and teacher. So, in this episode, Caroline answers many different questions and addresses many different topics, including the best starting point for overcoming your fears; there are many times I can use this myself. How to stay focused in the moment and not let your mind create anxiety and stress– useful for me this week in particular. Her biggest life changing experiences, coping strategies for dealing with life’s most difficult events and much, much more. So please enjoy this round two Q&A with Caroline Paul.
Hi. This is Caroline Paul and I’m really happy to be back with all of you and Tim on the Tim Ferriss podcast for round two. And you sent me a bunch of questions and I’m gonna answer some of them. Thanks so much. Let’s just dive right in.
If you’re trying to change your relationship with fear, where do you start? It’s hard to face it when it’s breathing down on you. Any tips?
Well, first of all, congratulations on changing your relationship to fear. I don’t know if your woman but if you are this is an especially big step because, as I’ve talked about, I feel really strongly that we as women have been so encouraged to be fearful that it’s an underpinning of our life that were often not even conscious of. So just taking this step is amazing.
Here’s my tip. It’s really straightforward: micro bravery. Because here is a concept that a great organization calls girl’s leadership really articulated to me, which is that bravery is learned and like anything learned it just needs to be practiced. And the way we practice things is to start small. So, micro bravery– this is what they call it. I love that. Micro bravery is basically breaking down your fears into either smaller steps or just start a starting small with any fear. And the reason we want to do that is because, well, first of all, you become aware of what it feels like to be fearful. Because here’s the truth and I think I talked about this on the podcast before, but fear feels a lot like excitement– has the same physiological characteristics of high heart rate, sweat, nervous tension– and so often what we do, especially as women because we’re really not taught to discern the nuances of fear and we aren’t taught to value bravery like men are so we aren’t taught to really move through it… It feels so similar to excitement that we often mistake the fact that we’re not actually completely subsumed with abject fear; we actually are feeling fear and other things– excitement, exhilaration, anticipation, curiosity– things that really will open up our life and that actually is telling us, “Hey, this new experience is going to be kind of cool, but because– and again often it’s women– we haven’t ever practiced bravery so we don’t really understand what we’re feeling in times of stress and where we are pushing outside our comfort zones. So when you practice bravery– and really what you’re taxing is micro bravery– you get really are comfortable and you start to understand what fear feels like and you start to discern all the nuances of that emotion.
So, the second thing you become knowledgeable about is what bravery is because I think a lot of women don’t really have a sense of what that feels like either. In fact, I liked it to turn around maybe even this question and say well it’s not really changing your relationship to fear. It is changing the relationship to bravery. And so what we’re doing– and I know I talked about this before– is that we are valuing a bravery paradigm instead of a fear paradigm because I do think we give permission to women to talk about fear a lot and to really emphasize it in ways that perpetuates it.
The last thing you do is when you’re practicing micro bravery is that you really start to develop a process of moving from fear to bravery. And that process when you use it in small instances you can apply when you confront fear in bigger instances; that can be an emotional fear and that can be fear at, you know, in your workplace and that can also be fear in the outdoors. Now when you practice micro bravery… I really want kids to practice in the outdoors because it’s really fun– the outdoors. And it’s a really great way to understand that line between being scared and then excitement and then going to bravery because it’s just more obvious then if you’re trying to practice in a more emotional situation. But as adults, I know, you already know whether you like the outdoors or not. This is not about like, “oh, you have to be in the outdoors to be brave.” Not true. You guys who are not so much outdoorsy can practice in at home or in the workplace– small acts of micro bravery. Again, really important: this is something where you start small so that you really get to know yourself and bravery better. An analogy might be deciding you’re going to run a 5K. You don’t just go run a 5K on the day of the race. You practice and you practice in small increments. You start by walking then you proceed to running a little bit… You get the picture. So it’s you breaking it down and, in that way, you’re training. And you’re training to understand your body like a runner and you’re training to understand your own mind.
Caroline is indeed incredible. Ah, thank you. Glad you are bringing her back. Thank you. What suggestions does Caroline have to those who work in the emergency medical community?
