Coping with the Mental Challenges of Long Distance Hiking

Journal entry from October 2014

October 9, 2014

selfie3We just returned from a two day ‘trial run’ backpacking trip up north along the Manistee River Trail to try out some of our new equipment and to get away for a few days and enjoy the fall weather. My new backpack fits well and the new inflatable mat  (Thermarest) is very comfortable. We might try adding a little silicone coating to the floor of the tent, though, because the mats slide around a lot. The tent worked out well, but the narrowness of it will take some getting used to. I felt a little squished, but that might be because Mel and his mat kept sliding over on my side. The silicone might solve that problem. My inflatable pillow worked well especially when I wrapped my fleece around it to make it more pillow-like.

Manistee River TrailUnfortunately, the shoes that I recently bought for this hike haven’t been working out as well as I had hoped they would. I have been wearing them for hikes around home and my left ankle is starting to rub on the edge of shoe (a problem I thought I had avoided with these shoes). Plus, on this hike, my toes seemed to take a beating. That may happen with any shoe because of the downhills, but I’m going to start looking for other shoes.

Mel got to try out the new water filtering system (Sawyer Mini Water Filter, 2 oz) and it seems to be quick, easy and efficient but, he might order a larger capacity pre-filter water bag. We’ll be getting much of our drinking water from streams and ponds so it needs to be filtered.

scenic tent siteWe hiked along the Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail which is a 23 mile loop but we didn’t get started until 3:00 in the afternoon, so we only completed 7 miles before dark –which meant we would have to do 16 miles the following day. I’ve been walking every day at home averaging some 30 miles a week, but never 16 miles at a stretch.  By the end of the 16 mile day, we were both pretty wiped out. It reminded me of what it will be like when we are on the AT–long days and the mental challenge of not giving up.

bridge viewIronically, Wired, a hiker we have followed all summer, who just completed the ‘triple crown’ (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail), posted the following blog related to the mental challenge of hiking long distances. It was worth remembering, so I’ve saved some of it here. Wired wrote a list of 15 helpful hints about dealing with the mental challenge of long distance hiking and went into detail explaining each point. I’ve listed the bare bones information from her post. If you want to read the post in its entirety, this is the link:

This post was written by Trail Ambassador Erin Wired Saver:

“There is a saying about many athletic ventures that it’s 90% mental. Although the percentage may not be that extreme, I would agree that mental fortitude is a huge part of backpacking that often gets overlooked. Regardless of how long the trip is, or how many people are on the hike, there is a mental component to hiking that can often times be more challenging to master than the physical. As an experienced long distance solo backpacker, I am often asked what makes the difference in people who attempt long trails and those who complete them. My answer is always MENTAL. There reaches a point in hikes where the physical becomes automatic and what remains is the mental. There are constant nuances and adjustments being made mentally while hiking. Here are the strategies and techniques I’ve used for navigating the mental trail…”

1. Train Mentally Before the Hike

2. Remind Yourself Why You’re Out There

3. There Will Be Ups and Downs

4. New Normal

I’ve adopted a mental note that I’m sure to tell myself when I realize that I’m in a long term challenge or discomfort. I tell myself, “It’s the new normal.” It’s amazing how realizing something and shifting the way you view it can greatly change the perspective.

5. There Will Be Discomfort

6. Slippery Slope of the Downward Spiral

Negative thoughts tend to bring on more negative thoughts, so they can pile up quickly. I refer to it as the downward spiral and try to be on guard to stop it before it goes too far.

7. Some Days Will Just Suck

8. Have A Sense of Humor

9. Positive Self Talk

10. Journal

An unexpected benefit of journaling is the perspective it can give you when you take the time to reflect on your day.

11. Take Photos

12. Pay Attention to the Little Things

A great way to make the mundane more exciting can be to really focus in on the details of what you’re walking through.

13. Goals & Rewards

One of the most effective and motivating techniques I’ve used is finding small goals or rewards on a long hike.

14. Variety

If it ain’t workin’, fix it! Changing things up and keeping things fresh can be key to anything in life.

15. Distractions

Even just a brief distraction can be enough to break you out of a slump or boost spirits. Plan ahead for this and think about what distractions best help you in rough patches.



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Comments 2

  • Ellen Baldwin : Feb 18th

    Great post! I’m a big fan of Walking With Wired as well. She has a great mentality that shines through her writing.

    • Jeanne Church : Feb 23rd

      She is definitely WIRED!


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