Nikki tells us about her experiences taking on Mind Hike, and how the support of her fellow hikers helped her through.
My chest tightened with increasing force as the ferry approached the Isle of Arran. The island was wrapped in a band of threatening clouds, their darkness and uncertainty matching my mood. “What the hell am I doing?” I thought, as I stood at the bow of the ship. The rain in the distance seemed like a worrying precursor to the 24 hours of hiking I was about to endure.
I had signed up to Mind Hike 2019 seven months earlier, at a time in my life when I was feeling completely lost. Generalised Anxiety Disorder plagued my every movement. Leaving the house, speaking to strangers and engaging in life itself had become a major challenge. I felt that if I could push my body to the limit and survive, perhaps I could do the same with my mind, and overcome my mental health struggles.
"We discovered each other’s fears and personal struggles, forming a unique comradeship."
On that first day of mind Hike, I felt physically and materially prepared. For months we were sent updates by the Mind and Charity Challenge teams, detailing training schedules and kit lists. I joined the team Facebook group and together we shared tips on preparing for the hike, like the benefits of zinc oxide tape and electrolytes in your water. But more importantly, we discovered each other’s fears and personal struggles, forming a unique comradeship.
When we arrived at the Lochranza Field Center, North of the Island, we were assigned rooms with teammates. I was in Team Isley, one of the three teams that would be hiking for roughly 35 miles around the Scottish Island. My anxiety was in overdrive with the concept of meeting so many new people, but I was quickly comforted as my roommates moved in and we bonded like old school friends.
"Having my roommates with me created a sense of stability and homeliness."
Mealtimes during the hike were overwhelming for me; the large number of strangers and loud noises heightened my nerves. But having my roommates with me created a sense of stability and homeliness, which supported me through the hike.
At our team briefing the night before we set off, it was a relief to put faces to the names of people I’d bonded with virtually. Unfortunately, at that same briefing, we were given the disappointing news that, due to hazardous conditions caused by the poor weather on the island, our plan A route through the mountains would need to be changed and we were moving to the plan B coastal route.
This news filled many, including myself, with a sense of despair. I had longed to climb the mountains and be surrounded by their embrace. But it was too dangerous, and that had to be respected.
On the morning of the hike, my roommates laughed at the number of times I packed and repacked my rucksack. But my anxiety was at peak level. I was over-preparing in a desperate attempt to gain back the control that anxiety had stripped from me.
As we approached the inflatable starting line and team photos were taken, the feeling in the air was that of nervous excitement. Where would we be taken? What would we encounter? Could we achieve this?
The first few miles of the hike were a stunning mixture of pine forests and raging torrents, testament to the powerful storms of the days prior. We were surrounded by foggy mountain ranges and captivating waterfalls. I longed to absorb the hopeful optimism that the team exuded, but my anxiety was so high I struggled to see past it.
"I was inspired by the positivity and determination that so many showed, even through their darkest mental health struggles."
I detached myself from the grips of my mind by chatting to other team members about their journeys and reasons for signing up for the hike. I was inspired by the positivity and determination that so many showed, even through their darkest mental health struggles.
Throughout the day we worked as a team to navigate the difficult terrain of the Arran Coastal Way. This route may have been plan B, but it was most certainly not second rate! The scenery was stunning, the sun breaking through the relentless grey clouds creating an iridescent blue sea, like that of a distant Mediterranean island. We soaked it up and enjoyed the scenery, while avoiding slipping on the mossy rocks.
By the end of the first 12 hours, I was tired, but positive. With fresh socks and newly taped feet, I got ready to head into the night with my teammates, unsure of what the darkness held.
"Nothing can truly prepare you for what you are about to experience, until you do it yourself!"
The night hike was tough. Like childbirth, nothing can truly prepare you for what you are about to experience, until you do it yourself! This part of the challenge was where teamwork and friendships really came into play. The weather was horrendous, with rain pounding down on us from the moment we set off into the dark until the moment we crossed the finish line.
Hikers across the teams did small, yet significant things to help me complete the expedition. From singing with me, to feeding me sweets and putting a comforting arm around me in the cold, damp night, my friends got me to the end of the line.
Mind Hike is an experience I will never forget. It has shown me that the body can achieve great things, even when it’s pushed to its limit. But it has proven how fragile the mind can be, and that when you are in your darkest mental hours, it’s the support of others, and knowing that you are not alone, that gets you through.
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