A Mental Game
Backpacking was something I had never done until about six months ago; I had camped and gone on day hikes many times, but had no idea what I was in for with multiple days out on the trails, carrying everything I needed only on my back. I figured that I would likely make some mistakes, forget a few things, but be okay in the end. For the most part, I was right, but I was also happily surprised by just how much satisfaction and contentment I gained from successfully completing a trip. There is something entirely different about reaching the top of a mountain, a waterfall, or a campsite after a long day of climbing up and down for hours on end, carrying forty or so pounds on your back. There is a certain level of individual pride that comes with this that is quite hard to describe, but is understood after experience.
My first backpacking trip was a simple one, about five miles out and back, relatively even terrain with beautiful views. I didn’t even have boots yet at this point and my pack was one I borrowed from my dad (all of my gear except for a couple things was borrowed from him). It rained a good bit the the first day out, but that was about the extent of difficulty my group and I experienced. I had a blast, and wanted to do it again. My second trip was to the same location--Flat Laurel Creek trail in Pisgah National Forest--same difficulty as the first (we only added about a mile and a half or so). Now, if my first trip had been as difficult as the third, I don’t know if I would have continued backpacking.
Our group traveled up to North Carolina and hiked Mt. Mitchell over the course of three days,
climbing an elevation of about two thousand feet and over eleven and a half miles. The first day was trying, but successful--my muscles were sore and I was worn, but still content with the progress and ready for the next day. The second day began, however, with a hard climb back up the mountain which lasted about two to three miles--no switchbacks--straight up. About only a fourth of a mile in, my mind got the better of me, I could not catch my breath, and I began to panic. It was only the reassurance from Jerry, our group leader, and my own mental recognition that I had no other option than to continue, that propelled me to continue.
It was this experience, during this trip, that gave me a new level of motivation and feeling of success. This level of physical exertion was completely new to me, and taught me an important lesson about the power of mental exercise alongside physical. Half the battle of hiking (and truly any other form of exercise or physical exertion) is the mental aspect--the controlling and monitoring of your own conscious thought process while performing the action. Mindset controls whether or not you enjoy the hike, whether or not you feel successful, and sometimes, whether or not you finish. I found that when I acknowledged the struggle I was experiencing, confronted it, and decided to use it as motivation to continue, I was rewarded. I panicked primarily because I couldn’t breathe properly, so when I acknowledged it, stopped, caught my breath, focused on controlling it, and filled my mind with only the goal of finishing, I felt stronger and more able.
I am still learning and growing, but one thing I know for certain, is mentality controls and affects everything else when it comes to exercise. This is my advice, from my experience. Get out there and climb a mountain, I promise it's worth it!