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View Full Version : The Mental Game.. Day by Day.



soulslosher
01-20-2011, 23:06
I've been preparing and thinking about my 2011 thru hike for several months [April 1st departure]. It's not that far away..! The mental game is more of a challenge than the physical one, for me at least..

How many previous thru hikers start at Springer or Katahdin with a mindset that they may not finish? I know thinking 'negatively' is usually bad, but I think it's good to acknowledge that particular fact.

Should thru hikers take their hike one day at a time.. only to discover some months later that they're standing on Springer or Katahdin?

Blissful
01-20-2011, 23:09
Yes, you take it one day at a time. Enjoy the journey, not the destination. But when you arrive at the destination, REALLY enjoy it. I'm having some champagne in Harper's Ferry this spring. :)

rickb
01-20-2011, 23:11
I read this in a business book once, and thought it applied to a whole lot of things, including a thru hike.

FWIW, here is a link.

http://www.ndoherty.com/stockdale-paradox/

Half Note
01-20-2011, 23:14
Though I'm no previous thru-hiker, I will definitely be taking it one day at a time. The way I see it, I'll be out there for the fun and adventure. Just enjoying nature for what it is. I think it is definitely okay to be at the starting point saying, "I might not make this." I'll be doing the same.

Iceaxe
01-20-2011, 23:19
"Never doubt that you can achieve your goals, no matter how lofty they may be and no matter how many critics and naysayers you may have. But at the same time, always take honest stock of your current situation. Donít lie to yourself for fear of short-term embarrassment or discomfort, because such deception will only come back to defeat you in the end."

I like this bit of philosophy. This is how i feel about my Long Distance hikes as well.
Thanks for sharing that. :)

soulslosher
01-20-2011, 23:34
rickb, thank you so much for sharing the link to Stockdale Paradox! I will cherish this philosophic angle on my hike, as well as in my life. :)

So-- never doubt that you can and will summit Springer or Katahdin, but always honestly admit to yourself the current situation that will dictate your ending.

RayBan
01-20-2011, 23:40
Advice I once heard: "Never quit on a bad day; if you're going to quit, make that decision on a good day".

Slo-go'en
01-21-2011, 00:06
Knowing you might not finish is something which should be at the back of your mind, as only 2 or 3 out of 10 who start finish.

Therefore, it would be a good idea to have a plan "B" ready if you decide to quit for some reason. If you still have money to spend and time to kill, what other things might you do with it?

Pony
01-21-2011, 00:26
Knowing you might not finish is something which should be at the back of your mind, as only 2 or 3 out of 10 who start finish.

True. That would be like standing before Everest and saying "I wonder if anyone has ever died on this mountain?"

You absolutely have to take it one day at a time, for many reasons. I think it is important to learn to like where you are, geographically speaking. If you can't bring yourself to like that place, then churn out some miles and you will soon find a place that you like. Also, when you find a place you really like, take your time and enjoy it; you never know when you'll be back. If you happen to be around people with crappy attitudes, get away from them. You should also do little things to lift your spirits. Sometimes if I didn't feel like hiking, I would hitch into a nearby town and get some coffee, yet one more reason to bring maps. You'll figure it out, and before you know it, you'll be at the terminus.
Good luck.

Torch09
01-21-2011, 00:29
My strategy was to set daily goals. Maine was 2000+ miles away, but there's always something cool in the next few miles. Take it as it comes and enjoy everything.

rickb
01-21-2011, 06:59
rickb, thank you so much for sharing the link to Stockdale Paradox! I will cherish this philosophic angle on my hike, as well as in my life. :)

So-- never doubt that you can and will summit Springer or Katahdin, but always honestly admit to yourself the current situation that will dictate your ending.


Better still, you might also want to read some of the distilled wisdom of Warren Doyle and Jim Owens.

