THE WALL. Ask any endurance athlete about it, and they will likely say the same things. The wall is not a physical brick and mortar barrier, but refers to the point at which, after an extended period of grueling exertion, your body just starts to give up, as if trying to say “I’ve got nothing left to give dude, so can we please just stop!?” You might lose your form, feel exhausted, experience pains all over, become nauseous… Everyone’s responses are different, and while most practical remedies for symptoms of hitting the wall are preventative rather than palliative, when you do inevitably reach that breaking point, there is one crucial trait you must have if you want to make it through the discomfort: mental toughness. When your body fails, you simply let your mind take over and finish what you set out to do. You allow your focus to widen, so instead of concentrating on the one acute pain that seems like it’s going to kill you, you think about exactly how many miles are left, how long each mile will take, and what your overall remaining time should be. Then set smaller incremental goals that are within your immediate visual range; I need to get to that light pole in 10 minutes. If the pain is too intense, just breathe. A few deep breaths can make a world of difference for worn out muscles and for your mental state as well, and while it may not take away the suffering, it may at least momentarily distract you from it.
I hit the wall last night, and it all started on the 7-mile bridge. In hindsight, my first mistake was changing into shorts before getting onto the bridge. Until that point, I had worn my thin, tan, nylon long sleeve shirt and pants everyday to protect myself from the sun’s intense and relentless UV rays. Once on the bridge however, there was no escape. The shoulder was narrow enough that I felt uncomfortable stopping to change clothes because there would be little room for me to lean over and dig through my pack while cars, trucks, and semis passed by at 45 miles per hour. By mile 5 or 6 the sunburn on the right side of both of my calves had begun to cause me a fair amount of pain, but the sun was going down and I was almost to the next island, so I decided I could just deal with it. I put in some headphones to drown out the scream of the vehicles racing by and to distract myself from the tight, pink tenderness of my skin. When I reached solid land, the sun had set but it was still light enough to see that I had a bit more hiking to do before I could safely find a spot to stealth camp for the night. 2 more miles and the pain intensified, perhaps from the added soreness of my muscles. 1 mile beyond that and I was no longer able to feel the tightness in my IT bands or the bruising on my feet- I could only think about the icy-hot needles on the back of my legs. In the distance, maybe half a mile away, I saw that the trail paralleling the road became a corridor, surrounded on one side by thick and dense forest, on the other by a thin barrier of trees blocking the view of and from the road. This should take me 10 minutes, I thought- no problem. But just like having to pee very badly when nearing a restroom, the sensation of pain grew from the anxiety of being so close to the finish. I took a few deep breaths and pushed on in a short-stepped waddle. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. When I finally reached the row of trees, I realized with great disappointment that the forest was too thick to penetrate, but another 100 feet away was a mown cutaway where a column supporting an electric wire stood. Having stopped to gaze into the impenetrable woods, I then consciously and deliberately forced myself to regain my momentum for those last few steps. It was hell, but truly only the beginning of the wall. I stiffly and sloppily set up camp in this small cutaway and gingerly set my legs on top of my pack to promote bloodflow out of my swollen limbs. The entire night I spent tossing and turning failing to find a position of comfort and painlessness with little success. I had hit the wall, and I had hit it hard.
Day 2: 25 miles
Day 3: 21 miles
Day 4: 21 miles
Total so far: 89 miles
To see pictures from the trail, check out my Instagram account @dudetrek
Thanks to those of you who are keeping up with me through the blog posts and on facebook.com/jonahinthewhale – your comments really help to keep me motivated and are a constant reminder that I am never really alone. On a small side note, I’d like to mention that I have been hiking with a fellow Eastern Continental Trail hiker named Geared Up, whose blog you can read HERE . What a great surprise and pleasure it has been to meet someone who understands the day to day triumphs and tribulations of long-distance backpacking, especially this early on in my hike. Also, I’ve got to give a shout out to JD, who bought my breakfast this morning, who has a very thought provoking YouTube channel that you can see http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0Ggn-r7rBGWN7CikmeurdA