Well, first I’d say realize that we are in a Shakespearean profession as emergency responders. What I mean by that is that all these calls you go on are high drama. What you’re seeing is death, destruction, betrayal, birth, intrigue. That’s not only a tremendously powerful view into humanity, it’s also an opportunity to really make yourself better. I mean because trust me if you’re out on the streets like I was, you’re seeing a vast array of humanity– in its glory and in its all real sadness actually. So, in some ways, that’s a real privilege that frankly I think we often forget about. So, in order to really be inspired by our job and not burned out by it, I would say that remember that the small gestures are so important. This is something that I wish that I had been more aware of at the time. It comes from an experience I actually had. I had been retired as a firefighter, but I was flying my experimental plane and I had a bad accident. I was humiliating and it was also terrifying. I was packaged up and put into the ambulance and I was being taken care by a young paramedic. I remember his name– Nicholas. And he was so compassionate. He was so caring. I was old enough to be his mom, but he was so careful with everything he did. He would put his hand on my shoulder. He would lean over me when he talked because I couldn’t move because I was in C. spina and packaged really tightly because of my injuries. He would make sure that we saw that we saw each other’s eyes when he talked to me and his tone of voice was so comforting.
I remembered he used these endearments with me– sweetheart, dear. And usually I kind of find that annoying, but it was so calming for me and I was so grateful for how present he was and how careful he was and how caring he was. And it made me wonder– right in that ambulance – was I this good as a firefighter? Did I treat the people that I came in contact with this sort of a compassion? And I don’t think I ever realized until I was in this accident myself just how scared people are at this moment in their life and how much of a difference one person, one young, handsome, half my age paramedic, how much of a difference he’s made. I still remember him all these years later and I’m so grateful for him. So it’s those gestures; it’s those small gestures. It’s that being present that matter. I know that person with the heart palpitations is the umpteenth person with heart palpitations that you’ve probably had– maybe that even that week. But for her, it’s the most traumatic time of her life and we can make such a difference in that moment and that is so powerful.
The other thing is is that we have to make meaning of these calls because often they feel so chaotic and cruel. I remember a fire that I went to. It was started by a guy who had been sleeping on the couch and he woke up. I think he dropped a cigarette. But anyway the place was on fire and instead of warning the people in, he just ran out. This was really disheartening because those six people were missing when the fire was out. The chief came to us– the rescue squad– and said, “Hey, we got six people missing and we need to do a search.” And when you do a search in a house that’s had a fire, what you’re doing is you’re on your hands and knees, combing through debris. It’s like looking for a contact lens but what you’re looking for is people. You’re pushing aside everything. And we found them. We found them in two areas. It was one woman with two kids and then in the other corner of the room, it was another woman with the other two kids. It was really clear by the way they were lying that those women were trying to shield those kids. They had gathered those kids in their arms. They had maybe even gone after those kids to try to just be with them when they died; I don’t know the whole story, but the meaning I put to it is that those women were heroic. In those last moments, those women also comforted the children and died together.
It showed me that amid the unfairness and the cowardliness. These women were heroes and that there was love at the end. And that even in the most stressful of circumstances, like when a fire is barreling down on you, you’ll gather kids in your arms and they will be your last thought. And somehow that gives our whole job, you know, meaning. Good meaning. And I think it keeps emergency workers like you me from total burnout.
What’s the best gift you get firefighters? I have two firefighting brothers and I want to eventually buy them something that’s not booze-related.
Okay. Well, I’m actually not very materialistic so I might not be the best person to ask this, but I have to say that I do love old fire gear. You can find old nozzles and old fireboxes and old fire extinguishers online and also in flea markets. So, I actually have a small collection myself.
I would also say that your brothers would like shirts and ball caps from other fire departments. Stations sell them at least here in San Francisco separately. Each have their own distinct logo’s and that could be really cool because especially if you walk into a fire house and ask for this and then have an interaction with a firefighter and tell your brothers about it. That’s even a bigger part of the gift.
Finally, I’d say one gift that you might not think about, but would be great and this isn’t really for an occasion, but maybe read yourself about the job of fire fighting because I think firefighters would really appreciate when their family members seem to understand a little more about what’s going on the job. And you be surprised how much you pick up from memoirs and books that talk about what firefighters do even if your brothers are in those departments, even if they’re not a big city department, there’s so much similar that happens partly because traditions run so deep. So I myself wrote a book about fire fighting and I’ve read a lot of them and we often tell very similar stories about what goes on the in the firehouse- the antics in the firehouse– and also some of the horrors of our calls and some of the poignancy of our calls and the deepness of our bond. So reading books would be a gift that you can give your brothers even though they might not even know it. Do that and give them those sweatshirts.
