How to Cope When the Honeymoon Phase Is Over

It’s the third day of walking through knee-high snowdrifts, sleeping in the frigid cold, and hiking in freezing rain with wind gusts cracking your dehydrated hands.

You’re running out of chocolate and you haven’t felt your toes or fingers in hours. The shelter is still four miles away, but a huge climb stands in the way of a mildly warmer, possibly damper, existence.

You contemplate pizza. Your butt longs to plop down on a couch. Your feet scream for a reprieve from this terrible march. Your back aches from the overweight toddler strapped to it.

Not for the first time, you remember that this is a completely and utterly voluntary life. You think about quitting, seriously quitting, for the first time.

The honeymoon phase is over.

I’ve had a few of these moments in the past seven weeks. Sometimes they’ve popped up at the most unexpected times, and at other times, not at all unexpected. I knew before I started that I would be forced into uncomfortable situations; that I would be cold, hot, annoyed, stinky, frustrated, and downright downtrodden. Little did I know that those times can come all at once or one by one, eating away at your mental fortitude.

The most distinct time for me came during a long day of trekking in the snow. I would heave my leg up to clear a snowdrift, place my foot down carefully in the premade track, shift my weight, and slide right back down into the slush. It was mental and physical agony to keep this up for miles uphill. With each step I was working twice as hard for half the distance.

After hours of this torture, I  snapped. I let out a howl of frustration into the mountains. And somehow, the mountains listened. The blue blazes to the shelter appeared out of the haze, and I found six smiling, friendly faces inside.

Not every day will end with you and your friends reading “Lord of the Rings” aloud in a shelter, warm and full from spending most of the day “inside,” but in its own way, the trail always provides in the end; you just have to give it a chance.

When all the bugs start biting, the hiker gets innovative with their buff.

Here are a few ways I’ve learned to curb the urge to quit.

1. Just get out.

There’s no better cure to trail lethargy than a few days in a town, gorging on pizza, and laid up in bed. In fact, after a few of those days, you may even find yourself itching to get back out there. (Hearing about awful people and news tends to do the trick for me.)

2. Get excited about something that’s going to happen in the next week.

After a week of snow, topped off with a terrible experience slack packing 25 miles and my tent blowing away, just crossing into Virginia wasn’t going to be enough of a goal to lift my spirits. So what does a 22 year old do? Call mom.

What a game changer! Just the promise of seeing a familiar face that you love dearly in a few short days was the biggest boon to my spirits.

Whether it be a close friend, a significant other, or your own family, spending time with someone you’ve known longer than a few days, and removed from your trail life, can broaden your happiness horizons tenfold.

Just spending the day with my mom meant the world to me after weeks of cold weather. Call your mom and tell her you love her. She deserves it.

3. Switch up your daily routine.

Download a new podcast. Drink a cup of coffee or tea in the morning instead of mindlessly packing up. Take it slow during the day and just stop where you feel like stopping. Pick a view for a lunch break.

Find something to break up the monotony of the eat, walk, sleep, repeat routine. No one out here can get excited from being bored.

4. Don’t quit on a bad day, or even a bad week.

We’ve all heard the saying, “don’t quit on an uphill” or “don’t quit on a bad day,” but I’m going to suggest a revision to that statement.

Because I started in February, I’ve seen a lot of winter. And I mean a lot. I’m talking three days of snow just in April. April! *Global warming is not a joke or a punch line anymore. Get with the program, people.* Anyway, there was a span of a few days in the Smokies when the temperature did not rise above 32. In fact, it didn’t even get close. Shoes froze. Snot froze. Socks became as stiff as a wooden beam. I woke up cold and I went to bed cold.

But what I learned was worth so much more than a couple of uncomfortable hours each day. I learned that I was strong. My legs were carrying my body up mountains, but my mind and heart were truly the MVPs during this time. If I had quit when the snow came down sideways or when I had to walk just to feel my feet, I would have never learned that I can endure, and even find joy somewhere in a snowy hellscape.

I’ve had to laugh at myself or the ridiculous situations I’ve gotten into, including turning into one large prune in my most recent race through a thunderstorm. Sometimes it won’t be easy to laugh or simply see the humor in the frustrating times we hikers face, but by taking each day one at a time, you open yourself up to the possibility of self-acceptance and discovery, something you won’t find easily or without a little grit.

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Comments 1

  • AJ : Apr 24th

    This is a great and enlightening post! My husband and I Start our flip flop hike in may and often wonder about the many unpleasant days.

    Great advice, keep up the great work!

    Happy Trails!


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