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Selective Amnesia

Selective Amnesia

The mind is a crazy thing. I’m not judging. It can create worlds on one hand and completely ignore reality in other instances. There is selective hearing which all of my old bosses had. They would hear that the project would get done but somehow never heard the price tag. Some people can look at my work space and say that it is messy, while I only see untapped creativity. The brain function I never experienced until I started hiking was Selective Amnesia. Now I can’t seem to remember if it ever happened before.

Me sitting in Rocky Mountain National Park and observing Cub Lake in the valley below me.
I remember the lake but the Selective Amnesia makes how I got here a challenge

What Is This?

Selective Amnesia is a bit of a mystery to me but it is the only way to explain the fact that I can remember all of the good parts of a hike yet somehow completely forget about the 10,000 feet of elevation gain it took me to get to them. I remember the trailhead, could drive there blindfolded (please don’t). I remember the amazing field of flowers each spring. The tiny stream that I have to cross is exactly where I thought. The peak or lake at the top is seared into my memory so clearly I could paint it (after 20 years of art lessons). But where in the hell did this hill come from?

The good memories are alive and dance through my brain like sugar plums in a Christmas tune. The bad ones have somehow been deposited into a vault that only contains the thoughts I had of the “palate expanding retainer” I wore as a kid. (My whole body just shivered bringing that one up.) In my mind the hikes are only those quick memories and not the 10 miles it took me to make them.

The Selective Amnesia has gotten me in some trouble at times. I always think hikes that I am doing for the second or third time are shorter than they actually are. I’ll pack for a quick two mile jaunt to a waterfall completely blacking out on the other seven miles it takes to get me there.

Selective Amnesia at it again, me sitting on the edge of a cliff looking at the mountians and rolling cliffs below in a demeanor that has me confused on how I got there.
This is the look of someone seeing this view for the first time although I have been here six times.

It is Spreading

While Selective Amnesia is a relatively new phenomenon to me, it seems to be spreading a bit. I have only noticed it on hikes I have done before and are attempting again. Looking back it might have been there the entire time. The amnesia can happen in the short term. The hike up the mountain is completely forgotten by the time you reach the peak. Then as you descend, those poor souls still on the incline inquire on how much longer it will be the answer is always the same. Half mile.

This is proof that it is spreading. Everyone you encounter on the trail has the same few answers on how far away something is. Half Mile. You’re almost there! The hard part is over! Lies, complete and utter lies. The truth is that the Selective Amnesia has taken hold in an effort to get the next group to see what you have seen. It’s a trap. They have no idea if the hard part is still to come because they lost those memories when they peaked the hike! I talked a little bit about this in one of my first blogs, Screw it, I’m Trying, under the Acceptance tag. Once you have made it to the end the rest of the hike just melts away.

Me standing on Bergen Peak looking out over the rolling hills of the valley.
A spot I come to every year but because of Selective Amnesia have no idea how!

The Cure

While there may not be a cure to this hiking amnesia there is a way to mitigate it. The best thing you can do is to never do the same hike twice! The first time you do a hike your mind is in explorer mode. You mentally keep track of every step, smell, sight, and sound. It is all fresh and since you went into the hike with no memory it is impossible to forget about the hard parts of the hike. The bad part of this is that you will then remember every challenging step and every foot of elevation gain! The good news is because there is a rapid onset of Selective Amnesia you will quickly forget how hard it was at the first sight of a new hiker on their way up. You will forget in time to tell them they are close and it is only a half mile more!

For those of us who can’t do a new hike every single time out, the best thing to do is just embrace the pain. Something brought you back to this place. The memories of the peak or the lake. The smell of the fresh spring flowers stuck in your mind. The trailhead that is next to the amazing diner perhaps. Something brought you back and convinced your brain the memories of the good parts beat out the pain of the bad parts. It is a gentle reminder that each step will be worth it, even if those steps are straight up a rock wall. The end will justify the means. Or at the very least you know that your mind will block out the bad parts again leaving you with nothing but joy! For the next half mile at least!

Me laying on a large rock using my backpack as a pillow trying to remember where I was but the Selective Amnesia is too strong!
Maybe a nap is the cure to Selective Amnesia

More from The Fatman

If you enjoyed this post you may enjoy more of the posts on my Fatman’s Rambling page. Blogs such as “Hiking Alone not Lonely Hiking“, “Winslow, Arizona” and “Screw it, I’m Trying” as well as many others may interest you there. If you have any comments or topics you would like me to cover, feel free to email me at Or you can keep the conversation going by following me on any of the below social media platforms.

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