Two things get me really pumped when it comes to hiking. The planning of the trip, and landing on the trail.
However, there is a part in between that I struggle with. It is the part where I actually leave my house and get to the trail.
The planning part is a great high. I pretty much still feel the same excitement I did the “first time”, minus the anxieties of whether or not a couple extra ounces are going to destroy my experience. I’ve got my gear down. I know what I will take and what to expect whether I bring one pair of socks vs. two. I normally hike 21 +/- miles on my section hikes over 3 or 4 days, so basically I’m not having to plan for much. Some may even scoff that I consider myself a section hiker at all, but this is my journey and I hike my own.
I love studying AWOL’s map and picking out the areas to stop for water, take breaks, and sleep. I love memorizing when and where I will start going up or down a new mountain. (BTW, it has become a big joke because it is never quite the same once we get out there, nonetheless I enjoy the process) The buildup of it all is never disappointing. Well.. unless you see that you are going to be heading uphill for 6 straight miles. In that case, take it from the other side and make it a SOBO section rather than a NOBO section. Anyhoo, if you hike or are planning your first hike, I think you understand how wonderfully pulse-inducing it is to plan.
Once on the trail all focus is forced into the present moment where you first become hyper in-tune with your body and discover the amount of lung power you really have. Followed by the sounds of your hiking poles poking holes and tapping stones. Each step you take is audible. You can hear your pack creak on your back and maybe you reach back and give it a hoist in an effort to shuffle the contents so it quiets down a bit. For a short time you are attune to being snuggled and hugged by your pack’s hip belt and shoulder straps and you make small adjustments if needed. Soon though, you forget you are even wearing a pack. Your eyes now remember to look up the trail and at your surroundings, taking in as much as they can before you realize how much you must focus on the ground immediately in front of you. You find that looking up while walking holds risk, so you steal glances whenever possible. Then you find that spot where you refuse to compromise with your feet any longer and pull over for a full on take-in of the view. You say to yourself and also to anyone else around you, “We did it. We are here.”
Those two parts of hiking (the plan and those first moments on the trail) don’t seem to be a problem for me. I’ve never heard anyone else complain about them either. What I have found this hiking season is a struggle to follow through with my plans. To leave my house once all the plans and arrangements have been made.
2018 has been wet and rainy for most of the warmer hiking season in North Carolina. Which happens to be the state I am hiking this year (Last year my hiking pard and I completed GA). I also live in NC, so transportation to the trails is fantastic! I am literally a few hours from the Appalachian Trail no matter what section it is in NC. I don’t know if it is the rain or I am getting in my head too much, but this year, taking the actual steps to leave my house to get to the trail has been more of a struggle than anything else about the trail. Well, maybe except for the times I am on flood watch inside my tent when the rain water gets between my footprint and the tent and starts seeping through.
If I am completely honest with myself, yeah, I really-really hate packing up and setting up wet.
I also struggle with my reaction to the fear of the unknown. In the Army, I learned my fight or flight response was to go to sleep. Not literally, that’s a joke.
My pre- party anxieties cause me to freeze up, whereas in the moment I don’t seem to mind jumping into the fire first. (not that there was a fire ever, but any trauma or critical situation can be deemed a fire if put in the right perspective)
Anyway… I am determined to shed this crippling — whatever you call it — that keeps me from meeting my hiking expectations.
I did some research on ways to get out of my head and to move past blockers, whether it is anxiety, mental traps, or maybe just plain laziness. If you also deal with these things, I hope this helps and if so, please click like and leave a comment!
I’d also love to hear your tips and tricks to get yourself to the trail no matter what.
Mindfulness Meditation: M.M. helps your brain to focus on the present, rather than anxieties of the future (or regrets of the past). There is a saying, “You are anxious when you live in the future…” Stop yourself in the moment and ask why you feel the way you do. It is probable the answer will lead to the solution to your anxiety.
Practicing mindfulness lays a trustworthy foundation that you can rely upon as your go-to for mental preparedness. When we are used to skipping out when we start to feel like shite got real, we really can re-train our mental response to be more productive and to take actual actions that involve the actual act of hiking… actually.
Recognize when you avoid doing something because you can’t be completely sure of the outcome. This is an avoidance behavior, and it is easy to succumb to when it comes to getting on the trail (speaking for myself) because it is practically impossible to know what to expect out there. Trees.. there will always be trees. And rain. The rest? Who knows.
The experts on Google say to recognize and itemize what you avoid, so you can see your patterns. Exposure and also having a friend with you were two good tips to help move away from “avoidance” and “anxiety tolerance” — which means off the couch and onto the trail. I know this has worked for me many times!! I read some really helpful tips on this at: https://www.wikihow.com/Stop-Avoidance-Coping
Just do it. Life Coach, Kate Swoboda pretty much says to either shit or get off the pot. I didn’t see those exact words, but in an effort to not plagiarize, her message was clear. Either stop making plans, or follow through. 99% of reasons to cancel are pretty much bear-scat reasons. The truth is… you and I both know it.
My professor Ron McC, who mentors me occasionally on trail life and was a wilderness therapist for troubled youth also says to “Do it anyway”. Quit looking at the weather reports and worry about it when you get there. I won’t mention again that that stance landed me along side tropical storm Nate in 2017 in Georgia on the AT — oops i just did. Actually, in all honesty, it was fun and seeing other hikers out there too made it even more of a great experience. I filmed it on video, so if you want to see it too (on youtube) and don’t mind f-bombs and a shaky camera, and listening to me moan and suffer through, click here. Oh, and a complete temper tantrum when 3 miles of downhill took longer than 3 hours. (I still can’t figure out how that happened other than I must have been going slower than usual) It really was a very strenuous hike for me.
All jokes aside…
When you are on the trail your self reliability skills surface – even if you weren’t sure you had them before. You are responsible for getting yourself fed, sheltered, and from point A to point B. Not only all that, but lugging your belongings across miles of not always fun terrain. When you were afraid you still had to go forth. And when you wished you could be at the stopping point already, you still did what you had to do to get there.
What makes us feel so incredible as hikers is the accomplishment. (yeah-yeah, there is other stuff too but for the purpose of this post...)
Maybe by making the starting point of the accomplishment exiting the front door of home, rather than beginning from the trail head, it would help knock over some blockers. Let the journey begin from your door step. You might not be afraid of the unknown, just lack a drive to get going. At least if you plan your adventure from home, you have already arrived at the starting point!
If you have anxieties (like I do) that speak louder than your other inner voice, research and do real steps to take the power away from what usually is just a waste of energy. Whether you realize it or not, the pattern of avoidance habituates itself. All you have to do is find a better response habit, and that is as accomplishable as you (and me) taking a hike.