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  1. #1
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    Default How to mentally approach a thru hike.

    Shelterleopard's thread got me thinking. Thru hiking season is just around the corner, and a lot of people are getting prepared. For me, walking is the easiest part of hiking, and I was surprised by the amount of psychological stuff that I didn't expect. So, what do some of you veterens have to say to the class of 2010 in regards to how to get yourself mentally prepared for a thru hike?

    For me, I found that I really miss music out on the trail, so now I hike with an ipod. I don't listen to it a lot, but if I'm in a sour mood, a few songs usually helps to lift my spirits.


    I can't remember the exact quote, but I think Grandma Gatewood said something to the effect of "you do more walking with your head than with your feet."

  2. #2
    Registered User Pacific Tortuga's Avatar
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    Well, music is good especially since your from that, touchy, feely
    Oregon State University Bowl Cahampion Series OSUBCS#1 school.

    Ha, just kidden,

    Anything and everything work's, I've been told and believe. The key is finding what work's for you.

  3. #3
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    Excellent question!

    Stay flexible. Do all your planning, get prepared, get informed, but realize unexpected and unknown events are going to occur. Read that again! You will have to find ways to deal with them! And, that includes dealing with those events in your mind. Don't be afraid of the unknown. Seek solutions, answers, ways around, through, over rather than wasting time and energy being angry or complaining. Go in knowing that your comfort zones and habits will be challenged! You will have to adapt to a new lifestyle! Read those last two sentences again!

    Don't fall into an inceasingly negative thought pattern. CUT IT OFF! If you don't you will be miserable, not thinking clearly, and eventually your mind will come around to, "I'm quitting, because blah blah blah!" For example, if you are on the fourth day of all day rain, you are soaked, and it seems it just started raining harder, when you thought that wasn't even possible, find a way to enjoy the rain or get out of it.

    I find it helpful going in to have firmly established positive reasons why I ever considered doing this hike in the first place. I fall back on these reasons when things, including my thoughts, start getting negative. I go in thinking about how I will grow, the adventure that I will experience, the new plants I will discover, the new scenery that I will experience that not very many get to experience, the many great people associated with the hike that I will get to meet, the challenges I will overcome, the stories I willl have, the mental clarity that will be achieved, the incresaed health I will have, the goals that will be achieved, the new things I will learn, the fresh perspectives I will have, the nature I will commune with, that I even have the physical ability to complete this hike, the positive patterns that will be reinforced on this journey, etc... I try to never forget that during the most trying times in my life was when I often grew the most; these are some of the most memorable times of my life when I look back! Now, I try not to forget that WHEN those trying times are ocurring! When I have a long list of these types of core positive reasons to fall back upon, if and when I start to get negative, I find I'm in a better place mentally because I'm being appreciative rather than being angry, negative, or complaining!

  4. #4
    So many trails... so little time. Many Walks's Avatar
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    Well done, Dogwood! Bottom line for me is if a person has a definite reason to complete the trail they can, but only by working with what comes their way rather than trying to conquer it all. Fight it for a while and the trail wins, fight it more and you go home disappointed. You'll have good days and bad, but keep in mind just how cool this journey is and how lucky you are to be out there.
    That man is the richest whose pleasures are the cheapest. Henry David Thoreau

  5. #5
    Section Hiker - 339.8 miles - I'm gettin' there! papa john's Avatar
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    Good answer Dogwood! I spent nearly a year planning my hike. I worried about gear and physical conditioning but was not even aware of the mental portion of the hike or how to prepare for it. That turned out to be the hardest part and what ended my hike...twice!
    Papa John


  6. #6
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    I think that tuning expectations is important. I.e., it's not always going to be fun all day every day. Barring specific physical issues that can't be surmounted, I think that thru-hikers as a group are folks that manage to just keep walking each day if whatever issues they have going (there always will be some, mental and/or physical) don't absolutely prevent it.

    So knowing that it won't always be a good time, expecting that, and resolving to keep going if possible is a significant part IMO.

  7. #7
    The internet is calling and I must go. buff_jeff's Avatar
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    "I'm going to walk until I stop having fun."

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by buff_jeff View Post
    "I'm going to walk until I stop having fun."
    Walking and backpacking, especially backpacking long distances ARE NOT exactly the same things! Backpacking does include walking but goes way beyond just walking! You should fullly understand that if you expect to complete a planned long hike, like a thru-hike. Obviously, not everyone does because it's one of the reasons why people quit!

    If you do expect to finish a planned long hike of specific length, like an AT thru-hike, which is what I think the OP was asking, then what you are saying is you always feel you are having "fun" when you are tired, cold, hot, sweaty, hungry, thirsty, wet, and filthy? Because on an AT thru-hike you will experience those situations. What I think the OP was asking is, "how do you mentally get through those situations?"

    Maybe, Buff Jeff, you can share with us how you mentally manage to have fun in those stuations! Tell us how you do it!

  9. #9
    Getting out as much as I can..which is never enough. :) Mags's Avatar
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    I think the most successful LD hikers (meaning those who enjoy themselves!) are those who have a combo of flexibility and stubbornness combined with a sense of humor.

    Stubborn enough to push through the snow, rain, pain and mud.

    Flexible enough to know when it is OK to alter your plans...and not have to push through the snow, rain, pain and mud.