How do you stay rooted in the present? You seem very focused.
Hi, Jeff. Well, I’ve always been focused, but I have to say I haven’t always been rooted. I am very goal oriented so if I want something done I set deadlines and I’m really specific about it. So for my books… if I want to have a book bought, I’ll plan my book proposal. And I’ll say when is going to be done and I stick to that. And if necessary write it down so that I really know so it’s not just a mushy idea in my mind; it’s there on the paper and I can see it. It’s called sort of how many by when, when you’re really specific about your goals, I think that’s really important.
I don’t have a meditation practice or breath practice. I wish I did. I do it sometimes, but what I do have is a really structured day. So, I get a lot done because I don’t get distracted a lot. And, by the way, there is a flip side to this which means I can be inflexible and that is something I’m working on because I think that there is value in being looser; even though in my life I’ve gotten a lot done by being more of what Wendy, my partner, calls rigid and I call disciplined or as you call it focused.
The other thing I do and this might lead a little more to rootedness is that I don’t schedule too much in a day; I always put in a padding between things because that means I’m not frazzled. I think frazzled leads to unrootedness. You might still be focused when you’re frazzled, but you’re not going to be rooted. It’s probably one of the reasons that I like adventure so much because I think that’s where focus and rootedness intersect because I can be outside and that’s where I often find my rootedness. And a lot of times the high adrenaline of the situation will really make me focused. So, for instance, when I am surfing and I’m not a good surfer but I really love being outside in the water and I’m really confident paddler and swimmer… So I find that’s where I get most rooted and most focus because I’m focused because I’m not that good and I don’t want to get hammered by a wave; I am always looking and, you know, scrapping over wave, scrabbling over a wave, trying not to fall off the lip, trying to get over when I’m going out iff there’s no channel, which often there isn’t. And then if I’m actually trying to catch a wave, it’s paddling, looking back, paddling and that’s all I’m thinking about. I’m not thinking about anything else. I am super focused and I’m rooted because I’m really physically rooted in my body and also to nature. And I just feel quite complete and I’m not really thinking about anything else but those that simple movement of catching the wave, jumping up, trying to move the board and doing it all again. Partly the simplicity of that movement is also very rooting and one of the big reasons why I really like surfing even though you can’t really do it that well.
And one other thing that… a habit I have that I think really helps keep my day focused is that when I have to go somewhere I don’t think of the time I have to be there, I think about the time that I have to leave to be there.
And one more thing on focus and the writing down and having a goal is that, you know, I don’t know if you’ve ever ridden horses, but when I was young we had horses and my mother used to say when you’re riding make sure that you look where you want your hourse to go because your horse can feel where you’re looking and that’s what they’re responding to. I think it’s the same with us as people that we need to always have our eyes on where we want to go. When we take our eye off that, we are going to veer away from that path. So if I’m veering away, not getting something that I want, that I’m focused on, that I’m working hard towards. I really look like is your eye really on that, really? Because your horse is going the other way and it’s really helpful.
So thanks, Jeff. I appreciate that question.
I’d be interested to know what you’re coping strategies are for being exposed to horrific human events. How do you persevere?
Well, as a firefighter, one thing I came away with was a realization that tragedies are the result of a series of small forks in the road. They’re not usually just one sudden catastrophic event. Preceding them has come a series of small decisions that have led up to this one big moment. So, from this realization that life is very much random and haphazard and chaotic and out of our control as puny humans, I did take some solace in the fact that maybe I could just make those small decisions a little better. The way I do that is this theory of the checklist it’s something that doctors have come upon quite recently and that pilots have been using for ever which is the idea that even as experienced as you are, you need to stick to a checklist in certain decisions because if you don’t you will one day make a small error and that will lead to a very big mistake.
