Three Ways I Turned Pre-AT-Hike Jitters into Calm Confidence

When I stretch beyond my comfort zone, sometimes nervousness or anxiety creep into my thinking before the big event even begins. When I start to feel those less productive emotions overpower excitement and anticipation, I find ways to convert that extra energy from nervous to calm. Here are three examples of how I turned my pre-AT-hike jitters into calm hiker confidence.

1. Notes of Appreciation to My Trail Angels

Trail angels are known for sharing support along the route, but there were many trail angels who showed up way before Springer Mountain to guide me to the starting point. Sometimes they showed up in surprising places, like the maintenance team in our neighborhood who would honk, wave, and cheer me on while I was sweating out hill repeats.

Before departing, I took time to write thank-you notes to those whose guidance or cheerleading moved me toward my goal. In each note, I included a description of exactly how the recipient’s effort positively impacted my efforts. I didn’t just say, “Thanks for your support!” Instead, in the case of the neighborhood maintenance cheer squad, “Your waves, honks, and supportive chats often came at just the right moment. Thank you for keeping me motivated with your energy and enthusiasm!”

Sharing gratitude gave me a chance to reflect on my trail preparation and the many trail angels I encountered along the way who are rooting for me. This simple practice boosted my confidence, quieted my nerves, and helped shift my energy to a more productive and relaxed state of mind.

2. Visualizing the Trail

In 2016, my husband and hiking partner, Adam, swam 65 miles nonstop while I kayaked alongside, managing his route and needs. In preparation for that event, we sought to learn more about how our brains work from a neuro-feedback expert who specializes in athletic peak performance. That work helped us understand that we can train our brains like we train our bodies, and that visualization can be a useful tool to prime the brain for a desired outcome. During Adam’s swim, our goal was to reach a beach 65 miles from the start. Now, our goal is to hike 2,193 miles to Mount Katahdin, Maine.

Using the visualization strategies we learned, I imagined starting at the trailhead at Springer Mountain, Georgia, walking each of the 14 AT states, and arriving safely at Katahdin. Details were important in this exercise, so I thought of specific experiences on the trail that made me nervous, and reframed them into a new positive way of thinking. Instead of being intimidated by the descent down Blood Mountain, I imagined saying “Thank you, body!” as I felt the burn. I erased worries of cringing in winter winds and visualized donning my carefully selected cold weather gear to feel snug and warm. I thought about finding fulfillment, not frustration, in the effort of climbing the White Mountains.

By visualizing and reframing my hike, I put my brain to work practicing desired solutions. This exercise reminded me of the positive potential of each challenge ahead, and created a sense of readiness to tackle any situation.

3. Making My Motivation Tangible

If you read my blog post From Hula to Hiking: How Dancing Hula Taught Me to Manage the Mental Game of Thru-Hiking, then you have insight into my motivational slogan: My Sweat Is My Ho‘okupu.

To keep this motivation front and center, I tackled a small DIY project and sewed a lightweight storage pouch using an old windbreaker and a custom patch. Stowed in my front backpack pocket, the lightweight pouch contains all my essential goodies for easy access throughout the day.  Whenever I use it, I’ll have a visual reminder of my mantra to keep the momentum going and tap into that calm confidence when I need it.

How do you create calm in the days leading up to the most important events in your life?


Feature photo courtesy Liz Snyder.



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Comments 2

  • Toby : Mar 7th

    Hi Amelia, Love the idea of visualisation strategies – think I’ll give that a go. I’m hitting the trail in 3 weeks’ time, so might see you out there. Happy hiking.

    • Amelia : Mar 13th

      Hi, Toby! Glad to hear that visualization is a strategy that you’ll use to make the most of your thru-hike. Have you tried it yet? How did it go?


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