Fear of the Unknown

By: Jordan McHugh


There isn’t a road for miles. 27.8 miles, to be exact. Do you know how long it would take for help to come get you, out in the middle of the wilderness? Let’s just say that your attacker would be enjoying a nice cup of coffee while you still lay dead in the dirt.
Sounds far-fetched, doesn’t it?

Not when you’ve been backpacking for four days and campfire ghost stories replace prime-time TV. Murderers are a not so distant reality.

Well, this was my reality when I was backpacking deep in the Smoky Mountains during fall break.

Out in the wilderness the fear of unknown can be overwhelming. And that’s what makes scary stories scary, isn’t it? You know something bad is going to happen, you just don’t know how or when. And in a world of unknowns like a vast forest miles away from other humans, the power of a scary story is magnified.

After reading Black Hole and seeing those with “the bug” at a campsite all alone in the wilderness, I couldn’t help but relate it to a story someone told on our trip:

Two girls had been backpacking for weeks alone in the mountains of New Hampshire. Nothing out of the ordinary happened to them on this trip-no surprise ghost sightings, no Blair Witch, not even a bear to mess with their food. However, upon returning home, they got their pictures developed and realized that there was a picture of the two of them sleeping in their tent.

This story irks me due to the sheer likeliness that this could possibly happen. We are unaware and unknowing of what surrounds us in the darkness of a forest. When we are out on our own, we believe that monsters can lurk everywhere, because really they can! Even though I was with a group of people, I felt like there was someone watching our every move. Whether it’s Rick from our 5th period Calc class who now eats Twinkies for lunch in a tattered tent miles from the closest highway, or Buffalo Bill waiting to turn our skin into a nice fall parka, we are scared of the emptiness and of not knowing what’s there. Fear stems from many places out in the wilderness—maybe it’s a man with a knife, some masked Scooby-Doo character, or just the snap of a twig. Fear inevitably surrounds us in desolate places. In these situations our fear is amplified because we know that if our fears become reality there is no way for us to get help.

It’s hard not to think about where our fears stem from in the woods. Often, they come from things external to ourselves–stories, darkness, and animals. In the luxury of our classroom though, the demons we fear often come from within. For these monsters, while a mask may be scary it is the unknown of what’s behind the mask that is the most terrifying. It is under these masks where we see who a monster truly is. His motivations. His identity. His darkness.

How scary are villains actually? When the mask is pulled down and the unknown becomes known, are we still scared? Are we scared of pulling off the mask because we don’t want to see what’s behind it? Are we scared of learning that what’s behind the mask might be something familiar; something that we see ourselves in? Are we scared of seeming that the monster behind the mask isn’t so different from ourselves? In the wilderness we are scared of the things we don’t understand, but in the classroom and in our stories we are faced with a fear more terrifying–the things that we do.

If you’re wondering how truly helpless you are in the woods, and you have no future plans for backpacking, click here for a diary collective of people’s creepiest experiences!


4 thoughts on “Fear of the Unknown

  1. These reasons alone contribute to my fear of going camping. Just the thought of not knowing what or who’s out there is terrifying. There’s just something about being out in a dark forrest with a small group of people with and possibility that anything could happen, gives me the creeps. People love to either create or tell a story from a personal experience to share with as many people as possible, as if the creepy, dark, open space isn’t already horrifying enough. I had the opportunity to view the link and it only reassures my fears of probably never going camping!

  2. That story is very creepy! I think the main part of camping in the woods at night that is frightening is that there are all sorts of sounds around you and you are unsure about what and where they come from. Could be harmless or could be a murderer. I went on a camping trip for 10 days in Canada where I slept outside in a sleeping bag every night and there was an option to sleep in the wooded part of the campsite, but I chose the open area. Woods are especially scary because anything can come out of anywhere, the ground, trees, and it seems like there is no where to run.

  3. The campfire story was so creepy! I can’t imagine what I would do if that ever happened to me. I’m definitely going to check out that link! You bring up a very good point that fear is caused by the unknown, and I completely agree. This also ties into fear in history, when people were “afraid” of different races because they didn’t know anything about them, for instance. It’s also the same thing with darkness. People can’t see what is in the dark, so it is unknown. They therefore fear it. What makes things scary is the mystery and intrigue surrounding those things, and since we don’t exactly know everything, it’s made scary to us.

  4. This is the kind of horror that resonates with me too. Monsters and the supernatural and most of the stories in this class do not scare me nearly as much as the unknown and the things that really do exist in the world. It is these moments, on a campsite or walking at night, that horror feels closest to me. I think i would have the same thoughts in your situation. I wonder what kind of monsters other people find the most scary and whether they feel the same way that you and i do.

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