Climb the Mountain, See the Valley: Reflections of My Life on the Appalachian Trail

Surrounded by empty coffee cups that have compounded around my laptop at this big name coffee chain, the evil opposite of the Appalachian Trail, I have been making an attempt to write my reflection piece on my 6 month thru-hike of the AT. It has taken a month and a half and innumerable dark roasts, because every time I sit down to consider my life on the Trail, my brain implodes. So here I am, writing to you, dear reader, a zombie.


We did it!… A month and a half ago… Sorry guys!

My face illuminated dull and blue by the light of my laptop, my nerves shot from the caffeine overdose, and my mind still MIA on the Appalachian Trail, I suppose being a zombie is most appropriate. I lived a whole life on the Appalachian Trail – a whole life.

I was born on Springer Mountain, single, alone and naked to the world (until the ranger arrived, anyway). I learned to walk – a lot – as I headed out of Georgia. I fell in love at Fontana Dam in Tennessee. Together, we drank a lifetime of water (14,600 gallons… sounds right). And if Clif only knew how many bars we ate, they would use that data to quantify a “lifetime supply” for their next giveaway. We struggled our way up every mountain and stumbled stiff-legged down until we got to the next. We made a lifetime of friends. At the Maine-New Hampshire border, my love broke my heart, but I carried on with the strength of my friends. We certainly smelled and looked like death most of the time, and when we got to Katahdin, our bodies, our knees, felt like they were ready to give. Our spirits aged years instead of months and our hearts grew larger than can fit in our chests.

The sun set on a moment of utter solitude on Monument Cliff, Maine.

The sun set on a moment of utter solitude on Monument Cliff, Maine.

So now I am supposed to come back to what we call “real life” and just pick up where I left off? Impossible! I am equal parts recovering and mourning. I might be a zombie, but I’m being reborn. If the Trail taught me nothing else, it’s that life is cyclical and requires resiliency. A valley is simply a place where you begin to ascend a mountain. A mountain is a place from which you can see the valleys. Repeat ad nauseam and you have life.

I have landed in a new place called Wilmington, North Carolina, single, alone and naked (which the barista at this big name coffee chain visibly does not appreciate). I am slowly but persistently learning how to “walk” into a brand new career in writing. I’m starting a new life; I’m making new friends. I am ascending a mountain whose peak I cannot see, but I know if I keep walking, I will reach it. It happened in a past life and it will happen again, but thankfully this time I’ll smell like coffee. The Appalachian Trail is difficult, but it is a great teacher. For my fellow thru-hikers suffering from post-trail depression, I encourage you to embrace your new life, enjoy starting over, take in the view of your proverbial Springer Mountain and be patient, because I believe for you and me that the next trail will be as exciting as the last.

Much love,

Tee “John Rambo” Corley

For those who are planning a future thru-hike and are looking for some sagely advice from a successful Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hiker, please feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram (@TrailBirdCorley), e-mail me with questions ([email protected]), and stay tuned on as I intend to continue blogging – for you!

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Comments 1

  • Kayla : Mar 16th

    Best, most encouraging article dealing with post-trail issues that I’ve ever read. Thanks Rambo.


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