No bad days on trail? I don’t buy it. Yesterday was my first bad day on the trail. While I’ve had unfortunate or frustrating things happen, this was the first time I started questioning it all.
What am I doing out here? Why did I want to come in the first place? What was wrong with my life before? What was I expecting? Worst of all, the guilt questions. What makes you think you deserve to be traipsing through the mountains like this?
I was lucky enough to have service at the time so I could talk to and be comforted by loved ones, and of course I always have my wonderful hiking partner, Blueberry, who’s always willing to talk. So I thought, I cried, I talked, I drank some tea, and went to bed. Of course, not everything’s all bright and shiny the minute you wake up, but it’s a new day, and a better day it was. Some of the day was everyday stuff—oats for breakfast, morning daydreams, run-ins with all kinds of personalities. Today, though, I thought about all those questions and got to the root of my “downer day” without such strong negative emotions attached. This isn’t to say that every low point has an exact reason, but having the head space to sort through triggers, sorrow, and shame that we hold onto is one of the reasons I am out here.
Despite the fact that I’m not currently “working” and some would view the trail as a vacation, it is a mental and physical challenge—another aspect that drew me in. As the cloud was starting to settle over my head and I reached for my music, I stumbled upon the most contagiously happy person I’ve ever met. This company kept my spirits high all afternoon and I couldn’t have been more thankful. This brings me to another reason I said I wanted to hike in the first place—to appreciate and see the best in all kinds of people.
As for staying motivated and inspired by the trail, here is what has been working for me:
1. Spend time with yourself by asking the big questions. What kind of person do I want to be? Where do I see myself going post-trail? What do I want to accomplish on trail? Just lighthearted things.
2. Go back to your list of why you wanted to hike the PCT (or whatever trail you’re on). If you didn’t make one, now is the time.
3. Get to know other people you see on trail. Learn their story. See the best in them.
4. Listen to music, a podcast, or audio back. So far I’ve been loving listening to playlists I have saved, especially in the afternoon when I hit a lull. This is also a great time to eat fruit snacks or something sugary as a pick-me-up. I think I’ll download a podcast or book soon as well.
5. Take pictures. It helps you remember to look up and around at the beauty that surrounds you.
6. Cut yourself some slack. If you don’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn and hike 20 miles one day, you don’t have to. Hike a low-mileage day, take it easy, and just take it all in. Take a zero in town. Spring for a hostel or hotel in a friendly town. It’s OK to take a break.
7. Let yourself unwind at the end of the day. Obviously, I carry a journal to express my thoughts. If writing isn’t your thing, there are books, card games, or just watching the sunset. I also carry a few tea bags. This might sound silly to some, but they weigh close to nothing, and help me relax and feel at home in the woods.
8. If you still find that you’re having more bad days than good, remember the trail isn’t something you have to do. Whether or not you reach your goal is not what defines you. As cliché as the phrase is, you have to hike your own hike, whether that means 20 miles or 2,000. You’ve already accomplished something amazing and have nothing to prove.
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