White Mountain Lodge and Hostel, Shelbourne, NH, Wednesday June 25, 2014 — Success. Motivation and commitment.
It’s a long way. Two thousand one hundred eighty five point three miles. It’s a long time too. Generally six months or more.
“Walksandscrambles” asked about what it takes to maintain one’s mental determination over the course of such a grueling endeavor. It just so happens that I’d been mulling that very same question.
However it’s put – motivation, focus, attitude, determination, fortitude, tenacity, commitment, or plain old sisu – half of the game is 60 percent mental as I remember Yogi putting it.
The first thing every successful thru hiker mentions is how hard the mental component of the trail is.
First, it’s tedious. Being head-down day in and day out takes a tole. Honestly, it can be profoundly boring at times. For the first time in my life I can imagine solitary confinement. The “Virginia blues” is only the beginning of the mental wrestling match for some.
Now that I am deep into this adventure, a more profound appreciation of mental toughness has emerged. In the vernacular, this sucker is hard.
How hard is it?
Let me digress a bit and invite you to read one of last year’s blogs that is not only well written, but spins a grand tale of personal conquest against the odds. Best of all. it’s coated with a rye sense of humor. Linda Daly’s “Karma on the Trail” at https://thumperwalk.wordpress.com is a great read. You’ll enjoy it.
So, here I sit with aching knees and more, and only 319 miles remaining on the clock. Honestly, I’ve achieved most of my primary goals, so what’s the motivation?
Not a day goes by that I don’t remember why I’m out here. Zack Davis wrote an excellent book about mental preparedness and I took his advice.
First I prepared a list of reasons why I am hiking the AT with specific personal objectives, most of which are disclosed in this blog. Some are not.
This process ensured that I developed a deeper understanding of why I am here and what I hope to achieve. I review it daily in my head.
A second list delineates the costs and consequences if I do not complete my mission. This list also is on my mental checklist whenever I need a reminder.
Most importantly, I set my mental attitude before I ever took the first step. Short of debilitating injury or personal emergency, quitting is not an option. I dragged out my old military mindset and gave myself a mission to complete the AT within 12 consecutive months. Period. Do or die.
I’ve always loved Teddy Roosevelt’s answer to the question about why he gave the task of building the Panama Canal to the Army. His answer: “Because they can’t quit.” There you have it in a nutshell.
The daily motivation is relatively easy. You wake up and follow the white blazes.
They say never quit on a bad day. In that sense, everything depends on how a bad day is defined. The word disaster comes to mind.
I’ve had many hard days, but never a bad one. Mostly they’ve been very good. Sometimes I’ve rolled into town (Erwin, Tenn. and Damascus, Va. for example) soaked to the skin and just short of disaster.
Those towns were in exactly the right places at the optimal times. I got lucky. Then again, it also pays to be lucky sometimes. Just don’t learn to depend on luck.
Everything else we try to plan such as logistics or in the cases of weather or trail conditions, take In stride. “It is what it is.” comes out of every hikers mouth several times a day or so it seems. Being properly equipped and prepared tends to take care of that. Unfortunately experience and gear cost money that some folks don’t have.
Last, I try to maintain perspective and remember some if the great ordeals of history as I did with the Civil War force marches through the Shenandoah region. Compared to Shackleton, or Louis Zaparini, the Bataan Death March, the Russian winter campaigns suffered by the French and German soldiers, an AT hike is truly a walk in the woods.
It’s ways helpful to maintain perspective. The rest is will power.
Some shelter caretakers are mindful of hiker boredom.
Spectacular scenery and an occasional gray jay help.
Finding new friends along the trail is a pure delight.