We’ve all been there. We’ve planned (or failed to plan) for a taxing hike that leaves us feeling tired, defeated and looking to quit on the spot. When the going gets tough, it seems impossibly hard; like throw your pack of a cliff and roll back down to the trailhead hard. Almost all of the people I’ve hiked with would agree that pushing yourself on a difficult trail can be brutal and isn’t always fun. In fact, sometimes you wonder “why did I even get out of bed to do this today.” Sometimes when it’s pouring rain on you for the 10th day in a row, you wonder why you even liked hiking in the first place. Sound familiar?
I have certainly found myself in this headspace on more than one occasion. Here is what a hard day on the trail would typically look like for me: This is what I call –
HIKER AT HEART’S – 10 Phases of a Hard Hike
- Start out strong: a pep in your step.
- Trail goes uphill: (legs feel tired, pack feels heavy). You lose steam fast.
- You get into your own head: “How much longer?” or “I’m so hot and tired!”
- Frustration: with the trail, your trail mates, the weather, yourself etc. This feeds your own mental breakdown.
- Tantrum: may involve sitting down in the middle of the trail and giving up.
- Take a Break: usually because you’ve given up not because you planned it.
- Snacks: may as well eat something while you’re there.
- Regain Composure: you realize there is still gas in the tank and your head is more clear from the sugar rush.
- Final Push: Your attitude improves as you near the end. You can do it!
- Victory and Reward! Can we do it all again?
Despite the roller coaster of emotions we may experience on the trail, we will continue to hike and push hard and love it. This is because we know what it feels like to succeed and complete a hard hike or day on the trail (even if you almost gave up 1000 times). We know that even though the journey seemed hard, it was part of an incredible adventure. We also know how great the soul and body feels when it’s been pushed further and harder than the times before. Sure it’s hard, but it feels amazing, and the adventure is always worth it. This is why we hike … right?
Nine times out of ten, when I’m having a bad day on the trail it’s because I’ve gotten into my own head and allowed myself to become defeated. Never have I reached a point where my body has even given up on me…only times where my mind has.
The key to making a hard day on the trail a successful one, is the ability to play mind games with yourself (sounds crazy I know). You will be surprised how a few easy tricks (even if you are aware you are tricking yourself) will make things seem more manageable. Go ahead. Try for yourself !
9 Ways to Avoid DERAIL on the TRAIL
- Stay Hydrated: This is an important one that seems too easy to overlook. I catch myself regularly realizing I’ve had minimal water at the end of the day. If you are working extra hard, you should be drinking more than you expect to make up for it. Early signs of dehydration can leave you feeling tired, lethargic, lightheaded or even give you a headache. Don’t have that working against you.
- Snacks: Pack snacks that make you happy. Then you can bribe yourself ,”You get a cookie if you can make it another mile.” Chocolate bars or Milano cookies are my favorites. I also am a fan of jolly ranchers whenever I’m hiking up a big hill. Most importantly, stop and enjoy them: they fuel your body and mind.
- Talk with Friends, Sing, Play Games: I often enjoy hiking with others more than hiking alone because good company can make miles fly by. Tell stories, hum a tune together, catch up on life. Whatever it takes to occupy your mind.
- Take Breaks: And I’m not referring to the ones you take after you just reached the tantrum stage of the hike. I mean regularly. Stop to take photos. Stop to air your feet out. Stop to have a picnic lunch or to take a 15 min nap. Treat yourself and refuel your body and mind. The whole point of the journey is to enjoy the incredible places you explore, so enjoy them.
- Cut yourself some slack: There is no rhyme or reason why some days feel harder than others. It’s okay to have a bad day. It’s okay to take it slow. Listen to your body and remind yourself what you are capable of.
- Divide into Sections: Sometime things seem more manageable when broken into sections. To the mind, 3 – 5 mile sections seem less daunting then 15 miles total. Tell yourself, “I’ll stop for lunch at 5 miles.” or “snack breaks after this section is complete.
- Ground yourself – be present: Fear of what lies ahead will only derail your mind. Take each step or section as it comes. Don’t worry about how you will make it through another 12 miles. Just focus on the here and now. Look up at the trees, the skies overhead, the views around you. Listen to the birds chirping. Anything to bring your mind to the present time and place around you.
- Tend to Hot Spots: Get at them before they get you. A small blister or raw spot can turn into a giant PAIN quickly. Don’t wait for another mile; stop to tend to it. If all you can focus on is the mega blister on your heel, of course the next 10 miles will seem impossible.
- Remember why you love this: Think of a time you were proud of yourself for pushing hard. Remind yourself why you love hiking and why you keep on doing it. Recall how great that feels. You can feel that again, if you just keep digging…
Being able to gain control of your own mind, before it has spiraled into a pit of negativity and frustration, is the key for success, not only on the trail, but in life as well. When you start to sense that you are hopping on the elevator to tantrumville, you are the only person who can press stop and get off. You are responsible for your own mental toughness.
Pay attention to how you are feeling. As soon as you see yourself heading in that direction, stop. Regroup. And use these tips and positive self talk. If you continue to push yourself harder and further each time, you will gain an incredible sense of what your body and mind are capable of, and may even surprise yourself. Whether you’re half way up a mountain, a quarter through a run, or deciding if you should bail from the treadmill and go get ice-cream, try a little self talk and motivation. I guarantee that you will be happy you did.
What helps you get through a hard hike? Share your tricks !