Playing Head Games- Part 1


This is a series of guest posts by Lori, the Head Dame of the Delaware Valley Trail Dames.
Thank you for sharing, Lori!!

12-6-08 Hike Inn (2) Most people are familiar with the many physical challenges of hiking. We all know about cold weather, hot weather, bruises, blisters, up hills, downhills, aches and pains. But undoubtedly, there is one challenge that trumps all of the physical afflictions, and that’s the mental challenge.

The mental aspect of hiking is a head game of monumental proportions. It’s offense, defense, strategy, skill, and brute force. It’s as tough as a hard hitting football game, as slow paced as an extra innings 0-0 baseball game, as beautiful and balanced as a gymnastic competition. It’s an emotional roller coaster of highs, lows, and swift turns of self-doubt. It makes you weaker. It makes you stronger. It makes you wonder why you want to do it. Yet, it’s the head game, the mental challenge that attracts most people to the trail.

On a recent backpacking trip in April, I had the chance to spend 5 days inside my own head, and it was quite a challenge.

My trip actually began the weekend before I stepped on the trail with the group. My first head game with myself was simply wonderful. It seemed like a slam dunk. I was excited about the trip and eager to bump up my fitness a little before the big hike with a new group of people. Riding the crest of enthusiasm rushing through my brain, I decided to do a short overnight trip on Assateague Island just off the coast of Maryland. I took a friend along, and we made a 6-mile hike on the beach to a backcountry campsite. The trip was fantastic. The hike on the sand was a good challenge that I hoped would help prepare me for the Appalachian Trail climbs that I would be making later in the week. We enjoyed a night on the island, and then after breakfast the next day, we headed back along the beach for the 6-mile return trip to the car.

And that’s when the first annoyance began. About 4 miles into the return hike, I felt a scratch, a warmth, a slightly gritty annoyance on my left heel. A hot spot, I thought. My head told me that I needed to stop and tend to this immediately. No doubt, some sand had gotten into my boot, and a blister would develop. But I was having such a good time. The wind was at my back, we were making great progress. I didn’t want to stop and deal with the issue. We were nearly done, I told myself. In perhaps 30 minutes we’d be back at the car. Besides, if I sat on the beach, sand would find its way into other parts of my clothing. Perhaps I’d end up with even more sand in my boot. The two arguments played in my head. Stop and take care of this. No, keep going. It’s not much further, it doesn’t really hurt, the hike is fun, don’t break the rhythm.

The two arguments played out in my head like a game of tennis, lobbing back and forth. And I kept walking. By the time we made it back to the car and changed shoes, I could clearly see a small but definite blister on my heel. No problem, I told myself. I still had three days before starting theAppalachian Trail hike, so it would heal.

Three days later, at the trail access at the trail access on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, I barely thought about the blister. I was about to begin a hike I had looked forward to for months. I was happily humming to myself as I walked through a brief snow squall and up and over the Three Ridges. I felt no pain on my heel. In fact, I was nearly euphoric as I picked up speed and headed down the mountain toward the first night’s campsite at Harper’s Creek. I decided I needed a musical soundtrack for the last mile or so, and I got out my iPod and selected my “Mountain” playlist. I smiled to myself as the soundtrack from “Patton” encouraged me to pick up my pace.

I walked into one of the prettiest campsites I’ve seen. The rest of the group was already there, and I wanted to get set up so that I could relax and get to know my hiking companions. I had switched into my Crocs, but that was the first time I had actually looked at my feet. When I looked at my left heel, I was startled to see an angry, broken red patch of skin, about the size of a nickel. I worried about it. My head actually told me, “That’s not good.” But we were socializing, and it didn’t hurt, so I ignored it…..

To be continued…..

To view the entire series click here.

One thought on “Playing Head Games- Part 1

  1. oh man, great stuff… I love observing my mind on the trail. And can relate to ignoring it too! You are a wonderful writer.

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