Dear Thru Hikers (AT After Thoughts from Brooklyn)
It’s taken me a while to settle down and find the words to express how it feels to have thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and what it feels like to be back home in Brooklyn. Perhaps it’s taken this long because I’m still trying to figure it out myself. I’m trying to figure out what it did to me and that’s sort of hard to put into words, especially with the rush of city lifestyle. I’m one of 2.5 million people here, and that’s just Brooklyn alone. I’m back in a land where smiling and asking a stranger where they’re headed is weird. I mean, just saying “good morning” or “how are you?” is off-putting. Perhaps that’s why I work at a coffee shop, for the normalcy of small talk and the potential for a good conversation. (Not to brag, but I also make a mean latte). Now, on my day off, I’m having a glass of wine at the same bar I had my last meal at before heading up to Maine. This time, I’m here seeking shelter from the rain and sporting a t-shirt that I found in a hiker box. It reads “Appalachian Trail – Tread softly – Maine to Georgia”.
Nobody here knows what I’ve done. They don’t know that the last time I experienced this heavy of a rainstorm, it was in the middle of the woods in Tennessee, where I hiked up and down mountains for over 20 miles, stopping in the heaviest downpour to filter water and eat a pop tart with my fully-pruned and completely numb hands. They don’t know I was borderline hypothermic and had to dress myself in a trash bag that I found at a road crossing. They pay no mind to the shirt, which may as well have been bought at a local thrift store. You may not know, living in the woods all these months, but being outdoorsy for the sake of Instagram posts is seemingly popular these days. They don’t know what I — and what WE — have done and that’s okay because we know.
We put our selves out there on the trail and we went for it. We know that the trail may not be a direct result of one particular situation we’ve been through, but it’s our individual perseverance and strength that planted this idea in our head and ultimately lead to us setting out on this journey. We know that there is a thing that we can’t pinpoint inside of us that pushed us to make the decision. And we walked. One foot in front of the other. Step after step. Mile after mile. Day after day. Month after month. We know that we’ve overcome a lot and while the trail may be a solid accomplishment that people praise, we know that there are things in our lives that we got through, and that we may still be overcoming, that people may not recognize or quickly applaud.
But I’m proud of you. As a fellow hiker, I know that going back to the “real world” is tough, mainly because it’s much much much less “real” than the world we have experienced. I am proud that we met people that we were meant to have in our lives — That we made the decision to go out into the wilderness and climb mountains all day with like-minded people.. Not that we set out just to make friends but let’s be honest, it’s fucking hard to make adult friends, you guys. As a collective whole, we became what Thoreau considers “a part and parcel of nature”. Ugh, she’s quoting Thoreau now. I am proud that we each, in some way or another, used the trail as a coping mechanism and not as a means of fixing or running from anything. We didn’t expect too much of the mountains because we know that this journey may help heal, but it cannot fix.
We know that there is no magical oxygen exerted by the trees in Appalachia that will free a person from addiction. It cannot turn mental illness into ashes that can be blow into the wind over a beautiful viewpoint. The absence of mirrors cannot magically morph a self-conscious being into someone with a fantastic self-image. Lastly, if you want to figure out what you want to do with your life, we be first to admit that confusion is even stronger upon returning to society. What it has done is help us reflect on our lives and recognize our strength. You got up that steep climb. You were so discouraged to find that there was no view. You made it though that really awful day when all you wanted to do was go home. You thought about how maybe you don’t have a home to go home to. You had really dark thoughts and really beautiful thoughts. But you did it. We did it.
So, what do we do afterwards? My answer to that is: Who the hell knows!? I bet you’re sure happy you read this god damn waste of time post now, huh? Ha! I mean it, though. I really don’t know. While I thoroughly appreciate my heat, hot water, and daily sushi delivery, I miss my non-traditional life experiences and the unapologetic relationship with nature. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. I’m trying to figure out how and when I can get back on the trail, where people don’t ask me “So what are you going to do for a living?” but instead ask me only the most important questions, such as “How are the water sources heading north?” and “How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
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A woodchuck could chuck wood all day, if he only would…
Nice article. Congrats on your completion and good luck!
You’re a damn rockstar, Woodchuck. Excellent read. I can’t walk by an empty garbage can without considering the possibility of a free poncho.
Nice article! I’m in NYC as well, would love to meet up sometime as I hope to thru in 2018. Congrats!