“Day 4” or the day I wanted to toss it all in and get the heck off the trail…..
At this point, just less than 3 weeks into our 3 year hike across Canada along The Great Trail – a pathway which is 24,000 km long, things still feel – generally great. However, we can also honestly say that at this point, these are still early days with early pains on a trail filled with generous people amid a great landscape. If you had to begin a long distance trek, neither of us could conceive of a place more suited to softly guiding one into the grooves of the trail than Newfoundland. It is the perfect balance of supportive people, readily available amenities, and time in remote wilderness.
You learn a great deal about yourself at the beginning of every trail. Each day brings new challenges and those moments push you to reflect and reconsider just about every aspect of your travel plans and your life. You quickly ask questions such as: Did I prepare enough? What extra(s) did I pack that I don’t need? Did I know what I was getting into? How long is this trail again? Of course, all of these things are questions that you can quietly ponder to yourself and deny having doubts about to others or in the future.
However, as my grandfather used to say you can lie to everyone else, but you can’t lie to yourself. You always know what you doubt, what hurts, and know that regardless of your preparations or experience, the trail is slowly humbling you moment by moment, kilometer by kilometer, and day by day. I have come to realize – across the Camino de Santiago, the Via Podiensis, Camino Portuguese, East Coast Trail, Bruce Trail, and the Rideau Trail (to name a few) that beyond the sore backs, stiff shoulders, and blisters on the feet – it is humility which strikes each hiker the hardest. Regardless of your education, job, title, bank balance, or the car you drive each of us must address the essentials of life on the trail – shelter, food, and water as well as their own physical ability and mental strength to continue onward.
It is our belief that almost everyone can traverse along the pathways of their dreams if they so desire. The two greatest obstacles anyone faces in this process are: First, the decision to embark, and Second overcoming their own doubts on the trail.
The physical issues – adjusting to the weight of the backpack, figuring out which gear works best, and assessing whether you are carrying too much or too little all comes in time. You do your research, adjust as you trek, and learn from your mistakes. However the mental war you can wage on yourself – can be the challenge that is the most difficult to confront and overcome.
We both know this from hard experience…
In 2015-2016 we had saved our nickels and dimes for almost a year and sold treasured possessions online to embark on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Yet even after all of this effort it took 4 days – the distance from St. Jean Pied de Port to Pampalona for us to want to quit and go home! So what happened? Well we had trekked 75 km without a break and without sleep over the course of 4 days, our excitement had begun to transform into the routines of the trail, and we were not physically prepared for the rigours of the path. As a result we began to question ….well everything. If the truth be known throughout our fourth day we spent the entire day just moments away from changing our travel plans and flying home.
The same thing happened 6 months later, on day 5 of trekking along the Via Podiensis, or GR65 from Lyon France to St. Jean Pied de Port. Similarly 8 months later in Ontario on day 6 of the Bruce Trail, and soon after on day 5 of the Rideau Trail. In 2018 we wanted out on day 2 of the East Coast Trail (a challenging footpath if there ever was one – beautiful, but a heck of a challenge)! Yet in all of these cases we continued onward and finished our treks. So how did we do this?
As a result of all of these experiences, we have come to recognize “Day 4” as part of the natural arc of the trail. It is the point where the excitement dims, the exhaustion hits, and the body begins to feel the pains and realities of the trail. But the reality also is that “Day 4” is also the moment before the point where you cease to notice your own physical discomforts, stop noticing your backpack, and begin to focus on all that is amazing around you. The realities are that we all have a Day 4, in life and on the trail, we all stop and have a moment when we begin thinking “this was a mistake”, “I need to stop this…”, “why am I here?”
During this process, each of us begins to mentally (and sometimes verbally) list all the reasons why you should quit, stop, or cheat by taxiing ahead on your trek. This is only natural. We all want to be explorers, to discover the unknown, and to trek across distant lands – but we also all fail to acknowledge the adversity and challenges involved.
The key to continuing, however, is simply to keep going. This of course is easier said than done. Deciding to pick your pack back up, and walk back out onto the trail when everything inside of you screams to stop – is not easy. Moreover, it is not done regardless of adversity, but only for a short period amid the challenges…..because they fade. We have both found that no matter how hard “day 4” is, if you can get through day 5 and then day 6 and day 7 then you have likely overcome the difficulties and doubts you had. The key is to keep going, because if you can get through your moment of uncertainty, your period of challenge then you can make it the entire way.
We have found that one of the hardest parts about any undertaking in the modern age – especially in the age of online commentary and critique – is that most people act and present themselves as never having any doubts, and having easily overcome all challenges. The reality however, is that these attitudes are all simply untrue. Everyone who tries something new has thought of quitting, has thought of giving up and just walking away. There are countless justifications that we can give ourselves…. I am tired, I am sore, I am very sore, I am cold, I am hungry, I am wet, I am very wet, I am wet and cold, I am wet, cold and hungry, I am scared, I am lonely, someone I know might need help, someone I don’t know might need help and I could help them. It might be nicer somewhere else…. The reasons can go on and on and on….
So how do I handle wanting to quit? I make a deal with myself. I never quit on a bad day, never quit when I am tired or upset, and promise myself that I will go a day or two further at the minimum. This simple formula has been my saving grace in the past few years and over countless trails and kilometers of mental adversity. I push myself to go one day forward, have a good meal, get a good night’s sleep, have a hot shower, do laundry and get fresh smelling clothes, resupply with some treats, and then….usually….I find that the next day is a little bit easier, a little bit less of a challenge to get into. It is at this point, when you begin to feel better, you feel re energized and ready to get going again, that things are OK again. Friends on the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail have reiterated these sentiments, saying that on these days, they get to a nice hotel, splurge, dry out, clean up, and then sleep a lot. They shut down their mind, shift their circumstances and find their reason for being on the trail. After things are going well again, I also try to shift the daily routine some and strive to see the beauty in things around me while I hike as well as remember why I chose to be out here in the first place.
As I banter around the matter, and think on it, I suppose what I am trying to say is, don’t give up at the moments when all you feel are your aches or are most focused on your doubts and troubles. Everyone faces similar challenges – in life and on the trail – and we all face them in our own way. But remember that the most difficult part in continuing on is overcoming your own questions and doubts. If you do decide you are done – that is ok – everyone hikes their own hike, and we all get what we need from every venture. It is in the trying and striving that we challenge the status quo and our own comfort zone. Just by reconsidering your life and going out means you have challenged your own habits – which are perhaps one of the hardest things to do in life.
With all of that said, don’t worry, neither of us is giving up or walking away from The Great Trail. At the moment neither of us wants to quit – not at all. The possibilities of discovery and beauty are revealed to us each day regardless of how we each might feel from moment to moment, and despite the challenges which the weather brings us. We continue to be amazed by how amazing the landscape, culture, and people in each region are – so many more people need to see Canada from the trail.
Besides, at the moment, it only hurts when we atop moving ….so we keep going….we get up and keep moving forward…trekking westward.
See you on the trail….we have a long way to go and a lot of exploration, discovery, and adventure ahead of us….
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