Psychology

Post Appalachian Trail Depression: Advice from Miss Janet

post appalachian trail hiker depression

It was July, 24 2011, a group of 20+ hikers huddled around a large picnic table in the backyard of the Happy Hiker’s Hostel in Glencliff, New Hampshire.  The night’s menu offered home-cooked meatloaf, grilled corn on the cob, mayonnaise-rich pasta salad, coleslaw, homemade buns lathered in liberal amounts of butter, and of course Miller High Life (obviously).  We were shoveling plate after plate of the delicious homemade fare directly into the deepest part of our throats, as if we unlearned the lost art of chewing.  A week of consuming only Ramen has that effect on people.

We were fortunate this evening for the home-cooked meal.  The typical hostel culture leaves a hiker on his/her own to walk or catch a shuttle to the nearest restaurant; the Happy Hiker Hostel is usually no exception.  This evening, however, we were graced with the presence (and culinary skills) of Miss JanetMiss Janet is an Appalachian Trail celebrity.  I remember my first week on the trail, a fellow hiker (who I had never conversed with), came up to me and excitedly said, “did you hear that Miss Janet is hiking the trail this year?!?”

“Are you serious?! …  By the way…who is Miss Janet?”

Apparently that was a dumb question (I’m good at those). A legend of the trail (objectively speaking – she is featured in the documentary “Trail Angels”), Miss Janet has been involved with helping AT hikers since she was only 13 years old.  Miss Janet’s hostel in Erwin, Tennessee was regarded as arguably the best hiker hostel on the entire AT (in competition with over 60 others).  Some hostels are known for their cheap price, some are known for the quality of their setup, Miss Janet’s was known for, well Miss Janet.

That’s why when Miss Janet talks, hikers listen.

Read more

Sensory Underload: Ninety Minutes Inside An Isolation Tank

Because 5 months in the woods wasn’t enough to isolate me from the surrounding world, I decided to kick it up a notch.

While on my little walk thingy, I became a big fan of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.  It served as my social fix when I wasn’t in the mood for actual interaction.  For those who are unfamiliar, Joe Rogan is a stand up comedian/UFC commentator/host of Fear Factor/Carlos Mencia basher.

One of the many reoccurring theme’s on the podcast is Rogan’s fascination with introspection.  In several episodes, he would reference a “sensory deprivation tank” (aka isolation tank/flotation tank) that he had set up in his house.  The tank, as Rogan puts it, “is the most important tool that [he's] ever used for developing [his] mind“.  This, coming from someone who is an outspoken proponent of both psychedelic drugs and marijuana.

Naturally my curiosity was piqued.

For those who are unfamiliar (me, as of 3 months ago) an isolation tank is basically a giant metal coffin with about a foot of salt water at the bottom.  The water is heated to the same temperature as a human body, eventually resulting in an inability to feel the water.  After an individual gets inside and shuts the door behind them, there is only total darkness.  Once the water settles, the only sound you can hear is your own breath.  Because the water is extremely dense – about 800 lbs. of Epsom salt is dissolved into it – a human body, which is made mostly of water, floats very easily.  The theory goes that because there is no sensory input causing distraction to your brain, the mind is left to more freely wander.  Beneficial claims include everything from pure rest and relaxation, to improved health and vitality, to being a shortcut toward enlightenment.

Read more

Last Lap-itis

I write this from the cement patio floor of a frat house at Dartmouth College. This is completely irrelevant to the proceeding post- but how could I not mention that?

You know that uneasy feeling you get when some significant stage in your life is nearing its conclusion? Maybe you’ve experienced this during your senior year of high school, or college, or before moving to a new city or leaving a job, or the end of a meaningful relationship. You’re still in the midst of it, but once you let your mind wander just a little bit forward in time, you can sense the end. I call this “Last Lap-itis”.

I have a severe case of Last Lap-itis.

Read more

Rolling With The Rocks: Learning Lessons From the Trail

It was early February of this very same year. My mom, along with one of her long time friends, had come to visit me in San Diego.

