Over the last few years, I’ve been on a quest to tackle all those things that scare me. I’m frequently questioned on my reasoning, but there is method to my madness. I know that when we move beyond fear, we move closer to freedom.

For me, freedom is the goal. Freedom to live the life I want, untethered by limitations I may impose on myself because I’m scared.

When I drove from the UK to Croatia back in 2020, on my own, in Winter, with my cat, I was terrified. A bad car accident in my youth had left me anxious as a driver and as a passenger, but I was determined to not let this stop me.

It was a massive emotional challenge for me, but it was also the best decision I made in my life. My decision was pure instinct, following my gut, and my heart, to a place I knew I was meant to be. My latest mission here in Croatia took me into more unchartered territory as I embarked on a HIGHLANDER Adventure in Medvednica, a nature park close to Zagreb.

Photo: Samir Kurtagic

HIGHLANDER - a hiking endurance event, involving 3 days of tough hiking, with everything you need on your back, including your tent which you pitch up in the wild, along with around 100 other participants.

It was, of course, a conscious choice I made. No one was forcing me to do it, but when I tuned into my body, it was a “yes” in spite of the challenge I knew it would be. The words in my head were: “If it excites you and scares you at the same time, you have to do it”.

Of course I had fears.

  • Can I do this?
  • Have I got the right kit?
  • What if I get my period?

But I knew at the other side of that fear would be a stronger, healthier and perhaps even happier me. I was right. Fear is often given a bad rap, but it’s useful sometimes.

For instance:

  • When it pushes us outside our comfort zone
  • When it motivates us towards something that is good for us
  • When we realise that it is under our “conscious control”, and that on the other side, is freedom.

The key part of this is conscious control. We decide which fears may be warnings, and therefore need extra preparation, and which fears are just the ego at work. When I realise my biggest fear is the latter, the fear of coming last, I have a strong word with myself and get to work. “Control the controllables”, I tell myself.

Photo: Samir Kurtagic

I get in training, not just my physical fitness, but also getting my hormones in check, and my mindset shifted to positive. It helps to accept that I’m scared. Just as it helps to accept that it’s going to be difficult. A positive mindset is one thing, delusion is something else, and not helpful.

I recall a passage I read in “The Road Less Travelled”, one of my favourite books by an author called M Scott Peck.

“Life is difficult. Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters”.

It’s the same with hiking, and specifically HIGHLANDER.

The whole point is that it’s difficult, but the moment I accepted it was difficult, it became easier. The difficulty was just a fact I couldn’t change, so I put my focus elsewhere.

The beautiful scenery from Medvednica mountain, the showers of golden leaves in the woods, the feeling of being above the clouds, all those moments that reminded me that “life is magic” - this is what I chose to focus on.

Photo: Samir Kurtagic

The part I wasn’t expecting is how much FUN it is!

Especially at the end of the day, when you crack open that first beer, take a seat around the campfire, and just soak up the sounds and the atmosphere with other nature-lovers from all walks of life, sharing a moment in time you will never forget.

Types of fun

It’s what’s called “Type 2 fun” - it’s hard at the time, but not like “Type 1 fun” which is just easy “play”, with no sense of accomplishment at the end.

With Type 2 fun, you finish and you’re buzzing, you’re sharing stories with your challenge buddies, and you want to do it all again.

And Type 3 Fun (there are only 3 levels), well that’s not fun at the time, but also it’s not even fun when you reflect back on it, so basically it’s not fun at all.

When asked if you want to do it again, it’s a “hard no”.

I’d say HIGHLANDER Medvednica is a cross between Type 1 and Type 2 fun.

There are times I’m in a state of pure, unadulterated joy. And there are times I’m questioning why I’m not on a boat on the Adriatic Sea, eating sea bass and drinking Malvasija. But later I’m glad I did it. I’m even glad I chose the tougher route, taking in Horvat’s 500 steps - this was absolutely my favourite part.

I’d chosen to make it a challenge.

I’d chosen to make myself stronger.

I’d chosen to move through my fear and into freedom.

As with all those other decisions I made that involved a challenge, it was one of the best decisions I made in my life.

Photo: Samir Kurtagic

As they say on HIGHLANDER, “the best view comes after the hardest climb”.

HIGHLANDER, a Croatian company, has events all over the world, including The Lake District UK in July 2023, and Velebit Croatia in September 2023.

For details go to www.highlanderadventure.com.

Author: Gillie Sutherland

Gillie Sutherland

Her purpose is to inspire others to live healthier, happier lives and to go back to a more natural way of living. She has been a weekly columnist in The Express and Echo (UK) for the past 8 years, and more recently The Dubrovnik Times in Croatia, and she is currently developing a new model for Eco-Wellness, an alternative and more sustainable approach to health, travel and lifestyle.