    And having a big smile and a laugh on the face when Murphy's Law rules.
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    The true harvest of my life is intangible...a little stardust caught,a portion of the rainbow I have clutched -Thoreau

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by papa john View Post
    Good answer Dogwood! I spent nearly a year planning my hike. I worried about gear and physical conditioning but was not even aware of the mental portion of the hike or how to prepare for it. That turned out to be the hardest part and what ended my hike...twice!
    I remember that you were sick and coughing in the early part of your hike in 2000.

  11. #11
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    My training for my thru hike in 2000 consisted of sitting on the couch eating Ben and Jerrys rather than skiing and jogging as I normaly do. I didn't want to risk injuring myself before hiking. When I started I had to start slow since I'd put on about 20 lbs. I figured I'd just go for a long walk with my best friend. I simply never had a thought about quitting. Even the cold rainy days were taken in stride, so to speak.

  12. #12
    The internet is calling and I must go. buff_jeff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogwood View Post
    Walking and backpacking, especially backpacking long distances ARE NOT exactly the same things! Backpacking does include walking but goes way beyond just walking! You should fullly understand that if you expect to complete a planned long hike, like a thru-hike. Obviously, not everyone does because it's one of the reasons why people quit!

    If you do expect to finish a planned long hike of specific length, like an AT thru-hike, which is what I think the OP was asking, then what you are saying is you always feel you are having "fun" when you are tired, cold, hot, sweaty, hungry, thirsty, wet, and filthy? Because on an AT thru-hike you will experience those situations. What I think the OP was asking is, "how do you mentally get through those situations?"

    Maybe, Buff Jeff, you can share with us how you mentally manage to have fun in those stuations! Tell us how you do it!
    OK, fine, "I'm going to backpack until I stop having fun."

    The whole deal isn't rocket science. Go out and get used to backpacking prior to leaving on an extended trip. Successful AT hiking doesn't require some sort of esoteric knowledge or skill; you pick a backpack, throw the appropriate gear in, and start walking with said backpack and gear on.

    I have a blast when it rains; I make better miles. Just keep walking and have a sense of humor about it.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by buff_jeff View Post
    "I'm going to walk until I stop having fun."
    it's what i did back in 86 and 87. i got off the trail in gorham, n.h. both times

  14. #14
    AT 4000+, LT, FHT, ALT Blissful's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mags View Post
    I think the most successful LD hikers (meaning those who enjoy themselves!) are those who have a combo of flexibility and stubbornness combined with a sense of humor.
    This is really true. And I think it's also good to have someone at home base who can encourage you when you're feeling down and help you keep going.

    And dont underestimate the trail community too - they are great with the mental aspects of this. That is, talk things over, share in the good and the lousy. Many times those hikers will give you advice that keeps you going. Don't try to be a lone ranger and handle it all yourself.







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  15. #15
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    It's not a huge long trail, it's a multitude of sections broken by town stops. Take one section at a time.


    Cheers

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cheers View Post
    It's not a huge long trail, it's a multitude of sections broken by town stops. Take one section at a time.


    Cheers
    like an ultramarathon. one aid station at a time. an AT thru-hike is a mental marathon

  17. #17

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    Hiking the AT end to end, or a long section hike, is not a vacation, its a job.

    Somedays its a great job, somedays its bad job, but either way, you have to go to work. Almost every day you have to lug a 20 or 30 pound load on your back, for miles and miles, up and down mountians, through the cold, through the rain, through the heat and when your lucky, on some pretty fine days. Its not just walking, it backpacking! And it is a job!

    All in all, I like my job on the trail and I like my co-workers.
    Follow slogoen on Instagram.

  18. #18
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    OK, fine, "I'm going to backpack until I stop having fun."

    OK fine! LOL! I don't think we are on the same page.

    The whole deal isn't rocket science. Go out and get used to backpacking prior to leaving on an extended trip. Successful....what does that mean to you? have you ever completed a long distance hike? 200 miles?, 500 miles, 2000+miles.... AT hiking.... I thought the OP was referring to thru-hiking..... doesn't require some sort of esoteric knowledge or skill;.....maybe it does, maybe it doesn't, but there are many who believe completing a thru-hike entails a strong mental aspect, some who successfully(assuming that means backpacking from one terninus to the other terminus) complete long distance thru-hikes even believe it is more important than,,,,,you pick a backpack, throw the appropriate gear in, and start walking with said backpack and gear on.

    It seems you are one who largely ignores or minimizes this mental aspect and is instead focusing mainly on the physical preparations for a thru-hike. Of course, if hiking all the way to Mt Katahdin going northbound is not your goal or meets your definition of being successful than I apologize. You are welcome to get off the trail where ever you want, which I assume means for you, when you stop having fun. Lots of perspective AT thru-hikers get off the trail at Neels Gap or somewhere else when they stop having fun.

    I have a blast when it rains; I make better miles. Just keep walking and have a sense of humor about it.

    I congratulate you if you can always have a sense of humor when you are tired, cold, hot, sweaty, hungry, thirsty, wet, and filthy? You are the first that I've met!

  19. #19

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    thanks guys that is alot of good advice to keep in mind make short goals to get to the big one right
    GRAVY

  20. #20
    Registered User Doctari's Avatar
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    I have carried a MP3 on a few trips, decided to stop after last time I ran out of batteries for it. Some lasted 2 or 3 nights, all night, but others died after a few hours. It seemed the more I wanted it the less likely it was to work. My flute works every time & don't require batteries, so that is what I carry. The flute oddly enough, weighs the same as the MP3 & 4 spare batteries.
    Curse you Perry the Platypus!

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