Over lunch, we began discussing my upcoming, seemingly insane adventure of an entirely inexperienced camper going into the woods for a half year backpacking trip- covering the length of the East Coast.

My mom’s friend asked how I thought I would respond to the trail’s more challenging moments. A very fair question, and one I had spent the previous two months wondering myself.

Quickly my mom interjected, “you know Zach, if you end up hating it, there’s no shame in leaving the trail early. There’s no good reason to force something you don’t enjoy upon yourself.”

At this point in my life, any response other than the one I had just received from my mom would have been a major surprise. She wants nothing more than for her kids to be happy, comfortable, and above all, safe.

That’s why I knew my response to her would cause alarm.

“You know what the weird thing about this trip is? I hope parts of it suck…I hope parts of it suck beyond belief. If I come out of this without any struggle- I don’t think I will have received the full experience. I will have missed an opportunity for growth. To answer your question I look forward to the trail’s challenges.

Fast forward to June 17, 2011

The day began with stiff joints and sore muscles. Not uncommon following a 27 mile day, especially one covering some of the rockiest terrain experienced on trail thus far. Fourteen hours of backpacking doesn’t exactly leave much energy in the tank for the necessary stretching or care taking. Upon rising I was immediately paying the consequences. As I sat up in the crowded, mini-shelter (known to be the home of a nearby Copperhead Snake as mentioned in the trail register), the swollen feet pain was immediately met by the realization that I had scheduled another 24 miles for myself today. ShitFuck.

As is usually the case- a few miles of walking tends to numb any sort of pain you were experiencing to start the day. Today was no exception. I’m no doctor, but I’m guessing that the human body eventually gives up on sending pain signals once it realizes the individual is too stubborn to alter their behavior accordingly.

Before leaving the day’s first resting point- we note that the next spot to get water is 12 miles away. This span- would involve 85 degrees of direct sunlight and what appeared in our guide book to be a pretty serious climb- at least by Pennsylvania’s standards. I load my pack up with 4 liters of water (almost 9 extra lbs) to prepare for the upcoming stretch.

Upon crossing Lehigh river it was quickly apparent that this climb was not only steep and into a looming dark sky, but the terrain was a sheer rock face, rendering my hiking poles useless.

20110617-104700.jpg
(the iPhone wordpress app doesn’t allow me to rotate an image. Get your shit together wordpress)

Much of the ascent was so intense that I had to throw my poles ahead of me because climbing required the use of all four limbs. A misstep or faulty rock meant a steep fall and a very bloody Badger. Add 40 lbs onto my back and a heightened state of alertness became an involuntary response.

To my surprise, I summit the mountain without breaking my face open. Because this particular stretch is so rocky- there are very few tress to obscure my view of the awesome lightning storm happening to the mountain range just to the west. I just hoped it was moving in any direction other than towards me.

I wasn’t so lucky.

As the lightning storm moved closer to me – and my metal hiking poles – my pace began to increase. It wasn’t until I hit the rocky descent that the rain and lightning really intensified. Perspective was gained that what I did on the way up the mountain was more challenging than it was dangerous. Now I was hopping from wet, jagged boulder to wet, jagged boulder with lightning striking in all directions of me. This was more dangerous than challenging- and still very challenging.

Before I know it- I’ve reached the gap (the bottom of the mountain). The whole experience was so intense it felt like it couldn’t have lasted longer than 30-45 minutes. In reality- I had just covered 5 miles- in just over two hours. Apparently time flies when you’re about to die.

….

This is just one challenging day of many in the recent past.

Add to the above that I’ve been battling pretty severe headaches for over a week (enough so that I made a hospital visit to be tested for Lyme Disease) – a near constant battle with Mosquitos, ticks, and gnats, and a brutal heat wave – and, well…

I got what I was asking for.

This stretch has “sucked beyond belief”.

Well, at least, it should have sucked beyond belief.

Despite all of the elements going against what would be considered “perfect”- I’ve managed to keep a clear, appreciative mind-state (at least relatively so).

