Have you ever noticed how time slows and distances lengthen when you’re tired? Think back to the end of your last road trip. You are fighting to stay awake. You catch your head as it nods forward, seeking irresistible slumber. You blurrily read a sign that informs you home is only 28 miles away. Encouraged, you force yourself onward. “I usually travel from here to home in no time” you think. After a groggy eternity, you finally see another sign. With an overwhelming sense of dread you learn that you are now 26 miles from home.
Unfortunately, psychosomatic time warps can also manifest during long hikes. They can develop whenever the hiker is tired and has decided not to stop until he reaches a particular location, say a shelter. Once the hiker has entered this un-restful state of mind, strange things begin to happen. One-quarter mile may seem like four or even five miles, a small rise may seem like a major climb, and then there are the hallucinations. It seems that once the mind has succumbed to a psychosomatic time warp, it will perceive what it wants to perceive.
In the distance, the bedraggled thru-hiker glimpses a shelter, complete with a picnic table and a friendly group of campers gathered around a crackling fire. Returning his attention to the trail, the hiker eagerly staggers forward, deciding what to have for dinner. When the hiker reaches what he thought was the shelter, the blissful campsite has disappeared like Brigadoon. He finds nothing but a snag that has fallen to a 45-degree angle and lodged itself against an upright tree. Somehow, his craven brain keyed on that un-foresty angle and built a whole camping scene around it.
For a long time, I thought I was the only thru-hiker to experience mirages. Then I started hearing others talking about them. I eventually found a cure for psychosomatic time warps. It’s called a watch. Before you start hiking towards a particular location, look at your watch and estimate your time of arrival. I always made sure to error on the long side so that I would be pleasantly surprised by my early arrival. I know it’s a small thing, but it’s all I had. So, if the shelter was four miles away, I would divide four miles by 2 miles per hour and conclude that I would reach it in 2 hours. As I continued, I would try to check the time no more than once every 30 minutes. Using this method, I was able to restrain my sense of time from warping out of control. To be honest though, I kind of missed the hallucinations.