Just because you’ve left the trail doesn’t mean the trail has left you
It’s the time of year when many of us past thru hikers are coming upon our “trail-aversary.” Maybe it has already come and gone as mine has, maybe it’s just around the corner but no matter what, it is likely to have an impact on your mood. It may be a lifting of spirits recalling all the wonders from your journey along the trail or it may leave you wishing you were back out there.
It’s over… or is it?
Many hikers talk of the transition back to the “real world” as a challenging time, one some of us never fully make. I spent the first months struggling to fit back into my old world, looking for work, trying to make use of the shower on a regular basis, and letting my body heal from the massive hike it had just taken me on. The term “post trail depression” is often used to refer to the emotional low that comes during this transition. It’s been more than a year and still the trail finds ways to integrate itself into my daily life. This is both wonderful and difficult at the same time. It is a constant reminder of where I am not but also of all the remarkable things I did and the impact it had on my life.
There are a couple things this past year which have made the transition a little easier:
Once they are tramily they are always tramily. Your tramily are those people you met on trail and shared an evening recounting the wonders or horrors of the day while you sat on a log checking your feet over before dinner. Those who you found a connection with, it may have been in a matter of hours or weeks that this bond formed, but it will remain. They were the folks who promised to meet you at the next town, left notes for you in the shelter logs, and bought you a drink when you arrived. They were the ones who watched your back so you could enjoy a pista off the side of a mountain. They were the ones who understood the idea of walking for miles on end, day after day, and recognized the pride of hiker stench because it meant you were going places. These are the people to keep in touch with when you leave trail, they will understand the battles you are going through and know how to ease the aches. Having tramily will help ground you.
Getting back out there:
Depending on where you live some parts of the AT are convenient enough to stop by and relive the wonders of the trail. My go-to place is a little hostel in North Woodstock NH, The Notch Hostel. This is my sanctuary when the trail calls to me so strongly I need to reconnect with it. I do this through the people who have been there and understand trail culture. This is my slice of heaven in the “real world”. It gives me a place to go and talk trail with other hikers, to take a moment to go venture out into the woods to visit the AT. Without this happy place I don’t know where I would have ended up this past year.
It’s a wonderful thing! The unexpected goodies which find you during your thru hike. It might be a simple conversation, some food, a drink, or a ride into (or out of) town. I recall every moment of trail magic bestowed on me during my thru hike.
The first time was at Clingmans Dome. A park ranger helped us procure a ride into Gatlinburg. The ride was magic in itself but it didn’t end there. The couple dropped us off at the hotel, said they’d be back in half an hour to take us out to dinner. They spoiled us with a steak dinner, along with anything else the hiker hunger craving demanded. After dinner we enjoyed a stroll through Gatlinburg with ice cream, we felt very blessed to have met this couple.
Then there was the bucket sitting in the stream at VT12, one soda, two of us. That soda was life-blood, sweet bubbly sustenance. It really doesn’t matter how big or small the gesture, trail magic is trail magic, a glorious reminder of the wonderful people who involve themselves with the trail.
I decided I wanted to give back and support others, to provide insight from my own experiences. I had fun, too much fun, filling a shopping cart and loading coolers so I could sit in wait for hikers. The first of the magic spread as shouts of excitement from the hikers penetrated the trees. They realized the sign I’d posted was current, that today WAS Saturday! I spent hours hanging out and talking with each hiker about the wonders of their journey. I found peace in sitting and hearing their stories, and lending encouragement.
Providing trail magic was a treat I indulged in throughout the summer and fall, I used it as a way to be a part of the trail even if I wasn’t hiking. In the fall I attended the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA) gathering where I crossed paths with one of the hikers from earlier in the year. He raced up to me and gave me a hug, turned to some other hikers and said “This is the lady I told you about! She’s the reason I didn’t quit! My tramily had left, and she saw me sitting all by myself and invited me over for magic!” A kind gesture from a stranger can change someone’s entire journey. This reminder of how powerful “trail magic” can be applies to life. On trail, and off.
The next endeavor:
There is a pull many of us feel after the trail, a need to keep walking and lose (or find) ourselves in the rhythm of the trail. Many of the folks I met on trail have either returned to the AT or set their sights on other long trails.
I’m right there with them! I can’t wait for my next adventure, the trail under my feet and my dog alongside. I am not sure which trail is next but I am considering the PCT. This trail will be MUCH more challenging with a dog so there is much I have to evaluate.
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