Zen On Dirt

The Hole, that no one talks about

20 Comments

So here’s what drives me nuts about trip reports – No one talks about the post-trip let down. Post-trip blues. Post-trip depression.

We read these stories of people riding around the world, or across a country, or continent, or going on a trek, or riding the CTR, or TD, or whatever. People go do something big, there’s elation at the end, a sense of satisfaction, congratulatory beers, blog posts summing up the trip, talking about the trip, etc.

But no one talks about the hole that a huge percentage of people who do stupid/awesome stuff fall into when all is said and done, the gear is packed away, damage to the bank account assessed, and life moves on.

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Weekly Wasson 

I’d love to say that this is a Ez-problem, that I’m spoiled rotten and I should learn how to find adventure in everyday life and realize that I’ve had opportunities to do some really amazing things. I do realize all these things rationally. But humans aren’t always rational. That’s the beauty of being human. 

But it’s not just me. I know this because you see small snipets and mentions of The Hole on FaceBook. Maybe a sentence in an interview with someone after a trip. Snipets like – What’s next? The best way to fight post trip depression is to start planning your next trip. Coming back from this trip has been harder for me because I don’t have my next trip planned. 

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Agua Caliente Round #1

I think we don’t really hear about it because when people fall into this hole, and I’m speaking purely from personal experience, we find ourselves entirely uninteresting. Our art-form in the form of movement and exploration, has been locked away. Maybe we’re given a dull pencil to doodle with on the back of an envelope in the form of short runs or rides while bodies rebound, but really who wants to share a doodle. And so I bet if you looked at people who blog regularly, there’d be a huge drop of in words produced after a trip.

These trips become more than a ‘vacation’ or ‘exercise’ or ‘time away from the real world’, they become our passions.

It’s a time of recalibration. Maybe it’s forced processing time.

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It’s been a rough couple of months for me trying to rejoin “normal” life, whatever that means. On some level, I’ve just been tired. I feel like recovering from tiredness is worse than recovering from injury. There’s no PT to do. No stretching. It’s just a matter of waiting. Which can be maddening for people who express themselves through physical movement.

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Baby saguaro!

I’ve got no deep, enlightening point, (like I ever do) about this. I just got to thinking about recovery and lack of inspiration after seeing Scott’s CDT trip report over on Pinkbike this morning. We did a damn cool trip. Sometimes I find myself wallowing in my lack of inspiration and forget why I’m laying on the couch staring at the ceiling wondering why I can’t think of a bikepacking route that’s inspiring me, and then I get reminded, and the wallowing doesn’t seem as bad anymore.

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Agua Caliente Round #2. They rode. I ran. I beat them by an hour and a half. 

Because I went out and blew all of my energy and passion points in one sitting. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And I guess, on some level, I want other people sitting in, or trying to climb out of The Hole to know that you’re not alone on the venture. Because I fully get how alone it can feel.

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20 thoughts on “The Hole, that no one talks about

  1. Yep, you summed it up about right Eszter! Good on ya for talking about it. I went into a depression after completing my 14er-skiing project. I thought I would be elated to be done. But it was quite the opposite instead. When you devote 5 years of your life to one goal and then you finish that goal with no plans for the next one, that’s what sends you into that spot. That’s why I think some people are addicted to goals and trips. Perhaps planning for the next big thing is the only way to avoid the post-goal depression?

  2. Fu-cking-A.

    Thank you.

    I’ve been wrestling with this last post I’ve been composing for a week now. It’s about how it REALLY feels to be out on an indefinite bike tour, at least how it feels for me, in this moment.

    The HOLE as you put it is so real, and so interesting how little it’s talked about. It’s hard to admit that despite doing such amazing things and being lucky enough to keep doing them, that there are extremely low moments. Maybe they’re different for each of us, what the searing critical voice says to us once all the sweat has dried and the ‘likes’ from our post-ride-posts have die down. For me, I’m new to this whole journeying thing. I don’t know how to do it. And I’m scared out of my mind about what will happen if and when I come ‘back’.

    One way or the other, it’s a rich and important subject. One that I’d love to dig into with you guys over beer/whiskey/coffee/etc when I get to town.

    But for now, thanks for your honesty. It came at just the right moment this evening.