I’m learning to roll with the punches- whether the punches be rocks, lightning, dehydration, or parasites. The woods have a way of keeping perspective. A perspective that life will deal to you what it will – it’s up to you to decide how these elements are perceived.

I perceive a life of walking in the woods. What more could I ask for?

Point/Counter-Point: Anxiety vs. Adventure ft. The Dusty Camel

The Good Badger & The Dusty Camel | Anxiety versus Adventure
For those who read the Good Badger regularly, you’ve probably noticed that I deal a good amount of grief to my poor, poor, Jewish mother. On top of the constant state of near self-defecation I have placed upon her with my upcoming journey, I also take every opportunity I get to take jabs at her highly anxious nature (see: the first part of this very same sentence).

Well, a little known fact about coming from someone else’s insides, is you tend to take some of their DNA with you in the process (I was a biology professor in another lifetime).   As much as I try to deny it, I have acquired many of the same high-alert qualities from my poor, poor, Jewish mother.  My playful jabs at her are 1) my sick way of expressing love and 2) what Freud refers to as “projection”.

I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to dull the over-active flight or flight response portion of my brain.  If 2,200 miles of disease, bears, and snow/lightning storms doesn’t finally finish the job, there’s no hope for me.

That’s why I’m very excited to have my friend, Ian Mangiardi, help co-author this post.  Ian is the founder of The Dusty Camel (the Good Badger’s trail posts will be syndicated here), a website dedicated to all-things backpacking with an emphasis on gear reviews. Ian has also successfully thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and is preparing for his 2011 trek up the Pacific Crest Trail.  Ian is a true adventurer.

For the last few weeks, Ian and I have been exchanging e-mails in where he is saddled with the task of repeatedly talking me off of AT ledge. Instead of hoarding all of his wisdom to myself, we agreed to make this discourse more public.

Read more

How To Accomplish Anything: The 2011 New Year’s Resolution Edition

Accomplishing anything can be achieved in one simple step.

I normally charge people $9,995.00 to obtain this ancient skill, but because it’s the holiday season, and the Apple Store was all out of iPads, I will give you this instead.  I hope you like it (no 3G coverage, sorry).

The Only Secret You Need to Accomplish Anything

1)  Stop telling yourself, “you can’t”.

That’s it.  You can now do anything.

See you in 2011!

……..

(Perhaps I’ll elaborate a bit) Read more

The Power of Reciprocity [Video]

the power of reciprocity image

As is usually the case, I greatly underestimated how long it would take to produce this video.  If you withdrew even one ounce of joy, education, hatred, or stimulation, I would very much appreciate it if you could click one of the fun social media “share” buttons located around the page.  I’ll reciprocate next time [winky face].

The Power of Reciprocity from zach davis on Vimeo.

For those who are interested in learning more on how to utilize psychology to get people to do things for you, I recommend you get Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persusaion.

Also, the song is Merry Man by Buddy Ross, a new personal favorite of mine.  Buy a bunch of his music and tell him how awesome he is on Twitter.

Full Transcript Read more

The Social Skew – How Social Media is Redefining Our Social Circles

the social skew - how social media is redefining our social circles

I must be an abysmal salesman.

No matter how hard I try, I consistently fail in persuading some of my closest friends to adopt social media.  Although the vast majority have at least created a Facebook account (there are still the chosen few who refuse), many of these do little more than collect e-dust.  One post per season is a lot to ask from many of my BFFs.  I’m guessing you’ve got at least a few friends who fit this mold as well.

It would be fair to assume that because my closest companions either rarely or never use social media, my interest in its use would be diminished.  After all, Facebook feeds me my friends’ activity.  If my friends are largely inactive, what’s the point?

In theory, this would make sense.  In actuality, the theory fails miserably.  I don’t “check” Facebook, because checking is something you do periodically (i.e. “Billy, go check the mail”).  I am “on” Facebook (i.e. “Billy go camp by the mailbox, aggressively rip the mail out of the postman’s hands, read it, and then immediately go back on the lookout”).

So what’s the appeal? Read more