Learning to Accept the Ups and Downs: Reflections from a DOC Fifty Hiker
A hiker of the DOC Fifty — a 54-mile trek from Moosilauke Ravine Lodge to Hanover — shares why attitude is everything, especially when faced with a challenge like the Fifty.
When I envisioned my sophomore summer, I often pictured myself floating in a tube along the Connecticut River, snuggling up for cozy movie nights in my sorority and hanging out by a campfire with friends. I did not picture a summer in which I conquered many of my fears –– some which I didn’t even know I had before I got to campus this term –– but sometimes life twists and turns in ways you least expect.
Just the thought of reading aloud to a class and performing in front of a crowd used to make me feel anxious. These might seem like minor fears, but they’ve held me back from reaching my full potential. My performance anxiety stems from social anxiety –– the fear that others will judge me negatively –– and also the pressure I put on myself to meet my own very high expectations. When I don’t perform as well as I want to, I tend to consider myself a failure and assume that others think the same of me. However, this summer, I started participating more in my classes, and I performed with a summer dance team.
What enabled me to confront these anxieties this term? Well, my mind had adopted a new worry to devote its energy: hiking the DOC Fifty. Being selected out of a lottery with three other women to attempt the Fifty –– a 54-mile hike traversing six different peaks from Moosilauke Ravine Lodge to Hanover –– meant my brain no longer had the space to focus on its usual concerns.
In early July, I walked into the DOC Fifty meeting in Filene Auditorium thinking that, at most, I would volunteer to support the Fifty at one of the hiker support stations. I lacked confidence that I would be capable of hiking such a long distance. As the meeting went on, though, I began to think that perhaps I could do the Fifty. When I was 16, I backpacked 75 miles of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire over 12 days as part of a summer camp program, and it rained almost everyday. I reasoned that the Fifty –– with five different support stations equipped with food, first aid, fresh socks and encouraging people –– sounded almost luxurious in comparison. I decided then and there that I wanted to prove to myself that I could hike the Fifty.
The next day, I received a text from a friend that said that she and two other women wanted me to join their team. That night, at 10 p.m., we received an email notifying us we had won the lottery to get in –– out of around 100 people who entered the lottery, we were one of only eight teams of four who were going to hike the Fifty! I remember screaming with excitement in Robo, as my fellow staff members at The Dartmouth congratulated me.
My team later met in Blobby to discuss how we would prepare for the hike. My workout routine involved a mix of approximately two hikes, two long runs, one or two Mighty Yoga classes and one dance practice per week. While this exercise regimen might sound like overkill, it felt so good to have an athletic goal to work towards, especially as a former high school athlete. As the date of the Fifty approached, I noticed myself feeling stronger and more confident from all the training I was doing.
Two nights before the Fifty, my team met to share our goals for the Fifty and what we hoped to get out of the hike. One by one, my teammates each expressed that they felt determined to finish. When it came to be my turn to share, I hesitated. We had already put in so much effort into training, preparing and getting to know one another. I felt so much love for my teammates and wanted them to feel proud of how far we had already come. I said something along the lines of:
“I think we should view this as an exercise in going with the flow. I really want to finish the hike, but I think we should accept the things we can’t control and focus on the things we can.”
Flash forward to the middle of the night on Aug. 6 –– my teammates and I were about 20 miles into the Fifty, trekking up Mt. Cube in the dark with only the soft glow of our headlamps to guide us. One of my teammates expressed that she felt lightheaded. It was already difficult to see, but she began to experience dizziness, stumbling over rocks as we hiked. We made a call to the director’s phone number, who advised us to take it slow and take as many breaks as she needed. I couldn’t help but worry about timing: If we arrived at the station past the cutoff time, our group would be disqualified. Exchanging words of encouragement the whole way, we finally made it to the station at 3:30 a.m., well before the cutoff time. My teammate felt sick to her stomach and decided to drop from the hike.
At this point, I already understood that certain aspects of the Fifty were simply out of my control –– sometimes people get sick or get hurt on the Fifty, and all you can do is help them to safety. But I still had my mindset under control. I knew that how I mentally approached the rest of the hike could drastically affect the final outcome.
Around 17 hours later, my team walked along the final stretch of the Fifty: Velvet Rocks. With our bodies and minds exhausted, we felt so close to the finish line, yet also further than ever. The sun lowered in the sky, and we began to worry that we would not reach Robo before the final cutoff time. My breath caught in my throat as we came to a steep uphill section, and I began to panic. “You got this,” I repeated to myself. “We got this!” Each of us repeated this mantra aloud. Finally, we caught a glimpse of golden light hitting the Burnham soccer fields –– a literal light at the end of the tunnel. We ran out onto the plush, green grass, cheering and shouting. And at that moment, we knew we would finish.
While I’m still unsure about what significance this summer will have for me when I look back on it in the future, I know for a fact that something clicked into place for me in the last two months or so. I’ve released most of my anxiety about what others think of me, because I’ve realized that I cannot control what other people think about me. I hold myself accountable for my thoughts about myself –– because only those thoughts are under my control. Each step of the way, the Fifty tested my ability, and my team’s ability, to go with the flow. And through all of the ups and downs, both literal and figurative, I learned that attitude is everything.