5 Reasons Why Life After a Thru Hike Might Be More Difficult than the Hike Itself (And Why It’s Still Worth the Trek)
I knew a long-distance hike would be extremely challenging. I knew hiking the Appalachian Trail would throw all kinds of uncomfortable situations my way. What I did not realize when I set out a year ago on Springer Mtn., was how that was only the beginning.
For me, life after leaving the woods is way more difficult. Hands down. Here’s why:
1. Doing what you love is one thing. Being able to pay your own electric bill with that passion is a completely different story.
I’ve mentioned in previous posts about how I quit my job in Finance to hike the A.T. and swore I would never go back to the corporate push – That I would never again work for someone else’s vision. Now that I’ve finished that journey I realize how incredibly hard it is to do what you love and make a living off your efforts. When I set out on my hike, I kind of assumed all the answers of my life would come to me during my six-month stay with nature. I was wrong.
Six months later after finishing, I’m just now slowly realizing how to put a passion into action and supplement my income with it. I’ve started my own plant-based cuisine business, but anyone who has ever tried to start something of their own probably knows how insanely busy it can become. Because chances are, you aren’t just fine-tuning your own marketing ideas, you’re also working other jobs to be able to actually pay for your life in the meantime.
My time in the woods reinforced the fact I love being outside and having a craft that is my own. I cannot sit in a cubicle all day and live life. Once presented with these facts, of seeing the other side, there is no going back. All this in itself is an intense realization.
2. People worship money.
Not every-single-person, but a whole lot do at least a little bit. And who can blame us? We live in a place where everything has a price. On the trail, you need money for gear and food. And beer. And then you hike. It’s pretty simple. Off the trail, you work to make money and lives easily get sucked into the dictatorship of green – You have a job? How much does it pay? What is your business netting each week? How much did she pay you? How many hours did you put in?
Pretty common questions I’ve been getting lately – Common questions a lot of us ask. Never is it Did you have fun? Or Are you happy? I’ve learned to ask myself these two questions regularly because chances are, no one else will.
It can be nearly impossible not to get tackled and stuffed into this mess. I constantly think of the commencement speech by David Foster Wallace “Life and Work.” He discusses how the only choice we get is what to worship, and basically if we worship anything except some type of rock-solid ethics we try to live our life by, everything else will destroy us. Money included.
It can be a huge culture shock coming off the trail where money is rarely discussed and lives are lived solely for hiking, eating, hydrating, and meeting new people. And then suddenly being surrounded by obsessions of income (and having once been just as obsessed with income as everyone else.) For myself it’s been about finding a balance – And not completely tuning others out, but trying to politely partake in the conversations and answer the questions, all-the-while silently whispering “shhhhhh….”
Even typing this word makes me want to yell “Booooo!” It’s not that I don’t like driving, I just have an incredibly difficult time rationalizing in my mind why I need to pay $40 on gas a week, when my body is perfectly capable and willing to get me to where I need to be. Unfortunately since moving to Asheville (a place I love), the area I reside in isn’t the most conducive place for walking or riding my bicycle. I’m constantly trying to find different trails I can walk to that will lead me to work, cutting through neighborhoods and yards.
One day, I will have made it to work by foot and it will have been an enjoyable experience (I walked last week and it was everything but a pleasant stroll) and perhaps I will write a post about it. Until then, I continue my search in scoping out a feasible path.
4. Planning & Time.
Kind of like money, many of us always seem to be on some type of obsessive schedule – With everything. How long did we run for? What will you do when your car breaks down? What’s next now that you’re off the trail?
It’s like we’re expected to plan out every second of our lives, day by day, for at least the next 10 years. This is absurd. I have no clue what I plan to do with my life by June, because I’m still trying to figure out how to get to work today by foot.
On the trail, some form of time commonly exists for many, but it didn’t feel so smack in my face.
Maybe like some of you reading this, my sister is one of those people who is not at all fazed by time or plans. We regularly joke her two speeds are slow and slower. When we were young, I would make my bed the night before just so I could get to school a few milliseconds earlier. This never worked because my sister was too busy lollygagging around playing with her Barbies. Despite her disinterest in the stresses of schedules, she would eventually graduate Phi Beta Kappa from college and will soon be overseas helping ensure sustainable improvement in low-income countries.
Not until after the trail, when I started to feel constrained by unnecessary schedules, did I start reflecting on our falsity of needing time as comfort – Of learning moving slowly is good. That not having a plan can be a good thing.
5. Missing da Woods.
You spend almost every waking moment in the woods. You become extraordinarily connected with nature. You meet truly incredible people, hikers and non-hikers. Of course you’re going to miss the woods, the experience. And this nostalgic emotion will be beautiful.
And sometimes it might feel crippling and really suck.
Hiking the A.T. was a reality check – I just didn’t know it at the time. It can over-sensitize you, so that when you step off the dirt onto the pavement your eyes are widened, and permanently so. And each time you look at a mountain, you might just be reminded of how confused you are about everything.
The trail is certainly a trial. Life off it is the gift.
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#1 and #5 most definitely. The others was not so much…