We pulled our old packs out of the truck and started filling them up.  Smellie sleeping bags, a change of clothes, pots and butane, Cliff Bars and apples.  The trailhead was an hour from our trailer.  The road wound its way through golden farmland with black cows dotting the hillside.  We watched a storm grow on the horizon, dumping on peaks.  By the time we got to the trailhead at Big Sandy the air was cool and moist and we could hear thunder in the distance.  Welp, we drove this far and are all packed so we better get after it.

About a mile in, it started raining.  I could see blue skies in the distance so I picked up my pace.  In another 30 minutes little bite size hail started bouncing off my pack and covering the trail.  Another five minutes later, the hail was coming in full force stinging my skin.  I would take my time walking underneath the trees then run when the trail opened up in a clearing.

I hear there is this hormone that is released when you give birth that makes you forget all the pain and only remember holding your fresh, new baby in your arms.  I think the same thing happens when you’re backpacking.  You don’t remember the hail storm, and if you do, you laugh it off.  You don’t remember the bruised toes and heel blisters.  The climbing over rocks on the ascent or the pain in your knees in the sharp descent.  You only remember waking up to the sound of birds, opening your tent and seeing the sun rise over the granite peaks.

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The hike to The Cirque is a doosey.  The first five and a half miles are easy going, lulling you into a false sense of confidence.  Then the last four are up and down, climbing through boulder fields, dropping into a basin then clawing your way up out and over Jackass Pass then dropping back down into The Cirque Basin.  As I’ve said in many posts before, backpacking is such a mental game.  The mind gives out way before your body does.  You have way too much time to think.  While on this hike I realized something about myself.  I love being comfortable.

I like my warm little home away from the wind and rain.  I love my breakfast routine.  I love being able to cook what I want.  I love refrigeration to keep my food for weeks at a time.  I don’t like pain.  I don’t like not getting my way.  I don’t like not having conveniences at my finger tips.  I don’t like drama.  Backpacking is a practice with becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable.

I realize this every time I start on a trip.  My back and feet start hurting and I start whining like a baby in my head.  I’m not dying, the pain will go away in the evening but I treat it like my legs are about to fall off.  I start thinking I’m not strong enough, that I don’t have the will power to go on.  I talk down to myself.  How do you deal with pain?  When things don’t go your way, what is your go to response?  I’ll tell you mine is usually extremely negative self talk.  Followed by pizza.  Then more negative self talk.

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I think the brain is so powerful.  We can’t control our circumstances, but we can control how we react to them.  And our response to difficult situations can either give us strength to push us through or it can debilitate us.

The Cirque Basin is wide and deep with a crystal clear lake at the bottom.  We set up our tents on the mountainside overlooking the granite peaks.  On our third day we decided to hike up to Cirque Lake.  A small, glacial lake nestled among the peaks.  By the third day, my blisters were a force to be reckoned with and the hike was a wee bit painful.  As we were climbing up the steep ascent our friend who was leading kept saying, “Almost there, just a little bit more.”  I watched the trail go up and up and I marked out points.  “If I can just get over this boulder field, I’ll be ok.”  “If I can just get through that creek, I’ll be ok.”  “If I can just get over that ridge, I’ll be almost there.”

I find I do the same thing off the trail as well.  “If I can just get through this difficult conversation, I’ll be ok.”  “If I can just get through this morning I’ll be ok.”  “If I can just get through this meeting, this day, this night, I’ll be ok.”

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When you’re forced to sit with discomfort, how do you talk to yourself?  How do you talk to others?  Does it set you back for a couple hours or are you able to bounce back quickly?  What are your coping tools?  Do you check out, go to food, binge watch a show, drink a bottle of wine, talk trash about an acquaintance?  I think one of the bravest and most difficult things imaginable is to confront the pain head on.  To not shy away from the anger, the anxiety, the frustration, but to sit with your thoughts and choose to process through them.

I see it as brain conditioning.  You are retraining your brain to have different reactions to difficult circumstances.  When we got out of the mountains, my feet have never been so torn up.  I bought new shoes a week before the trip, took them on a couple of hikes to try to break them in.  By the end of the first day of the backpacking trip, I realized I made a mistake with the shoes, and they were just getting worse.  When we got out we went to the small outdoor shop to beg for mercy.  We spent good money that we didn’t really have to get me some much needed hiking shoes.  The manager was nice but not willing to budge.  I left there so defeated and mad.  I started trash talking the manager, I was angry at God because I expected a miracle and didn’t get my way.  I came home and started watching Stranger Things just to check out and ignore my frustrations.

Thirty minutes later, the manager called and said he just got off the phone with Keen and they’re sending me a new, larger size pair of shoes.  For free.  I couldn’t believe it.  My faith is so small.  I get so angry when things don’t go my way that I’m blinded to hope.  Humbling situations like this remind me of my go to reactions.  What would happen if next time I didn’t get my way, I decided to trust the Lord instead?  What would happen if I worked through the negative self talk and countered it with affirming words?

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As you can imagine, living a freelance lifestyle can be a wee bit stressful.  You usually live month to month, waiting on the next client to show up out of the blue.  About a year ago I used to stress about money.  Daily.  Where’s it going to come from?  Are we going to make it through the month, do we have enough for groceries?  Then we made the decision to go on the road full time and I saw God prove his faithfulness again and again.  There were so many milestones that I would stress about, but one by one, God provided.  I started retraining my brain to instead of seeing each milestone as a stressful hurdle but rather an opportunity for the Lord to provide.  My go to phrase was, “The Lord will provide!!  He always has!!”

Over time when I kept repeating this to myself, my brain started to actually believe it.  There has not been a month when we don’t have food on the table and gas in our truck.  I definitely don’t rock this positive attitude out with every situation, like the shoes for example.  But I will say it has gotten easier to hope.  To hope that the Lord will provide and look forward to the miraculous way that He will.

Next time a stressful situation comes up, stop and think.  What are your emotions, how are you reacting?  What do you want to do to cope with it?  Acknowledge it, don’t feel shame for it, then replace it with a positive action and thought.  Over time, instead of dipping into that negative place, your brain will instead choose to hope, to breathe, to cope healthily.  It’s choice to be anxious and a choice to confront the anxiety, look at it, feel it, then choose a different emotion.  Let me assure you that I do not have all my stuff together.  But I’ve been coping with Bipolar craziness my whole life.  And I’ve seen the effects of unhealthy, detrimental coping tools and choosing to confront and push through.

So ladies and gents!  Here’s to climbing mountains and pushing through!

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2 thoughts on “Conditioning

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