When Your Shakedown Hike Shakes Your Confidence
“I’m going to put in my music to push through these last miles. I need a morale boost.” I announced, queuing up Taylor Swift and shuffling through black sand. Instead of following the tune, my mind had one question on replay: what the hell have I signed up for?
It was day two of the Lost Coast Trail, a shakedown hike I’d eagerly signed up for, knowing it would kick my butt. And here I was, struggling, wondering if I had what it took to hike the PCT. I started fantasizing about a warm car and shaming myself for it. Every time my hiking partners took a break I plowed ahead, hoping that being in the lead, even for the first five minutes, would trick my ego and get me to hike faster. I love hiking. My feet hurt.
The Lost Coast Trail is nothing like the PCT.
It follows the coast and most of the time there isn’t a trail, just sand, pebbles, or “toaster sized boulders” as one blog warned. The primary challenge is to get through the “impassable zones” only hikeable at low tide. It’s stunning with endless black sand, tide pools, cliffs, and dozens of harbor and elephant seals. Yet, I spent most of the time looking at my feet and willing them to move faster.
After lunch we navigated around Punta Gorda and made the decision to scramble over the boulders instead of the wet toaster-sized rocks, thinking that route would be dry and have better traction. Ten steps in I suddenly found my butt landing on slick algae. When I caught myself the third time, I didn’t get up. I sat and watched a sprightly young couple pass us via the toaster rock route, looking mildly concerned. I took deep breaths. I was fine, only my ego bruised.
The rest of the day I didn’t trust a single step and proceeded to slip constantly, fear eclipsing any improvement that could be made with more care. I could feel panic building up about my strength, my endurance, and whether I had the grit I needed to hike mountains. Since when has hiking been so hard?
We finished the trail the next day, one night earlier than planned.
I flew home to Michigan, full of happy memories, yet feeling rattled. I’d gone on two gorgeous, short, shakedown hikes and I was returning more exhausted than I’d thought possible, or at least reasonable. As it turns out, I had COVID, which while very mild certainly didn’t help with recovery. I didn’t tell anyone just how worried I was about my shakedown because I didn’t want to freak them out and have that amplify my anxiety. Instead, I told stories of the sights we’d seen and the laughs we’d shared. The stress slowly faded away and I was able to convince myself not to dwell too much on it.
Then, I returned to the climbing gym after a month of travel, holidays, and quarantine. It was hard. My arms were shaky, and my legs tired. When after two weeks I was still struggling on the same damn route, I felt the same panic start to return. That same afternoon I’d started my resupply spreadsheet, and was overwhelmed by all of the decision-making. The PCT is three months out. Do I know what I’m doing? Am I as strong as I think? If I stand on this leg one more time and fall again, will I tear something and not even be able to attempt the PCT?
I knew I was spiraling, but I stood up on my leg anyway, finished the move, and immediately got stuck again. One hurdle down, a million more to go. I choked back tears.
This week my partner and I decided to take it easy, focusing on endurance and form. We climbed easier routes and I started to trust my body a little more. We revisited a route that was easy but long and I finished for the first time without a break. Feeling good, I decided to jump up a rating, revisiting something I’d climbed in November. Partway up, my arms aching, I fell. I sat in the harness feeling put out, looking around the room and down at my partner. I know this view. I realized I’d fallen in the exact same spot last time. It has never been easy. I’d gotten to the last hold and just remembered the adrenaline and joy, completely writing off the effort I’d put in within moments of sending the route.
I hadn’t lost much, if any, strength over the break, just confidence. These routes had always been challenging and I’d loved them anyway. And with that realization, I found my climbing enthusiasm returning.
The panic I felt on the climbing wall was the same I’d felt slipping and sliding down the Lost Coast Trail.
Both were fueled by the romanticization of my favorite hobbies. Every single time I go backpacking I forget how hard it is. Just because I’m excited doesn’t mean that will change. And, even if I can climb more challenging routes or walk a little faster, it’s still going to feel hard. I’ll probably have to relearn this lesson every day when I crawl out of my tent. As I gain my trail legs, I hope I gain the humility that it will never be easy, and that may just be the point.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.