Defeating Mid-Expedition Despair

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Expedition life is tough. The days are long and often monotonous or filled with danger and intrigue. All of which becomes exhausting at a certain point. On our 200-day expedition to become the first female canoe descent of the Missouri-Mississippi River system, we’ve come up with a few strategies to get through that mid-expedition* slump.

Strategies for Defeating Mid-expedition Despair:

Willful resignation.

Accept what some would call misery as the baseline for the choice you made to live outside for 200 days. The more discomfort you can be comfortable with…the more “comfortable” you will be.

Know thyself.

Acknowledge when moving through what we have identified as the 5 States of Being.

The 5 States of Being:

  1. Hot and tired
  2. Cold and wet
  3. Under attack by flies
  4. Happy and proud
  5. Hungry and full (I cannot explain this contradiction but it happens all the time)

We can cycle through these states of being, in no particular order, as seldom as daily or in erratically-timed, often momentary intervals. Always be able to identify what state you are in and make decisions wisely. Hint: Should you find yourself needing to communicate or solve problems in states 1,2,3, & 5: approach with caution.

Engage in good-natured complaining.

“It’s cold but at least it’s windy.” “It’s hot but at least the flies are bad.” Or, our favorite, “I’m tired but at least this is awful.” Learned this from a teenager. It’s really, really effective.

Play.

Get silly. Get weird. Celebrate anything that appears even remotely pleasant. Find any excuse to laugh. Anything works. Burp loudly; have outbursts; try to gross each other out (for us, a hero’s task with worthwhile results); create totally unrealistic and off-the-wall dreamworlds in your head or out load as a team; watch the clouds come to life – I just saw a rodeo clown doing a cartwheel and Donald Trump’s hair!; wear bear costumes; plan what you will say when you get on The Ellen Show, etc.

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Mid-expedition fun brought to us by Victoria Carpenter.

Build large fires.

Nightly. Burn things you don’t need, like used dental floss or negativity, occasionally.

Find an inanimate scapegoat.

And still don’t go too hard on it – negativity, even directed appropriately is still negativity and can bring the team down if there is too much of it. We unfairly blame our canoe, Drifty, at times for our self-inflicted misery. This helps keep it from leaking out indiscriminately and tainting or limiting potential experiences in State 4 (see “Know thyself” above.).

Music.

Any. Live is best. Sing, play guitar, switch up the music on the device regularly to keep the airwaves fresh.

Variety is the spice of life.

Mixing things up at the right time can work miracles. Sleep in sometimes. Play cribbage instead of writing. Buy a new flavor of Triscuits. The sky is the limit…as long as you paddle that canoe every day.

Take a break.

From everything as often as you need to, really. Rest is crucial. It can be really hard to remember that rest generates strength and not the other way around.

Pretend you have already reached the Gulf of Mexico.

No matter where you are, ask yourself and your partner, “want to paddle to the Gulf of Mexico today?” In order for this to work, the answer always has to be yes and at some point in the day you have to remark that the Gulf is more beautiful than you expected.

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Isn’t the Gulf of Mexico beautiful? This isn’t the Gulf? Oh. Keep paddling.

*Note: Most of these strategies can be applied to life in the civilized world which can also be monotonous, exhausting, dangerous, and intriguing.

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