Was that the same blade of life-less grass you passed 5 miles ago? The length appears the same, the dust and rust colored appearance resembles the last one, as you run your hand over it, it feels exactly the same; brittle and hollow at the same time, just like you are starting to feel in this endless maze. You inspect it, look at its ridges, and come away with the conclusion that it is in fact a different blade of grass! Looking up though, you notice that the one right next to it looks strikingly similar as the one from 5 miles ago.... uh oh. You stop and examine this blade of grass, and decide it is safe to continue. You look up once again, and only see life-less grass in all directions and now wonder if you are stuck within some parallel universe where you have only been walking in circles. Is the ability to have this thought however, thus disproving of this theory, because if someone created a loop of a universe through these dead-grass lands, wouldn't they also take away the cognitive ability to recognize this trap? Or was this all part of the cruel design, being able to have the ability to experience that it is an endless loop, mile after mile after mile, and blade of grass, after blade of grass, after blade of grass... and then recognize that there is no way out? Yea....your sanity has begun to slip a little bit, time to play Sanity Games!
It may appear that we are taking in the view..... we are in fact asking ourselves, Have I Been Here Before??
When hiking 2,000+ miles consistently in one journey, you are bound to have heavy feelings of Deja-Vu along with heavy feelings of monotony. Not to say, that there is not an immense amount of beauty and privilege within that monotony, but it is monotony nonetheless. At some point, you may feel like you have been through this exact valley, this exact tunnel of trees, and this exact open prairie of brittle grass. At some point your mind may start to loop in on itself. You have nothing to do but think when out on a long-distance hike, and sometimes if you dig deep enough you can find endless loops within your mind.
This is especially true when you have no music or no podcasts to change the endless time. When we started hiking we believed strongly that it was "untrue" to the experience to listen to music or any podcasts. We hiked the AT, PCT, and half of the CDT this way. What finally broke us was the Great Basin. After singing the same song in our head for days, seeing the same scenery, and baking in extreme heat, our mental energy was fried. We hovered above a precipice of insanity, and tried playing Sanity Games, but there was no one around to play with besides the wind and the cows. Our friends were either a few miles ahead or behind us, and we needed to hold our grip upon reality, before they found us mooing with the cows underneath the blazing sun as they caught up. We finally caved in the town of Lander, we had just barely made it out of the Basin alive, and knew we needed either podcasts or music to use as a tool through these tougher moments sometimes. Yet, we digress, back to the concept of Sanity Games.
THAT IS THE FACE OF A PERSON WHO HAS SANG THE SAME SONG FOR MULTIPLE DAYS WHILE THE SUN BAKED THEIR BRAIN......
We had a friend that had one landlord back in college that was a retired philosophy professor. This man while you could see extreme intelligence in his eyes, we believed he had dug too deep and stayed too deep for too long in his mind. The decompression stops back to the surface had fried parts of his brain. There was a consistent film over his gaze and his interactions were as if he was still stuck at the previous decompression stop, looking at you through the last 30ft of water. We would not become like this we vowed as our mind continued to play tricks upon us, so we created what we call Sanity Games.
A picture of one of the most intelligent minds...Einstein... but if you take his hair and transform that to a look in the eyes, that was our landlord... Beautiful man but dug too deep...
Many hikers have variations of this to a degree. Little mental tricks that pass the time differently while on trail. It is your 120th day in the wilderness, you guarantee that you have been here before, but you also know for a fact you have not, time to play some Sanity Games before getting lost! These Sanity Games can be played alone or together and are for all age groups. Yet, when playing as a team Sanity Games can take on a stronger feeling, there are now 2 or more semi-sane (we say semi-sane because hey you wouldn't be there in the first place if you were fully sane) people fighting the depths together! We will go over a few of our personal favorite to play individually as well as with a group.
Individual Sanity Games are really what you make of it. One of our personal favorites that we played this year we call, " The No Squelch McQuelch Game." This game is usually utilized in muddy sections where the mud has been sucking your sole through the bottom of your feet for miles and days. You feel the ooze starting to take your sanity, you feel yourself fighting mud instead of hovering over it. Hence the Sanity Game. This game is used when it is near impossible to not step in mud. The point of the game is to turn that impossibility into a reality. You choose a distance, and you choose a threshold of mud that is acceptable. Our threshold of mud that is acceptable it only to the sole of the shoe itself, because if trying to accomplish 100% mud free in a muddy section, you will never leave. Now this is where the game gets fun, it turns it into a challenge, you contort yourself around trail, bounce from root to root or rock to rock, and announce the scene, like a sports announcer is watching the play by play. " They just got around the 6ft pit, they are feeling strong, pushing hard, OH WAIT! out of right field came a 12ft pure Squelch, can they overcome this obstacle..?!?!" It goes on and on, until you find yourself laughing at the radically muddy and hard sections instead of being upset that it got worse. This is by far one of our favorite Sanity Games to play independently or with a group. Yet, is it really a Sanity Game if we are talking to the trail as if it was a contestant, and we find ourselves in the role of contestant, sports announcer, and bystander all at the same time? We will leave that question for our old landlord.
See that tiny speck of orange in the bottom middle of the picture? Yea, there is supposed to be a foot there.... this is a contestant that IS NOT playing the NO-Squelch McQuelch Game. Instead knee deep in mud!
