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  • Writer's pictureSylvia St. Cyr

Coming “Down” off the Mountain “High”

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

When I signed up for the Grand Canyon Freedom Challenge last December, I never would have guessed one of the hardest parts would be after it was finished. All I could see were the immediate challenges.

Raise $5,000 USD by hosting fundraisers.

Physically train for 16 weeks, 6 days a week.

Then, hike four days with strangers with roughly 50 lbs on your back through the Grand Canyon.

What I did not anticipate was the low after we got back. I remember climbing back up the white wall of the Canyon on the last morning and I knew that I didn’t want this experience to be over quite yet. At the top, the seven of us sat together talking. One of my leaders cautioned us to not jump back into reality too quickly, but rather mull things over. To think about the journey and process what we endured. She asked us to look in the mirror in awe, not in disgust. I so appreciated that.

My family, including my husband, son, and daughter, drove me down to Arizona and all the way back to Manitoba. The drive down was fast and furious. Most of us wanted to be out of that car already!

However, the drive back was perfect! I wasn’t sore, plus we took our time. We stayed in more hotels, went swimming all together, played games, and just had a blast all around. The 5-8 hours of driving per day also allowed me to simply think through everything that took place during the hike.

It was the week after we got back that I hit a serious low. I checked the calendar. Nope, not PMS. This was different and quite intense.

The Sunday after we got back I felt extremely overwhelmed and anxious, for no specific reason. My daughter and I went grocery shopping, just like we have hundreds of times. But this time, as I stood in a Costco aisle and looked at the mitts that were too big for Moxie’s hands when we still needed those for her for winter, something snapped. The amount of anxiety I was feeling was so intense, I thought I would either scream or start sobbing. Thankfully, instead I closed my eyes and told myself to just breathe.

The rest of the time spent shopping, and in fact the rest of that day, I felt pretty much the same way. Everything was too much for me. Plus, I was quick to get really mad at everything.

What bothered me fiercely about this is that there was no apparent cause for me to feel this way! Everything in life was good, so I needed to know why.

I reached out to a few of the other women in my freedom challenge group to see if they felt anything similar. See if they felt this intense low.

Sure enough, two of the other women felt very similar. I did some research and found out there was something people called “post-hike depression”.

I found two blogs immediately describing basically how I felt and a wave of “I’m not losing it, and other people experience this!” washed over me.

One hiker, Aer Parris, said, “When hikers end their trail, they also lose the endorphins their brain became accustomed to; they lose the high that can come from companionship and a sense of being part of something greater.”

Yes! That is exactly what I was feeling! I though, why has no one talked about this? Why had no one warned me? Oh, right, people don’t like talking about negative emotions like sadness that can turn into depression or anxiety. Well, I’m going to talk about it.

When I think about it logically and chemically, it makes perfect sense. I went from feeding my body endorphins pretty consistently to almost being sedentary. In turn, it made me feel mad, sad, and I pretty much wanted to eat everything in sight.

Plus, over nine months, my focus had been on one thing. The Freedom Challenge hike. That is a lot of time invested, and even though I made sacrifices and my family did as well, what was I to do now?

As a “goal-oriented” person, it’s very hard to have no target. Another blogger that hikes, Alan Arnette, said, “Instead of celebrating your success, you are drawn into the “no future goal abyss”.”

If I’m honest, I love hiking! I love pushing myself past limits and being a part of something bigger! But now it was all over.

I remember pulling back into our town after being gone for almost two weeks, and I was afraid to go back to normal life. I was afraid all the amazing lessons I learned would disappear and it would all be for naught.

If/when I do something like this again, I will go into it knowing that the low after is part of it.

Plus, I serve a loving God who cares deeply about me and won’t leave me in the darkness alone. He has more plans for me.

It’s okay to feel down and out. It’s also good to share the experience with others and get back to walking. I don’t have the same rigid routine, but if I thoroughly enjoyed walking/hiking before, why not continue it? Put a few more endorphins back in.

So that is what my son and I have started to do again, when we have the time. With the rest of it, I will have grace for myself to continue to acclimate. I will also keep my eyes on what God wants to do next, and know that He is good!

“Still I wait expectantly for You, O Eternal One— knowing You will answer me in some way, O Lord, my True God.” – Psalm 38:15

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