Backpacking through a Looking Glass

Backpacking through a Looking Glass

Through a Looking Glass. I am using this trip as an opportunity to tell a story about how I looked deep inside during a recent backpacking trip with my son (he call it backpacking in hell). I wont go into at this time how I let ego involvement get in the way of good sense. I wont focus on how I berated myself over our mistakes (negative self-talk). These things any decent sports psychologist could talk themselves through. Instead join me on this trip to see how I handled adversity, physical discomfort and still got back here to finish my book The Athlete within You.

I went backpacking this weekend with my 17-year-old son. We both wanted to get away from things for a bit before he started his film production internship. We planned a short hike in of just less than 4 miles to Marten Lake in the Cascades. disasters go it was pretty mild, but in terms of a comedy of errors, it ranks right up there with snow camping with sleeping bags rated at minus 20 when they were actually plus 30 degree bags. Of course this will take me back in the direction of “How Sports Psychology Explains the World” at some point. Now come laugh with (at) me and our adventure into the outback.

Not really outback of course as it is less than an hour from home, but it is more exciting saying outback. The trip began as trips should with us leaving the house 30 minutes behind schedule. We had to make a stop at REI as even though I was told I could get a Forest service Pass on line (you can it just takes a week to get it). While there we picked up a few things we left out of our packs. Bug spray, toilet paper and we also needed some webbing to fix a strap) nothing vitally important.

So off we headed now an hour behind or as those in the know would say, right on time. We parked and started about 80 percent sure we were in the right place. We had map and compass, but there was the uneasiness that made it more exciting, as the area was not as well marked, as I would have liked. Around two miles on relatively flat trail to the jump of to Marten Lake.

This trip was meant to be an easy go. Since I tore up my knee, fitness has been difficult. So we wanted something to ease my way back. We got to the trail head (only missed it the first time by 50 yards). It was hidden as I knew it would be by what I had read online. The online guides said that it was a moderate hike in, but that it had some deadfalls (trees fallen across the trail). I did see something about you might want to bring a saw. We looked at the trail and decided we didn’t need a saw unless it was a chainsaw. A machete would have been useful. And did I mention the trail climbed vertically straight up. This was not what we had intended, so we looked at our maps and decided a few miles of relatively flat trail took us to Otter Falls and perhaps a cool place to camp. So we were adding a mile. No big deal. Certainly better than a two mile climb and need of a chainsaw.  See how to handle focus, discomfort when you really need to.

We got to the Falls in decent time. I was by this time getting a good workout carrying a 20-30 lb pack. My son had the larger heavier pack as he is fit, young, and of course needing financial support. The only problem was there was no place to make camp. We re-looked at the map. Snoqualmie Lake looked to be four miles ahead. Too far as I was getting tired.  Hiker saw us looking at the maps. He told us that the Lake was only a little over two miles ahead and that we would love it.  He swore it was an easy hike in.

We decided to go for it. The elevation gain wasn’t too bad. We had plenty of daylight, so why not.   A mile in we came to the expected trail. This one was marked. 2.0 miles it said. OK let’s go. We had been climbing slowly before this, but now we started to really get into it. I felt like I was on the stair master from hell. I found that it was now getting difficult. All this time I had been “associating” with what I was doing. Certainly, I was looking around at the beauty of the mountains, but I was also in touch with the physical workout I was getting. In sport psychology, we often talk to athletes about the value of associating with what they are doing. Feeling the pain, understanding how your body is working under stress is preferable to “disassociating” not thinking about your physical performance feelings.  Disassociation can be anything from distraction, to imagery (run like a deer through the woods), to flat-out denial of pain, to fantasy.

Once on the new trail I quickly moved away from association into disassociation. Even quicker from simply distraction, to imagery and on to fantasy.  Anything I could do to keep my feet moving one-step after another. I was eventually to that point exertion wise that only real fantasy could get me through. Superheroes to things even more distracting (this is a G-rated blog).

As the trail stretched onward, we began to guess that the sign was wrong, or that the map had not been updated. I sent my son and dog ahead to set up camp. I was moving too slow. It started to rain soon after and by the time I got to camp I was soaked. Of course I was wet from exertion in the first place, but now I was cold and wet.

When I arrived at camp the tent was almost set up, well as long as you didn’t expect to sleep in it it was. Seems the last of my sons to use it had left out a few of the poles. Time to improvise. That was ok as a few pieces of rope and we had what I hoped was an ok shelter for the night. I started to shiver so quickly changed into dry clothes. My son suggested I get into my sleeping bag to warm-up while he got water boiling. Of course the backpack stove failed. Something was wrong with the connection devise. Tried it on two cans of fuel. Epic fail.

Next step was to start a fire, while I shivered in my bag. You may not know it but it rains in the Seattle area. We have had up until this time 78 minutes of summer. Wood soaked. We did plan for that. Fire starter though was of little help. I did have a flask of “emergency tequila” of course. Wasted half a flask to no avail. We ate a dry dinner of jerky and trail mix. Yum.

Now 8PM and we can’t wait for morning and get out of there. I wake at 6AM and let my son sleep until 6. We break camp and are on the trail by 7:20. It’s easier going downhill but not by much. My knees are sore and I’m back to disassociation. The issue with disassociation is that the StairMaster is slippery and I need to focus better on where I am stepping. Finally get down to the trail-head. I considered leaving everything behind. We are both hurting and we have used up our water.  I can feel I am dehydrated, which is almost funny because as a coach I am always after my players to stay hydrated. We get near Otter Falls and I offer to carry the heavy pack (what a good dad). My son’s shoulders really are hurting him. I did say I might trade again when we got to the next bridge in 3 miles. An eternity later we get to the next bridge and he makes no effort to take back the pack. Oh well. More points for the good day. They can put that on my grave marker.

Finally out and back at the car. Can’t wait to get to the road and get some water. We pull into the mini mart and my son makes no effort to park. He just stops so I can go in and buy some H2O. I swing the door open and put my feet on the pavement. I stand up and cannot move. I am now 90 years old and shuffle into the store. And so ended the tale.

Took two days to recover. And that was my son. So what do we learn from this experience. Check equipment and maps (better planning). Check ego at the door. Mike is badly out of shape. And there are times when sport psychology techniques are very useful even when you are not trying to score goals.


1 Comment

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