On The Mental Game – Airplanes and Parachutes
This is a bit convoluted, I needed to vent this morning and turned it into something bigger. Please excuse the jumpiness in the first few paragraphs and the seemingly negative attitude with which I wrote a lot of this. I did not originally intend to write this for the blog, simply to blow off steam in hopes of pulling myself out of a bad mood. It worked. Enjoy.
This post goes out to Joe from Green Mill. You told me to write the real thing, the nitty-gritty and this is a perfect example of what you meant. Thanks buddy.
I’ve been missing home today, yesterday and all through last night. I was cranky and on edge all day and it irritatingly penetrated my dreams last night. Not the first time, not the last, just the worst thus far.
I could barely even say what it was that nagged at me so but it certainly took a toll on my mental energy. I’m not sick of the trail, I love this life! It’s bigger than that. It was so simple, surely that’s the reason it took till 2am last night to reveal itself to me — I miss the little things. I miss sitting on my front porch reading a book over a cup of coffee and occasionally watching the world move around me. I miss the summer I’m missing in MN. How glorious they are! I miss going to the horse races, playing disc golf and even doing very little as I prove to regularly back home. I just miss my home, my usual routines and the predictability of each day, mundane as it sounds.
Oddly enough this doesn’t make me want to be home, I just can’t help but think about it. Anyone who has been on the trail more than a week can tell you the mental game is what it’s all about out here. The body can be made strong. “Trail legs,” establish themselves sometime around week three or four (my calves are huge, it’s incredible), the body naturally acclimates to being outside and sleeping/waking with the sun becomes second nature. The birds become alarm clocks and the fireflies bedtime stories. You can physically make yourself do almost anything if you have to, that’s what this life teaches you before you ever work into serious introspection of mind or personality. Mentally making yourself do something is a different story. When you wake up you eat — you don’t have a choice, it takes calories to hike. When you finish eating it’s time to pack up camp — you don’t have a choice, it takes miles to complete a thru hike. Throughout the day you must rest, eat, filter and drink water, stretch your muscles and KEEP WALKING — YOU DON’T HAVE A CHOICE. At night you have to set up camp or freeze, cook dinner or starve, do dishes or ruin your equipment. You have to hang your food on a bear line and get to sleep with enough time to recuperate for another day of hiking. Again, you don’t have a choice. Get the picture?
I believe this is why I miss home. I actually miss not having to do anything if I don’t want to. Out here you either accept what needs doing or you go home. It’s that simple. There’s no such thing as leaving dishes in the sink, sleeping until it’s time to go to work or driving around aimlessly to clear my head.
In so many ways life on the trail harkens back to an age of nomadic hunter-gatherer societies where life was simple and hard. I miss being lazy — there! I said it. Some days knowing I don’t have a choice about so much of life downright sucks. Plain and simple.
These are all factors in what I earlier referred to as, “the mental game.” These three magical words make or break anyone attempting a thru hike or any other long-term adventure. This is getting repetitive and I know it but describing one’s thoughts simply isn’t easy. Just get up and do, right? Maybe if I was a squirrel I wouldn’t worry so much… storing my nuts and surviving the foxes and hawks would be enough… Anyways, it’s just not as easy as it looks when all an outsider sees are smiles and all they hear are great tales of adventure and discovery, triumph and enjoyment. What really eats at a hiker at night is how simplicity can be a curse, adventure can be exhausting and sometimes hugging your mum and crying for awhile sounds bloody well, perfect. This is what makes a thru hike so hard. This is why the mental game trumps the physical one each and every time.
Damn. This got really depressing… maybe I won’t publish this at all…
I believe every story needs a hero and a villain. Life isn’t peachy every damn second of every damn day — if it was we’d call it heaven. But hell, it sure felt good to vent for a second. So, let’s explore the hero so I can stop feeling like a Negative Nancy for awhile. Trail life is incredible. Ultimately I’m much happier out here than I was at home, it’s a part of the human condition to believe my grass is brown and it’s green over yonder.
When I was back home I was a mess, I can’t put it any more plainly than that. I was depressed and I was anxious with people for no good reason to the extent I was medicated for it. I slept too much, I drank too much and I did far too little to even be considered mildly productive. Quite frankly, I was going nowhere. I was floating on a river of apathy, not caring and not making the slightest ripple towards directing my own life. I needed to rock the boat. I needed change to shake things up and pull out of the nosedive into lethargy on the course I was plotting out of sheer lack of planning or initiative. I was dying inside and doing my best to expediate the plunge into a hole of complete and utter uselessness without a bottom to bounce up from. I simply existed at the bare minimum requirements for life — and then just barely. I would go days with nothing in my stomach but coffee and beer and nothing in my eyes but listlessness and a landscape filled with dreary, dull, pointless visions of what a worthless human I was becoming.
