Friday, November 10, 2023
HomeOutdoorHeather Anderson Talks Psychological Well being and the Path

Heather Anderson Talks Psychological Well being and the Path

By: Heather “Anish” Anderson


“The bliss of mountaineering for weeks or months will inevitably finish. Whether or not on the completion of the path or on account of different constraints, you’ll cease strolling and you’ll go residence. It’s stated that long-distance mountaineering is a superb metaphor for all times, with all its ups and downs. However I’ve at all times felt that it most poignantly mirrors life on this side: it ends. And, simply as we spend little or no time contemplating the inevitability of our personal demise, long-distance hikers are sometimes underprepared for his or her journey to finish and the myriad repercussions that observe.” 

—Excerpted from Journey Prepared: A Hiker’s Information to Planning, Coaching, and Resiliency


I accomplished my first thru-hike in 2003… and haven’t stopped since. Relying on what standards you utilize to outline thru-hiking, I’ve accomplished no less than 15—together with being the one lady to full the Triple Crown 3 times.

I believe we are able to all agree that the time we spend mountaineering and the sensation of pleasure once we obtain one thing as big as finishing a thru-hike is part of why we do it. However there’s a flip-side to this that’s seldom mentioned.

That’s the interval of blues or despair that steadily follows the completion of a protracted journey. Earlier this month on the Gossamer Gear weblog, a number of ambassadors shared their experiences with the post-hike despair that usually follows a thru-hike.

As a repeat thru-hiker, one of many questions I get—requested one-on-one, quietly, and shyly—is that if I nonetheless have post-hike despair. The reply is sure… and no. A depressive interval following an enormous endeavor is completely assured, no less than on a organic degree. After months of your circadian rhythm being in sync with the solar, hours a day spent exercising, and limitless recent air and clear water, your physique, hormones, and nervous programs are going to be upset by a transition to sitting on a sofa indoors with synthetic lights. I nonetheless expertise this.

But, there may be one other side of post-hike blues that goes past the organic shifts. I personally imagine it’s carefully associated to grief. Many hikers grieve the top of the journey, the top of a brand new persona they found inside themselves, the recent begin and freedom they tasted. It’s also frequent to really feel excessive misery on the way of life and relationships they arrive residence to. All of those elements differ considerably by particular person. The depth of the dissonance, mixed with the organic parts is exceedingly disparate. I do know of hikers who couldn’t cope and took their lives. I additionally know hikers who regulate pretty seamlessly as soon as their hormones steadiness out.

The fact is, there’s a transitory interval that follows a thru-hike (and this contains incomplete thru-hikes) that’s seldom talked about, similar to different psychological diseases. As a group of hikers, we should destigmatize this practically common expertise.

In 2019, I moved from being a hiker, to a hiker and an writer when my first e-book was launched; Thirst: 2,600 Miles to House. This e-book was the memoir of my 2013 Pacific Crest Path thru-hike. As I wrote the ultimate chapter, I knew I didn’t need to finish the e-book on the northern terminus. Although it appears to be the logical ending, particularly for a hit story, I used to be adamant that the interval that follows be included. Thus, the epilogue of that e-book reveals the rollercoaster of feelings that adopted my hike.

My second e-book, Mud, Rocks, Blazes: Letting Go on the Appalachian Path, picks up the place Thirst left off. I’m positive that the majority writers would simply leap to the beginning of the following journey; on this case, my 2015 AT thru-hike that’s the meat and potatoes of the e-book. Nonetheless, with out sufficient on the market concerning the psychological and emotional fall-out of thru-hiking, I selected to not gloss over the interim interval of these two hikes. That interval of my life was fraught with plenty of cognitive dissonance, imposter syndrome, grief, and disappointment. I longed for the path itself and I dearly missed who I used to be on the path.

Again and again by my on-line presence, my talking profession, and now my writing profession, I’ve chosen to be susceptible concerning the emotional and psychological facets of the journey. It’s not the simplest factor to do, however simply as most hikers take care of blisters and publish about them (which is much extra gnarly to stumble onto by accident on Instagram!), most take care of psychological well being points following their path experiences. It’s my hope that we normalize speaking about that side of our mountaineering well being simply as we do blisters and sprained ankles.

Simply over a 12 months in the past, my writer reached out to me about the potential of following up my two memoirs with a prescriptive information to long-distance mountaineering. My co-author, Katie Gerber, and I leapt on the alternative. We needed to create a information that may cowl each side of the long-haul journey. This meant together with extra than simply how to decide on a backpack and pack a resupply field (though we cowl that too).

It meant diving into the issues that most individuals don’t talk about, like diet and, sure, the psychological facets of the journey.

We wrote Journey Prepared to assist folks put together for his or her hike—logistically, bodily, and mentally. However past that, we needed to cowl post-trail facets as effectively. As a result of the journey doesn’t finish on the terminus. It ends with the common problem of coming residence.

For anybody who’s struggling, I would like you to keep in mind that the enjoyment of the terminus ends, however the great thing about the expertise stays with you ceaselessly. Studying learn how to create house for the grief whereas cherishing the recollections is essential to post-hike psychological well being. In the event you really feel alone on this, you aren’t. Discover members of your tramily or different thru-hikers you respect and speak to them about it. It might really feel embarrassing, or uncomfortable, however I assure they’ve felt it too.

One of many issues I most love about thru-hiking is the group. Folks of various walks of life, ages, and means come collectively in quest of a shared aim: the other terminus. This group extends far past the bounds of the slender thread of path we walked collectively into the life we reside influenced by that have. It’s my hope that this group continues to share and help the psychological facets entwined with our frequent experiences in order that no thru-hiker has to undergo this a part of the journey alone like I did after my first hike in 2003.



Heather Anderson is a Nationwide Geographic Adventurer of the Yr, three-time Triple Crown thru-hiker, {and professional} speaker whose mission is to encourage others to “Dream Massive, Be Brave.” She is the writer of two mountaineering memoirs Thirst: 2,600 Miles to House and Mud, Rocks, Blazes: Letting Go on the Appalachian Path, in addition to a preparatory information to long-distance mountaineering, Journey Prepared. Discover her on Instagram @_WordsFromTheWild_ or her web site wordsfromthewild.web.

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