8 Ways to Stave Off (Or Embrace) The Insanity Of Long Distance Hiking

insanity of long distance hiking

So let’s face it, your new life on the trail will be fascinating and invigorating for a while, but eventually you will get bored with walking. Problem is, you’ve got to do it all day for about half a year! You will become an expert at finding ways to keep your mind busy, but here are some of my personal favorites. Let’s start with the usual and movie into strange, just as your hike will.

1) Talking

source: cheezburger.com

Hikers are easy to talk to and there is something about two people being alone in the forest that draws them into conversation with one another. Even if you don’t seem like each other’s typical demographic, your gear and your time on the trail will keep you going for hours with any stranger. Best of all, there is no social order on the Appalachian Trail. As an artsy, granola girl in my early 20’s, I shared everything from deeply insightful to ruggedly brash conversation with hikers ranging from someone I could have met in a college photography class to straight laced military men over twice my age and even endearing women who reminded me of my own mother back home.  We learned from one another and molded each others hikes and thus each others lives. Never pass up the opportunity to talk to some one.

2) Music

Music will put you in a good mood when nothing else can. It will make big (rock candy) mountains seem like lesser hills and, more importantly, will also be a time machine providing perfect mental portraits of the trail once you finish. Now that I have returned, I some times hear a song and am immediately transported back to the trail. Sometimes I don’t even know the time or place or even the state but the feeling of that exact moment is fully recouped and within me I feel as if I am hiking once more. Music keeps you dreaming, it keeps you moving, it keeps you pumped. The song “Big Rock Candy Mountain” by Harry McClintock was pretty much written for Hiker Trash on their way to Katahdin and it became the theme song of my hike after a fateful night in the Great Smokey Mountains when a fellow hiker played the song on his phone as we sat around a fire waiting for a snow storm to break and dreaming of a better place.

3) Podcasts

When hiking, your world becomes very small. Podcasts are a great way to keep a wider perspective on the world. Also, you’ll get sick of your music pretty quickly. My personal favorite are “This American Life”, “Radio Lab” and “The Moth”. While on the trail I also asked other hikers fro their suggestions and found out some new greats like “Dirtbag Diaries”, “Stuff You Should Know” and “TED Talks”. If nothing else, just check out Patagonia’s “Dirtbag Diaries” podcast because it will inspire you and you may learn a thing or two!

4) “That Question Game”

This is two of more person game that passes time wonderfully. Cody Coyote, who most thru hikers in 2013 have heard a story about if they didn’t meet him in person, taught me this game. Cody is a simple guy and so is the game. Someone thinks of a word and the others guess by asking questions to narrow it down. Most of us know of it as “Twenty Questions”, but Cody would just say in is Tennessee drawl, “You wanna play that question game?”

5) Singing

source: daninimofcb.tumblr.com

Any song will work and it is fun to teach each other what you already know, but I found with my time on the trail that Disney tunes were the most wide spread. Any one I hiked with will tell you that no one hated the spontaneous Disney sing-a-long more than me (no one sings songs from the good ones like Fox and The Hound or Robin Hood) but it seems that it is unavoidable on the trail. Even after my hike, I returned to Springer Mountain and summited with two South Bounders in early November so I could drive them to the Atlanta Airport. I was AMAZED by how beautifully perfected their celebratory rendition of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” was as we hiked back town to the parking lot in the gap, particularly after the bottle of Cook’s Champagne they had just drank.

6) Writing Post Cards (in your head)

It’s hard to find extra time in town so I found myself planning ahead and pre-writing post cards to friends and family in my head as I walked. The problem was that I rarely actually wrote them down and sent them while I was in town. But still, this passed the time and made me feel as if I was staying in contact with everyone back home, much to the chagrin of everyone who didn’t get as many post cards as my mind believed. It is in your best interest to actually send them. I came back to find that they were very much appreciated and that I suddenly missed having a reason to send a post card.

7) Mantra Walking

I used this to get up the steepest most uninspiring mountains. I just set a cadence to my step and kept at that consistent pace (one… two… one… two…) and used words I repeated to keep that pace. It can be anything, but for me, it was “hamburger… and fries… hamburger… and fries…” This was, after all, where my mind was at most of the time and the simple repetition of something, anything, was a great help is muscling up a big mountain I just wasn’t excited about.

8) Speech Giving

Some times terrain isn’t so rough and your mind just wants something to do. When hiking alone I would give speeches in my mind on non-existent subjects. I love words and the way they work and after a while on the trail I hit the point of insanity where I pretended I was the speaker at a TED Talk on a made up subjects. Example: “Adgulation is a key factor in the world’s permutation of major societal incongruences.  We see through out many cultures ways in which the disparity between classes is accentuated by”… blah, blah, blah. What does that even mean?! “adgulation” isn’t even a word! It doesn’t matter. It entertained me.

All the way to Katahdin.

Let us know in the comments below – how do (did) you keep your mind busy on the trail? We want to know!

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