The Psychology of Solo Tripping

jamonte

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Great thread, Andrew. I have done a lot of solo kayaking, including 200 mile river trips with Class IV rapids, and one technique that really works for me is what I'd call "self-coaching." When a situation becomes challenging or dangerous, I literally talk myself through it, often giving myself instructions out loud. "Great job! Now watch this next wave. Good brace! Keep your edge up! You've got this!" Yeah, it sounds corny, but it really works. It's almost like I'm seeing myself in the third person and this allows me to evaluate my performance in a calmer, more methodical way and really tap into my training. And most importantly, it keeps the negative thoughts out! The time for doubt and fear is on the beach. Once you've launched and passed the point of no return, you've got to remain focused and positive until you're back in safe waters.
 

cougarmeat

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And from Dune: “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Joel kramer, “The Passionate Mind” writes that fear seldom lives in the present. Fear projects unknown into the future. People are seldom afraid of what IS happening, they are afraid of what MIGHT happen. It might be wind rustling your tent wall; in MIGHT be a bear.

But maybe fear and being anxious are different. Like anxious is the doorway to new. No matter what - even on a simple trip from Orcas to Jones Island, when I leave shore, I feel anxious. On a climb up Mt. Baker - not technically difficult - as I see the big mountain on the drive in to the trail head, there’s a little anxiety.

Over time, by experience, it might lessen. That could be a good or bad thing. Like rock climbing grades. As a beginner, a climb rated at 5.6 (measure of difficulty) was heart thumping. By the time I was leading climbs rated at 5.8, a 5.6 was a walk in the park. The danger there is to become complacent; to know too much.

But the fear issue aside, there are so many other things I learn on solo trips - little mistakes in gear selection, timing currents and tides, camp site selection, etc.. So it’s good to plan those initial solo trips only a day's travel back to the car. For example, on my first trip to Wallace Island from the north end of SaltSpring, I stood on my mat, behind a horizontal log, to change into my drysuit. When I pushed off for Wallace, the mat stayed behind the log on the ground. But Wallace was only a mile or so away.The next day I returned, retrieved the mat, dropped off a bunch of stuff I realized I didn’t need back in the car, and returned to camp - all between breakfast and lunch.

So for me, it’s not so much getting rid of “fear”. It’s accepting that anxiety is the wrapping paper on a present of wonderment.
 
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kayakwriter

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and one technique that really works for me is what I'd call "self-coaching." When a situation becomes challenging or dangerous, I literally talk myself through it, often giving myself instructions out loud. "Great job! Now watch this next wave. Good brace! Keep your edge up! You've got this!" Yeah, it sounds corny, but it really works. It's almost like I'm seeing myself in the third person and this allows me to evaluate my performance in a calmer, more methodical way and really tap into my training.
I've done a lot of that "self-coaching" thing on solo trips too. And gotten into that detached, drones-eye view of myself. Another thing I sometimes do while in the thick of it is imagine what a great story it will make (if I live) and I may even start thinking about how I'm going to describe it to others. It's kinda like my own personal version of the famous Eve of Saint Crispin's Day speech, where Henry is inspiring his followers by having them not dwell on the immediate threat but inviting them to imagine themselves well out the other side of it, and how it will seem in future years (again - if they live!)
 

JKA

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I've just spoken to Paul Caffyn, who has done more than a few solo paddles (circumnavigating New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Alaska etc) and he offered up a chapter on visualization from a book he is working on.

Please note that is is copyright to Paul, and his website should have more information of interest:


Paul is formidably focussed (as you would expect) but freely admits to the challenges he also faces around trips.

Cheers

John
 

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AM

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Wow, @JKA , that is an awesome resource! Please thank Paul for sharing — we are not worthy!