So as pilots we walk into our hangers– and I’ve been flying since I was eighteen– and I still pick up my checklist and walk to my experimental and go through my experimental using that checklist to make sure it’s flyable and I do not deviate from that. Because I know that as a human, as experienced I am, one of these days I’m going to make a mistake and forget something and that’ll be the day that they’ll be a mechanical error. Similarly, I play this in my sort of day-to-day life in that I always wear my seatbelt. I know that sounds weird, but some people do say like, you know, I’m only going half a block, but I have seen really bad accidents within half a block. But not only that, what I’ve seen is that there’s this erosion where you drive half a block without your seatbelt then you get to that habit. Then you start maybe driving across town without your seatbelt and then you go on a long trip so of course, you put on your seatbelt. But the next time your trips not so long and you don’t. Blah, blah blah. It gets so that one of these days you’re going to make the wrong decision and you’re gonna have your seatbelt off when that car comes barreling at you. So that’s why I just simply decide that some of these very small decisions I’m gonna have under my control and I’m gonna try to make them consistently, not haphazardly, so that when the fates decide to intervene that I have a pretty good chance of coming out okay. I really think that was one of the biggest things that I came away with when seeing what you call these horrific human events and they were is that they feel whimsical and chaotic and random, but if I can just be really mindful of those smaller decisions and I’m not overwhelmed by this idea that a piano might fall from a building onto my head, which sometimes seems to be the way life was for a lot of people then I could persevere through what you call these horrific events.
Thanks so much for that question.
How do you recommend avoiding gender bias with kids? i.e. Clothes, toys etc.
You know I just learned this astounding fact and that is that many of the G movies that the little kids in our lives are seeing completely under-represent women and girls by a large proportion. So this sort of gender biases is starting really, really young. The statistics said that even in crowd scenes women make up only seventeen percent and even the animals that are in kids movies are portrayed as male. To me, that’s just… it’s kind of mind-blowing how we begin to undervalue and under-represent girls and women at such a young age and in every single corner of life– even a crowd seen. Anyway, so that’s what we’re up against here when we’re talking gender bias. I don’t really have any quick solutions for this, except to say that we should also be very aware that it starts at home. You and I are both guilty of this. I think I talked about this in the previous episode, but studies show that we treat our girls differently than our boys, for instance, on the playground we caution them much more, even though they are physically as equal as the boys. We already have an idea of their abilities or their inability and we are telling them in all these different ways. So understanding ourselves.
So, for instance, one thing that drives me crazy and I’m specially sensitive to this is when people use the word firemen. And I know it’s only three letters firemen, but, you see when you add the man to fireman, instead of a firefighter, what you’re giving to kids is just this picture of a man all the time as a firefighter and it really doesn’t sink in even now that women are firefighters. And same with policemen and police officers; its police officers because when you say policemen you’re giving an idea that men are the only gender that can be police officers.
So we have to start at home. After all, this behemoth that we’re fighting– that’s the media– is really hard even for us to discern. I don’t know if you realize how under-represented women are in adult themed films too, you know. In PG and R-rated films, we are hardly ever stars, our professions suck on film, we usually don’t speak and when we do it’s usually about our relationships. Or even if you’re the star, often if you’re in a scene with men, they will speak more, they will be given more lines. None of this is malice. This is all unconscious stuff that we’re perpetuating and then our kids see and then they grow up with. And I have to emphasize that we really need to teach our boys too about this. I wrote an essay on this for ted.com. But one thing is that we really want our boys to be reading books about girls, not just girls reading books about boys. And again, this just to broaden their idea of what the genders can do. I got a letter actually from a woman who bought gutsy girl for her niece because she said that her niece was “scared of her own shadow.” And she thought that this book would inspire her and Denise came and visited and they read it together. And, yeah, I’m I’m sure they thought the writing was awesome and that the stories were good [Laughs]. But really the change that came over her over that week was less from actually just sort of reading a good book then being inspired by role models for one and for two the fact that this concept was introduced of gutsiness. That suddenly this girl understood that there was this idea of how she could be and she began even using that nomenclature.
And her aunt sent me a photo of her in a tree that she had climbed, looking super proud, and said that she’d also been petting animals and learning to hit a tennis ball and things like that, which really opened up this girl’s life.
So, having role models and giving kids more concept than the narrow ones we get from the media is also super important.
