If you read my blog or subscribe to my email list, you might know that I have been planning to thru-hike the East Coast Trail (a combined 260+ km of trail with varying levels of development and maintenance along the eastern coast of Newfoundland’s Avalon peninsula) for a few months now. It was my big project for the two months I would be home for the summer.
If you read the title of this post, you already know that it didn’t work out as planned. As much as I don’t want to be the person to make excuses, the truth is that I wasn’t being realistic with myself. I don’t have much experience with multi-day hikes, and this was a pretty big undertaking for me.
Rather than just avoid talking about it, I figured I would share the main reasons why the hike just didn’t work out (for now, at least). Maybe if you’ve got similar ambitions, this will help you be a little more prepared.
3. Bad Timing
As we near the end of one of the worst Julys I’ve ever experienced, weather-wise, I am not sure what I was expecting in terms of trail conditions. This past month has been overcast, cold, and wet. So, imagine my disbelief when the first trail from Cappehayden was muddy. Not just the get-your-boots-a-bit-dirty kind of muddy, but the kind of mud that absorbs your foot up to the ankle and sucks you in.
With a day pack? It’s an inconvenience. With a 40-lb bag that’s set to get you through a week? It can turn a 3-hour segment into a 5-hour nightmare.
The fix? I’m not sure what I could have done differently to deal with this. Maybe allotting more time for those difficult sections or travelling with an incredibly minimalist pack (I thought I was doing that).
2. Overestimating my mental capacity
The night before we left, my anxiety hit a high. Suddenly, I realized that it wouldn’t be all sunset cookups and catching up on my reading in the tent. To get to those rewarding evenings, I’d have to make it through my 25-km days. Not that I can’t do that once in a while, but knowing that you’ll have no real entertainment and will probably be too tired to engage in conversation for most of an 8-hour hike can be mentally gruelling.
The result? Severely focussing on every painful step.
The fix? Get into meditation or something beforehand. Learn to calm your mind and get into the zone while hiking. Seriously, the first few days will be tough if all you’re thinking about is the pressure that your pack is putting on your hips.
1. Overestimating my physical capacity
There is a certain extent to which you can use mindset to get through physical challenges. Then, there’s the wall you hit where your body says “No more.”
When you think of yourself as a fairly fit person, it’s easy to say that you’ll push yourself through anything. Bad weather? Sure. Cold nights and achy muscles? Of course I can deal with that. It’s a mental challenge, but my if I push myself, I can do it.
That’s not actually the case. When it comes down to it, how you treat your body matters in these situations. Most people don’t pick up running one week and then do marathons the next. There’s a certain amount of training that is called for.
The fix? Try working your way up to longer hikes. Who says you can’t section hike? Jumping into a difficult two-week hike is quite ambitious when you’ve never done more than a couple of days at a time. Test the waters and see how your body responds. Work your way up. You’ll get it eventually.
Have you had any similar failures? (Feel free to admit them!)