  3. Hey, you are not alone. Even though I don’t write about my adventures I can totally relate. If I don’t have something exciting on the horizon I feel like a loser! I need to be at least planning my next adventure. Right now I’m spending my spare time studying the AZTR route and trying to locate water sources. That seems to be keeping me out of trouble. And it motivates me to ride.

  4. This is, I think, a very real problem that is actually very hard to discuss. I’ve read all kinds of theories on how all of a sudden bodies that have been exposed to direct sunlight and massive amounts of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are abruptly deprived of these things in the amounts that we are used to having them on the trail. This is an interesting blog post on the subject I’ve kept around for personal use, she’s a hiker, but the same thing, really: http://thenewnomads.com/?p=2014
    Keep working through it, you’re amazingly strong, and I’m sure you two will have your next adventure planned soon!

  5. Really? Post adventure depression is all Jwookieone ever seems to talk about. Personally I don’t have any downtime to contemplate and go through post adventure depression any longer than a slow work day or two. I’ve watched too many people die in avalanches or disappear into the wilderness to allow myself to succumb to the chase adventure full time lifestyle. Creating a family isn’t giving up or burning out. It is an opportunity to share and to mold.

  6. It does seem that thru-hikers seem to talk about post-trip depression a lot more than the bikepacking community. It might be that, generally speaking, people who do bikepacking trips/races are out for a month or two at most, while thru-hikers are out for six months. While a month isn’t long enough to forget how you lived life pre-trip, I think six months is enough to reform a sense of self, and that new self isn’t going to fit into old life patterns. The same can be said for a project like skiing the 14ers that takes five years. For five years, your brain has something to focus on, and then suddenly it doesn’t. We can’t blame it for rebelling.

    Brainwaves get completely changed and we can’t expect to change them back immediately. Or maybe we don’t want to change them back. Often times, it seems like people feel like better human beings while out on the trail in terms of relating to other humans and the world.

    As for creating a family, in a world that’s over populated and fighting for resources, I think there needs to be a damn good reason to have kids besides needing to have a personal purpose in life. Yes, it seems to be a relatively straightforward (but not easy, by any stretch of the imagination, the thought of raising a kid is terrifying) way to add reason to life, but for me, that’s not a good enough reason to have kids.

  7. And I think that comments such as Colin’s are one of the reason’s it’s hard to talk about post-trip depressions. Because invariably, whenever we say that we’re suffering from sadness, someone is there to point how how emotionally strong they are, and how weak people who get sad are, and are willing to say that your lifestyle isn’t right, and you should do something that works for them but maybe you have no interest in.

    I’m not passionate about having kids. At least not right away.

    And then people feel worse about themselves because they view themselves as some sort of freak for feeling sad. I think compassion and conversation are the answer. Not judgement or comparison.

  8. I imagine a lot of people can relate. I know exactly what you mean, though my adventures are on a much smaller scale than yours. My teammates and I always seem to go through a down period after a big race (and big in our world is 24 hours, not weeks or months…yet), and sometimes even when the next big thing is on the schedule it’s not quite enough to keep you out of post race depression. Interestingly, for me it doesn’t kick in until my race report is finished. Maybe the trick is to not finish the report, but my OCD won’t allow that.

  9. Ez, when I said “family” I didn’t explicitly mean having children. Considering I’m not a lady I can’t even comprehend that pressure. Plus I don’t have any kids of my own. I’ve been in this game for a long time now and I’ve watched a lot of uber athletes go through the motions. What works for one doesn’t for the other. The one thing I think does not work is trying to escape reality and not come to grips with the fact that an seeking adventure everyday is potentially a collision course with madness.

    The one thing that does seem to work is developing a family. More than just casual friendships and dating partners. I mean commitment to being there for people and not disappearing into the wilderness as soon as possible.

    Then again some adventure partners can’t seem to separate themselves from reality while out in the wilderness. What I’m saying is it is all about balance and moderation. Not everyone’s scale is the same but being too heavy on one end doesn’t last too long.

    No judgement here, trust me.

