When You Give A Kid A Thru-Hike
It’s almost been two months since I got home from my hike. I never wrote that “final blog” about what it felt like to summit Katahdin, or to wrap up the myriad of experiences that began back in Georgia last April.
I don’t know why I never wrote it. The days passed in a blur between my coming home and getting back to work. It was a quick transition. I did want to write. I did want to sit down and express my last couple weeks on the trail. I tried to verbalize the look on my friend Chris’ face when we finally saw the summit sign; I tried to recall what it felt like, what it really felt like, the last time I broke down my tent or boiled a cup of coffee. “Tomorrow will be the day,” I would make myself promise. And when tomorrow came, and again I wasn’t ready to share with the world, I became frustrated. How could I have writer’s block over something this monumental? Not some college paper, but the actual pinnacle of my life so far, yet here I was scrambling to find something more eloquent than “it was awesome” every time someone asked.
I’ve sculpted loose ideas to make a Youtube channel about gear reviews and advice, I’ve flirted with the idea of writing a memoir, I’ve set the intention of revamping my blog. But these have all turned into things I’ve been “meaning to do.” It took all of my heart and energy to get around to washing my sweat-stained backpack. To be honest, It took all of my heart and energy to put jeans back on and go out in a social setting.
I had always heard of the infamous “post-trail depression,” and arrogantly declared that it wouldn’t affect me. In my case, it didn’t mean specifically missing the hiking and tenting and cooking around a fire (though I do think of those things). Instead, it reared its ugly head in the form of fatigue, irritability, apathy, and laziness. The first couple of weeks home, it was hard to talk about the trail, not because I strongly missed it, but because it sometimes felt almost like it didn’t happen to me. It’s hard to explain. It felt like the color gray. Like I couldn’t find the words. Like being deflated.
And the thing that is so painfully confusing is that that’s not what the hiking felt like at all. I remember it as all the colors, crisp air, glorious laughter and tears on mountain tops. I remember it as twigs in my hair, howling like a mad person, stars and sunshine. So why, then, the post trail indifference? Why the lack of motivation once acclimating back to the real world?
Wasn’t I proud of myself?
Wasn’t it enough?
I think, in addition to the post trail depression, I was afraid that I didn’t have more for people. I came back just like I was before the trail. No revelations, no huge changes, no answers to life. So many people had reached out to show their support, and it felt like I would be letting them down. Especially considering I couldn’t even write a damn blog saying that I finished it.
And then, about a week ago, I was at a bar, when a woman I had never met before approached me. She asked, “are you mostly free bird?”, my Instagram handle. She explained she recognized me from my photos, and that she followed my writing along the journey. She said I inspired her and that she was considering doing a thru-hike of her own the next year. For some reason, that was my lightbulb. That night, I thought about the times that strangers have messaged me, saying that I made them feel more confident or that they, too, could do something crazy. I thought about the girl I hadn’t seen since high school, who reached out to say that she read all my blogs and that she looked up to me. I thought back to my time on trail, when an elderly lady named Jan wrote to me, imploring me to “do it for those of us who can’t.”
Suddenly, it hit me that I had moved others. My journey mattered to people, in a way like nothing I had ever done before. It didn’t matter if I had a rough and hazy transition back from the trail, and it didn’t matter that I didn’t have some lofty wisdom to shower on an audience. I just had to show up. I just had to be myself. For the first time in my life, I had done something bigger than my own tiny world. When I first planned on the hike, I was very adamant that it was going to be for me; I was forward and unashamed about it being a selfish six months of my life. But what if it wasn’t all selfish? What if I found a way to contribute and connect, a way to reach others?
These are the things that consume my thoughts most days. I get lost in trying to find how I could harness that feeling of inspiring others while doing what I love. What do I want to do? Who do I want to be? Yet here I am, still a kid. An almost-24-year-old kid so overwhelmed by life and all the many, many things it has projected for me on a small and wide scale. I’ve learned that when you give a kid a thru-hike, or any chance to do something scary and big and life-altering, their world is going to change. A door is going to be opened. And they will continue to seek that enchantment, wherever and whatever it may be.
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