Warren has the distinction of not only having hiked the AT more than anyone else (by far), more importantly he has lead many groups of green hikers to Katahdin with near 100% completion rates. Many reason for that, I suppose, but I think that gives weight to what he lays out here:

http://www.warrendoyle.com/ATBook.html

Jim Owens has not only hiked the AT, PCT and CDT and a whole lot more, he really wrote out something special in his Thru Hiking Papers, including that which you were asking about.

http://www.spiriteaglehome.com/THP_top.html

Good luck on your hike. Hopefully those two link will be of value.

Grampie
01-21-2011, 10:14
I started walking NOBO from Springer. I didn't think that I could make it to Maine. When folks asked me if I was a thru-hiker I would reply that I was just walking north. I just took one day at a time with no schedule. When I reached Damascus I felt that I could make it all the way. I finished the AT on Oct. 13, 2001.

T-Glove
01-21-2011, 11:15
I'm not a thru-hiker yet but I've been hiking and camping extensivley for the last 10 years. For me one of the biggest things that helps is having a kindred spirit along for the journey. Having someone there to talk and laugh with when its cold and pouring down rain is a boost even on the worst of days.

sbhikes
01-21-2011, 11:39
I've been preparing and thinking about my 2011 thru hike for several months [April 1st departure]. It's not that far away..! The mental game is more of a challenge than the physical one, for me at least..

How many previous thru hikers start at Springer or Katahdin with a mindset that they may not finish? I know thinking 'negatively' is usually bad, but I think it's good to acknowledge that particular fact.

Should thru hikers take their hike one day at a time.. only to discover some months later that they're standing on Springer or Katahdin?

I don't know if the negativity actually causes you to end your hike. One of my favorite trail journals was Cuddles '08 PCT hike. He quit the trail every single day. He made it all the way to the end.

I didn't do a full thru-hike, but I did two two sections.

The first section I planned was the border to Ashland Oregon. I didn't make it. I had stress fractures. I felt I went home at an appropriate time, but I can say that I didn't have an overall feeling within me that I was going to make it the whole way. I sometimes toyed with going further than Ashland. But I didn't have a complete vision of what was going to happen.

The second hike I was very set on achieving my goal to complete the trail. I refused to go home. I had moments where I thought it was impossible to continue. I was sure I was going to have to go home. But I was stubborn and would wait for conditions to improve before going home. It's amazing how 3 days can feel like an eternity to wait through but in 3 days conditions can change 100%.

During the second hike, I had a very clear vision of myself at the Canadian border. I could actually see myself and feel all the emotions way back in early Oregon. I knew I was going to complete my goal. I knew nothing was going to interfere. I had 100% confidence that I wouldn't even get an injury or something. What I'm saying is that it was sort of psychic. It was like it had already happened and I just had to fulfill it.

I do not know how you get yourself into that kind of psychic mindset, though. I do know that whenever I have had it I've completed whatever goal I've had.

Pommes
01-21-2011, 12:35
I approach every long hike with the same mentality as a deployment. Its just something i have to do. So i go and do it and then i come home.

the goat
01-21-2011, 12:41
i never thought of quitting, on either of my hikes. if i wanted to quit, i would have.

the point is having fun, if you're not having fun & you want to go home, what are you doing out there?

Lone Wolf
01-21-2011, 12:51
i quit twice in N.H. no biggie. i was sick of walkin'

BrianLe
01-21-2011, 13:01
"One of my favorite trail journals was Cuddles '08 PCT hike."

Cool --- I hiked with Cuddles in SoCal a bit, and serendipitously met up with him and we more or less finished together, shared a rental car to get back to Seattle. Guess I should check out his journal!

The paradox idea (original topic here) is along the line of how I think of this stuff. Intend to finish, have a mindset that it's going to take a lot to drag me off the trail. But also recognize that "stuff happens". So far such stuff has been surmountable, but I know that it isn't always so. I guess I sort of resolve ahead of time that so long as I reckon that I've done the best I can in the situation, that I'll be content with the result, "still comfortable in my skin" so to speak.

I do think that the hikers that continue on tend to be folks that deal with the inevitable adversity (in whatever forms) and just always keep going. The algorithm here is pretty simple: "Can I keep walking? (yes/no)".

