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How to Overcome Fear: 23 Miles to Self Confidence

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Last week, I did something epic. I hiked over 23 miles.

Learning to Overcome Fear: A girl holds a stick above her head looking over a mountain valley gorge

For some of you, that’s no big deal, you hike 20 a day to finish your trails. For some of you, that’s bat-shit crazy, you don’t even want to walk to the kitchen. For me, it’s a big deal. I had to overcome fear and lot of negative self-talk. I personally can’t think of a better way to kick off my blog. Post 1, here we go!

I don’t have a lot of faith in myself sometimes. I’m constantly doubting and constantly self-criticizing and constantly finding ways that prove I’m just not good enough. Hiking 23 miles was never on my agenda. Hiking almost snuck into my life, really. Ten years ago, I hiked maybe a few times a year, mostly on trips to New York. Five years ago, I sometimes did short trail runs at some local trails and I finally attempted my first real backpacking trip with my then boyfriend. (Let’s not forget the time I thought I was going to die in Guatemala which was my actual first backpacking trip).

It didn’t go super well. 

The views were amazing, but I didn’t sleep. It was freezing. My stomach issues were flaring. I couldn’t move the next morning for sunrise. I felt like total crap. And I hobbled back out the 4 miles with a nice IT-band injury and a whole lot of grumbling. The guy I was with put my thoughts to words “Maybe backpacking just isn’t for you.” 

For some reason, hearing that from someone else gave me a chance to rebuttal the thought in my head and decide a better thought: “Maybe I just need better gear.” I liked the views so much that even though I felt like crap, I didn’t want to stop backpacking. So I bought different gear and I tried again. And again. I started hiking more often. I started falling in love with trails and nature and views. 

To date, my longest thru-hike is 35 miles. That took 3.5 days. I couldn’t walk the next day. My longest hike in one day was 15 miles, due to poor planning. And I was NOT okay mentally, physically, or emotionally. I didn’t sleep the night of that hike. We had 10 miles the next day. And I  was IN PAIN. It was not fun. In fact, that 15 mile hike almost drove me to give up backpacking.

Between chronic inflammation, off and on bloated issues, joint issues, exhaustion and well, lack of belief that I could ever get better, I was frustrated watching my friends pop 15 miles a day like it’s candy. I was frustrated watching them go hike every weekend and then be okay to go to work all week. I was frustrated watching my boyfriend run 7 miles after partying all night. 

I did not seem capable to push past 10 miles walking in one day, let alone after a poor night of sleep.

Then came Washington. I’ve been updating you guys with these photos on Instagram over the last few weeks and this was a pivotal moment for me. Desperate to survive 9 days out there without pooping out and having to spend the rest of my trip in a hotel, I got advice from my Chiropractor and utilized it: STRETCH. I got religious about my diet, my vitamins, my sleep, my electrolytes. And I got religious about STRETCHING.

It made a difference. 4 days in and we had already done a 13 mile backpacking overnighter, a 10 mile day hike and an 8 mile day hike and I was still okay. MUCH HIGHER elevation gains than what I’m used to over here. And I was still okay. At the end of the trip, we totaled 50 miles. And I was still okay. My FRIEND was stiff. My friend didn’t feel good. I was still okay! If not for life obligations, I almost went on a backpacking trip immediately upon returning. This made me begin to wonder.. Could I perhaps maybe possibly do 20 miles? Was I finally going to break this limiting belief?

These negative thoughts had me believing my body would just never be capable of doing more than 10 miles a day without completely shutting down.

I never believed 20 miles a possibility for me before. I saw the AT hikers who HAVE to put in mileage like that to get the trail done in season. I laughed at the idea of me ever being able to do that. Yet, a year ago, I would have laughed at the idea of me feeling as good as I did during and after Washington. I’d been working on my beliefs. My new beliefs led me to ask about ways I could take even better care of my body so I could do more, rather than ways to get better after I got hurt because “here we go again. my body sucks. I can’t do shit.”

I decided I would attempt 20 miles, flat of course. I could prove this to myself. Then my friend suggested Linville Gorge and completely forgetting about elevation gain, I agreed because it’s so beautiful there.

There were obstacles. First obstacle was in my mind. I saw the trail information after agreeing and realized I agreed to 21 miles (I mistakenly read this, it actually does say 23!) and a 5000 foot gain. My head never fully understanding what the gain means, I thought 5000 is as much as Washington was. HELL NO I CANT DO 21 miles of that in one day, let alone 20! (Obviously, 5000 gain over 21 miles is not the same as condensing it into 10 miles- Up UP UP! But I wasn’t thinking. Anxious brains don’t think, they just ruminate!).

I chose to go anyways. We could always turn around at 6 miles in. Then, my friend who loves to be two hours late was, as usual, two hours late haha. We ended up arriving at the gorge and getting our tents set up by midnight. MIDNIGHT. That’s 4 hours of sleep, my friends. Lizzie’s body doesn’t do good on 4 hours.