You shared so many adventures in the first episode, but I feel like you have so many more. What adventures have been most life-changing for you and why?
I feel like I’ve spoken about the obvious life changing ones the ones where I rarely escaped death or injury. I wrote about most of those in the Gutsy Girl and I talked about them. So on a subtler level… I will say by the way that most adventurous offer me one or more epiphanies, which is why I do adventures. But what I remember is when I went on a sea kayak trip down the coast of Baja and I wasn’t an expert see kayaker and neither was my friend, but we read this book that this woman a written about her own sea kayak trip down Baja and she listed the routes where you pull into camp, what you would need to bring, how’d you get down there. And we followed that book to the T. We had our own just great adventure because it was Baja, which is just rampant wilderness. We saw nobody for the first seven days of paddling. And we had to bring all our water. It was pristine ocean and so much wildlife and really was just a huge adventure. And it wasn’t like we were experts see kayakers. We had taught ourselves how to navigate, but I remember on the second leg… So we did one seven-day leg and then we pulled out, hitchhiked back to our car, drove down to another part of Baja and did another trip that she had outlined for us in her book. We ran into this group of expert see kayakers. They were from the bay area. They were a paddling association. And they asked us with a quite a bit a disdain, do you know how to roll? Both Trish and I looked at them and were like, no, we don’t know how to roll our fully loaded water sea kayaks. And they said, if you don’t know how to roll, you shouldn’t be down here. And at first, I was really taken aback and thought, wow, I wonder if they are right.
And then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I could understand their point. They were basically saying you can’t be a yahoo when you go on trips. We were already kind of yahoos; we were doing this from a book.
But we were also competent. We knew how to paddle. We knew how to swim. We were really good outdoors people. We had taught ourselves to use a compass on a kayak. We understood the weather. This was well before cellphones. But in fact we had really taken care of pretty much everything and rolling would have been great, but it wasn’t something that should’ve stopped us from this trip. What I remember thinking is, wow, you know, I bet there’s a lot of people who stop themselves from doing things because they just don’t think they’re expert enough. And while I think you need to be really sure that you can handle things. You don’t have to be an expert on everything. There is a point where people are like planning and planning and preparing and preparing, and they never actually do their adventure, or they just never do their adventure because they don’t think it’s possible for them. When it is possible with a book and with the right mind set, the right adventure partner, and the right basic set of skills. I guess Tim talks about this. Like what is the percentage of the thing you need to know–the least percentage– in order to have the best time. And I think that rolling was not part of that. And years later, in fact, I went on a sea kayak trip with two friends and again we just looked at maps and went from island to island in Belize. And this time we were on sit on tops and sit on tops have no deck so I mean rolling is not even part of the equation when you see a kayak like that. So I would say that in terms of life changing it made me realize that inertia is a powerful force to stop you from having adventures because if you can get some time off work and get a little money together and have the right person, all the other tools are at your fingertips, at least they were for me. And for that, I’m super grateful.
How do you slow down at night and prepare for the next day?
Well, my night time routine is to try to get to bed as early as possible because I am the most productive in the morning and I’m not a night person. So in some ways, my night routine is not of use because I just simply get tired. I don’t sleep that well, but I do get tired. So a couple things: I don’t drink water after a certain time so I have to get up in the middle of the night to pee. Do not do that. I also don’t look at screens about a half hour before I go to sleep. You know after the show when I talked about how difficult it was for me to get a good night’s sleep I got some people getting in touch with me about sleeping well, which is my next step to look into. But for now, my major concern is always my morning because I really, really want to feel good in the morning.
Thanks for your question.
You mention in episode one about flying, but I was curious why did you start flying?
