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January 2, 2012 5:52 PM   Subscribe

I want to punish myself. I want to do something that will involve hard work and hardship, that I can't get out of, that will not involve many other people, and won't cost a lot of money. Something like a long hiking journey through remote wilderness, or a boot camp, health camp or retreat where I don't have to be with a group, just me and some jailors. Suggestions?

I'm thinking sort of like the hiking the Appalachian Trail that Bill Bryson did in "A Walk In The Woods". I want to walk (or work hard, physically, breaking rocks or whatever) every day, go to sleep when I get too tired to continue, wake up and keep doing it. Eat a minimal food ration, no comforts, no social life. I don't want to be able to quit easily, so I need to be stuck, in the wilderness, or in confinement, away from rescue.

My main goal is simply to punish myself, but the side benefits I would hope for are to lose weight, get in shape, and get away from thinking too much about what other people think. I want my world to narrow down to survival and endurance, and grow stronger from surviving the experience.

I have a few months in the summer and fall in which I have nothing else to do, and I have no one I am leaving behind or who will miss me if I die. I am turning 40 so you can look at this as a mid-life crisis if you want. I am not suicidal but I have a strong need to prove myself to myself, by myself.

Please do not suggest therapy and please do not suggest I do volunteer work with charities. I do not want to interact socially with others in this matter and avoiding social contact is part of my self-punishment.

I don't want to spend a lot of money on camping gear and I don't have the money to go on an expensive private retreat. I would say my budget is about $1k at most.
posted by Pastor of Muppets to Health & Fitness (46 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't know what you should do overall but I do think that you should incorporate Polar Bear plunges into your routine.
posted by ian1977 at 5:55 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


How about vipassana meditation - you know, the kind where you have to meditate all day, every day, for 10 days. There are normally others on the course, but part of the deal is that you're not allowed to speak ever, or interact with them in any way.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:57 PM on January 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


(I realise that doesn't satisfy the walking / extreme wilderness aspect of your question, but it is said to be very physically demanding)
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:58 PM on January 2, 2012


It may cost a little more in total, but might be worth considering the El Camino . People camp or stay at hostels along the way, and you can shorten the (very long) route to your ideal "punishment' levels.
posted by raztaj at 5:59 PM on January 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Make like Chris McCandleless and try to hack it in Alaska in the summer.
posted by dfriedman at 6:01 PM on January 2, 2012


Raztaj beat me to it. The El Camino is something that's been on my list of things to do for several years ever since reading this account of it. (But first I have Iceland waiting for me later this month at my XMAS gift to myself).
posted by webhund at 6:04 PM on January 2, 2012


build a cabin - Dick Proenneke
posted by leigh1 at 6:06 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Try to trek the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. If that doesn't punish and challenge you, I don't know what will.
posted by devymetal at 6:07 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It sounds like the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or the Continental Divide Trail might be perfect for you. You don't have to spend tons of money buying brand name gear, and could outfit yourself well within your budget. Sleep under a tarp, buy a used stove, get your outdoor clothes and pack from army/navy surplus stores or something like the REI scratch and dent sale, etc...
The biggest logistical thing will be finding ways to resupply yourself with food and transportation to start/end. I have no personal experience with this (all my hiking has either been short enough to carry everything with me, or through an organization that handled logistics).

Along the same lines:
-Bike (or walk!) across the continent.
-Make it your mission to explore as much of the canyon lands as you can. (bonus would be hiking in loops back to your car, making resupply easier)
-Bike from Patagonia as far north as you can make it ... The plane ticket + food might be a little above your budget, but not by a lot.
posted by Metasyntactic at 6:11 PM on January 2, 2012


Most of the AT isn't extreme wilderness, it tends to be highly social if you're attempting a thru hike since everyone is starting around the same time (unless you go southbound instead of northbound--the less popular option), is pretty easy to quit since it crosses so many roads, and would be nearly impossible to do in its entirety on a budget of 1k even if you did have all the gear already. Perhaps the Long Trail or Colorado Trail would be better fits. The Pacific Coast Trail demands much more from hikers than the AT in terms of preparation, survival skills, and planning. Again, the budget will limit you to section hiking and you will need to get some decent gear, but it might be worth checking into instead if you're looking for solitude as it has far fewer people on it and will physically challenge you much more than the AT (though you really should read a bunch of stuff on the trail before you go, if only to save yourself the trouble of repeating the mistakes of others that made them get off the trails).
posted by BlooPen at 6:13 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a shame there isn't some way you could work in a charity angle--maybe take pledges depending on how many miles you walk or rocks you break or whatnot. It seems like it would be nice to have a way to make this thing about something more than yourself. Because the way you frame it, your self-punishment might seem a little self-indulgent.
posted by box at 6:13 PM on January 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Volunteer building trails in the national park system. My brother did this, and talked to only a few people in the month he was out there. He worked in the grand canyon park, making trails and putting up barriers to protect the flora.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:14 PM on January 2, 2012 [9 favorites]


