Morale is a fragile thing on the trail, particularly if the pack is a bit heavier than you expected, there are a few more ascents than you had really planned for, or you are carrying ten or eleven days of food on your back as you climb out of Muir Trail Ranch. It’s worth any effort to keep your mind right; don’t let a little discomfort mess with your head.
Here’s a self-test I like to use when I’m on the trail. I look up, find an airliner (there ALWAYS seems to be an airliner above you, somewhere, especially at night), and imagine someone sitting in first class with a stiff drink in his or her hand. Now, ask yourself this: would you trade places?
Happily, I can report that nine times out of ten my answer is, “No way!”
If you aren’t so sure, here are a few things to consider:
~ Try to reconnect with what drove you to take on the trail in the first place. Remember, as best you can, why you worked as hard as you did to get on the trail. Are you making sure that you are taking the time to enjoy what motivated you in the first place?
~ Have you been eating and drinking sufficiently? Appetites often disappear during a hike, particularly at the beginning if you are not acclimatized. Eating too few calories makes every step difficult. Dehydration can also slow you down, and can even be deadly.
~ Take a long break or stop early for the day. Some extra rest might make all the difference.
~ Fix a special meal. I always make sure I pack something extra delicious so I can splurge. I usually eat that meal the night before I summit, but it is always there in case I need a morale boost on the way.
Try some of these and see if you can’t re-kindle some enthusiasm. Then, recommit to finishing. If you do, you will have an experience far more memorable than any first class flight.
Good hiking, Ray
Thank you Ray. I’ll be North bounding with my 18 year old this year..good advice.
Sounds like a terrific adventure planned, Mark. Good luck and thanks for the comment.
Round about day 16 of my hike, I was really feeling tired, and a bit lonely. I’d been pushing harder than planned to meet a horse packer on time, and didn’t eat much of a dinner the night before. Looking at a long climb up Mather Pass, I pulled out the headphones and began listening to music while walking. It was the first time I’d listened to any music since starting, and it really helped to get me going. That is until the song Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin came on…I’d been starting to miss my wife and 3y/o son, and was practically in tears by the first chorus. I hiked on, since every step was taking me closer to the finish, but I was feeling even more blue for a little bit by that song. Still, listening to music that day helped me get through an unexpectedly tough morning….Just be sure you don’t include Cats in the Cradle on the playlist!!!
Great story, Russell. Thanks!
I pulled out the music for the first time at the base of the Golden Staircase. I don’t normally hike to music, but the pleasure of listening to music for the first time in a long while really lifted my spirits and I ascended the Staircase rather easily (relatively speaking). Surprisingly, the music connected me more strongly to the trail at that moment rather than distancing me from it, which it typically does for me. I was fully immersed in the hike and savoring the wonderful scenery even in the midst of a tough climb.
I wound up pulling out the music a few more times during tough ascents.
I have some comments, but first….
“Cats in the Cradle”? Really?!!
That’s like the most depressing song ever written.
Do you also have “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Everybody Hurts” on your playlist?
Sorry, had to get that out.
Thank you, Ray for this topic. I find all of your info helpful, or at least interesting, but this one hit home for me.
I started the JMT last August (solo) and after the first few days of normal difficulty, was moving along good, but hit an unexpected emotional wall around Mott Lake Trail that drove me to bail out at VVR.
Reasons I settled on: Missed my kids a lot, or at least being able to talk to them, got very lonely and went into solitude overload. I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore.
I think had I spent a rest day at VVR and regained my perspective, I could have gone on, and I regret not doing so.
Fortunately, I’m picking up where I left off starting August 16 with a much better game plan this time, and a DeLorme In-Reach so I can talk to my family when I need or want to.
I’m also going to make a better effort to talk to others on the trail, beyond the cordial hello and quick exchange of usual questions. Need to be more social at campsites, too, but everyone seems pretty spent for the day, and I don’t want to bother them.
If anyone’s out there this year, I hope we cross paths.
Thanks again, Ray.
I’m second to no one in my love for the Sierra Nevada, but being out there alone, day after day, does wear on me a bit. Sounds like you have a plan that will work. Thanks for the comment, Tom.