Head Games- Part 2

12-6-08 Hike Inn (35) 
This is a series of guest posts by Lori, the Head Dame of the Delaware Valley Trail Dames.  Thank you for sharing, Lori!!

The following morning I bandaged the blister with mole skin, laced up my boots snugly to minimize any friction, and set off for the Tye River crossing. Not long into the hike, I could feel irritation on the foot. I felt the first twinge of real concern. But I had plenty of first aid supplies, the weather was great. I enjoyed a fantastic walk through the woods and made it down to the river where I stopped, checked the blister, redressed it, and had some snacks. I had a long climb up the Priest ahead of me. It was nearly 9:00 a.m., and I wanted to get to the top of the mountain around noontime. I had a brief conversation with another hiker from the group. Unfortunately, he had made the decision to leave the hike because of knee problems. Briefly, ever so briefly, a thought zipped through my mind. Would the blister get worse? Get out now, my head told me. Don’t climb the mountain, because the blister will bother you the entire week. Again, that thought was returned in a back-and-forth, tennis-like head game. Get off now. You can get a ride back to your car. No. Keep hiking. It’s just a blister. It’s no big deal.

I crossed the road and started climbing. And then the head game moved up into a bigger league. Uphill hiking has always been a major league head game for me. I don’t know why. Perhaps my dislike of elevation goes back to my childhood, growing up on the banks of the Delaware River in Paulsboro, NJ, elevation 10 feet above sea level. I eventually moved across the river to aPhiladelphia suburb, and learned to deal with altitude sickness at a full 40 feet above sea level. Mall escalators account for most of the altitude gain in my day-to-day life. A nearly 4000′ climb up the Priest may as well be a Himalayan trek in my world.

Big league head games began. I started climbing, and each step was a battle with gravity. At first I played it cool. I kept my pace close to the downhill pace I had set as I walked to the Tye River from Harper’s Creek earlier that morning. My breathing was relatively controlled. I was glad for my pre-hike training. I was doing fine. Even though the muscles in my legs were warming up and I could feel the strain, I was having fun. I enjoyed the game. It was a challenge, but it was a good challenge, a fair competition.

I had already been hiking for several hours, and though it had been a pleasant hike, it still required an energy burn. I was getting a little tired. Now, as I crossed Cripple Creek, the pitch of the trail became sharper, the switchbacks stacked more closely. Each step planted my heel lower than my toes, thus applying more friction and stretch on the tender, blistered skin of my left heel. The twinge of pain became a slight but steady burn. I played my best defensive strategy. I ignored it and kept moving upward.

Previously, the head game had been more of a spectator sport. Things weren’t too bad. While the game was playing out, I was still enjoying my surroundings, looking at the pale yellow-green buds on the trees, talking to other hikers I met. The mountain was my playing field, though certainly not level. I was having a good time. But now, inside my head there were two very strong opponents. One was tossing up a good dose of physical pain. The other was refusing to let the pain defeat me. The game was ramping up, and I had to turn my focus inward.

To be continued…..

To view the entire series click here.

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.