I think started flying because I remember one very specific flying dream when I was a kid. I was flying like Superman, which is what we used to watch when we were kids. It was over a city at night so is all the lights. And it just looks so beautiful and I think I always had that in my mind. As well as the fact that flying seems to be the up most adventure and I had heard of Amelia Earhart when I was a kid. She was a female adventurer. So I think that also meant that for me flying was an option. I mean I had this great role model of outdoor adventure. So I began flying Cessna when I was eighteen. Even though I love that feeling of loosening from the earth and looking down and seeing that panorama below. Flying Cessnas never really made me that intrigued because, as I say in the book, it wasn’t really like flying like a bird; it was more like flying in a can of soup. So I changed to paragliders, which was a new sport at the time when I picked it up, very new. It had been invented by climbers who wanted to get off a mountain without having to climb down. So they basically designed this sort of wing-like parachute that has a good glide ratio. So I flew paragliders for many years and I loved it because it was on silent and you really did feel like you’re flying like a bird. I flew in Mexico and in Brazil and along the cliffs in California. And then at some point, I decided– after I’d had many knee surgeries from being a firefighter– that I should probably switch to powered flight again, but Cessnas because it didn’t interest me. I’d long been intrigued by what they called then ultralights. And so I became a pilot of these hang gliders with go-karts underneath them and lawnmower motors are basically what they look like.
And that’s what I fly now and I love it. It’s exhilarating to look down on the earth from that perspective and the thing about weight shift trikes, which is what we call these hang glider-type contraptions, is that you can fly very low and slow so you see a lot of things. I see coyotes. I see leopard sharks. I see incredible mansions over in the Napa Valley and see all different kinds of landscapes– the ocean, the sort of rolling hills of California and lots and lots of vineyards. So it’s a beautiful way to get a perspective on things. And when I go flying I often feel like all my problems are so small because I see from above just how big the world seems and how insignificant I do. That’s a prospective changer for me.
The thing about flying though is that it is kind of lonely because when you’re up there you are very alone. If something happens nobody can help you. And it’s sobering that way. But it’s lonely in a sort of existential way, which I think I’ve always liked. Then there are moments when you you do remember that you’re actually not alone up there. I remember when I heard over the radio a pilot calling in a mayday. He had something wrong with this plane. I don’t remember what it was, but he was going to come in with straight in landing to the airport, could everybody please get out of his way. And you could hear the tension in his voice and the trepidation. And then another voice came on and it was another pilot and he said really calmly, “Hey, buddy you’re going to be fine. Just remember to use your checklist. Remember to, you know, da da da.” I remember thinking, “oh, okay, even in the most loneliest, scariest moments, you know, somebody can come in, calm you down and remind you to do the right steps.” Because this is the time when you’re liable to make a mistake.
I myself had engine issues once and I remember watching the temperatures rise on my panel and thinking, “ah, I’m going to have to ditch.” But ditching is not really the right word when you’re talking about a hang glider with a motor. We do have a glide ratio, but I was still gonna have to make an emergency landing if I did make it to the nearest airport. I knew where the nearest airport was so I thought, “I really don’t want to make an emergency landing.” I’ve done those before and they can get really hairy so let’s try to make it to the airport before my engine seizes. So I’m looking at my instrument panel and I’m heading right to the airport and I call in like that other guy did, keeping my voice as calm as possible, saying, “I have an engine problem. I’m coming straight in. Please, please clear the way if anybody’s in the traffic pattern.” It was a rinkie dink airport and it was dusk and no I didn’t get that soothing voice over the radio telling me that everything was gonna be okay. I didn’t get anybody. Nobody heard me. I land. My engine does not seize; it’s completely over heating though. I get out. I’m so relieved and I look over and I see a light in a hangar and I walk over and I say as nonchalantly as possible, “Yeah, I had a little difficulty. I had to make an emergency landing here.” And he said, “oh, come bring your plane in and you can keep it here overnight and I’ll take you back to your airport.” And of course when you’re a pilot and you’re hanging with other pilots that doesn’t mean you get a car. It means you get to his super trekked, low-wing aerobatic plane and he flies you back your airport. And you realize at one, first off how close that call was and secondly, you know what a great community pilots are. So flying has really offered me not only adventure and moments of poignancy and moments of relief but also these moments of great camaraderie.
Was there any moment when you became trapped or needed rescue yourself? How did this affect you? How did you move forward from there?