How about a monastery?
posted by mearls at 6:20 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Trail blazing! It hadn't occurred to me but, yes, having something real at the end of this, other than my own self-indulgence (as box points out) would be really good. I really like the idea of building trails. Or building a cabin, even if I don't live in it, maybe hikers could shelter there. Or collecting plant samples, or writing a book or blog or something for charity or to inspire kids. That's fine, I just don't want it to be a social way-to-meet-people while I am doing it, because I am trying to get away from that kind of thing.
posted by Pastor of Muppets at 6:21 PM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


How about something like this? They seem to have projects in various locations that in some cases must be pretty remote, so perhaps you could travel under your own steam from one to another and do the demanding physical thing in between?
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 6:22 PM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, you could be a bike courier. It's a pretty solitary job: just you, your bike, the streets and traffic. Of course you'd have to live in a major city/be able to move to a major city for a few months. It's a pretty punishing job on many levels. It's not "the woods"-wilderness, but it is the concrete jungle wilderness. The only social contact involved is talking to your dispatcher (some do it by text now) and when picking up/dropping off packages with mailroom people/receptionists, and having to deal with the frustrations of traffic while on a bike trying to get your different rushes to different places. You're sore and exhausted at the end of the day. Like I said, punishing. Bonus: you could even make a little money.
posted by foxjacket at 6:23 PM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Agreed that this sounds way more like something being done for self improvement/advancement than something being done for self punishment. If I were you, I would go to Fukushima and round up abandoned/starving pets. I don't think you'll be finding any socializing there.
posted by cairdeas at 6:28 PM on January 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Run a marathon. Most of the other things suggested on this page are fun.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 6:30 PM on January 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


Man, I kinda wish I hadn't said 'self-indulgent.'

Being able to do something like what you have in mind is in some ways a luxury, and I think that building something, or helping in some way with scientific knowledge, or creating something of lasting beauty or utility that makes the world, or just some other life, in some small way better, would be a great thing to do.
posted by box at 6:31 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hiked in the Sierra's for 4 months, off trail. I was trying to lose wait so brought limited food... maybe 700 calories per day and hiked 12-14 miles per day. This is dangerous and stupid and self-indulgent. It also cost more than $1000 just for food, transport, and equipment even if all you are eating is oatmeal. At the time I had lost my connection with my drug addled family and alienated all my friends. I had nobody so I've been where you are. The experience had the useful effect of coming to peace with being totally alone, solitary (basically a ghost- the tree falling in the wilderness that no on hears).

However, at some point, you have to face the fact that your value in this world is what you mean to the people around you. Even your fucked up family and friends and despite your fucked up self.

And, in hindsight, I wish I had done something useful (and therefore less self indulgent) with the time like improve our trail system or just pick up trash in a national park.
posted by alcahofa at 6:41 PM on January 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


i apologize for the foul language... totaly unnecessary to make my point.
posted by alcahofa at 6:44 PM on January 2, 2012


you could train for and run this race - the barkley 100-miler - pretty much impossible, but you could give it a shot. punishment galore.
posted by facetious at 6:56 PM on January 2, 2012


Take work usually done by migrants. Pick fruit, de-tassel corn, plant rice. It's hard work, in difficult circumstances. You'll make money, but not a lot. Or task yourself with an urban improvement project. Clean up an empty lot (be careful of needles, tetanus, etc.), pick up litter, tend an untended city property.
posted by theora55 at 7:00 PM on January 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


Plant trees or do fire watch for the forest service?
posted by BlueHorse at 7:00 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


El Camino de Santiago de Compostela ... even if you're not especially religious, a pilgrimage is the way western European cultures have forced punishment and penitence on the wicked for centuries.
posted by crunchland at 7:02 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Screw taking a vacation. Go build something. Build a fence for a neighbor. Build a treehouse for a kid. Build a fish ladder for your town. Don't walk. Build.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:09 PM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


By all accounts I've read, the El Camino is incredibly social.

