Trail depression – a few thoughts
We’ve all heard that hiking long trails will ruin your life.
Meant to be a warning I suppose. It sounds kind of sexy in a way, piquing some weird masochistic part of us that wants to have an adventure large enough to ruin something. Because at least that’s interesting. I think it’s safe to say that long distance hikers are outliers, motivated by compulsion, driven by unexplainable needs and desires. We just want to walk, and walk a good long way. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s just that simple.
I’ve talked about the crunch of granite, the passing hours spent in conversation or in quiet. Miles are hours, and hours are miles. Miles and hours and water are the currency of the trail. It winds on. We think about it ending. We want it to be over, but we also don’t.
Going back to a more “normal” cadence in life can be jarring and weird. Ever since I stepped off the trail in May, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I wouldn’t call the way I feel depression, per se, but it’s definitely a preoccupation I can’t ignore. I wanted to share a few thoughts on how I help myself, in the hopes it will help you too.
Six tips for managing trail depression
1.Plan your next trip
The main way I manage my trail blues is to focus on future trips. Right now, I have three trips working for 2018: a spring trip to the Texas panhandle to thru hike the 63 mile Caprock Canyon Trailway; hitting another ~100 mile section of the PCT in early summer; and a fall Wonderland Trail thru hike. All of these trails are exciting to think about, fun to plan, and very distracting to research. It helps. Go pick some big, fun, upcoming thing to focus on.
2.Visit your gear
In my day-to-day life, there’s not a lot of reason to pull out backcountry gear. One day recently I got it all out for no reason and it was WONDERFUL. Like having instant coffee with an old friend, right out of the snow peak pot. Those carefully chosen items were your good buddies while you were out in the middle of nowhere and you owe them a visit. Maybe you can finally put together that gear list spreadsheet you’ve been putting off? Mine comes in handy all the time.
Is there anything as exhilarating as getting a yellow envelope in the mail, containing some well-researched and anticipated piece of gear? Honestly it doesn’t matter if it’s a tent or a trowel, we love getting new stuff. Go buy something. When it comes in, you’ll be reminded that you’re a hiker, not just a ridiculously attractive member of polite society. I bought a little flashlight a few days ago. It cost $15 and it made me feel super happy.
4.Visit a local trail
There’s a small trail near my children’s school. Whenever I have an odd pocket of time to kill (you know what I mean – too short to leave and come back, too long to sit in the car), I go and hike on that trail. End to end, it’s fewer than 6 miles. But I am always amazed at how renewed I feel after spending just a few minutes reconnecting with that side of myself. No, it’s not the same thing as being far away and flung out there, miles from anything – but it’s what you’ve been given right by you. So go get out there and enjoy it.
5.Share your knowledge
I don’t know you, but I think it’s a safe bet that you have people in your life who are intrigued by your adventures, and who would love to learn some of the wilderness skills you’ve acquired along the way. What may seem normal to you might be incredibly interesting, helpful, and even empowering to another person. It feels good to pass along knowledge and share something we love, and it gives us a chance to think about our time on trail. Who can you take with you on an overnight campout, or a day hike? Mull it over and invite somebody. Start a blog. Be helpful to new hikers asking preliminary research questions on Facebook. Start a YouTube channel. And while we’re on that subject…
6.Watch YouTube videos
My final thought. According to my children, there is literally (of course they say literally) NOTHING. MORE BORING. On the entire planet. Than the hiking videos I watch all the time. You know what? I don’t care. I love them (the videos, not my kids). You will too. I routinely binge watch other hikers’ journeys and I’m 100% unapologetic about it. If you’re homesick for the trail, go watch someone walk it. Guaranteed to make you feel better or your money back.
In conclusion I think hiking is like a viral infection – all you can do is treat the symptoms.
It’s too late for us now. We’ve been exposed and it’s there for life.
But what do you think? What are some ways you deal with trail depression?
Stay happy, active, and well my friends.
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