When I was a firefighter, I never needed anybody to rescue me and in most of my adventures when I did get myself into a hairy situation I did get myself out, but there was one instance on the mountain of Denali where I did need rescuing. It taught me a very huge lesson, actually two in fact. I talk about this incident in my book, The Gutsy Girl, so I’ll be quick about it. If you want to read about it, please pick up the book. Denali is a mountain in Alaska and it’s known to mountaineers for it’s very dangerous weather. But the year I went— I went actually twice– but this one year I went as a volunteer to help the Park Rangers at base camp at eight thousand because one my very good friends Eric was one of the kickass emergency paramedic– rescue paramedics– very brave guy, super great mountaineer. So it was me, Trish and Eric. That year was really warm so we decided that we would ski from base camp at eight thousand to fourteen thousand because this terrible weather Denali was known for suddenly wasn’t happening. So we began our ascent using skins and rope together like mountaineers do and the nightmare happened. Eric fell in a crevasse and I was only competent in rope rescue because I had been a long time member of rescue 2 and we were very well trained in rope rescue. But there’s a big difference in performing rope rescue when you’re an urban firefighter with ten of your friends who trained with you and there’s a big fire engine with a big bumper that you can attach your rope to as an anchor. In this situation it was just snow. So I had to set up an anchor to stabilize Eric and Trish, who were both on the rope, and pull Eric up, who was not responding. For all, we knew he was dead. Making an anchor in that kind of snow was so brutal for me because the snow was so soft.
What I learned was that because I wasn’t experienced. I was relying on my narrow range of knowledge to set this anchor and it will all the traditional methods weren’t working well because of how soft the snow was. Sometime in the middle of this terrible ordeal, where we’re setting up an anchor, and not an anchor we were sure of in the end and then trying to begin our leverage system to pull Eric up, Trish yells that there were climbers coming and that they could help us and the first thing I said to her is, “No way. We’re doing this ourselves.” Now my friend Eric is dangling at the end, unresponsive, in a deep crevasse. We know he’s badly hurt if he’s not dead even and the first thing I think of when I see rescue is no way we have to do this ourselves hurry up. That is the wrong attitude. Trish was rightly really angry at me and said we’re in trouble and we need these people and she was right. Even though as an outdoors person I have a very strong belief that we had to get ourselves out of the situations we get ourselves into. Well, I was not doing it and we needed the help and sure enough, these climbers come and they give us the look of disdain that we deserved for being unable to handle these conditions that were unexpected and difficult. They pulled Eric out. When he got to the surface and gain consciousness… he had a very bad head wound and was not altogether there, but the first thing he said to me is, “Do not call a helicopter, please. Do not call a helicopter. I’ll ski down.” And I looked at him and knew exactly where he was coming from. He didn’t want to be rescued either. He didn’t want to be humiliated in front of his peers. He knew that if you are an outdoors person and you got yourself into something, you had to get yourself out so he wanted to ski down. I just looked at him and I said, “I know honey. I know exactly what you’re talking about, but we’re calling that helicopter.”
So there’s a lot of lessons on pride there. Look, I might have been, you know, I am a rope person because I was a firefighter in a big city, but what I lacked was a specific experience on the mountain. So what I didn’t have was a nimble mind. I kept trying to use the techniques that I’d been taught in crevasse rescue because I had done some practice crevasse training of course, but I kept using those same techniques that I’d been taught to try to set this anchor that took so long to set because of the terrible snow. When I should have immediately been way more nimble mentally and seen that what I was doing wasn’t working and that I would have to get creative and the way you get creative and what any really good mountaineer would have done… She would have immediately taken off her ski and seen what her ski could do and buried in the snow and use that as an anchor because when you bury a ski perpendicular to snow, it acts like what we call a dead man– a completely secure anchor because of the way that it leverages against the snow. You bury it perpendicular so any pulling on it… that ski will not dislodge no matter how soft that snow is. But, of course, I wasn’t that mountaineer. I was a person who learned by the book and was trying to execute by the book even though nothing about the situation was by the book as they never are in the wilderness. What I learned… now, if I ever get my myself into that situation again, I will be very quick to see whether I am simply trying to do the same lame thing over and over or whether I should be trying to think outside the box and blow apart the box that I’ve been taught to find new creative ways to get myself out of that situation. When you ask what did I what I take away from that, those are the two things: pride and get creative, because what you learned in perfect situation is not going to be what you can apply when things hit the fan. And on that note I’ll wrap it up. You guys sent more questions, but they pretty much covered all that territory so thanks so much for listening. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. Thank you.