The Pre-Trail Blues
It’s only November. And if you’re anything like me, your mind is already in April. My mind is in Campo, California.
I’m planning a resupply strategy that I know will fail anyway. I’m planning a gear list that I know will change. I’m planning how much sunscreen I’ll bring at any given time, and in what container. I’m second guessing all of these choices on a daily basis.
I have a problem with these obsessive thoughts: they serve no purpose to my life right now. They only serve the future. And while the future is certainly not as toxic as the past, it becomes a vortex of your current experiences. It sucks them away from you. Your days at work all blend into one long slog through the winter, bracing for spring. And that’s no way to live.
I’ve created a list of things that I enjoy, things I’m able to enjoy here, in my small and cold winter moments, in my rainy and grey city. I hope you, thru-hiker class of 2018, will adapt these things to your own spaces. I would hate to surrender these next five months of my life only to enjoy my five months of hiking. Is it too much to ask to enjoy both?
“Wherever you are, be all there.”
– Jim Elliot
Start a new hobby
I know, right out of the gate this is sounding like grief counseling. Just trust me. Pick up a hobby that is not all-consuming, but that you find relaxing and fun. For me, I decided I wanted to learn how to knit. I like knitting, because I can still sit on my ass and watch netflix while I do it. Of course, if you aren’t already an athletic person, you may want to choose a more active hobby. I’ve also downloaded an app that coaches me while I run and tracks my miles, and I try to escape to a short but difficult trail on nice days.
This is different from starting a hobby, because this one you should do whether you enjoy it or not. Not only will yoga help your mobility and flexibility (trust me, you will want to know how to stretch that one specific tendon when it is killing you after a 30 miler), but it will also help your breath, your mindfulness, and your anxiety. We are all feeling the pre-trail buzz of a restless winter. The vibration in your bones, the need to just go. So take five minutes a day to sit on the floor, clear your head, and try really hard to touch your toes. That’s all I’m saying.
Cook for yourself
Unless you’re very well off, you’re certainly trying to find ways to save money here and there for the trail. One great way to do this is to challenge yourself to cook more. Go grocery shopping in a more careful way than before (walk, walk, walk “oh chips!” walk, walkwalk “do I need more eggs?”). Try new recipes, and while you’re at it, try to pack more nutritional value into your recipes than, say, ramen. Your body will be deprived of enough vitamins on the trail, no matter how hard you try to combat this, so treat it well now.
Your future is full of exciting experiences. Whatever trail you find yourself on next summer, it will be harrowing and magical and full. But you have five months before you get to step foot on that trail. What are your experiences now? Have you ever been skiing? Have you ever been scuba diving? What’s that thing in your city that you’ve always wanted to go see but never have? My advice is to keep an eye on cheap flights, flash sales on airbnb, and dropped prices on car rentals. When the right moment strikes, let the spontaneity take you. Maybe the spontaneity is just playing hooky from work just once, spending the day in a hammock. Whatever these moments are, the ones that you can live in, and not tune out of, find them. Build a network of these moments all around you, over the next five months.
Set up a safety net
Chances are you’ve heard of post-trail depression. And if you haven’t, you should google it because you need to be prepared. Depression isn’t something to dismiss or ignore, and the chances of falling into a deep depression post-trail are very high. However, there are some very interesting theories out there that this has more to do with the endorphins your body receives from ten hours straight of exercise, than an existential crisis. Your post-trail life will be full of jarring sounds and smells, tons of people everywhere, driving giant metal machines instead of walking everywhere. Make sure your trail savings includes some extra padding if you’ll need to get off the trail and immediately find a place to rent. If you won’t have a job to come back to, make sure you have a place to go during your transition period. Sorting those things out now will save you so much anxiety next year.
Adapt this list as you wish, but remember: never allow yourself to be absent from your life, no matter how mundane it feels. What will you do this winter to combat the pre-trail blues?
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