The first thing that sprang to mind with your description was tree planting. It's particularly gruelling if you have no idea what you are doing. It also tends to be quite social though, and the pay can be pretty decent once you get up to speed. But if you ignore everyone, and consistently suck at it, it would probably be exactly what you're looking for. Bonus possibility of bear attack.

I'd also second the vipassana retreats. I know some strong people who were completely undone by a 10 day retreat. It's punishing in a completely different way.
posted by looli at 7:10 PM on January 2, 2012


Seconding theora55's idea-- if you are looking for hard work for subsistence wages, check out the "take our jobs" campaign: http://www.takeourjobs.org/

On the other hand, you should know that there is a bike trail all the way around the north sea. If I had a couple of months to get in shape and prove something to myself, I might go for that.
posted by steinwald at 7:19 PM on January 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Go WOOFing - volunteer on an organic farm in exchange for room and board. My understanding is that the experience can very wildly - from feeding chickens once a day, to hoeing fields and doing harder labour. I'm sure you could find someone who could make good use of your ambitious energy.
posted by stray at 7:22 PM on January 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're probably in the wrong continent to be a dyker or a hedger, but they're solitary, backbreaking and time-consuming work.

Dyking is building field walls from large stones without mortar. Regional styles vary (as do the regional rocks that shape them). You lug huge stones about, and arrange them such that their own weight holds them together. Done properly, a dyke will last hundreds of years.

Hedging is the skilled and prickly work of building field hedges from thorny bushes like hawthorn and dog rose. The bushes are woven together around stakes, and eventually form robust living fences. You will become used to pulling out inch-long spikes from your legs and laughing as they bleed. Your razor-sharp billhook will be your only friend.
posted by scruss at 7:23 PM on January 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


(oh, and did I mention that the only easy way of removing embedded hawthorn spines is to wait until they go septic [they will], then to pop out the pus-covered thorns in a really hot bath?)
posted by scruss at 7:30 PM on January 2, 2012


I don't have any useful suggestions, not being the "hard labor" type of gal. My own plan is to move to a strange city where I don't yet have any friends and spend some time exploring the city, various hobbies, maybe some amature photography, lots of long walks with the dog, sit in cyber cafe's on my laptop, get some writing done, etc...

Maybe look into therapy, if I can find someone I like who is affordable.

No partying, bars, or large social situations, no relationships, likely not even casual dating... but if I meet someone at the park who seems interesting and we start chatting its a great way to make new friends. More importantly, a way to make friends that I wouldn't have met otherwise.

Its a plan to break a series of self destructive patterns of behavior by isolating myself from previous circumstances (or, as one might say, triggering situations). The diet thing comes in by budgeting myself a certain amount for food and exercising (with the dog walking and city exploring and whatnot).

The theory is that as I get to know myself better I'll have a better chance at becoming the person I want to be instead of the one I currently dislike being.

I'm not looking to punish myself, I'm looking to better myself by engaging in a set of behaviors which are drastically different from my current lifestyle. If I were religious I might consider saving up to travel to some other country and go on a pilgrimage of some sort, but as I'm not... I like my plan to disappear in a crowd of strangers and see what comes of it.
posted by myShanon at 7:38 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Train for a distance open-water swim. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge swim, for example.

You will feel punished, if you are able to feel anything at all when you are done. (Note that I did not say "when you reach the end of the course.")
posted by jgirl at 7:39 PM on January 2, 2012


How important is it that your "something" be structured and have some definitive goal that can be ticked off or end that can be achieved? Do you need a near 100% chance of success, or would it be OK if you tried and failed? You mentioned "a few months" -- can you be a little more precise? I'm asking because a lot of the suggestions around hiking or running/swimming events have long lead times, require a lot of planning, and are dependent on time of year. For instance, the AT (when hiked from Georgia to Maine) is usually started in March/April, has about an 80% dropout rate, costs maybe $4000 to $5000 (not including gear), and takes most people five or six months to complete (5 months of hiking 6 days on/1 day off is still something like 18 miles a day). Longer trails like the PCT or CDT just get more logistically complicated and more expensive. If you only have two or three months and $1K to spend, you may be able to find what you are looking for just hiking a portion of one of the long trails.
posted by kovacs at 8:34 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do a self-supported bicycle ride from Mexico to Alaska.
posted by tip120 at 8:41 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you considered the badwater ultramarathon?
posted by snowjoe at 10:22 PM on January 2, 2012


