Post-Trail Thoughts after Our Flip-Flop

It has been 2.5 weeks since my husband and I touched the Southern Terminus sign at Springer Mountain. It hardly feels real.

We started our flip-flop thru-hike on a rainy May 10, 2018, and finished on a sunny and gorgeous Nov. 10, 2018.

We had no shortage of obstacles and hardships that could have halted our hike. With determination, grit, prayer, and support of our loved ones we were fortunate to be able to complete this task.

Since returning to the Real World (or “the Matrix” ) we have been asked a multitude of questions. We love being able to talk about our hike because the truth is, we miss it every single day. Post-trail depression fortunately isn’t quite how we would classify our emotions at this stage, but we would consider it a romantic longing. This post will hopefully cover some of the common inquiries we receive.

Was the trail everything you expected?

The Appalachian Trail blew our expectations out of the water! We had a pretty good idea about how life-changing it would be, but at some point every day we were grateful to be out there. Some days were definitely harder than others, but we would fall asleep in our tents every night being thankful for the experience.

What was the hardest part of the trail?

For me, Sweet Tea, the hardest part of the thru-hike was the length of the days hiking. I would struggle mentally in hours six to ten knowing I had so much walking to do. How did I fight this battle? I would :

—Spend an hour each morning praying, contemplating, and thinking positively about the experience.

—During the last few hours of each day is when I would start to listen to audiobooks and podcasts. This would really boost my morale and help me finish the day strong. When I was having a particularly hard time hiking I would spend more time listening to these things. The last two weeks I really needed the audio boost to keep me going.

For my husband, Moose, the hardest part of the trail was the difficulty of the terrain. We knew the trail was no “footpath through the wilderness,” but it was definitely more challenging and technical than expected. The mountains are often tough to climb and the terrain can be treacherous, but we would take our time and push through these challenges.

Did you ever feel unsafe?

Honestly, never! The people we met were incredible and only out to help us, the wildlife was tame (remember, we are in their space), and one just needs to take common-sense precautions. I was with my husband, so one might say that I had him to help me feel safe. But, I spent a great deal of time hiking by myself and enjoying the peace of the trail. I was always aware of my surroundings (especially when at trailheads, parking areas, and in towns) and never felt afraid.

Were you a part of a trail family?

Yes! Moose and I kicked off our hike with a wonderful group of flip-floppers, but we unfortunately lost most of them after Damascus. We walked another 700ish miles just the two of us, but in New Hampshire our “official” trail family formed. We were with many of these hikers until their NOBO finish at Katahdin and then the rest flopped with us down to Virginia where we met up with other flip-floppers. Finally, after a knee injury that had me slow down, we joined a group of SOBOS for the last two weeks of our journey. Our tramily was by far the most impacting part of our trip. The relationships we formed with them were like no other and there was never a dull moment.

What were your favorite states/favorite sections?

Sweet Tea’s answer: New Hampshire and the Whites all the way! I cannot believe I am claiming this now when I swore every day that New Hampshire was out to kill me, but the views are unlike any other. Absolutely magical. But we completely enjoyed every part of the South. Virginia was beautiful and serene hiking and the Great Smoky Mountains were gorgeous in the fall.

Moose’s answer: Vermont. The views were stunning and the water sources were amazing.

Did you see any bears or snakes?

Absolutely. We saw ten black bears and countless snakes. Most of the snakes were nonpoisonous, but we saw our fair share of rattlers and copperheads. One just has to watch where they step and give the bears and snakes their space.

(For the record: The bears were never aggressive with us or anyone else we hiked with. I view my experience with the bears as oversized raccoons. They run away when people are around and often are just out for some food. Therefore, proper food-hanging maintenance and storage is essential.)

How did you get along as a married couple?

People often ask,  “How could you hike with your spouse and not want to kill each other?” Here is the simple answer: We like each other. We truly enjoyed being around each other and when we needed some space we would walk separately. Laughter is the best medicine, and we definitely needed this to fuel our hike. Good and effective communication was also pertinent to our success.

Are you happy with your decision to flip-flop?

One hundred percent yes. I will make another blog post supporting this decision, but basically we got the best of all hiking worlds. Weather, bugs, climate, etc., were the most moderate throughout our hike. Also, we were able to enjoy both NOBOs and SOBOs alike. The flip-flop community is amazing and I think this alternate form of thru-hiking will really take off.

Has it been hard adjusting to “the Real World”

Yes. Very much so.

Much of the post-trail advice given to us was that we should have something to get back into when getting off trail. Well, we took this advice with great enthusiasm. We had ten days after summiting to rest, get our affairs in order, pack everything we have, make arrangements, and move cross country from Tennessee to California for work. Would I recommend such chaos? Probably not. While I think it is important to have a plan post trail, I think it is equally important to have enough time for your body to heal and for your mind to adjust and reflect on your experience.

Physically, I have even had a hard time adjusting to the over-stimulation of the “real world.” Excess noise, use of electronics, and movement in cars has left me feeling out of whack. I hope this will resolve soon but am looking for any advice or likewise experience from other thru-hikers who might be going through this.

Culturally, we miss our trail family. Struggling every day bonds people like nothing I have witnessed before. The hospitality, grace, and helpfulness is also missing from many components of the real world. On the trail, people were always jumping at opportunities to help and love each other. Many parts of the real world could take some lessons from this kind of behavior. Trail angels have a truly special place in the world. Each and every instance when someone helped us out was deeply cherished and appreciated.

Finally, we miss the peace and solitude that the trail provides. We knew we would likely never have the opportunity to walk in silence, in our thoughts, for hours at a time in nature. But boy, do we miss it. I anticipate we will miss it for the rest of our lives. Although, we have an attempted solution. We want to remember those hours of bliss and let them bring peace to our everyday lives. We hope to seek out opportunities that reflect time on the trail (such as long walks, bike rides, swims, or other local hikes). If we do not bring what we have learned from the trail into our “real lives,” then the hike would have been in vain. We will spend the rest of our lives contemplating what this journey has meant to us. For now we will continue to hike our own hike and live out our purpose in this life.

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Comments 2

  • Terri Sanderson : Nov 30th

    So happy for both of you!!! I am the one who provided support to Van Hailing. Would love to send you the pictures I took of all of you.

  • Rob Steen : Feb 20th

    Just returned from Panama where I climbed Volcan Baru. I’m guessing that “algorithms” are responsible for my receiving thetrek, but really love it. As a youngster, I hiked the AT extensively in VA and it was the highlight of my time with my dad. Baru was unplanned and what a bear! Hiking through the night?! A thru-hike of the AT is always on my mind and thetrek keeps me focussed on that. Thanks.


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