By far one of our favorite group Sanity Games to play is Mario Kart. We pack out the GameCube, the controllers, a small TV only 52", and a generator... so super ultralightweight! No, but realistically this game is best suited for popular trails, more so out west trails where you can see far behind you and far in front of you. It can be played within your trail family each day and can also include unknowing contestants outside of your trail family. If you see a hiker on the horizon the game is on! But be wary if someone is able to see you on the horizon in front of them, you are their prey! The person on the horizon, gets closer and closer , until you have caught up to them. They are stopping to tie their shoe, or they are letting you pass on a switchback, or you used the Super Blue Turtle Shell with your mind and they are taking an hour long lunch! Once you pass the person, you look back and find the technique you used to close the gap. If they stopped on a switchback you banana peeled them, if you did not even know someone was in front of you and were surprised when you passed you used the green turtle shell that fires blindly into the wilderness. If you had an hour or two where you passed 5+ people you harnessed the multi-color star energy and became invincible! If you have been in a trail family for awhile and have a friendly competition with one of your buddies that you pass that day, you red turtle shelled them, because that shell was meant specifically for them! There are so many variations to it, that by the time you take stock of the game and how many people passed you, and how many people you passed that day, you already have done 20+ miles! Word of warning though, trying to play this game on lesser known trails can lead to sadness, you may have found those red turtle shell power-ups months ago, and they have been in an endless circle around you since. An infinite loop of red turtle shells revolving around you, never to be used.
WHICH POWER UP WILL HE USE?!?!?!
Another fun Sanity Game that we utilized on the GDT this year with our hiking partner and alone (it was a lot sadder and frankly a lot less sane... when it was just ourselves) was the Post-Hole Party Game! Picture it a vast wilderness, and a small blip in that vastness continuing to post-hole past their waist in snow every step. Now zoom in on this picture, and see a freezing cold hiker shivering, see the ice and snow cascade down their shoes and into their socks with every step, and if you zoom in close enough on their face you will see two things. A tiredness in the eyes but also a sparkle as you see their mouth move. Now turn the volume up and hear them singing, " It's a post hole... it's a post hole... IT'S A POST HOLE PARTY! PARTY! PARTY!. Now keep your volume loud as you hear this refrain over and over again for miles as this weary hiker traverses each step and their body sinks yet again into the snowdrift. Yea, this scene unfolding is a hiker on the brink of sanity, utilizing a Sanity Game to keep their spirits up. Let us leave alone the depressing picture of a hiker echoing this game into the void now, and add a hiking partner into the mix. Now the post-hole party becomes an actual party. The chorus is now a duet! They sing together as the snow and ice continues to find its way into every microscopic crevice where their clothes are not melded to their skin. Hear the two voices now ebb and flow as the PARTY refrain is hyphenated into two words, PAR-RRRTTTYY, as the second half of the verse they go past their waist into the snow and embrace the cold, a constant but continuingly surprising in its intensity. Now zoom back out and take into account the scope of the miles of snow that you see before you and how many footsteps are ahead of them, and leave the two weary travelers that are hovering on the brink of sanity, to their journey and their POST HOLE PARTY. As their chorus and refrain echo less and less as you continue to zoom further and further out....
Sign should have also read... Post-Holing only allowed for the next 600+ Miles!
Suffice it to say there are many Sanity Games out there. We have counted cows in a single day (well honestly while this is a fun game, it also has become a necessity for us, we love cows too much!) so we actually count cows everyday, even when there are none. How do you do that? Well you find an especially beautiful part of your hike in the day and imagine how happy a bumbling cow would be in this environment and smile! Okay that was not a good example since we do it all the time.... is that a sign that we are too far gone to even play Sanity Games anymore, is it now just called Insanity Games? Uh-oh.
Realistically though there are many variations of Sanity Games. Some other examples include; learning the intricacies of each foot-fall as you study your feet, counting how many Snicker Bars you have consumed in an afternoon (the answer is always the same: TOO MANY BUT ALSO NEVER ENOUGH!), trying to learn punchlines for jokes as you wander down the path, and answering philosophical questions in your head of, what drives you? One of our hiking partners asked us that somewhere in Washington one day, and we could not come to a decision for 10 days, it continued to dig itself deeper and deeper past false answers the entire time. The list goes on and on, but when undertaking a long trail you can guarantee that you will find your variation of Sanity Games, and you will find yourself playing the game, that there is no option to lose or win, only continue!
COUNT THE COWS! BY FAR OUR FAVORITE GAME FOR ANY SCENERY... EVEN WHEN THERE ARE NO COWS... BUT THAT IS A SEPERATELY DEPRESSING EXPERIENCE!
What are your Sanity Games? What tricks do you play with your mind when the monotony kicks in? How many circles have you gone over and over in your head, and are you still in said loop, and is our article crashing your reality????
Let us know, and remember Sanity Games will always have contestants and will always have participants, no winners, no losers, only willing participants! Is that also not a loop of a question right there, this is chose willingly, you yourself continue to chose this situation, so is it truly Insanity Games?
With Great Confusion and Reality Questions
P:S: Another Bonus Picture for all the enthusiasts out there
A CLOSE UP PIC OF A COW! We realized that the count the cows photo did not let you see their beauty up close and personal, and we were just as sad as you were missing out on this...so we threw in a picture to give you what you need!