Oops! Here's the link.
posted by snowjoe at 10:23 PM on January 2, 2012


Walk from one place to one other place at least 1000 miles away. It doesn't have to be the AT. If you're originally from one end of a country / continent but now living on the other side, walk home. If you're near home but always wanted to go to a particular city and start fresh, walk there. Accept rides when you're tired, couchsurf if you can, but never spend a dime on transportation.
posted by mochapickle at 10:40 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't know about the USA, but in New Zealand and Australia there are tiny unpopulated islands where endangered species nest or live (in NZ mostly birds or lizards, maybe penguins?; in Aus, sometimes turtles too), and that wildlife rangers employ people to guard. If you work as a caretaker on one of these islands, you basically camp there for months, protecting the nests or breeding grounds from predators (i.e. watching for mammals), and counting chicks/offspring. Some of the bigger islands have groups of people involved, which does not sound like your sort of thing, but some of the smaller ones are just manned by an individual. If the USA has islands like this, it might be your sort of thing. It's solitary, and you can't leave easily because of the responsibility, and the lack of creature comforts makes it a bit of a hardship, depending on what you bring with you. If you want more hard work, you might be able to find somewhere that would like you to build improvements like a cabin or tracks, or viewing stations or something.
posted by lollusc at 11:07 PM on January 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Bicycle touring can be done alone and involves very little social interaction. You'll always need to be reasonably close to civilization in order to acquire food and water, but as long as you have a planned route and schedule it'll feel more natural to just keep riding than to give up.
posted by beerbajay at 12:06 AM on January 3, 2012


Badwater and Barkley are hard to get into these days. Badwater requires prior ultras that show an ability to handle the race, and Barkley requires sweet talking Gary Cantrell, and he's a mean old cuss. (Ok, not really, but he plays one convincingly.) More to the point, for Barkley anyway, the whole thing will likely be over for you in less than 24 hours, and the training is not all that difficult. (Really, just about anyone who has the time can run ~80 miles a week.)

Were I you, I might consider doing the Sri Chinmoy 3100 mile self-transcendence run. Participants run around a city block for 52 days in the summer, in Queens. There are other people, and you could certainly be social if you wanted to be, but it isn't necessary. You would have to do some training before hand, but mostly you would just have to show up to run.
posted by OmieWise at 5:12 AM on January 3, 2012


Also, I've been a bicycle courier for a couple of years, and it was in no way a hardship. You get used to the riding within the first month, and then it's kind of glorious. It doesn't count as punishment in any way, although there are certainly bad days. (40 degrees and raining makes for a long 10 hours in the saddle.)
posted by OmieWise at 5:14 AM on January 3, 2012


Take a job cleaning stalls or otherwise working at a farm. Both exhausting and soul-satisfying.

Spend a summer volunteering doing trail work. I promise you'll collapse every night exhausted. As a bonus you will have the satisfaction of walking down a trail and thinking, "I know every rock here because I MADE this."

Find a blighted area of your town and build a garden or a park.

The AT is a good long-distance trail for beginners. There are also trails in VT and the Adirondacks that have fewer hikers on them. Don't do the CDT/PCT if you have have no backpacking experience. You need a lot more gear, there are dangerous stretches, there are fewer escape points if you get hurt/run out of food/etc.

Buy a remote piece of land, clear a spot, build a log cabin, grow your own food, raise chickens -- recreate pioneer homesteading. Bonus Points: Use only hand tools.
posted by LittleMy at 5:14 AM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have 2 suggestions, either of which will totally satisfy your needs:

1. Join a refguee camp. Desolate locations, no social, hard, grueling, unforgiving work ethic. I suggest Asia or Africa (depending on the people you are 'comfortable' with. The organizers will usually pay your airfare to the location.

2. Ranching - join in either Montana, Wyoming or New Mexico. Some of the hardest work in your life, out for hours in desolation, gorgeous scenery - you will fall asleep each night within seconds.

Good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:49 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nthing the El Camino. A close friend and cancer survivor did it after clearing chemo and followups as a "Screw you, universe, I'm still alive and gonna kick ass!"
It's as easy or hard and social or solitary as you make it, and has the arrival at a goal as final punctuation.

Building trails sounds really cool too. I've done some walking on deteriorated forest trails and always marveled at the decades-old remains of trail structure, very impressed with the hard work that must have gone into them. And woods are great to be alone in.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 9:37 AM on January 3, 2012


My main goal is simply to punish myself

What did you do wrong?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:15 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


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