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  1. #1
    Registered User TheMidlifeHiker's Avatar
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    Question Mental Prep for a Thru Hike

    Howdy,

    Aspiring thru hiker here - starting 4/6 if all goes to plan! Counting down the days / hours / minutes at this point and getting very excited.

    I've thought a lot about mental prep for the AT. Physical prep is fairly well known / agreed. Get out there and hike with your pack, keep limber / stretching etc etc. But less is said about the mental prep. Curious as to folks' opinion / advice.

    I put my thoughts together here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WllK4jaK_xY - would love to get your feedback.

    I'm not too worried about the physical piece. Im in decent enough shape and have a bunch of backpacking experience. I'm more concerned about monotony, missing home, seeing the elephant ahead of me and not eating it a bite at a time.

    Thanks
    Chris

  2. #2

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    For me? I never had a problem with that because I like hiking and I like hiking in the woods the most.
    So, there's no place I'd rather be.
    Now that I have a kid, things would be quite different I'm sure.
    I'd always be worrying if he's OK and doing well in school, blah blah blah.
    And I'm sure that would mean: My mind is not all on my hike and enjoying each and every bit of it.
    But, on the hike I did last summer in Europe, I got to do video chats with him anyway.
    So that helped a bunch.

    But for my old thru-hiking on the AT days (20+ years ago), I never had a problem being motivated to get out of the bag and get back on the trail each and every day. Cause I loved doing what I was doing.
    Don't let your fears stand in the way of your dreams

  3. #3
    Registered User TheMidlifeHiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fiddlehead View Post
    For me? I never had a problem with that because I like hiking and I like hiking in the woods the most.
    So, there's no place I'd rather be.
    Now that I have a kid, things would be quite different I'm sure.
    I'd always be worrying if he's OK and doing well in school, blah blah blah.
    And I'm sure that would mean: My mind is not all on my hike and enjoying each and every bit of it.
    But, on the hike I did last summer in Europe, I got to do video chats with him anyway.
    So that helped a bunch.

    But for my old thru-hiking on the AT days (20+ years ago), I never had a problem being motivated to get out of the bag and get back on the trail each and every day. Cause I loved doing what I was doing.
    Yeah, with two little ones at home with my wife, I’m concerned. Will definitely be doing phone calls, video etc. I know I’ll be loving the hiking but I also know I’ll be missing them!

  4. #4

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    You've given the mental aspect more attention than most.
    I suppose youve went through Zach Davis' book?

    Fiddle head is right. To do a thru of AT caliber distance you have to really , I mean really, enjoy walking. Trying to do so being miserable about walking rarely cuts it.

    Here's how I keep from monotony, being bored, on trail. First, i realize its not the trail that is boring or monotonous. It's my thinking, the way I'm approaching the hike.
    I stay curious, adventurous, willing to not be afraid of the unfamiliar, embracing it, being comfortable being umcomfortable. I thrive on it, just as when traveling in an unexpected way to an unexpected place. To be around unfamiliar culture.

    Thru hiking is not just about hiking. Find something, lots of things, as you've already mentioned going to town for a beer, to enthrall yourself, give to others, to see it as a journey of life rather than just a hike.

    Share the journey real time with your family by getting them even more involved and knowing, even if they dont, maybe you even dont yet fully know how, you'll be returning a better man to make their lives better for it by experincing this. It's not just you out there you're doing this for but them too.

    To offer some examples every LD hike, thru hike, I connect my trail approach to my off trail career as a hoeticulturalist and Landscape Designer, off trail values with on trail values (I'll go to spiritual services on trail like you're anticipating, do other things like that), take in people from other countries, religious beliefs or no religious beliefs. Different local foods, historical sites, botanical gardens, study different regional architectural types, fish, identify plants, forage for c edibkes, attend a music festival, movie or comedy show, paddle or raft, visit caves, visit museums, treat myself to a hotspring or foot massage, explore different backpacking approaches by shutting the f up and observing what others do, climb fire towers, do blue blazes, venture off the AT to waterfalls and overlooks, swim under waterfalls, eat something new, volunteer a day or two doing trail maintenance, take memorable photos, hitch safely, climb trees, search for salammanders, grow a beard, shave my head, freeball, play frisbee or disc golf, see how many miles I can go without stopping, see how few miles I can go in one trail day, do a zero on trail rather than go into town for it, give someone their trail name, help someone in their garden, go into DC, ride a train, volunteer at a AMC shelter, help someone down a hill, walk the guardrail fir at keast a mile along the BR Pkwy...

