Doubt & Risk:

Pushing Personal Boundaries in the Outdoors

Photography and Words by Mary Jantsch

Hand after hand, foot after foot, I reached up above me as my bicep extended and pulled me skyward. The sun was beating down on both my back and the basalt pillars I was ascending as sweat dripped from my brow. With a deep breath I pushed up reaching toward the top of the pillar. The Columbia River Gorge opened up to me and I looked out at the gigantic tectonic plates that had waged war on the land below.

The world fell quieter as doubt and fear began to creep into my head. All I could really hear was my heartbeat.

In that same moment, I could feel it coming on. The world fell quieter as doubt and fear began to creep into my head. All I could really hear was my heartbeat. I looked down at my feet and tightened my grasp on the rock wall. Down below, Eric could recognize the signs and tightened the slack on the rope, the closest thing he could do to holding my hand from that distance. ‘You got it, Mar!’, he yelled up.

I took a deep breath and repeated my go-to nerve squelching mantra ‘You are a badass rock climber’. The phrase changes slightly depending on my activity. More recently I’ve become accustomed to repeating, ‘You are a badass mountain biker chick’. I see these incredible women bombing down technical trails and jumping off roots. I see them fully committing to grasping for that next hold up above them as their quads and calves spring off the rock ledge below. I think, at one point, I was maybe even close to being one of these badass climber chicks.

But these days, I feel more compelled by the ‘eek, scary!’ voice in my head than the ‘you got this!’ voice.

Mary Jantsch Doubt and Risk Rock Climber

I’ve been humbled by the outdoors in a way that makes me realize how much I have to learn. I’ve been taught to listen, to be positive, to remain fully engaged. I’ve been shown that people can be taken by these outdoor activities so central to their core.

As I’ve gotten a little older in my outdoor pursuits, I feel a deeper tie to nerves and a higher sense of the risk. Maybe it’s a developing level of maturity, an instinctual part of aging or first hand experience with mortality in the outdoors.

There are also very confident people that push their limits and fortunately haven’t come eye to eye with the risk that is alive in certain outdoor sports.

And then, certainly, there are people who have found middle ground:

There’s a story that has had a big impact on my life. The brave author, Mike Link, shares the experience of losing his son in a kayaking accident and writes:

Risk is part of the wilderness experience, a part of the beauty of our relationship with the outdoors. Risk is inherent in our freedom: the freedom to test our own personal limits and to test our skills against the outdoors. Risk is a necessary part of growing up, of just growing. 

Later on in Mike’s story he says, “Physical death is inevitable. Spiritual death is different.”  I definitely haven’t truly experienced either, though I used to have more push to continually strive for my best and grow by pushing my personal boundaries in the outdoors. The ‘you got this!’ voice would squelch the nerves without me really even feeling them.

And, I have lost that. Temporarily.

Mary Jentsch Doubt and Risk Lady in the Landscape

I don’t think this is a black or white thing, perhaps more of a pendulum swinging back and forth and sometimes staying just a touch longer in that sweet spot of balanced confidence and nerves.

I’ve seen first hand that women have an incredible strength for empowering each other. As I work to rebuild my confidence and will the pendulum to stick in the middle, I wanted to try vocalizing my mantras in a slightly louder place than my head and heart:

I am a badass mountain biker and I am a badass climber. And, so are you.

See more from Mary Jantsch on Instagram and learn more on her Website.

How do you balance doubt and risk?