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I’m arachnophobic. REALLY arachnophobic. I’ve done a bit of dayhiking in various parts of Utah and Arizona. I love the Southwest. I’ve had no encounters but have heard enough “horror” stories that I pretty much won’t consider a multiday trip. So I am wondering what’s a guy like me to do? I’ve tried therapy which has been successful to the extent that I now only scream at about 30 percent of house spiders. I’d consider backpacking with spider-eating trained emus if that were an option. Can you give a poor arachnophobe some hope? –Cary Simons, via email
As FDR once famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Add to that list snakes, heights, murderers, spiders, and pretty soon you’ve talked yourself into another weekend on the couch. But I’m not going to just tell you to suck it up, conquer your fear, or bootstrap yourself into spider country. There are only three venomous spiders in North America—the black widow, the brown recluse, and the hobo spider—and death by spider is extremely rare. But for people with phobias—like you—the danger doesn’t matter a lick. Even the idea that spiders may exist in the world and could be out there is just as powerful as waking up and seeing a spider perched on your nose. So what to do? You could undergo rigorous psychotherapy to expose yourself to your fear slowly (or all at once). And while that sounds like a wonderful way to spend a few years of slow progress, you’re looking to make weekend plans. So let me offer you a more short-term workaround: Go camping in the winter, in the freezing cold, on the snow. Spiders (like many campers, it turns out) have no tolerance for extreme cold. If you need to make sure your gear is free of spiders, chuck your bag and tent and anything else in the freezer for a spell, thus freezing the life out of any undesirable creepy crawlies, and get a friend to shake ’em out for you. It’s true that winter camping requires more planning and a certain toughness, but for you, I’m betting it’ll be easier to survive the cold than to kick your fear of spiders.
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