Challenging Thoughts and Fears

With just under 5 weeks til my brother and I start our Appalachian Trail adventure I’ve been starting to worry nonstop. Keeping myself awake at night, I’m hounded by thoughts of failure, all the things that could possibly go wrong, and many other not-so-nice thoughts. “How many times will I catch norovirus?” or “Oh man, I’m definitely gonna be the one who gets her pack stolen by a bear.” or more serious yet “my knees are gonna hate me for this”.  There’s a a particular type of cognitive behavioral therapy used in dealing with anxiety that requires one to allow themselves to think these anxious thoughts, recognize them, and then analyze them logically. Here are a few of those thoughts broken down. Of course, any advice from veteran thru or section hikers and my fellow class of 2015 is also helpful!

“My knees are going to give out”

If there’s one thing that’s going to stop my hike, it’ll be my knees. Crappy knees run in the family and mine just haven’t been the same since I ran a half marathon in November of 2013. Maybe it’s the bitter cold that seeps through the window in my room, but I swear I can already feel my knees and joints screaming in pain. I’m preeeettty sure what I’m experiencing is psychosomatic because they don’t actually hurt when I’m not thinking about it. Therefore, I challenge this thought with the fact that I have a reliable knee brace (the Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Brace, recommended on Appalachian Trials) and that I’ve gone through several weeks of physical therapy that has helped me strengthen my hips and thigh muscles to take some of the shock off my knees. And if I have to bow out because of knee problems, I’ll know it was because there wasn’t anything else I could do and my health comes first – once the trail stops being fun at the expense of my body, I no longer have any business on the trail.

“What if the other kids don’t like me?”

That heading is supposed to be funny, but what I’m actually talking about is how much of an awkward turtle I’ll be adjusting to trail life. I’ve never slept in a shelter before. I’ve never hung a bear bag except for in practice. What if I snore too much and someone is a dick about it? Oh man, I hate confrontation so much. What if the other hikers make fun of us for being so slow? I’m so out of shape and now I’m concerned that I’ll be letting my fears hold me and (hopefully not) my brother back). Time to talk myself down from quitting the hike – first of all, everyone is a beginner sometime. Yes, the shelters and the trail will be crowded. It’ll take me an embarrassingly long time to get some things right, I’m sure. I’m certain that I’ll not hit it off with a lot of people I come across, but I will meet a lot of really great, wonderful people who are out there for the same reason I am. We only get one shot at this life and one shot to experience a momentous adventure with fresh eyes, so in the big scheme of things one douchebag calling me out on the trail shouldn’t spoil my learning experiences and how I hike my hike. As long as I’m being as conscientious of others and the environment as possible, then I have nothing to worry about.

“I won’t make it to Katahdin”

This is the greatest of the repetitive thoughts. Even though I just said my knees would be the thing to stop me. Even though I think I’ll die of embarrassment because I’m the tortoise and everyone else is the hare, except for the slightly faster tortoises. I guess it’s inevitable. What about lyme disease? What if I get bored, or too frustrated? I’ll never live that down if I don’t make it. I’ve been talking about this hike non-stop for over a year!

You know what? This is really the easiest thought to challenge. To this I tell myself to take it one day at a time, one step at a time. Soon enough I’ll be stepping off from Springer, outside among the hills and the trees and all sorts of weather and I’ll be taking those steps towards challenging myself. And when I flip the anxiety and think about the challenge of completing such a momentous, incredible, truly awesome feat such as hiking 2185 miles, those worries don’t matter any more. How will anxiety plague me while I’m actually on the trail? I don’t know. But I do know I’m not alone, and I am as ready as I’ll ever be to begin this adventure. Let’s go.

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Comments 3

  • Michelle Hand : Feb 23rd

    Oh man… I’m feeling all these very same things! I feel like I haven’t gotten a wink of sleep in a week. I just keep worrying… What if I fail? What if I fail? I’m tossing and turning over something that hasn’t even started yet! I wish you the best with your hike! And at least know that if you are ever afraid of awkwardness (socially awkward turtle right here too!) or those worrying thoughts keep you up, you got a supporter right here telling you you can do it! And you’re not alone :).

  • Jessica : Feb 24th

    You are amazing for sharing all these thoughts. I hope to see you on the trail. I too have bad knees and turtle like speeds. You know what they say, “slow and steady wins the race.” 😉 You can do this!

  • Bushy : Feb 27th

    Why your list is very short! You don’t sound afraid of bugs or getting lost which is awesome and your way ahead of me. I was the same weeks ago but slowly have gotten a handle on the feelings.
    I have traveled all over the world and you will meet those people who for whatever reason must say negative things to others. I have learned they are just reflecting back how they feel about themselves and not to take it personally. I like the trail in that I can just move away from them without much effort physically and mentally.
    I started working on each fear by watching Utube videos which helped. I watched some on how to properly hike up and down hills with a pack on and how to protect the knees. There are some videos to show how to pack your pack properly to help maintain balance, one of my biggest worries. Many pains are in the brain like you said, there is a Dr. Sarno you can find on Utube and he has a book you can probably find in the library. Dr. Sarno addresses all those pains we use to keep from facing our fears or when we feel overwhelmed we use intense pain to make ourselves just stop everything.
    There is the Utube video by Les Brown an inspirational speaker, the video is of photos of military but close your eyes and listen and you can put that talk to the trail easily. I recorded it on my “voice memo” on my phone and play it on days I feel tired and not into training and away I go reinvigorated.
    You can do this! I don’t think about the end because to me that is the end of my adventure, I see each day is my success. Whenever I feel overwhelmed thinking about the distance or weight of my pack I just tell myself, “I am just going for a walk, just a short walk.” Remember to celebrate each evening THAT YOU DID IT!!!! You got this girl, you got this!!!


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