Long Distance Walking - The Mental Game. Chapter 5: The Group

Trekking Group heading to Erie Mine, Kennicott, Alaska

(Two Minute Read)

This aide memoire was originally written for our younger walkers about to embark on a three week adventure on the Annapurna Circuit. It's been incrementally fine tuned since then. You may find it helpful. Feedback and ideas always welcome.

 

Handling a long trek is also managed well if you understand what happens in a group as it morphs through various stages of its life over a long period of time. The group dynamic will likely reflect your own sentiments and emotions.

Over a short period of three to seven days most people can keep their emotions to themselves. If they are having a bad run they can see the end in sight and hang in there. It’s not entirely honest but it’s one way to manage being down. And over a short walk that approach does not always impact in a negative way on the overall group.

Over the longer period of time trekkers find it more difficult to keep their emotions in check. Those can range from the super excited to the suicidal low. Okay, perhaps not suicidal but they can be extreme. One ten day walk revealed undercurrents in friendships that erupted in a very negative way – fortunately just in time for the walk to finish.

Note after Machu Picchu trek: when we are on a track and sleeping in tents and otherwise roughing it, it seems that we are all able to focus on the challenges that need to be overcome. We help each other out and otherwise ensure the group reaches the end of each day in good shape and safe. However when we ease off that physical challenge and face less strenuous days, and are camped in hostels and hotels it is easier to get focused on the perceived irritations and shortcomings of fellow travellers.

A group will swing through highs and lows in a very natural way and you need to understand this is normal. But because it is normal you need to work that little bit harder to avoid the while group sinking into a funk – understanding group dynamics is not about watching or even avoiding the lows but helping you manage them.

The general group dynamic, and your own, will something like the chart below. The tan horizontal line can represent your starting state – excited, keen to get going, really looking forward to the adventure. The first few days see the excitement lift.

After the initial excitement you can find yourself in a low. But not everyone does. Many ride a slow high all the way out. Lucky them. But if you are going to get low it is likely to happen in those days around 4-6. Your clothes are wet. The billy has burnt the treat you were saving for yourself. The tent has developed a leak. Your trek buddy snores like a banshee. A whole lot of little things can start to take the edge off. But the biggest challenge at this point of a long trek is that you cannot see the end of it. This is your most significant mental obstacle. And the only way to deal with it is to not dwell on it but focus on each day as it presents itself.  There are some ideas for handling the lows suggested below.

As you work through that period you will find yourself picking up, then perhaps cycling to a not so dramatic low until eventually you get into your own emotional (and physical)  rhythm of the trek.

As noted above, you also need to be alert to the “zone” – perhaps a point when you are on an extra special high. You have reached the toughest part of the trek, the highest point, the most remote spot. There is real potential to swing from the highest high to the lowest low.

However, ideally, by the time you are this far into your trek you will recognise the high and manage it well. Your return from the high might look something like this instead.

Chapter Four: Managing the Length of Time

Chapter Six: How do I Manage the Lows? 


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