A Letter to the Post-Trail Thru-Hiker
We were heroes. We were the people that your local newspaper writes articles about and people make documentaries and write books about. We stood on the top of mountains liked we own them because for those six months we did. We owned the earth beneath our feet. Those narrow dirt, rock, and root trails were our hallways. The forest was our home. The dirt on our skin was our battle armor.
Then you came home, a trail legend. A hero in your mind only to find that nobody really cares, not really. They kept living their lives while you hit the pause button to live an amazing adventure. Now you just try to become you again. A non-hero, non-legend, non-owner of mountains. You’ve come home a changed person at least a little; deep in your core you’ve changed. Even if just a smidge. But nobody else has. They all continued to spin around on the earth that you left for six months. You put yourself inside four walls for living and work, inside four walls over wheels to get to your destination.
Soon, you’re quickly reminded of why it is that you wanted to hike in the first place. Why it is that you wanted to escape the unrelenting infrastructure of our society. Because the world, and so many people in it, are not kind. The world we live in is unforgiving, unrelenting, almost like the trail was, but this is different. You’re just supposed to pick up where you left off and be you again. You’re trying, but can’t because you’re a thru-hiker now. You’re different. Thru-hiking is in your bones, coursing through your veins, behind your eyes and in your heart now. It’s part of you. It is you.
At first you try to bring a little bit of that trail wisdom and kindness and vulnerability to the world but it’s lost on everybody because they didn’t go through what you went through. They didn’t live the life of nomadic backpacker that you did. They didn’t cry on a mountaintop as they looked out from Katahdin. They didn’t cry after three days of freezing rain and falling down a dozen times. They didn’t laugh in the sunshine with friends that became your family. They didn’t battle blisters, knee pain, excruciating heat, and everything else the trail throws at you. They didn’t look back and laugh at the type two fun, which is only funny after the fact. They didn’t do those things. You did those things, you and those two legs and that one heart. You tackled those thousands of miles on your own with nothing but your sheer will.
I know you’re home and you’re trying to reintegrate and it’s hard because you really just don’t fit into the puzzle anymore. It’s called post-trail blues, but it’s more of a black because there really doesn’t seem to be any color here at all. But you’re tough. You’re a thru-hiker. You’ll get through it just like you did those thousands of miles through wind and rain, and darkness and pain. On your own two feet with your one heart. And nothing but sheer will.
Your Fellow Thru-Hiker
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