View from The Horn

I’ve been wanting to post more stories, thoughts, and articles that are in line with The Project’s core values. Lessons are presented to us everyday, but we don’t always see them or choose to learn from them. My hope is that the following post will both help others learn from a couple lessons I recently learned (or relearned) and to keep with The Project’s core values to help others follow/find their passions.

I also wanted to show others that despite appearances, my adventures are not always easy and straight forward. I’m just as human as everyone else and that I don’t just cruise through all my adventures with ease. I’m as susceptible to mistakes, bad judgement, and just as likely to not learn from prior lessons. I only say this because social media can give one a false impression. As hard as we try to post the truth, we all post more positive experiences than we do negative ones.

Recently I went for a week of hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The goal was to work on completing some of the hundred highest peaks in New England. Despite my lack of any consistent exercise I went into the week thinking it was just going to be easy day hiking. I wasn’t overly concerned by the undertaking. I figured I would just pound out a bunch of peaks in no time.

Days 1 and 2 were fine and I felt great. I had the good sense to take the third day off (But if I’m being honest, if it hadn’t been raining I probably wouldn’t have). When I finished my third hike on Day 4,  I was both physically and mentally spent, and no longer wanted to continue. 

The blame wasn’t associated with just one thing. It was multiple things that lead to me not continuing with my plan and finishing all the peaks I wanted to. My mental approach, fitness, and not applying what I already knew about myself all lead to my failure.

There were two major things I failed to recognize and address. The first is that prior hikes (and fitness) don’t always relate to the current one. After all my hiking and biking, I have a tendency to convince myself that if I can hike 40 miles in a day on the Continental Divide Trail or ride 190 miles on the Tour Divide, that I can crush a “simple” day hike/ride. 

I made this mistake and it’s not the first time I’ve done it. The Whites might only top out at 6000’ but their terrain and trail conditions/layout are extremely hard. The trails go straight up and are covered with rocks and roots. No switchbacks or easy walking. Every step needs to be calculated and precise. By the end of the day you are both mentally and physically tired. I failed to accept my current fitness level and give the conditions the respect they deserved, because I thought my prior experience gave me a pass to do so. This was a big failure on my part.

As shown here, the result of this mindset doesn’t always work. On shorter hikes I can push through, but on longer ones or in this case, a series of them, the chance of burnout is high. Attacking each of these hikes like I was both in shape and younger set me up to fail in the long run. I had all day to hike each of them but I still tried to hike at my normal fast pace. I took minimal breaks and pushed my body the whole time. 

The second thing I failed to do is know myself. The worst part is, this is both one of The Project’s and my own core values. I’ve known for some time now that I do not perform well in extreme humidity. The week I was hiking, both the temperature and humidity were very high. Humidity is my kryptonite. When it’s humid outside I just want to stay inside. When I do go outside and exercise I sweat even more than normal and it feels like the air is sucking the energy/motivation right out of me. Keeping motivated in this type of weather is extremely hard for me.

After Day 4 and only doing four peaks, the idea of hiking for two more days in 90 degree heat, high humidity and one of the days including a bunch of blow downs, I just didn’t want to do it. I had the physical strength but I didn’t have the mental edge to keep going. Making the decision to stop was hard. Knowing what my mental toughness has helped me achieve in the past made making the decision to head home even tougher. In the end I knew that my happiness was more important than my bravado. If I had continued with my peak bagging I wouldn’t have had fun and having fun is the point.

This situation brings up another lesson I’ve learned. Since most of my adventures are big ones, I have a very hard time doing smaller ones like day hikes or rides. For me to get excited about a day hike or ride, there needs to be a big payoff, epic views, extreme height, or terrain.

One way I combat this is to work on lists. I’ve always liked them, but lists give me the feeling of working towards a bigger goal (Like when I’m thru-hiking/biking). A day hike or individual ride might be beneficial for my general fitness or mental state but it’s become very hard for me to see. I like lists because I can see the progress toward a goal. Individual rides/hikes just blend together for me, even though they are getting me ready for something bigger.

In the end, if I had taken my time, respected the terrain, accepted my current fitness level for what it was, and paid more attention to the conditions, I would have not burned out before finishing all the peaks. In the future I need to use my past experience as a tool and not as a pass to ignore the present.

There are a few lessons to be learned here. First, don’t assume past experience or fitness equals success. Secondly, know yourself (current fitness level), the terrain, and weather. Lastly, approach each adventure like it’s your first one. You’ll be better prepared and have greater success. My past experiences have toughen me mentally, so I’m able to push through almost anything but that doesn’t mean it will be enjoyable. Understanding this is key.

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