Occasionally there will be someone who should have left the trail and pushed things too hard with resulting exacerbated injury or serious illness or the like, but my sense is that more often it's the other way, that ultimately some folks find that they don't like it enough and/or want it enough to keep going when all they can visualize is the current unpleasantness stretching out for thousands of miles.

Really, I wouldn't worry too much about the mental crap, though. I think that sometimes in trying to "think positively" that folks make bold statements that they later regret. Better to just walk and see how things go!

sbhikes
01-21-2011, 13:46
I have a friend who has attempted the PCT several time but never finished it. It kills her that she can't complete a thru-hike. She really really wants it.
She always tries to start at the beginning. She believes that if it's not a pure, continuous end-to-end it's not worth completing. What always happens is some part of the trail has an obstacle. Fire detour, too much snow, whatever. She will jump ahead at that point. Then she's got in her mind that it wasn't a pure, continuous, end-to-end and it starts to gnaw at her. She then starts to get really impulsive. Some section is not very pretty so she skips ahead. It's too hot, too many bugs, whatever so she jumps another section. Now she's totally failed at her goal and says forget it, I'll try again next year, and goes home in a huff.
I keep trying to tell her to stop being such a purist. But she insists it's meaningless if she doesn't do the whole trail in one year. She keeps asking me what my secret was. I keep trying to tell her I didn't do a pure end-to-end hike. That was my secret! I just wanted to see the whole trail so that's what I did. If it had unfolded as a solid end-to-end then that's what I would have had, but I didn't even try for that. I tried for what I honestly wanted and that's what I got.
Her latest thing is that she thinks maybe if she does a southbound she'll be less inclined to skip sections and sabotage her hike. Southbound can be more difficult on the PCT so I can't understand how she believes this. In all honesty, I believe it is her impulsive nature and her tendency to spiral her peeves into these giant things she just can't accept that sabotages her.
The thru-hikers I've met that were the most successful seemed to share the following characteristics:
- Humility (accept personal limitations, have an attitude of gratitude)
- Flexibility (whatever the trail dishes out they take it with a smile)
- A mysterious ability to not even notice their discomforts (what rain? what bugs? It's hot? I didn't notice.)

Spirit Walker
01-21-2011, 14:27
On my first thruhike, I didn't know whether I had the ability to go all the way. I had never attempted anything comparable, and I'm not the athletic type (except for hiking). When I found out I was scared of rock climbing, I was pretty sure I wouldn't finish the trail because of all I had heard about the climbs in New England. I considered quitting. But then I decided that even if I couldn't do the whole thing, I could do another week. So I kept hiking. At the end of the week, I decided to go on to the next town. And from there I decided to go on to the next. It wasn't quite one day at a time, but more one section at a time. When I reached the Whites, I decided to continue until it got so bad/scary that I couldn't handle it any more. But when it was scary, I continued anyhow - figuring I could go another 100 yards, and then another 100, until I was back on easy trail again. Then one day I found myself crossing the Kennebec River and I realized, "I made it half way through Maine - nothing is going to stop me now." And it didn't. But until that moment, I was never sure I'd be able to do it.

Luddite
01-21-2011, 14:42
On my first thruhike, I didn't know whether I had the ability to go all the way. I had never attempted anything comparable, and I'm not the athletic type (except for hiking). When I found out I was scared of rock climbing, I was pretty sure I wouldn't finish the trail because of all I had heard about the climbs in New England. I considered quitting. But then I decided that even if I couldn't do the whole thing, I could do another week. So I kept hiking. At the end of the week, I decided to go on to the next town. And from there I decided to go on to the next. It wasn't quite one day at a time, but more one section at a time. When I reached the Whites, I decided to continue until it got so bad/scary that I couldn't handle it any more. But when it was scary, I continued anyhow - figuring I could go another 100 yards, and then another 100, until I was back on easy trail again. Then one day I found myself crossing the Kennebec River and I realized, "I made it half way through Maine - nothing is going to stop me now." And it didn't. But until that moment, I was never sure I'd be able to do it.