    See, how hard it really is to be bored, to stay bored?

  5. #5

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    You've given the mental aspect more attention than most.
    I suppose youve went through Zach Davis' book?

    Fiddle head is right. To do a thru of AT caliber distance you have to really , I mean really, enjoy walking. Trying to do so being miserable about walking rarely cuts it.

    Here's how I keep from monotony, being bored, on trail. First, i realize its not the trail that is boring or monotonous. It's my thinking, the way I'm approaching the hike.
    I stay curious, adventurous, willing to not be afraid of the unfamiliar, embracing it, being comfortable being umcomfortable. I thrive on it, just as when traveling in an unexpected way to an unexpected place. To be around unfamiliar culture.

    Thru hiking is not just about hiking. Find something, lots of things, as you've already mentioned going to town for a beer, to enthrall yourself, give to others, to see it as a journey of life rather than just a hike.

    Share the journey real time with your family by getting them even more involved and knowing, even if they dont, maybe you even dont yet fully know how, you'll be returning a better man to make their lives better for it by experincing this. It's not just you out there you're doing this for but them too.

    To offer some examples every LD hike, thru hike, I connect my trail approach to my off trail career as a hoeticulturalist and Landscape Designer, off trail values with on trail values (I'll go to spiritual services on trail like you're anticipating, do other things like that), take in people from other countries, religious beliefs or no religious beliefs. Different local foods, historical sites, botanical gardens, study different regional architectural types, fish, identify plants, forage for c edibkes, attend a music festival, movie or comedy show, paddle or raft, visit caves, visit museums, treat myself to a hotspring or foot massage, explore different backpacking approaches by shutting the f up and observing what others do, climb fire towers, do blue blazes, venture off the AT to waterfalls and overlooks, swim under waterfalls, eat something new, volunteer a day or two doing trail maintenance, take memorable photos, hitch safely, climb trees, search for salammanders, grow a beard, shave my head, freeball, play frisbee or disc golf, see how many miles I can go without stopping, see how few miles I can go in one trail day, do a zero on trail rather than go into town for it, give someone their trail name, help someone in their garden, go into DC, ride a train, volunteer at a AMC shelter, help someone down a hill, walk the guardrail fir at keast a mile along the BR Pkwy...

    See, how hard it really is to be bored, to stay bored?

  6. #6

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    What a lot of men and AT thrus do is talk alot, give advice as of we have "the" answers. We think we have to. I yak alot on WB but in real life I more often shut up and listen, observe. Be willing on trail to do that. You'd be surprised what it can do for others and yourself.

    You've prepared but I'm telling U this, you can not prepare for all events, all situations. Embrace it. Deal with it. Things are going to happen you haven't imagined. That's good.

  7. #7
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    I agree with Dogwood.

    I was starting to get "bored" hiking in the white mountains. Ive been working full time and the Whites are my stomping ground. So like any other white mtn hiker... I completed the 48 4,000 footers over the course of 3 years. by the end I was kinda bored hiking in the whites. Then I needed to freshen things up. I wanted to challenge myself. I tried doing the 48 in one season. Difficult for me working full time and living 2-3 hours from these hikes. I made it a point to peak bag the summits taking different trails and routes to these summits. It opened my eyes to how great the White Mountains are. It was a completely different experience. I did not complete my challenge but I wasn't bored at all even though I was climbing mountains I already climbed before.

    Just seeing things from a different perspective kept me in the game.

    Then one day I decided I wanted to take a break from the Whites. Between the long commute and the same butt kicking terrain I wanted to try something else. So I looked into other "lists" for hiking in NH.

    I found a program that recognizes climbing the fire towers in NH. Seemed more directed for the "kids" but whatever. Two of them were within a short drive from where I live. I went and hiked one and even though it was a short 2 mile round trip it was a great change of pace than those super long days of traveling and hiking up north. I loved it.

    Since then I hiked about 13 of the ~ 16 towers in NH and now I'm itching to get those last three... But even that lead to keeping me from getting bored even more.

    One of those towers is in a certain mountain range outside the whites. The belknap range. So I googled it. Not too far from me and in the lakes region. I went up and hike my Piper and that's when I truly realised that there are some very interesting hikes all over NH and not just the whites which became monotonous for me.

    But I was comfortable doing big miles in the whites. So over the course of two weeks I solo peakbagged the whole Belknal range at all hours of day and night. I even did a 12 mile traverse of the whole range. Rather than just doing lools back to the truck every day I did an end to end and hitched back to my truck. While trying to get a LONG hitch back to my truck a friend my childhood neighborhood is the one who picked me up. Didn't even know it was me... That sparked my love for hiking again in a split second.

