Pre-Trail Blues: Tips to Stay Happy ’til Spring(er)

Do you have the pre-trail blues?

It’s August, and you have made the decision to put conventional life on hold next spring and embark on a 2,100+ mile adventure in the woods.  You’ve crunched your budget numbers, you’re stuffing your savings account, you’re collecting shiny new gear, you’re all over whiteblaze.net, and you’re TOTALLY HYPED!  Or not. . .  Maybe you have the pre-trail blues.

Right now, the weather here on the east coast is the most gorgeous I have ever seen in mid-summer!  So, why do I feel so irritable and down?  I’ve diagnosed myself with the pre-trail blues, and since I’d rather not feel like this until March, I have set about figuring out what’s behind my pre-trail blues, and what I can do about it.

For me personally, I get really stressed about spending large amounts of money, and that is just what my husband, Muskrat, and I did last weekend on our REI shopping spree.  Even though it’s all in the trail budget, I’m often left feeling less that thrilled when I see sums like that go out.  There have been many times when I have quit in the middle of a shopping trip and gone home with nothing due to the stress I feel when spending.

Then there is the work issue. . . I’m a self-employed photographer, and I keep having to pass up jobs for the 2015 wedding season, because I will be out walking in the woods, and I can’t help but feel that what I am doing is irresponsible.  Of course, that means that any marketing and advertising efforts I would normally be engaging in are pointless, especially since Muskrat and I are relocating to the Rocky Mountains after we reach Katahdin.

Maybe some of you are experiencing similar pre-trail blues as the seemingly never-ending countdown continues.

How to combat the pre-trail blues:

  1. Stick to your budget.  If you’re like me, and spending freaks you out, you’ll probably gain some solace in both over budgeting and sticking to that budget.  I am lucky that Muskrat is a spreadsheet wizard and has a talent for budgets, but it puts my mind at ease to be involved in the process and to see the numbers work with my own eyes.  I’m also one who tends to freak out when the slightest unexpected financial event happens.  Having a clear budget and savings plan, as well as the grounded and steady Muskrat, keep me from doing anything crazy. . . like ditching the plan to hike and staying here where life is safe, predictable and boring!
  2. Make your Appalachian Trials lists. Zach “The Good Badger” packed a lot of wisdom into that book, and you’d be wise to follow its advice!  Taking some time to work on building your three Appalachian Trials lists will not only serve you once you’re on the trail, slogging through a thunderstorm with blisters and bug bites, but it will serve you now by reminding you that the pre-trail blues are temporary.  Working on the lists will also get you focused on the incredible experience you will soon be having.
  3. Plan & execute shakedown hikes. There’s no cure for the pre-trail blues like a little time on a trail!  Time in nature makes everything better, and that goes double when you get to test out your new gear and get a little taste of the adventure that awaits you next spring!  With a test hike on our calendar, I can count down to that week in the woods, which is a lot closer than counting down to March 2015!  Just thinking about it makes me smile!
  4. Do your current job with passion. I am going to guess that you are probably not exactly in love with whatever it is you are currently doing for employment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t turn whatever job you are doing into something that feels rewarding.  In AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, author David Miller writes this on pages 230 and 231 of the print version: “This seems an attitude worth striving for when I return to work, to perform my job as if I was doing it under my own guidance – as I would want it done myself – not to limit myself to the role of employee, and not to refrain from giving more of myself to the job than is warranted by my pay.  It is I who would benefit.  Time is most enriching when spent industriously.” That attitude could serve you well in the time both before and after the trail.
  5. Give yourself a personal creative outlet.  As someone for whom creativity is a living, I tend to get somewhat hung up on letting my projects be defined by the people paying me for my talents, but I feel most fulfilled by my photography when I commit to a personal project.  Muskrat and I have a weekly date with the cameras where we pick a place to go out and make photos of something purely for the joy of it.  This keeps my mood buoyant and my passion for what I do alive and well!
  6. Make some trail friends.  Through Twitter, Facebook, Appalachian Trials and whiteblaze.net, I am starting to meet other people who are just as jazzed about thru-hiking and backpacking as I am.  (Check out some of their blogs: Spin the Compass, Heidi Galore)  It helps to be able to read their blogs, discuss plans and gear, and generally daydream with them about our big upcoming adventure!  This is particularly helpful when my non-hiker friends start to get overloaded with my hiker talk!
  7. Exercise.  It’s the best antidepressant out there, and it will help you get physically ready for the trail too!  Whether it’s getting out for a walk around the neighborhood, a long run, a day hike or a bike ride, getting your blood pumping will boost your mood and be a step towards getting in shape to thru-hike!
  8. Test some trail recipes.  Muskrat and I like food.  We like really good food, and I am honestly a little scared of what I keep hearing about thru-hiker diets.  Ramen noodles, peanut butter and tortillas, pop tarts, etcetera make me cringe!  I am in the process of collecting and trying ideas for nutritious, lightweight, and tasty trail meals!
  9. Immerse yourself in things you’ll miss.  With a big move immediately following our thru-hike, Muskrat and I have a list of things we want to do in and around Washington, DC before we head to the trailhead.  Whenever we have a free time slot, we check or list and go do something that’s on it!  Even if your thru-hike will land you back in the same town you initially left, you can still make a list!  Think about the people, pets, places and activities you will miss the most while you are on your hike.  Write them down.  When you feel the pre-trail blues taking hold of your mood, grab your list and go enjoy something as if you were gifted with the experience right in the middle of your worst day on the trail!  Yesterday, I got down on the floor and wrestled with our two 12 year old labs.  I’m going to tuck the memory of so many puppy kisses away for the times on the trail when I will miss their sweet faces!
  10. Plan some mini-adventures.  An adventure doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking like a thru-hike.  It can be as simple as a day trip, a visit to a local park, or even just exploring a new local spot that you haven’t been before.  When Muskrat was dealing with some health challenges and facing surgery a couple of months ago, we both needed an adventure.  He wasn’t up of much activity, so I dropped the top on the Jeep and drove out to the Shenandoah Valley.  We stopped at a winery we hadn’t been to before, leisurely explored Shenandoah National Park on Skyline Drive, and stopped for dinner at Soul Mountain in Front Royal before heading back to the city.  It was just the right amount of adventure to put smiles back on our faces!

The end of the pre-trail blues

Now that you have equipped yourself for surviving the time between now and your first steps on the Appalachian Trail, you can kiss the pre-trail blues goodbye!  If you have any strategies or suggestions for dealing with the pre-trail blues to add to this list, or if you have your own pre-trail blues story to share, please comment below!

Related reading: Check out the new e-book, Waiting on Spring: Your Pre-Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike Companion

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