Then I got on the trail.
Almost immediately I started noticing a change in myself. I became productive for the first time since the last time I derailed my life and landed myself in jail. That was the last time I was truly productive. When I got out I made moves — I went back to school and I looked at the world as a blessing instead of a dreadful burden. I DID SOMETHING then and finally, after starting the trail, I felt like I was doing something again after so many months in the gutters.
Last week I quit taking my anti-anxiety meds — I feel that good. I don’t drink so much or so often anymore and my lungs have nearly tripled in capacity even though I quit taking my asthma medications and I’m still smoking. I EAT! I eat a whole three meals every day and like a horse on steroids, at that (some of the people in my life can give testimony to how monumental this is compared to my patterns back home). When I wake up in the morning I’m motivated to get out of bed, a phenomenon I haven’t experienced in far too long. I HAVE MOTIVATION AGAIN. I have never, repeat never, felt so good in my entire life. It seems so silly but I don’t look at the world the same way I did two months ago. I’m actually happy, despite the impression the beginning of this entry may lead you to believe. The trail has become my life buoy, my parachute to save me from certain death as I plummeted towards the ground at breakneck speed. I sit and talk to people without anxiety and even read less (contradictory, I know, but I have used books as an escape for far too long). I have friends that I actually want to sit down and chat with about anything and everything. My attention span for boring and my propensity for happiness have climbed figurative mountains while my feet have traversed literal ones. Have I mentioned I’m HAPPY???
The trail has given me a second chance at life and I will NEVER ever forget my experience here. I’m eternally grateful for whatever wild hair got up my ass and propelled me out here. I’m amazed every single day how utterly beautiful life is instead of feeling like the walls of existence are not-so-slowly crushing my soul like a massive trash compactor hell-bent on squeezing the very essence of life out of me (I may have been watching Star Wars at the hostel recently…). I will never forget this journey and I know in my heart that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Maybe part of missing home is my motivation chomping at the bit to get my life’s ball rolling again. It’s practically tearing my jaws to do something with my life back home. In the meantime there’s still a lot of journey to be had here, I’m not even close to finished and I’m grateful for that too. I feel I’ve come a long way already in five weeks, what will five months have in store for me? No one knows but I certainly intend to find out!
As I sit here writing this on the uneven wooden porch of Greasy Creek Friendly (hostel), watching the sun dance in the leaves and smelling the fresh air mix with my own smoky, earthy musk I keep coming back to one word — balance. The grass is just as green here, it’s just a different shade. I’m reminded that nothing is ever perfect and thank god for that! Life would be abysmally boring if it was. Balance. Here I can find peace, here I can reconcile myself, here I can find my strength and willpower while shoving out some of the demons squatting in my mind I never thought I could summon the courage to face. I may have bad days, even horrendous ones but I know that I need them just as much as I need to smile at the beauty of my adventure. What is good without bad? What is life without death or sun without storm? Writing this has helped me remind myself to, “embrace the suck,” and keep moving. Just keep moving. Find the balance. Find peace.
“The sun doesn’t shine every day, some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue.” – Unknown
Life goes on and so will I. Be happy.
Till next time,
Hot damn do I feel better having gotten all that out! All hail the mighty gods of scribe! Thank you to anyone who managed to ride the rapids through my rant, I needed this.
“Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?
I’ve seen those English dramas too
So if there’s any other way
To spell the word
It’s fine with me, with me.”
-Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma”
If you don’t know why this is included, look it up.
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Wow Tim! Amazing blog. I enjoyed reading it. You are a very talented writer. I saw your mom today at chipotle and she mentioned how proud of you she is! I can see why ?
Love reading a “day in the life”. My son Corey and his friend Grayson have no idea how curious I am about their quest. Thanks for sharing.
Damn! I’m glad you published this. I needed it. I started out on the Trail back in mid-March and after a week had to cancel my hike due to a kidney stone that I’m still fighting with. I’ve gone through a lot of the feelings and depression that you describe here. All I want to do is get this Damn stone out of my body and restart my hike next season. But until then I feel like I’m falling apart. I can’t work because excruciating pain can pop up at any time. I still hike and workout locally, but right now I can’t commit to anything long term.
Keep on moving! You’re more of an inspiration than you know.
I’m a friend of your Mom at Children’s Hospital. I’m so glad she shared a card with me so that I can follow your blog. I just read your most recent entry and want to thank you for your honesty and openness. I found it personally inspiring and tremendously interesting to learn about what life is like for you on the trail. You write extremely well, Tim!! Best of luck as your journey continues.