Thats pretty cool. Why were you so nervous about New England?

GeneralLee10
01-21-2011, 16:29
If one were to do only 1% of the trail a day which comes out to be around 22 miles +/-. Then you have one percent done each day. Just another way of looking at it I guess.

Ha then you can call yourself a 1%'er:)

hikerboy57
01-21-2011, 16:49
When I used to run marathons, many would ask how I could possibly run 26 miles. I simply replied I just put one foot in front of the other until I'm done. I've always found when you focus on "how much longer", you'll never get there. As Blissful said, enjoy the journey, take it one day at a time, and before you know it, you'll be done.

Odd Man Out
01-21-2011, 20:31
i quit twice in N.H. no biggie. i was sick of walkin'

I like this. I always thought that I would like to be a through hiker, rather than a thru hiker. Hike until you had enough, and then quit. I even dream that maybe I would get to the summit of Katadin, turn around and hike back south because I wasn't through.

CinciJP
01-22-2011, 18:51
Here's a quote from Calvin Coolidge that might help, and I plan on keeping at the front of my journal:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.
Talent will not;
nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not;
unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not;
the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

10-K
01-22-2011, 18:54
In almost any endeavor I undertake my first thought is, "If other people can do it, so can I."

fiddlehead
01-22-2011, 20:47
It's a lifestyle, not a chore.
If you're not having fun, go home.

If you don't like the outdoors, you probably won't like long distance hiking.
I like being in nature, rain or shine. I also love to travel and discover new places and people i meet along the way.
Life doesn't get any better than when i'm travleling, in nature, with myself or my good friends or family.

If you are looking for reasons to quit already, chances are you won't complete a thru.

Pommes
01-22-2011, 22:14
It's a lifestyle, not a chore.
If you're not having fun, go home.

If you don't like the outdoors, you probably won't like long distance hiking.
I like being in nature, rain or shine. I also love to travel and discover new places and people i meet along the way.
Life doesn't get any better than when i'm travleling, in nature, with myself or my good friends or family.

If you are looking for reasons to quit already, chances are you won't complete a thru.

I dont like or dislike nature. I really dont like hiking with a pack on back but what i do like is being alone. Nature is the only time i can be alone long enough to hear myself think.

soulslosher
01-24-2011, 00:04
I appreciate everyone's insightful input-- I enjoy the various views on this topic.


Really, I wouldn't worry too much about the mental crap, though. I think that sometimes in trying to "think positively" that folks make bold statements that they later regret. Better to just walk and see how things go!
I liked your whole post reply, but I really liked this part. :-) Thanks.

Monkeywrench
01-24-2011, 10:21
I've been preparing and thinking about my 2011 thru hike for several months [April 1st departure]. It's not that far away..! The mental game is more of a challenge than the physical one, for me at least..

How many previous thru hikers start at Springer or Katahdin with a mindset that they may not finish? I know thinking 'negatively' is usually bad, but I think it's good to acknowledge that particular fact.

Should thru hikers take their hike one day at a time.. only to discover some months later that they're standing on Springer or Katahdin?

I thru-hiked in '09. For me at least, the greater goal of reaching Katahdin was always in the back of my mind, but I operated on a series of much shorter term goals, on different levels. There's getting to tonight's destination, then there's getting to the next town stop, 3, 4, 5, or whatever days up the trail. And beyond that, there's getting through the Smokies, or across the Virginia Highlands, or through SNP. Each state line becomes a milestone. For me, crossing the James River was a big milestone, as was the Hudson in NEw York and the Kennebec in Maine.

The idea is to have goals that are attainable and not overwhelming to think about. I do remember that as I approached Harpers Ferry I got more and more excited to be reaching the half-way point; something I had been looking forward to for a long time. Then when I left there I struggled fro a week ro so getting past the realization that I was ONLY half way. It took some time to get myself re-focused on the smaller goals.