    Cheers, C

  10. Elaine touches on an important point. Our bodies adapt to the rigors of long-distance travel by re-configuring hormone production, and I’d agree that physical withdrawals from these chemicals are a factor, although of course not the only factor in these post-adventure blues. Many people are quick to criticize others’ difficulties in finding fulfillment in modern routines, while failing to acknowledge that evolution is much slower than cultural change. We’re still hard-wired toward primitive means of survival, which for our hunter/gatherer ancestors meant staying on the move. It seems to me that some of us feel this drive every bit as strong as others’ biological drives to reproduce or establish dominance in the social structure. It’s just part of being human.

    • Very interesting discussion forming here… I definitely agree with Jill’s perspective. Whatever that need to head back out is coming from, it’s stronger for some than others. I denied that depth of that need for many years, not trusting it. In this moment I’m exploring swinging to the other side, seeing how far out it takes me before it’s time to swing back to stability and the routines of consensus reality. At some point I see a middle ground similar to what Nick and Lael are currently practicing, but my pendulum is still on the outswing for now…

  11. Totally agree with Jill here. We are still hardwired as we were made/evolved or however you want to term it.
    As for kids? Probably not even an officially sanctioned subject here but take it from a “never having kids” guy, it is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done, bar none. Mine are old enought to do 30 mile rides now and we are loving life. It put a whole new perspective on the world.
    In the mean time just enjoy what you are doing. A path will emerge.

  12. It might be easier if you stop setting records for races that last 19 days or choosing “the longest singletrack tour ever”. I’m usually telling you that you should be more like me, so I’ll spare you this time, but I only experience post-trip bliss. Seriously, I love to synthesize the things I’ve learned, share with others, pretend to be a normal person while waiting for the coffee to brew at work, and secretly plan the next trip as everyone it complaining about their jobs. The only part that makes me nutty comes about five months into work, the itch arrives, and the time is near. We’re gone in a month or two. Lael gets real squirrelly around this time.

    As Jill and others mention, there might be a significant chemical component at play here. You do beat the shit out of yourself out there. Try some rail-trails or beginner level bikepathing, take a cooking class along the way, find a nice beach.

  13. I do like this discussion. A few thoughts:

    I think a distinction needs to be made between disappearing into the wilderness Chris McCandless-style and traveling. While much of what I’ve done has been wilderness based, I’ve become more and more intrigued with doing some sort of civilization touring. Doing trips to see certain towns instead of a certain peak, for example. If a trip involves constantly interacting with new people, is it still a form of escape from society and reality? I felt like the CDT was actually a pretty good mix of the two.

    We can die going into society just as easily as going out into the wilderness. I think that using fear of death as an excuse not to explore the world and do what we enjoy is wrong.

    Nicholas – I’m weaning myself. Really. The CDT was a step back, I swear. 😉 That being said, I’m not really enthralled with the idea of doing anything on that scale again. I’m currently exploring options for wine tasting tours in sunny CA, and trying to convince Scott to let me get a dog that could come along for dirt road tours in a trailer or shorter singletrack tours/backpacks.

    Kids – I was a ‘never, ever’ right up until Yellowstone NP on the CDT. Then there were tons of families with kids exploring the natural world, even if it was in a national park setting, and I definitely had the thought of ‘Hmmm…maybe it wouldn’t be too bad.’ I figure I have a few more ticks of the biological clock before I have to make any decisions, but hell, your 30’s seem so far away until you’re in them. What I don’t encourage is, ‘My life isn’t meaningful, I’m going to have a kid to give it meaning.’

  14. A dog? In a trailer?! You’re getting too much sun.

  15. Indeed. Thanks for mentioning it!

    When I ended my tour this last summer I came home to gentrification of a neighborhood I had loved. Very difficult! I fell into the hole until I connected with friends and realized that I love my city for its people, not its skyscape. Here’s a podcast where we talked it over:

    http://www.thepodcasthost.com/thesprocketpodcast/2014/08/12/exmas-special/

  16. I’m usually sad the next day so I look for something to do right away to fill the void. Never works though because it’s just never the same feeling I had on the previous adventure that I was seeking to find. I experienced this with big wall climbing in yosemite. We called it big-wall post-partum depression.

  17. hope you’re out enjoying the trails again ez, via riding, running, walking, moseying, etc….or else some other means of bliss. 🙂

  18. No new posts in almost 3 months now………

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