From Neuroses and Anxiety to Routine and Monotony

I’ve been noticing some internal shifts. They happened slowly, then all at once.

I love that quote, or misquote, from The Sun Also Rises. “Gradually, then suddenly,” is the actual quote. In reference to financial decline, bankruptcy.

The gradual then sudden shifts for me are waning anxiety and neuroses, replaced with routine and tinges of monotony.

“Will there be a tent spot? Will I arrive too late?” Concern over finding a tent spot near a shelter is a diminishing daily discomfort. I started repeating a mantra of sorts, “May everyone who arrives find the tent or shelter spot they want.” I also noticed anxiety about camping alone, being alone at a shelter. So far I haven’t crossed that boundary.

For a while I had an irrational fear that I could get tangled in my sleeping quilt straps and cords while rotisserie chicken sleeping and strangle myself in my sleep.

Breaking down my tent the morning after my first night camping, I freed a tent stake from the ground. The grooves were caked with dirt. Dirt. Dirty. I stared at the stake. I wanted to wash it, scrub it.  I redirected myself gently. Soil outside, dirt inside. Good dirt. The health benefits of dirt. I brushed aside the thought that anthrax also comes from dirt. I used one stake to dig out the chunks of dirt on another stake as I observed others doing. I slid the still dirty stakes back in their pouch and then into the outside front pocket of my pack. I folded the damp ground cloth dirt side in, clean side out, and flattened it next to the pouch of stakes in the outside pocket.

Routine feels wonderful.

I pack and unpack my gear the same way every day. I can picture the location of every item in my mind. Not like in the the beginning of the hike.

“Where’s my spork! Where’s my spork?” Wild eyed, digging through my pack. I always found the spork, and now put it and everything else back in the same place every time.

“I have to go crinkle in my bag now for an hour,” I would say to other hikers in the first few weeks of the hike. Meaning I would pull everything out, make sure I have everything, arrange and rearrange everything for the most optimal location, look at my food. Arrange and rearrange my food. Create a day bag of food separate from the big bag of food.

“I do that too!” was often the response to the declaration about crinkling in my bag for an hour.

I don’t need to crinkle in my bag so much now that I know where everything is.

When I am in my tent with all my stuff scattered around me, I know that nothing can get lost because it is in the tent with me. That feels comforting.

I now look forward to the routine of arriving at a hostel. Find bunk. Dig through hiker loaner clothes box for cotton clothes to give myself a break from synthetic garb. Shower and discover what soap and shampoo offerings I get to try, new and familiar fragrances. Find people to do laundry with to make a full load. Eat, eat, eat!

Thirty miles felt like a major accomplishment.  One hundred miles, a miracle. I was stuck in fight or flight, on constant high alert.

I raced past 300 miles evading a storm, a more real reason for flight or flight. We were never in real danger.

I meandered past 400 miles deep in thought.

With 500, 600, and 700 miles I settled into a comfortable routine.

I noticed the shift around the 800 mile mark in Virginia. Much of the anxiety had evaporated, which felt wonderful. I had to remind myself to be alert, take care not to step on a snake or startle a bear. Often when my mind wanders I stub my toe and lose my balance, multiple times a day. Many near falls and more than several actual falls. Nothing serious. I repeat the mantra, “pick up your feet and don’t fall down.”

Suddenly I needed more input. Similar to learning to drive. A new driver might be easily overwhelmed with responding appropriately in traffic. With more experience the same driver is able to make multiple split second decisions. The components of driving integrate and the learner is ready to add more parts. In threes and sevens.

I had been fully immersed in absorbing nature and riding my thoughts. I hadn’t wanted to put headphones on and miss a moment of nature or miss a thought.

Routine crept toward monotony. I watched my mind threads. I turned, “I have to do this,” into “I get to do this,” and felt immediate uplift. I now increasingly find I have to use mindfulness and gratitude practices for the uplift, rather than the uplift and gratitude inserting, being a natural state.

There were several days of rain. An inner dullness accompanied the monochrome gray days. “We need rain for water at water sources! No rain means no bugs!” I repeated to myself.

Hiking friends and I talked about how much the weather affects mood.

Is this the Virginia blues? Around Virginia seems to be when the excitement wears off and the routine sets in for many people. There are over 550 trail miles in Virginia.

There is so much to look forward to in Virginia!

I grew up in Virginia and was looking forward to new and familiar locations. Grayson Highlands. Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, Crabtree Falls. Being near Wintergreen, Massanutten, Luray Caverns, Yogaville. 

I had time off the trail in Roanoke and Rockfish Gap with old and new friends who treated me to over the top home cooked meals, ice cream, a shower, and a comfy bed, great company.

I focused on what I had to look forward to. I love being in my tent. Cozy sleep. Fall asleep with the waning light and wake up to bird song.

I heard about several people who had to get off trail for one reason or another. I learned Harper’s Ferry is one of the milestones where people end their hikes. Respect. And also sadness.

I made, “If I can just get to Harper’s Ferry,” a goal similar to, “If I can just get to Standing Bear,” in the Smokies.

I was looking forward to Harper’s Ferry to experience the history and natural beauty. I was going to get to visit with my PT friend Annette and my brother.

I made new goals. “if I can just get to Pennsylvania, where my dear friend Renee is going to hike with me. “If I can make it to Belvale Creamery,” where I am to meet my NY and CT hiking friends for an ice cream celebration. “If I can make it to Bulls Bridge,” where another dear friend will drive me home for a day.

I get to visit with friends around Dover Plains and Pawling, NY.

People say if you can make it to New England you aren’t likely to quit.

I haven’t thought about quitting since week two once I got acclimated with some emotional support and being encouraged out of the nest. One of the deciding factors for not quitting was that I heard friends of a friend thought there was no way I could do it. That helped to settle my resolve to prove them wrong.

Another reason for a thru hike for me is that I love the feeling of immersing fully. I first noticed this when I took an intersession class in college. I especially enjoyed spending several weeks focusing full time on one subject. 

I am feeling the increasing mind game aspect of the hike. I love my own company, and I also notice a touch of loneliness. I feel happier when I am with tramily, or have the promise of friends/family coming to meet me and whisk me off the trail for a day.

I talked with other hikers about the Virginia Blues. So many of us seem to have similar inner experiences around the same mile markers.

I remind myself and others that whatever I am feeling is transient and will shift.

I keep walking.

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Comments 2

  • David Groce : Jun 28th

    This was a really good post, Wendy. Thank you so much for the thought and effort invested in it.

  • Smitty : Jul 19th

    You’re changing getting different like a cat that goes off for weeks then comes back awesome post, waiting in ct to read about bear mtn and such.


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