4shot
01-24-2011, 10:47
In almost any endeavor I undertake my first thought is, "If other people can do it, so can I."


I have said this before but the single best thing I did in preparing for my hike was to go to hiker get-togethers and/or talk to people who thru-hiked. For me, it dispelled any preconceived notion that I might have had about who and what thru-hikers "looked like". It was encouraging to me to see that most anyone has the physical ability to complete one and I used that as motivation in the mental aspect...if "HogHead" or "Stumpy" or "gizzards" could do it then so can I.

Getting on the trail helped me get over the gear fixation that all newbies have, myself included. You don't have to have perfect gear at the start (it doesn't exist or everyone would carry the same thing) and adjustments to what you carry are easily made along the way. Best wishes on your hike.

Sickmont
01-24-2011, 12:18
Here's a quote from Calvin Coolidge that might help, and I plan on keeping at the front of my journal:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.
Talent will not;
nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not;
unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not;
the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

That is so awesome. I'm gonna keep this one handy as well.

Nean
01-24-2011, 13:48
When I first started my goal was to enjoy each day:banana and just see how far I'd eventually make it.:eek: Then one day I was done.:-?
If your goal is a destination I believe you are less likely to enjoy the journey.:(

StormBird
01-24-2011, 14:38
Whenever people tell me, "I can't believe you did that!"

I always respond, "well, I didn't know that I could do it until I did!" ;)

I don't think any of us knew that we could finish that trail when we started it. Sure we all wanted to and sure we all thought that we weren't going to be of the 80 percent that drop out. You are hedging your bets. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to finish my thru last year. How many times in your life do you get 6 months off, nothing to tie you down and a few thousand dollars in your pocket?

Yeah, take it a day at a time and enjoy the experience, the people, the challenges. When you get too tired and beaten down, take a day or two off and recoup. Chances are you'll be itching to get back on trail. ;)

Happy trails!

CinciJP
01-25-2011, 15:31
... "well, I didn't know that I could do it until I did!" ;)


That's probably the line I'll be using if I'm able to do it. :)

coheterojo
01-26-2011, 11:36
When I hiked the Trail last year I never doubted once that I would finish. I absolutely love walking in the woods. I really can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.There were a few times when physical injury scared me into thinking I would have to get off the Trail for a few days but I never had any desire to be anywhere else than where I was.

I enjoyed every single day of the hike. I mean come on, man! It's an adventure! Yes there are many trials and tribulations, smells, aches, sweat, insects, poison ivy, heat, emaciation, rashes, chafing, full privies, full shelters, whackos and so on but they're just details. If you are not enjoying yourself than maybe you ought not be doing a thru-hike!

Heck, I'm about ready to do it again this year if my current state of unemployment continues. Talk about mental!

Gunner81
01-26-2011, 22:02
I went into my thru-hike with the thought that I would finish unless I got injured. I still took my hike day by day, but I ended most nights by envisioning myself standing in top of Katadhin. For me, staying focused on completing the trail and accomplishing such a tremendous task was what motivated me. So, on my worst days I would sometimes question if my body was going to let me make it to Katadhin (my knees were AWFUL), but I never questioned my personal commitment and desire to finish.

P.S.I'm also extremely stubborn ;)

soulslosher
01-26-2011, 22:10
When I hiked the Trail last year I never doubted once that I would finish.
By reading everyone's input, I gather that different people have different mentalities on this topic.. I suppose that's just part of the HYOH thing..

I still think it's wise to acknowledge that you may not finish [for a variety of reasons] and that's part of being flexible-- just try your best to hike it day by day and see what happens!

Keep 'em coming guys!

coheterojo
01-27-2011, 09:51
I'm not saying that my notion of completing the trail was particularly rational. That was just the mindset I was working with. Any one of the many slips and falls that befell me in my 148 day odyssey could have been the one to knock me off the trail.

I'm very aware that there was a certain amount of luck involved in my successful completion but I also know that I am very persistent. Cada quien es el arquitecto de su propio destino.

El Flaco