Traveling the world has had such a lasting and positive impact on my life. I’ve met amazing people and eaten exotic food, but the best thing traveling did for me was force me to confront my fear. I’m going to tell you about how I traveled 8,000 miles to overcome my greatest fear.
An Origin Story
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m afraid of dogs, but no one knows why, so I’ll give you the backstory.
It was a day that followed the same pattern as many others. I was walking to the supermarket with a friend who I’ll refer to as Jamal to protect his identity. Each time we walked to that particular supermarket, we had to pass the alleyway where this giant angry German Shepard lived. His yard was the very last one in the alley, and apparently, he hated the company.
Normally, we’d walk past his yard, he’d go crazy, and we’d think nothing of it because he was locked behind a gate that was secured with an iron chain and a padlock. Whenever we walked by, he’d bang against the gate, and you’d hear the rumble of the iron chain. He always raised hell until he could no longer see us. The rattle of the chain comforted me because it meant he couldn’t escape and eat me.
But this day would prove to be different.
Little did we know, the German Shephard’s gate was unlocked, and he was free to escape whenever he wanted to. He just so happened to plan his escape for the precise moment that we’d be passing his yard.
Unaware of the ensuing jailbreak, we leisurely strolled past the alleyway as we discussed important kid-business such as what type of candy we’d buy at the store. Right on cue, the German Shephard started barking and going crazy. But this time, there was no rumble from the iron chain, and I instantly knew something was wrong.
I turned around and saw the mammoth beast running towards us, so I screamed, “Jamal, run!” And he did just that. We both did, but this is the part where Jamal’s selective amnesia kicks-in, and he starts forgetting details.
He asked me why we were running as if he was oblivious to the sound of impending death screaming towards us at breakneck speed. I frantically replied, “dog!”
And just like that, my life was changed forever.
Jamal pushed me to the ground, and then he leaped over an entire mailbox as he turned the corner and escaped to safety. I was left to face the beast alone and to make peace with my future as an afternoon snack.
The German Shephard caught up to me while I sat on the ground trying to make sense of what had just happened. When he arrived to claim his prize, he slowly paced around me and licked his muzzle. I imagine he was thinking about how juicy I’d be since I was pleasantly plump at the time.
He launched his attack and took hold of my elbow for what seemed like an eternity. I’m sure he savored every bit of my elbow as he’d been trying to escape his yard for as long as I could remember, and I was probably one of his most desired targets.
The dog stopped attacking just as quickly as he began. I don’t know why he stopped biting me or where he went afterward, but I’m thankful he ended his meal early.
I got up, dusted myself off, and walked home with blood trickling down my arm. The only thought on my mind was how I’d make Jamal pay for this.
Ever since that day, I’ve had a thing about dogs.
20something years later, I found myself in Thailand.
Anyone who has ever lived in, or visited, Thailand can tell you that dogs run the streets at night. They roam the streets in packs and seemingly operate with complete impunity. Yes, it’s the perfect place to go when you’re scared of dogs.
The thing I admire most about Thai people is that they don’t appear to fear anything. Everyone is scared of something, but the only thing I know of that scares Thais is being accused of bad-mouthing the king.
I’ve seen a pack of dogs descend upon a local only to be swatted away like an insignificant fly. I couldn’t understand how they remained so calm with the endless supply of feral dogs walking the streets.
Little did I know, I would have ample opportunities to find out.
I got one heck of a welcome from my furry friends when I moved into my new apartment in Thailand. My neighbors had an enormous Rottweiler that they kept off the leash, and they had no fence around their yard.
One night, I was riding my motorbike with my girlfriend on the back, and it jumped out of the bushes and tried to attack the bike. I’m told that’s a common occurrence in Thailand, but it was new to me at the time.
I swerved to avoid the dog and found myself in oncoming traffic. A truck was headed right for us, and it was all unfolding at lightspeed. Luckily, I had the wherewithal to perform an evasive maneuver that would’ve made Vin Diesel proud, and I avoided becoming the latest Thailand driver statistic.
I had a rocky relationship with that Rottweiler for the entire year that I lived in Thailand. Sometimes, he’d try to bite me, and others, he’d just ignore me. He was quite temperamental.
We Came to Party
On this particular night, a group of us went to a friend’s property for a bonfire and a long night of partying. My girlfriend and I rode in the back of a pickup truck, so we left the motorbike at home that evening.
The property sat at the top of a small hill that was only accessible by going through a pothole-filled dirt road. It was surrounded by trees, and there were plenty of wild dogs living nearby. There were no street lights, and the area was pitch-black without the headlights from a vehicle.
After a marathon of partying and celebrating, 4 am came, and we were ready to go home, but the driver of the pickup truck didn’t feel like leaving yet, so we were stuck. We were trapped, and I hate being at someone else’s whim or mercy.
