Nightmares, Setbacks, and Failures

This past year I’ve trained hard, spending long hours in the gym, only to come home and research gear. My entire life gained a dual focus between my writing and my preparation for the Pacific Crest Trail. 

It’s become a type of binary star system, my world revolving around those two bright lights.  Write and prep for hike.  It has touched everything: how I dress, how I eat, even what I watch on YouTube. 

My life has been consumed by the enormous task before me, and I am now less than a month away from my start date. 

I could not be more excited, and a little nervous as that mid-March date looms large on my horizon, and it was in that spirit that I entered my first week of shakedown, hoping to kick it off with my gear list for The Trek.

That was the plan, at least.

Last Sunday, I really thought I was ready. I packed my bag and prepared to move out the next morning on my first 15-mile road hike. One of five slated for the week. As 5 a.m.  passed and my alarm went off, the morning slipped by. I ran behind, which I expected for my first day, and finally got started not at 6:30, but 8:30 instead. 

Still, that was OK. This is the shakedown period, and I wasn’t expecting things to go perfect my first day. 

Overall, my road hike proceeded as planned, save for a building pain in my shoulders. Stopping for lunch at my halfway point, they were really starting to ache, so I adjusted my pack. It seemed to help a bit but there was something a bit off about it all. 

Just learning experiences, I told myself. Hoping that I hadn’t sized it wrong. 

Arriving back home at around 4 p.m., and in considerable pain, I headed toward the backyard with the firm mind to get my tent set up as the sun was rapidly setting. 

This was where the day began to go off the rails. Tired, and growing increasingly more cold, I couldn’t figure out my pitch. What was supposed to be no more than 15 minutes of work turned into an hour as the day passed into twilight and my fingers went numb, only for me to slip pressing in a tent stake, cutting my hand. 

Finally, though, everything was set up, and I was prepped for my first night outside, with temps forecast to be in the lower 30 degree range. 

I returned inside, confident I was through my glitches, eagerly looking forward to testing my mettle with the coming night. 

Entering my tent for sleep a few hours later, I noticed that it was a tight fit for me. My feet brushed the far wall, but overall, I was snug inside, with my pack beside me, and my camp shoes in the vestibule. All seemed well as I closed my eyes and began to drift off to sleep. 

I awoke a few hours later in terrible pain. I get regular leg cramps, and in all my preparation and wrestling with my tent, I had forgotten to do my cool down, and was now paying for it, with interest. 

Feeling like my muscles were about to rip themselves apart, I tried to get up and get out of my tent, only to find my feet were numb. My contact with the tent wall allowed condensation to soak around my sleeping bag, numbing my feet. What’s more the cramped quarters of my tent made it difficult for me to extricate myself from it. 

Desperately stifling a scream because I did not want to worry the neighbors, I ended up dragging myself out of my tent on my arms, out into the frosted grass, where I finally managed enough room to stand, and work out the cramps as I dealt with the pins and needles in my foot, stumbling into my house to warm up for a few moments. 

My entire world was awash with suffering and despair, and, on my very first day I found an Icant waiting for me. 

This was just my  first day and I’m miserable; can I really handle six months of this?

 The thought came unbidden, but hit with the full force of a nuclear torpedo. My entire world felt disrupted and off kilter. Over a year spent training, ten years spent dreaming, thousands of dollars scrimped and saved just to sink it into gear buys, and now, day one of shakedown I’m already feeling defeated. 

It was the first of many, cascading down like a thunderstorm. My tent was obviously not working out for me, which meant replacement. Another expense, how can I afford it?  The 15 miles of road walking obviously had a larger impact than expected. Did I not train hard enough?

Then the big one hit, exploding across my perception as I shivered in the kitchen, looking out on my frosted tent. 

I was wrong about all of those things, am I wrong about my hike? Am I just fooling myself?

Everything hurt, my chest pounded as quiet seconds ticked by.  Mentally, physically, and spiritually, doubts began to cascade like a waterfall. With panic rising like a looming moon over chasms of despair. 

Failure. Failure on my first day. This was supposed to be easy mode. This was just the dress rehearsal, and I have 2,650 miles to go.

Oh shit. What am I getting myself into? 

Something clicked in the depths of my despair though, a thought flickering dimly in the night, quickly catching to blaze. 

The greatest battle is the one within your own mind. Get warm, and get back out there!

With that final thought, a fierce resolve began to burn. It was not going to end on my first day. This was what I had been training for, this was what I needed to do to be ready for what is to come. If it’s hard now and I persist, then I can do it again out on the PCT when it’s harder. 

First, though, I had to make the choice to not quit, to not let it beat me. I had to make the choice to be flexible and accept my current realities, all the while resolving to not let them derail me. 

It may have been day one of my shakedown, but the decision I now had to make would determine if it was my first step toward home in defeat, or in triumph toward Canada. 

With that in mind, I returned to my tent, determined to press on. 

Onward, toward the farthest star!

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Comments 2

  • Avatar
    Snag : Feb 23rd

    You have the right idea in training and practicing but fifteen miles on pavement with a loaded pack is about ten too many if that is your first stroll of the season. Backpacking is aerobic weightlifting and it takes some time for the body to adapt. A common mistake novices make is to push too hard at the start. It is good that you learned it before you got out in the desert. So keep practicing but take it easy and figure if you are not having fun, you are not doing it right.

  • Avatar
    Favored_Terrain : Feb 26th

    You got this. This is why we shake! RE: muscle cramps I use Mg pills before bed and they’re a life saver.


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