    Eventually I ended up thru hiking the Cohos Trail in NH opening my eyes to this great state even more.

    I really want to hike a small 50 mile thru hike over in the western part of the state as well.

    Now mind you... Most of this is all solo hiking, while working 50-60 hours a week with an hour commute one way to a stressful job. But I never got so bored I didn't want to hike. Cause each trip is a new adventure.

    Now after four years of saying I'm going to get on the AT one year.. I'm going for it. Quit my job last Thursday. Hiking day in and day out for a few months with no bosses and the stresses of the daily grind everday to deal with? I don't think I'll get bored at all.

    If I do... As dogwood said. If hiking is becoming monitorous, for me it's just doing something different that day to respark the interest.

    I'm no hiking guru, but compared to my friends and family I've done a lot of hiking and have never lost interest. There's just too much too see and do to keep that brain stimulated.

    Short term goals boost confidence and self esteem. Alot of what dogwood mentioned. An AT thru is a perfect time to experiment new hiking techniques. Try different trail foods. Try different water carrying techiques. Try pitching your shelter a different way.

    As long as I'm learning my mind doesn't go to bad places. It's why I love hiking. I learn something valuable about myself and my beliefs every time I step on trail. I then use these lessons in other aspects of my life.

    See you on the trail. If you get bored just try something new. It's in my own opinion that a thru hike isn't THAT long a time. 4-6 months? That can fly by







    Sent from my Moto G (5) Plus using Tapatalk

  8. #8
    Registered User DownEaster's Avatar
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    My physical prep for the AT this year was less than yours. I've previously hiked up to 200 miles at a time on the AT, with half of that in the rain, so I already know I can handle sore feet/knees and recurring damp. What I didn't know was if the limitations of living out of a single pack for long periods would get me down. To get over that I stuck to a regimen of no more than two showers a week, scrubbing up at the sink the rest of the time. I carried a little bottle of Dr. Bronner's soap between kitchen and bathroom, and used a bandana for clean-up. I cooked in my mess kit (though on my kitchen's gas cooktop rather than my trail stove) and ate using my trail bowl, cup, and cutlery. I went two months without trimming my hair or beard, and also skipped Dr. Pepper (my favorite beverage) for two months. I slept in a sleeping bag (on the sofa to not wear out the inflatable mattress) instead of my bed. I got used to wearing synthetics all the time instead of my usual cotton.

    Have I tested out all the factors which could be aggravations on the trail? No. (For example, I haven't tried the combo of sleeping bag plus silk inner liner plus SOL Escape Bivvy outer liner; I'm sure that will be a confining trio to use but maybe necessary in the icebox-like GSMNP shelters.) But I think I've prepared mentally to endure most of the recurring through-hike limitations compared to non-trail life.

    Good luck on your hike.

  9. #9
    Registered User TheMidlifeHiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogwood View Post
    What a lot of men and AT thrus do is talk alot, give advice as of we have "the" answers. We think we have to. I yak alot on WB but in real life I more often shut up and listen, observe. Be willing on trail to do that. You'd be surprised what it can do for others and yourself.

    You've prepared but I'm telling U this, you can not prepare for all events, all situations. Embrace it. Deal with it. Things are going to happen you haven't imagined. That's good.
    Thanks very much, putting a pin in this post.

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    Dogwood touched on what I believe is the root of the "mental challenge." As you are walking, listen for one word - "too". It could come in many forms, the trail trail is TOO hilly, the trail is TOO rough, the weather TOO rainy, the trail TOO PUDdy. Whenever too is used it shows a mismatch between your perception and reality. Change your perception, the trail is what it is. Next time you are hiking in the rain, put a huge smile of your face and pretend it is sunny and warm. This insight hit me on the switchbacks coming off of Fullers ridge on the PCT. I hiked a half a mile and looked up to see the trail I had just walked a hundred feet above me. Boy was that trail TOO meandering. But the trail has still 2654 miles and the elevation change still the same. It was my perception that was off.
    enemy of unnecessary but innovative trail invention gadgetry

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    ME => GA 19AT3 rickb's Avatar
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    For me the mental challenge was very real.

