Thursday, February 28, 2013

Simple Woodcraft - The Day Two Blues

This month's article will focus on keeping the right mindset when you are on an extended backpack trip.  I'm not talking an overnighter or even a long weekend hike.  I'm talking a hike of at least a week with a lot of miles covered, ranging to more than 100 miles.

This is all about being an Outsider

I have done a few hikes that were a few days out and one that was more than a week.  This spring, my bride and I hope to do a two week or so hike on the Appalachian Trail starting on Springer Mountain, GA and finishing (hopefully) at Fontana Dam, NC.  All in all about a 175 mile hike. 

One thing I noticed during my extended hikes is what I call the Day Two Blues.  When I mentioned it to Lisa during our last hike, she recognized what I was talking about and had felt it too. 

As I have said quite a few times, I'm an obsessive planner and my latest obsession is the Appalachian Trail.  I am drawn to it every hour of every day and won't feel complete until after I have hiked a good deal of it (maybe all of it).  The first day of a hike is always full of excitement and adrenalin.  I can't wait to hit the trail.  I sleep poorly the night before as my gear list tumbles through my mind and I wait for the alarm to sound so we can get on the trail.

Once we start, the day is good, no matter what the weather.  It is the newness of the whole thing.  Every vista is pretty, every forest mysterious and every other hiker we meet is a friend.   Usually we get to our first camp in pretty decent shape.  It has been a good day of hiking, with a lot of sweating and some muscles that are complaining a little bit, but nothing too bad, usually.

After the first night in camp, Day Two starts.  It is likely that your sleep wasn't the greatest as you are adjusting to sleeping as an Outsider and those slight complaints of your muscles have grown into a cacophony of screams that are asking you what you did yesterday to make them so sore.

You pack up and head out, ready for some more miles before you can sleep again.  Usually after a few miles, the Blues set in.  Hiking can be a solitary experience.  It can be time for your mind to wander and meditate.  Even when you are hiking in a group or as a couple, there will be times when you are alone in the woods.  The Blues consist of a nagging feeling that makes you wonder why you are out here.  By now, your pains are progressing.  You may have worked out the stiffness, but the soreness lingers.  You may even be developing longer lasting pains, like a sore knee or foot.  You ask you self, do I really want to do this?  How you answer that question determines how the rest of your hike goes.

As I have said many times.  Your mind is your greatest weapon/tool when you are out in the bush.  It can also be your worst enemy if you fall victim to its musings.  The best answer is YES, I want to be out here.  I want to be hiking.  I want to spend time as an Outsider.  If you can get through Day Two, things will usually get better.  Your body starts to adapt to all you are asking it to do and your mind will clear itself and start to concentrate on the particulars of doing a long distance hike. 

Now that I have recognized this phenomenon, I will be better prepared to handle it.  Having my bride along with me will also give me someone to discuss these feelings with, so we can move on.

I call this the Day Two blues, but I'm pretty sure it can be a recurring instance.  During my eight day hike back in 2011, a few days after I survived the Day Two Blues, I felt an evening of loneliness that hit me rather hard.  It wasn't the first night I was alone overnight, but I had been gone for almost a week and I realized that I like being with my family.  Talking to other hikers is great, but when you are missing your loved ones, you need to find a way to move on from that situation too. 

The AT is a social trail.  There are many road crossings and many of those roads lead to a town where hikers and hiker friendly people can gather and relax.  Do laundry, take a shower, eat town food.  All of these things are rejuvenating and good for a hiker's mind. 

So how do you get over the Hiker Blues?  Make the day a day of wonder.  Check out the close up things.  Not every day will have a magnificent view.  I can feel a strong sense of wonder by watching a newt trying to cross the trail without being stepped on.  I can watch the water flow down a hillside as it tumbles from bolder to rock and pools under an overhanging tree.  The textures of tree bark give me hours of distraction.  Take pictures.  Take long breaks.  Give your mind time to recharge as you stretch your muscles and massage your feet.  Talk to other hikers or your hiking partners.  All will be good.  Enjoy being an Outsider.

So the best thing you can do is get through the day with the support you have and continue on.  That is why you have taken the time to get out into the woods and onto the trail.  Keep your attitude positive and you will be successful.  Get out there and hike and beware the Day Two Blues. 

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