Only thing to fear is fear it­self


It was the be­gin­ning of the end of a re­la­tion­ship and it hap­pened in Tofino on Canada’s Van­cou­ver Is­land in Bri­tish Columbia. A scruffy dog, which seemed un­fazed by the con­stant driz­zle as he lay out­side a warm, beck­on­ing bak­ery, rep­re­sented the first step on a path I couldn’t see at the time.

A wave of con­cern swept over me and I asked the bak­ery owner if she knew who owned the placid dog get­ting wet out­side. “Oh, he’s fine … he’s tough,” she said, ex­plain­ing her fam­ily had saved him from be­ing drowned as a puppy. “We got him to pro­tect us from the cougars.”

“The what?” I asked. “The cougars,” she replied non­cha­lantly. There had been a cou­ple of at­tacks in re­cent years around the small sea­side town of Tofino — only on the young and el­derly — but they were ev­ery­where, she said. Up un­til then I hadn’t con­sid­ered cougars in Canada. Bears, sure, but not all the other an­i­mals that could rip you apart with their bare claws.

My boyfriend at the time was un­per­turbed. He’d lived in Canada, walked its forests; I hadn’t. That night at the back­pack­ers’ hos­tel, the man­ager picked up on my del­i­cate ques­tions and, like an Aus­tralian alarm­ing vis­i­tors with tall tales of car­niv­o­rous “drop bears”, fired me up with sto­ries about cougars. I begged my boyfriend not to go on a trip we’d lined up for the next day to walk through an iso­lated for­est. Cougars could swim and hun­gry ones at­tacked, so how hun­gry would one on an is­land be? I went to the hos­tel kitchen and grabbed a knife. If a cougar at­tacked, I’d be ready.

Walk­ing through the for­est the next day my boyfriend even­tu­ally asked what I was hold­ing on to in my bag as I stared like a crazy woman at the branches above. He soon dis­cov­ered the knife. My fear of cougars would ruin my trip, fear would ruin my re­la­tion­ship but, as I’ve aged, I’ve learned how not to let fear ruin my life.

This year I re­turn to Canada, stay­ing in four and five star ho­tels in­stead of hos­tels. Tofino is on my must-do list. It’s achingly beau­ti­ful. Twenty years on, I un­der­stand fear and what re­ally sparks it (not cougars).

I’d love to see a cougar, al­though I know how un­likely that is. Tofino is a re­minder of how far I’ve come. Send your 400-word contribution to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­

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