Keeping Out the Rain

There’s a lot of talk about how terribly it rains on the AT. Everywhere I look I see more accounts of downpours lasting days, soaking everyone’s every possession. ‘Nothing is waterproof,’ they proclaim in the forums, ‘so just get used to getting wet.’

It’s one of the classic Appalachian trials that no training can prepare you for–the misery of being trapped in wetness, with no end in sight. And it’s these hurdles we can’t train for that most threaten our chances of finishing, because they alter our very mindset unpredictably. Our brains themselves will be working very differently waterlogged than when they first cooked up the charming idea of a thru-hike. So we don’t know what to firm up our resolve against–our enemy is invisible until the battle itself. One has just got to hope to have the mental fortitude to face the rain when the time comes.

I had an encouraging glimpse into what that fortitude might look like today. As I was running in Central Park, it started to pour (I know it’s not the Smokies, but bear with me). The sudden wet discomfort irritated me, but I got used to it enough to get lost in my thoughts again, as I tend to do while running. Then it really got bad. The wind picked up, shooting the rain hard and horizontally at me. Here’s the funny thing. This time, I was so absorbed in whatever dream of the trail I was having that it was several seconds until I actually noticed the change in weather. Once I was aware, I felt myself tense up and flinch at the wind. But there was a brief window when rain was still blowing into my face but it didn’t affect me at all. This delay is a crucial insight into how we might deal with hardships like rain on the trail. The driving rain doesn’t automatically trigger misery; there’s some secondary, separate process where the misery comes in. And if I could delay it by five seconds by accident, who says I can’t hold it off entirely?

I’m not claiming that because I can handle a run in the rain I can hike through four days of rain no problem. Again, I can’t imagine the actual sensation of being caught in that kind of weather for so long. I just know, now, that there’s some way that that weather can be blocked out somehow. There’s a hidden mental trick, of which I just scratched the surface, that numbs my senses enough so as not to even really notice the storm. More valuable than the lightweight-waterproof-breathable miracles we’ll all be wrapped in is this skill of simply not noticing the intensifying downpour. It’s an evasive skill–but it must be in there somewhere.

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Comments 4

  • Bruce Traillium : Feb 17th

    Nice observation, Ronan!
    I shall endeavor to move myself into your zone when my soaking times try to drown me.

  • Stirder : Feb 17th

    I had a similar experience while hiking and it was a bit of an epiphany. Actually more of an awareness really. I spent a lunch break by a mountain stream in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, contemplating water. There is music in the sound of water in rivers, streams, falls, cascades. Water is the stuff of life. We need it everyday to live. Most of the stuff on the surface of the planet is made up of a majority of water. It’s all around us unless it’s not and then we have to be really careful about carrying it.

    Later in the afternoon, the sky opened and the firmament seemed to break. In the time it took for my feet to get soaked, I turned from thoughtful to miserable.

    Wait a second, I had just enjoyed a lunch by a mountain stream writing in my journal about water music and now I was angry about being wet. Water is what it is; the stuff of life. Being immersed in it is a blessing because it means you will have plenty to drink. The rain returns the water to the earth and keeps the cycle of the stuff of life going. A knee deep creek crossing cools and soothe those tired puppies, even in the winter time.

    The key is staying warm and being dry when you stop. Even in the wintertime, as long as you’re moving you generally stay warm. A layer or two of fleece and a rain jacket can hold the warmth in. Deep in my pack in waterproof bags, I keep my sleeping bag, my long underwear and a pair of wool socks. As long as I have that, I know I will be warm. Then, the matter of getting wet ceases to be an objectively negative experience. You can turn your thoughts back to the blessing of being immersed in the stuff of life.

    Thanks for the post

    • JerseyRunner : Feb 18th

      Ronen and Stirder,
      Thank you for these great posts! It is truly a mindset. Sometimes we just have to “embrace the suck”.

  • Christine : Feb 20th

    Great post. I hate running in the rain, and yet there are times I thoroughly enjoy it, and I know it all has to do with my mindset. I had my first taste of rain hiking last year in the Smokies, and was fine until I slipped in a stream and soaked my boots. From that moment on, I let myself wallow in misery. The good part of it all was that it was an excellent learning experience on the mental games we play.

    Thank you for your post!


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