It’s for that precise reason that I always volunteer to drive when I’m back home in the States. When I decide it’s time to go, it’s time to go.
But as fate would have it, another reveler volunteered to give me a ride so that I could get my bike and return for my girlfriend. And with that, I got on the good Samaritan’s bike, and we made our way down the hill.
We made it about halfway down the dirt road, and the next thing I knew, I was flying through the air. The good Samaritan had hit one of the potholes, but I wasn’t worried about that in the slightest. I couldn’t have cared less that I had just been launched through the air like a missile.
I was preoccupied with the growling coming from the surrounding darkness, and I wasn’t ready to confront my greatest fear just yet. Fortunately, we were able to stand the bike up and get on our way before anything could happen, and I made it home relatively unscathed.
After making it home and grabbing my bike, I made my way back to the party. I tried to enjoy every bit of the clean air and open road along the way. I was having the time of my life, but I had no idea what was waiting for me back at the bonfire.
The Turning Point
I always laugh when I think about this because it’s straight out of a movie.
When I arrived at the entrance of the dirt road, there was a pack of dogs standing there waiting for me. I suspect it was the same group of dogs that I heard growling earlier in the night.
The pack leader stood in front of the others and barked as if he was warning me to stay away. I sat underneath the last streetlight on the road for a good five minutes as I contemplated my options. So many thoughts were racing through my head.
Is there an alternate route? No.
If I fall off this bike while riding up that hill, will the dogs kill me? Probably.
Do I have to go up that hill? Yes, because someone is waiting for me, and going home is not an option.
I remember the feeling of being abandoned in a similar situation, and I’d never do that to anyone, especially not my girlfriend.
Ultimately, I came to a decision. I was determined to overcome my fear in that very moment. After making peace with the situation, I put my helmet back on and revved my bike a few times to let the lead dog know I was coming.
I said a quick prayer and took off into the darkness. As I approached the foot of the hill, I let out my loudest roar like a knight charging into battle.
Before I knew it, I was surrounded by the pack of dogs and multitasking as if my life depended on it – which it probably did.
The dogs were running alongside the bike and snapping at my legs every time they got close. I had the unenviable task of kicking back at the dogs, maintaining my balance, and avoiding the potholes at the same time.
Eventually, I pulled away from the pack and arrived at my destination, but to my dismay, I was greeted by complete silence.
There were no lights, no people, and no music. Worst of all, the gate was locked.
Everyone had already left, and no one thought it’d be a good idea to let me know before I fought through that pack of dogs. I tried calling my girlfriend’s phone for a while, and then I realized that her phone was probably dead, so she couldn’t have let me know that everyone was leaving.
Did I go through all of that and confront my greatest fear for this?
After taking a few minutes to consider my next move, I got back on the bike and turned on the headlights. I had completely forgotten about the dogs by this point.
Unbeknownst to me, the pack of dogs had caught up and surrounded me while they were cloaked by the darkness. My back was literally against a wall since the gate to the property was locked.
You’d be amazed by the things you remember when you’re in a moment of crisis.
Within the span of a few seconds, I experienced the entire emotional spectrum. I was scared to death, and then I went into a do-what-you-gotta-do mode and felt fearless.
As the dogs slowly approached me, thoughts and memories rapidly flooded my brain. I remembered the way I felt when I was at the mercy of that German Shepherd as a child. Then, I had a flashback of my dad teaching me what to do if I ever found myself surrounded by multiple assailants. I remembered him telling me to go for “the mouthpiece.” That meant to disable the person who was doing the most talking because they’re probably the backbone of the group.
The pack leader was barking the most, and the other dogs appeared to take their orders from him, so he was the mouthpiece in this situation.
I had already decided to confront my greatest fear, so I owed it to myself to see it through. This time was going to be different than the last time I was face-to-face with an attacking dog. This would be the day that I’d overcome my greatest fear.
There was no way I was letting those dogs take me down after everything I had been through. I aimed my bike at the pack leader and went full throttle in his direction. He jumped out of the way, and I raced down the hill with the dogs hot on my tail.
Try as they might, they weren’t getting any dark meat that night.
A New Outlook
After the night of the bonfire, I wasn’t afraid of the local dogs anymore.
I had survived my absolute worst fear, so everything else seemed small in comparison after that. I even made friends with my neighbor’s Rottweiler, which I would’ve thought impossible before that fateful night.
They say bad things don’t happen to you, but they happen for you. I guess they’re right.
Thailand was my first international living experience. If I didn’t overcome my fear of dogs, I wouldn’t view travel or Thailand as positively as I do now.
When you travel, you will undoubtedly find yourself in difficult situations that will force you to overcome any fear or insecurities that you may have. It’s the gift and the curse, but it’s worth it.
Besides, fear is only an emotion. It’s what you do with it that counts.
A Jaded ’80s Baby