Why I'm afraid and why I like it. - 4 minute read / by Cormac O'Brien

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.
— Ferris Bueller

For 2 summers in a row, I have taken a road trip on my motorcycle from my home of Santa Barbara, CA, to Jacksonville, OR, for the annual Rat Race Paragliding competition. (Yes, paragliding competitions exist and this is how they work.)  With a month off work, my paraglider already on it’s way north, my bike packed with spare parts, tools, and all weather gear, I had only one thought, “Let’s do this.” 

 The Plan: 

·  To take myself, my bike, and my camping gear on a journey through twenty five hundred miles of the most twisted backcountry roads that I can find, ultimately landing in Southern Oregon.

·  To participate in a paragliding maneuvers/safety course which will force me to do unspeakable things to my wing while flying.  (You should note that this is still terrifying for me even after thirteen years as a pilot)

·  To be a “wind-dummy” at the Rat Race Paragliding Open - In other words, being one of the first to launch to test flying conditions and is potentially challenging for even the most experienced pilots.

·  To rendezvous and backpack through the Sierra Mountains with good friends

· To hook up with a good pal and spend a few days exploring the wilderness and national parks via bike before slugging it back home.

 About 3 evenings before “go-time”, I feel my frazzled, yet, excited nerves strike back.  I wake in a cold sweat with my heart beating out of my chest - Thank You body.  I have managed to bream a grueling and painful plot twist for my upcoming adventure - Thank You brain.  My psyche has now successfully seeded serious doubts into my “oh so meticulously planned” adventure.  But it’s OK right?  It was only a bad dream?  I remember sitting up in bed and saying to myself, “What are you thinking?”  A whisper of something very real has now begun to germinate and unfortunately those neuronal pathways now created in my brain don’t lead myself to puppies and rainbows….. Buzzkill!

I then ask myself, “What could possibly go wrong?”  I'm a planner, I try to anticipate mishaps and am *relatively careful.   I learned the first time doing this that:

Adventure really begins when your planning stops.


Slugging through 14 hour rides in head to toe gear in brutal summer heat, almost crashing more times than I’d like to admit, breaking down in the middle of nowhere, and nearly dislocating my shoulder after throwing my first reserve chute during the paragliding maneuvers clinic (yes, I’m still getting acupuncture to help heal it), I find myself humbled and thankfully came out mostly unscathed.  The relationship with my fear, i.e. the daunting “what-ifs” and gory mental projections had become a mere memory.  I had now only newly discovered that they originated from someone completely different than myself .  That’s because they did come from someone else - but that person was no longer me.  

 I learned that unforeseen circumstances are the opportunities for us to grow the most.  These challenges are merely doorways.  Recognizing the growth that comes with these accomplishments and looking back through the doorway that I left behind is the cheese in my macaroni; the stuff that builds courage and inspires me to keep reaching or more.  The venerable blogger Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, created a term I find especially awesome, “Joyfear”.  Yesssssss, this is in fact the perfect formula.


Having only joy is great. Having only fear sucks. But having both … that’s life-defining.
— Leo Babauta

So, am I an adrenaline addict?  Much to my chagrin, I actually don’t think so.  I don’t have overwhelming cravings or withdrawal symptoms if I don’t get to do these things, nor do I have any “dependent criteria”.  

What I do have is this:  A serious understanding of my mortality.  Don’t think that I am weird, but I think about death a lot.  Working in an Emergency Room and in an ambulance setting over the last decade has been the biggest wake up call that I could have ever asked for.  One day you’re  (insert adjective) and BOOM!  Just like that you’re diagnosed with some terminal disease or a MACK truck comes and gives you wings.  These things happen more frequently than I like to admit.  If it hasn’t happened to you or someone you know, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, it probably will.   We all can’t be outliers, sorry… So what do I get out of it?  Do I feel more alive?  Maybe. What I do know I get are these things in varying doses: Peace, Silence, Focus, Stillness.  But why?  Can't I just go meditate or do some yoga in a forrest or something?  I really resonate with my friend and 2015 NatGeo adventurer of the year Gavin McClurg while he and friends surfed the sierras and completed some seriously harrowing and dangerous cross country paragliding/camping:


A lot of people call us crazy, maybe we are. We’re also afraid, afraid of life on the ground, afraid of routine... People have to meditate for years to become present, all we have to do is launch.
— Gavin Mclurg https://vimeo.com/60349975


When facing these challenges, as trivial or real as they may be to each of us, the “just out of bearable thresholds” are where the sexiest magic happens.  Once stretched, we will never return to its original shape.  Depending on which door we pass through, we can be left with regret, or on the contrary if we take the chance we can find ourselves relishing in the jubilant little victories of the soul when we saw it through to the end.  This is what it is about to me and I want more.  Someday I won’t be able to do this stuff any longer.  But while I still can, I’m holding on for dear life and taking the ride.

 I invite you to talk share your dealings with fear and how you overcame them below. If so inclined, check out the video of this adventure HERE



Follow me on my next adventures HERE