    I posted this some years ago, and others with a like mind seemed to think it was worth considering at least:

    https://ndoherty.com/stockdale-paradox/


    http://jobtransition.net/wp-content/...d-To-Great.pdf


    While it surely would not be relevant to all, I think I would include it on my (very short) list of “required reading” for prospective thru hikers.
    Last edited by rickb; 03-17-2018 at 08:57.

  13. #13

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    Walk until you're not having fun anymore. You don't have to finish it.

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    I got pretty bored, man.

    It was a combination of the green tunnel and often horrible trail, I think.

    There’d be a nice valley to the north but you’d spend 19 miles that day climbing up and down rocky ledges and muddy swamps - total northbound progress: 1 mile.

    It was super frustrating.
    There were times I resented almost every climb for the day.

    Other times just being over it and excited for town. I reunited with my trail family in Virginia and we flew through the shennies, a place is been looking forward to for months, just to get to front royal and take a zero.

    It kinda became a grind for me in Virginia and that lasted, with a bunch of upswings, through Vermont. In Vermont we hit real mountains again and the weather was mostly great and I kinda fell back in love with it.

    I never considered quitting but a lot of what kept me going was simply finishing. I quit my job to go out there and not finishing just wasn’t an option

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    Registered User BuckeyeBill's Avatar
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    You will hear some people say "Absorb the suck" and "Never quit on a bad day." There are probably a few more, but these two kept me going on the PCT both times I did it. Another one that made sense to me came from Dixie AKA Homemade Wonderlust. She said remember that hiking is not a job. You don't have to get up at 7 am eat breakfast and take off. You don't have to quit hiking at 5pm if you still feel up to hiking more. Remember what Lone Wolf says: "You are on a vacation and it's only walking". Don't over think this or you will drive yourself nuts. I wish you all the luck in the world that you complete your hike.
    Blackheart

  16. #16
    Registered User TheMidlifeHiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BuckeyeBill View Post
    You will hear some people say "Absorb the suck" and "Never quit on a bad day." There are probably a few more, but these two kept me going on the PCT both times I did it. Another one that made sense to me came from Dixie AKA Homemade Wonderlust. She said remember that hiking is not a job. You don't have to get up at 7 am eat breakfast and take off. You don't have to quit hiking at 5pm if you still feel up to hiking more. Remember what Lone Wolf says: "You are on a vacation and it's only walking". Don't over think this or you will drive yourself nuts. I wish you all the luck in the world that you complete your hike.
    Yeah, transitioning from work (I’m quitting my job) to hiking without bringing along the 9-5 grind mentality will be tough. Good advice, thanks.

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    A lot of good advice. I'll add, don't become attached. If your goal is to complete the trail, then make that the most important. Goals change, and that's OK. But if you become attached to others, you have to start compromising to keep the attachment. If your trail buddy or buddies have different priorities or agendas don't be reluctant to give them some well wishes and hope to see them down the trail. I was a solo hiker with some amazing trail friends who, every time I crossed paths with was like a small joyful reunion, but none of the decisions affecting my hike were made by committee. That worked for me anyway. Happy hiking!

  18. #18
    Registered User TheMidlifeHiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by putts View Post
    A lot of good advice. I'll add, don't become attached. If your goal is to complete the trail, then make that the most important. Goals change, and that's OK. But if you become attached to others, you have to start compromising to keep the attachment. If your trail buddy or buddies have different priorities or agendas don't be reluctant to give them some well wishes and hope to see them down the trail. I was a solo hiker with some amazing trail friends who, every time I crossed paths with was like a small joyful reunion, but none of the decisions affecting my hike were made by committee. That worked for me anyway. Happy hiking!
    Attaching myself to people won’t be this introvert’s undoing

  19. #19

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    Meditation can be good. It ideally trains your mind to go “through” thoughts without getting stuck in them. This has been more helpful to me in normal life though. On the trail even on the worst days, I was still euphoric at the same time. I still don't understand this. It could just have been the "high" of exercise releasing dopamine and endorphins constantly. But happy is the wrong word for what I felt. It was more just accepting of everything and content no matter what bad things happened. And they happened!

  20. #20
    Registered User TheMidlifeHiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BoogieForth View Post
    Meditation can be good. It ideally trains your mind to go “through” thoughts without getting stuck in them. This has been more helpful to me in normal life though. On the trail even on the worst days, I was still euphoric at the same time. I still don't understand this. It could just have been the "high" of exercise releasing dopamine and endorphins constantly. But happy is the wrong word for what I felt. It was more just accepting of everything and content no matter what bad things happened. And they happened!
    That’s how I’ve felt on my prep hikes but those aren’t months long

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