This is What Fear Smells Like

Sometimes I wish my mother was more like Alexander the Great’s mother. His mom put his confidence above his mental health or the wellbeing of anyone in their kingdom. She told him he was a demigod and couldn’t possibly do wrong. I’m sure this is a great way to completely imbalance your kid and give them crippling social problems… but virtually everyone I know has crippling social problems anyway, so why not make it the fun ones.

My parents have always supported my choices, but it’s sort of a resigned support. They are not partners or advocates for anything I do: it just doesn’t make sense to them. Same thing for my sister’s big plans. So they tell us they are proud and wish us well on our crazy quests, and then we go off and do them.

I don’t really wish my Mom was any different. With all the broken homes and angry parents in the world, our little family came out alright. But I think we’re all of us handicapped in fearlessness. The level of anxiety and fear that people have in the 21st century does not correspond at all to the level of risk and pain that most of us face. We could use some Queen Olympia.

A certain level of fear is bred into us. The history of human development has been a shift toward more obedience, more settlement, more acceptance of authority. Biochemistry isn’t possible for nomads. All those centuries of sanctioning a settled, lawful lifestyle allowed us to make advances, but it comes with some debt to pay off.

Here’s what I thought I was afraid of. Starting two months ago I became terrified of my own Adventure. The whole plan began to seem overwhelming and completely crazy. I enjoyed being with my family and visiting longtime friends. I started to think I made a mistake.

I began to cling to my (temporary) settled lifestyle.

This always gets me. I have a soft spot for comfort and security. There are a lot of reasons I had a half-hearted marriage for three years, but it could all be summed up pretty well as “Drew really wanted to be married.” (I also blame the tequila, but still.) The reason I owned a house was similar.

So I always perceived a tension between my desire to adventure and my lust for security. That tension came to its boiling point in April. The reality of traveling through the Americas—danger, cost and discomfort—became my nightmare.

I did what I usually do. I dug in. I spent more and more time at home, reading, working and planning. I turned down options to go do fun and amazing things because I had to work harder to be as ready as possible.

Then I went on my kayaking trip. I didn’t want to go on the kayaking trip—sure I love Mitch, and I love the outdoors, but I had work to do! How could I give up a whole week and a couple hundred dollars when I had work to do?

Pretty easily.

A good policy I’ve learned: when you have an opportunity to do something unique, take it. So I went kayaking on Lake Superior. With someone I’d never met. And no money.


All the tension, fear and worry I’d been feeling melted away—not  just in the moment, as tends to happen on holiday, but completely. Even after returning home, and to this day, I feel a total calm about my impending journey.

Even though we’re bred to crave a settled, secure lifestyle, that is not who we evolved to be. From inside my little reliable box the Adventure was a dangerous, terrifying thing. It was easy to write it off and pull back from it. 8,000 years of Emperors told us to want houses, money and jobs. Traveling free spirits tend to get the stocks.

But when you explore, the horizon changes. Before the emperors were 500,000 years of walking wherever the hell you wanted to walk, of facing down predators with very little backup, of fucking and sleeping in the sun. That’s all we really want, and it’s the one thing Amazon can’t sell you.

Security makes us afraid. You can only fear what’s outside if you’re inside.

The whole time I was tense and afraid, I thought it was because of my Adventure. But it wasn’t. It was lack of adventure—it was four walls and a refrigerator that gave me something to fear.

What do you fear?