But we drove all the way there, we were up. THIS. WAS. HAPPENING. I was determined to give it my all anyways. And then came the nausea. Ugh, of course my stomach was bloaty and gross on 4 hours of sleep. Of course. Almost predictable at this point. There were a lot of moments where I wanted to give into the whisper in my ear of 

“Go back, you’re too sick. Things have to be perfect or you know you just don’t do good, you just don’t have a good enough body like other people” 

But I chose to keep going. Maybe breakfast and a potty break would turn things around. Eventually, I did get lightheaded and decided we needed to go ahead and have our breakfast break. And eating breakfast was hard. When I feel bloaty and gross, breakfast doesn’t sound appealing. But it worked! The nausea wore off, the noticeable bloat went away. I was hiking away and not even noticing the time passing.

Wee! Playing on rocks is fun

When my friend announced we reached the 6 miles mark, I laughed and didn’t believe her. “We’ve been 6 miles already?” I barely even felt it. My legs were great! I was definitely going to try to keep going.

We had come up with a backup plan in case my body shut down on me. There are other entrances to the trail so we figured she would hike out and I would stay and wait for her to pick me up in the car from another trailhead. But at 10 miles in and the river break, our friend texted us and congratulated us for completing the “hardest part.” Wait what?

I was still feeling great. Where was all the crazy elevation I expected? We only have flat 10 miles left? What? I was gold.

Not only my first 20 mile hike, but my first hand stand too 🙂

And then… We realized the river crossing wasn’t going to happen. We had just had hurricane sally hit the gulf and a lot of rain in the area caused the river to swell to thrice it’s usual size. We looked for close to 2 hours for a way to cross, but it didn’t seem safe enough to attempt with the gear we had.

But going back the way we came would mean… Oh no. Going back the way we came would be like going clockwise. Oh, fudge.

Clockwise on the trail is HARDER.

This is off trail fun, don’t worry. The elevation gain is not THAT intense

I had already made up in my mind that we were done, it was finished, we only had an easy 10 miles to go. We took a 3 hour “break”! No no no no no no nooooooo.

“Too bad, so sad” said the river. 4 PM, 12 hours into our day and we still had to hike out. Ughhh. “What have I done?” I wondered. But I chose to stay as positive as possible. 10 miles happy is a lot easier than 10 miles upset. I was feeling the hike back, we were stiff from resting, but the muscles warmed up quickly with ALL UP HILL.

*makes oof sound*

The last 2.5 miles were brutal- all down hill and my knees were as stiff as … insert that’s what she said comment here…. I was hobbling like an old man; I ended up having to K-tape my IT band on one side, but we were past all the “give-up and wait” points. I was doing this, legs or not! We rolled into the finish line at nearly 10:00 at night. 17 hours after we started. We began in the dark and ended in the dark; it was the longest one day hike I had ever done. Those 21 turned out to be 23 according to our tracker and 5000 gain loop turned into 8000 gain out-and-back. 

And I did it. I freaking did it. 

But that’s not all!

Elated with the fact that I just completed 23 miles, my mental energy was up. We were excited about pizza, something I don’t get to eat very often these days. I rolled out my muscles and stretched, having learned how important this is, and we decided we had energy to make it to the pizza place and drive 2 hours home.

HAHA. That was wishful thinking. We both wondered if we should just crash and camp. We were both pretty tired, but pizza calls you to make dumb choices sometimes. We drove there, only to find out that google was wrong and they were closed and here we were- away from campsites and still 1.5 hours from home. Bat. Shit. Exhausted. I felt awful for my friend driving so I tried to stay awake in the car. I was in and out. And my seat was stuck and I was scrunched. The stiffness rolled in. I slowly lost my patience. I wanted to cry. I JUST WANTED TO GET HOME. So sore. So stiff. So tired. Tummy aching.

We made it home and probably got to bed in time to say we pretty much stayed up 24 hours and hiked 17 of them. Not a great combo. I was sure I’d be paying the price for a week afterwards, at least. Based on past experience, this could mess me up real good! Yet, I slept 9 hours, got up- forced myself to drive home to my house and clean so I wouldn’t mess up my sleep schedule too much. I’m sure I could have slept ’til 4 PM. I had rolled, stretched, massaged, and iced again before bed the night before.

I didn’t use a single drop of muscle cream. I didn’t take a single pain pill. 

I slept well the second night after and then Sunday, 2 days after our hike, my friend made a comment about it being a beautiful day for a run. I scoffed, impressed that I was at least alive and not in bed, but laughing at the fat chance of being able to exercise only 2 days after that. But then, I smelled the fresh fall air and by the end of the day, I felt sore, but not you-need-to-rest sore and I strapped on my shoes and went out to jog a mile. TWO DAYS AFTER A 23 MILE HIKE, I was running. Me. Little me. Me who didn’t think she’d ever get to do something like this.

I learned how to overcome fear and negative self talk. I hiked 23 miles. You can too.

I don’t normally hike 23 miles, but when I do…

Want to know what I recommend to bring for a day hike? Check out this blog post HEREWhat gear did I use for this hike? 

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