Okay, now that one of the giants in the sport has given us all permission to be afraid, I’ll share one experience that might be relevant. A few years ago I gave myself a scare on a solo trip off the west coast. There was nothing special about the situation: the wind and waves were big, I made a marginal call to leave the beach and soon regretted it. I managed to backtrack (with some difficulty) to my previous camp and after I had calmed my nerves, I was seriously pissed off at myself. In fact, I indulged in a lot of very angry self-coaching (the opposite of what @jamonte suggested above) which completed the negative emotional cycle: fear, anger, disappointment.

After I got home I realized that the experience might have a negative influence on future solo trips, so I went to a sports psychologist for a session of visualization. He taught me some basic techniques that I used that winter in preparation for a solo trip the following summer.

So now when I’m planning a solo, I deliberately incorporate mental training into my trip prep, usually starting in the winter.

Cheers,
Andrew
 

JohnAbercrombie

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Okay, now that one of the giants in the sport has given us all permission to be afraid
I certainly didn't find that in that exerpt, unless you translate 'weighed heavily on my mind' as fear.
It's mostly heroic good preparation and hard training and positive visualization by Mr Caffyn compared with the poorly prepared ....wait for it...English.... kayaker.

Anyway, is it a solo trip if you have a shore support team?
 
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AlphaEcho

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the poorly prepared ....wait for it...English.... kayaker.
Wow. Umm .. I'll let the Brits answer that shot across their bows.

Since Andrew's original question was covered, I thought I'd throw in a tangent because I'm quite curious as to where the good folk here feel the rubber meets the road:

Which is more dangerous? A free solo climb such as Alex Honnold's on El Capitan, or a solo crossing such as Ed Gillet's paddle from California to Hawaii? Both are both spectacular feats of human ability, no doubt. Both require training, planning, and careful deliberation -- because both are most definitely fraught with peril. Is it even possible to compare?
 

JohnAbercrombie

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Which is more dangerous? A free solo climb such as Alex Honnold's on El Capitan, or a solo crossing such as Ed Gillet's paddle from California to Hawaii? ..........Is it even possible to compare?
They are in different universes. Honnold had practiced every move on the Nose dozens of times with a rope; Gillet struck out into the unknown (for a kayak) completely. One exploit lasted a few hours where one tiny 'mistake' meant death, the other lasted months.
And the motivation was completely different :The GoPro YouTube generation vs the 'Do it and talk about it later' approach.
 

CPS

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... the motivation was completely different :The GoPro YouTube generation vs the 'Do it and talk about it later' approach.
I don't know about that. The desire to test oneself and see if it could be done seems the same at the core of it.
 

SalishSeaNior

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Each person is psychologically unique. Alex Honnold's Brain and his fear response have been studied extensively and yet the conclusions are still conjectural. The link is quite and interesting read. I don't think you can directly compare Honnold's climbing directly with Gillet's solo paddle to Hawaii. Both are/were, obviously motivated to do things that the rest of us either find insane, or unbelievably bold. Only they know why they do what they do.

When I watched "Free Solo", I found myself wanting to look away sometimes when the moves got really thin. I noticed one of his friends who was filming from the ground, appear to do the same thing in the movie. The fact that the film maker and I were both climbers, meant, at least for me, that I knew exactly how tenuous the moves were and could not comprehend how Alex could possibly calm the fear, even the slightest doubt or quiver, which would have resulted in falling.

Many of us have also likely experienced reactions from friends, family and acquaintances who cannot understand why we seek the adventures we do. The more extreme the trip or adventure, the more intense the sense of wonder or disbelief from the average person. My most intense experience of this was at the funeral of a climbing partner who died in his late 20's, in a mountaineering accident. Perhaps I was over reacting, but many of his close family and family friends seemed to me to be observably upset and confused by the presence of his climbing friends at the funeral. His best friend, a climber, had been asked to say a few words about Bob. During his eulogy, he said "Bob died doing what he loved", which was true. But there was a visible body language and expression reaction from some of his family, his mother and sisters in particular, when they heard those words. They were meant to comfort, but only someone who understood the drive to climb would find them so. For his family, they simply reinforced the insanity of the risk taking for them.

