The Fear is Real!
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela
Lots of people have said to me: "You go on lot of adventures, but they are always cold or in the mountains. Would you consider a jungle trek?"
My response is always the same: "There are no bugs in cold mountain environments. There are bugs in the jungle. I don't 'do' bugs"
This dislike of bugs comes from a very specific fear... A fear that has been with me for many years...
Imagine the scene... It's the middle of summer. A very light breeze cools the otherwise hot air [but not too hot!] on a beautiful sunny day in the countryside.
We are sat outside a remote pub enjoying lunch with an ice cold lemonade.
Suddenly, like an evil ninja dressed in a stupid yellow and black stripy outfit, a wasp decides that he wants to attack!
Yes. Attack! All wasps are in attack mode!
Regardless of conversation, or what delicious meal I am enjoying. I leap away from the group and run at least 50m from this deadly assassin.
If you've seen me around a wasp, you will know that the fear is real. It's not just sweaty palms, but a full panic attack ensues... I have to get away immediately!
Nowhere to run...
A few years ago I was multi-pitch rock climbing with a friend.
I was leading the third pitch, 90m off the ground, and precariously manoeuvring on the tiny holds offered by a vertical lump of rock. My last piece of protection was placed 8m below me and my belayer was 4m below that.
I suddenly stopped and started waving my right arm (left arm pinched in a tiny hole in the rock in order to keep me upright and attached to the cliff face).
"What the hell are you doing?", said my belayer.
"I'm being attacked by wasps!", was my response.
"Just leave them and they'll go away!", he said.
"No they fucking won't. They are attacking me!", was my panicked retort.
"Just put some gear (protection) in [the rock], otherwise you're going to take a pretty big fall!", he insisted.
"No fucking way!" - I climbed the rest of that pitch as fast as I could without placing any more protection...
No way around
A few years after the climbing assault, I was visiting friends - Richard and Annabelle - in Hong Kong.
It was hot and sticky in the city, so we decided to go for a hike in the hills with one of their friends (I can't remember his name, so lets call him James)
The hike was stunning. We hiked through woodland, along hill tracks surrounded by lush green vegetation, scrambled crags and walked along ridges, with a backdrop of hilly countryside and sea.
As the day came to an end, we descended back to the harbour for food and post-hike refreshment.
All went well... Until...
Richard and Annabelle were walking about 100m behind me and James when a man appeared as we hiked along a forest track.
This man had his top off and was covered in red blotches. He was walking fast and didn't look too happy.
He stopped and looked at us with the eyes of a madman.
"Are you ok?", we asked.
"Beware!", he hushed in a tone akin to a horror movie.
"I'm sorry?", we replied.
"Beware!", he repeated.
"Beware of what?", we nervously asked.
"Beware. Zee Bees!".
It was at this point my heart rate shot up. Whilst my fear is wasps. What about the aggressive, Asian bees/wasps/hornets I'd heard about? - This was terrifying!
James, knowing the area, found out where 'Zee Bees' were from this clearly upset Frenchman.
They were hiding in the bushes next to the track.
They were waiting.
They swarmed the Frenchman as he walked past.
"Errrr... They did what?", I asked.
"They all fly from the nest and sting me!" he said.
"Is there any way to avoid it?", I pleaded.
"No. You must use the track", He replied.
"So, what do we do?" I nervously said.
His response still haunts my thoughts... It gives me chills even here, as I type this blog in the safety of a Peak District pub...
His response was plain and simple.
He looked at me with wider eyes than I thought was possible and stated in a gruff whisper: "RUN!"
Oh my god! What was I going to do!?
I sent James off first (obviously!). I kept my distance behind him, slowly tiptoeing along the track as if the silence could hide our presence and 'Zee Bees' wouldn't notice us!
Then BAM! - hundreds of bees(/wasps?) flew from the bush on the left and engulfed James.
He shouted and ran. I ran back from where we came. Face-to-face with Richard and Annabelle who had also passed the crazed Frenchman and thought we'd told him to mention 'Zee Bees' as a joke.
They saw the fear in my eyes. They knew this was real. They knew this was not a joke.
I then did, quite possibly, the bravest thing I think I've ever done... To demonstrate to Richard and Annabelle where they needed to 'RUN!' and for them to see, first-hand, what happens - I took to the death track and ran!
Head down, like a charging bull, I ran as fast as I could. I ran past the nest. The bees(/wasps?) attacked. I felt them fly in to me as I passed. Richard and Annabelle saw the ferocity of this swarm. But no stings. Win!
The fear is real
For those of you that may have climbed at Stone Farm Rock (East Sussex) with me, there is something that you don't know.
There is one route that I have never, and will never, set a rope.
And the reason? Wasps regularly nest in the tree above it. This route is off limits ad infinitum.
And why do I have this fear?
Rational or Irrational? I don't care.
The fear is real...
When I was 11-years old, I was readying myself for P.E. at school. I had my shorts and T-shirt on and just needed to put on my plimsols for an afternoon of running around a field like a lunatic.
I sat on the rug in the corner of the classroom so not to fall over when doning my fake Dunlop Greenflash.
I sat on 2 wasps.
I was stung 5 times on my bum.