HIkers on the Sinai Trail. Credit: Enas El Masry
The first time I went on a thru-hike, I was skeptical
whether my body would be able to cross 200+ kilometers, and summit four or five
mountains. Like anyone preparing for a trip that requires physical endurance, I
kept myself busy with all sorts of exercise and physical preparation.
On the fourth day of the two-week hike, a gush of emotions overcame me and I broke down, triggered simply by losing my Buff face cover. From that night on, it was clear that I needed as much emotional strength as physical strength to make it through this hike.
Physical preparation will only get you halfway, but these mental preparations are key to helping you go all the way:
1. Everyday practices can be emotionally challenging. It might be tough to find the silver lining to the lack of showers, toilets, mobile phone reception, and other luxuries. While you may not be able to change much about these settings, acknowledging them before going on your trip will help you accept them by the time you have to deal with them.
2. Focus on the here and now. Exhaustion can be overwhelming, and sometimes, pushing past it is the only thing you can do. Instead of letting negative feelings take over, occupy your mind by focusing on your breathing, pace, and the magnificence of the surrounding nature.
3. Break down the journey into mini, achievable goals. To avoid being overwhelmed with the weight of the challenge, focus on reaching certain points on the trail, or just deal with each day as a separate challenge to unlock and complete. If you find yourself feeling down, try envisioning yourself completing each of these challenges and hold on to the belief that you can.
4. Hiking is not a race. Learn to respect your body, its capabilities, and your pace, while slowly pushing yourself to improve. It’s all about finding fine balance.
5. Get ready to really know yourself and test your limits. Hiking involves long periods of silence, partially to regulate your breathing and focus on your pace, but also because you can’t talk for eight hours straight each day. In those long periods of silence, you may find yourself introspecting and contemplating matters you usually don’t have the time for. While this can be healthy, it takes a lot of mental and emotional strength to come face-to-face with your thoughts.
6. Nature is a good place for self-healing. It’s not so uncommon to find yourself up against a wave of negative feelings. Regardless of their nature or intensity, leaving them unaddressed can be hazardous. You may prefer to process your feelings and thoughts on your own, or you may prefer to open up to your hike mates. Whatever you decide on, make sure you don’t leave them room to grow.