At this point in the thread, we are far off the topic when we are discussing the extreme end of adventure sports. The young lady in question is not contemplating anything so extreme. Merely taking a step into the world of solo adventure for her own reasons. I personally think there are various reasons for going into the wilderness and testing oneself, so to speak. For some it is thrill seeking, for others, seeking solitude, communing with nature, etc. Suffice it to say, that for those who do solo trips, or even lengthy high risk trips with others, there is a psychological reward of some sort in doing so. Each of us has our own reasons and our own standards for facing risk and methods for dealing with fear. Preparation and a clear focus on what you are planning and a realistic attitude to any risk you think you might face are required.

For the young woman for whom advice was originally sought on this thread, from the description of her, she has a strong desire. The fact that she asked a mentor for advice would seem to be a sign of a good attitude about preparing for solo paddling as well. If she did not have a good attitude, she would not have asked. The rest will come with time, experience and desire. The first step, the first solo adventure, is the hardest. That will be the test to see if her dream is just a dream, or becomes a manner of being.

The best advice on this thread in my opinion is from the person most qualified to give it:

"Not being afraid to turn back; and not being too hard on one’s self after turning back"

Some of the worst decisions I have ever made were allowing myself, or someone else to goad me into taking a risk that I was not completely comfortable with. Listen to your inner voice and your instincts. Your greatest safety asset is your gut.

Lots of sound advice and experience on this forum for her to learn from.

Cheers, Rick
 

CRPaddler

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Perhaps one last comment, I think it's been well alluded to in this thread, but perhaps not stated outright.

It's very normal to be anxious when solo camping. It's nothing at all to be ashamed about.

I have done my fair share of solo camping, and I still get anxious when I'm out there. In fact, I've recently woken up in my tent while camping with others to hear a twig crack .... my mind immediately pictured this massive slobbering grizzly bear on hind feet perched right above the tent and ready to pounce (I think in my visualization he also had a napkin around his neck and was rubbing a knife and fork together, but that's beside the point). I certainly awoke to a rush of adrenaline and anxiety until I slowly calmed down.... but I can guarantee it will happen to me again.

I would strongly suspect that all of this on this forum, perhaps excluding the Alex Honnold's, will still have times when they are anxious on their trips.

I think it's wonderful that your former student it's considering solo camping; and even better doing far more research into it than I did before my first trip. I wish her all the best and encourage her to get out there and enjoy her trip.
 

Timo

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I've been doing solo camping for years now and there have been moments alone in my tent hearing noises outside that were spooky to say the least - but in my experience it is all in the mind. One trick I've found over the years is to go to sleep before the sun sets. For some reason going to sleep when it's still light out is way less spooky. Also, I wear ear plugs so I don't get bothered by sounds from mice, etc. The spookiest night I had was when I went on a solo backcountry hike over Volcan Baru in western Panama to try and see the rare Unspotted Saw-whet Owl. Not many years ago two Dutch girls went missing in that same area and were never found. I was constantly afraid of getting stalked by a Puma the whole time. Never did see the damn owl but nevertheless came out unharmed. Also tell yourself that the most dangerous part of your trip is actually driving on the highway, statistically speaking.
 

cougarmeat

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> One trick I've found over the years is to go to sleep before the sun sets.

One time - only one time - during a 3 week Oregon PCT thru hike I waited till dark to crawl into my bivi bag. As it got dark, I could see “eyes” looking at me, all around, waiting, ready to pounce. Every sound was an “approach”.

But the scariest thing was when a fighter jet buzzed the tree tops. It sounded like a huge locomotive - in the middle of the forest! - coming right at me. All I wanted to do was fall on the ground and cry. I could swear, when I looked up, I could see the pilot in the cockpit. It’s not like it stuck with me. It was only 47 years ago.

Anxious is good. It means you’ve accessed the situation and understand it is not without risk. However minor, risk none the less.
 
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