Life after the AT- a humble end to a long journey

It has now been a month since I finished my journey on the a AT and it is only now that I’m starting to feel more like “Shauna” than “Mola.” This past month has been an awkward transition back to “normal” life. I still felt the call of the mountains and solitude, but instead of hiking in the wilderness my life was bombarded with lots of company and busy cities. I missed my friends and family and yet part of me needed to flee from the constant attention. After five months in the woods, I think I became a bit of an introvert that craves introspection, reflection, and meditation rather than being swept up in life’s distractions.

As promised, my first few weeks off trail consisted of rest and Netflix. It was painful just to walk around the house for the first two weeks back. I started a slow recovery with stretching and self feet massages, but my body ached to have 30 pounds strapped to my back and my hiking shoes on my feet. My body completely forgot how to function outside the typical backpack routine.

However, one month later and I am now able to run and hike and am looking forward to backpacking again in the beautiful fall foliage with some friends I made on the AT. I thought I would be done with hiking for a looooong time after finishing the AT, but now realize it has now become an innate part of my daily life and that the mountains will forever be calling for my return. I now cling to my pictures from the AT and try to remember all the excitement and uncertainty of trail life. I can honestly say that I miss it and all the people I met along the way and look forward to cherishing my friendships made on the trail for years to come.

I wrote one last journal entry while in the car home from Mount Katahdin that I wanted to share. I am not sure why it took so long for me to post it, other than I felt withdrawn and needed to integrate “Mola” with “Shauna” before sharing my reflections with others. I now feel decompressed and would welcome the opportunity to share my experience with others. I would encourage everyone to make their own adventure into the wild, no matter if it is only for a day to an entire thru hike. There is nothing quite like nature to renew the mind and the soul. 🙂

Written on August 28th, 2016, two days after summiting Katahdin:

Sitting in the car on my way home, it is still surreal to believe that my journey on the AT is now complete. My body is still adjusting to normal walking. My feet are swollen from abuse and my body is a little hunched over waiting to offset the weight of a 30 lb pack. My appetite is still in full swing and I am amazed, and yet a little worried, that I can crush a bag of chips followed by a family sized bag of Swedish fish. It feels like a normal “zero” day spent in town recuperating and not the end. To be fair, I think it will hit more in a week once I find myself home and have over binged on Netflix.

The end of the trail was not as emotional as I thought it would be. Katahdin was yet another mountain to climb, although I would admit that it was the most difficult one to date. I was thrilled to only have one mountain to climb my last day so that I could take my time climbing the boulders and pulling myself up on the iron bars sticking out from rocks above. It was scary and at times I didn’t think I would make it. I was thankful to have Myles with me by my side. He was always so patient as I surveyed the situation and tested multiple footings before I found a way that worked for me. Sometimes I would tell him to go ahead of me so that I could see which way he would take- sometimes I swore that it was impossible. Yet step by step, we conquered Katahdin.

Rock climbing up Katahdin

Rock climbing up Katahdin

Nearing the top, but still hard to gauge how far it is

Nearing the top, but still hard to gauge how far it is

It was a bit rainy the morning we climbed and it was almost a mystical experience as we made our way up the mountain. We didn’t know what to expect as we climbed and we couldn’t see more than 15 feet in front of us, so we never knew what was ahead. Soon enough, we could hear voices and then the Katahdin sign that we have seen so many times in pictures finally materialized. The white blazes were at an end and so was our journey. We thought we would cry. We thought we would be overcome with joy. But in reality, we were just tired and hungry. After a few photographs, we sat down in a rock outcrop that protected us from the impeding wind and ate while we waited for better weather to break through the foggy air. It felt like just another day on the AT rather than the end to an incredible journey.

Seeing the final terminal on the AT

Seeing the final terminal on the AT

To be fair, we had been preparing ourselves for this day. The 100 mile wilderness passed by in complete bliss. It was a beautiful section with many waterfalls, ponds, and mountains that we thoroughly enjoyed. I was nervous to not have any exits to town for this section, but really it was a blessing not to be tempted away from the beauty of nature. We were able to relax and take it all in and have one final reminder of what brought us out to the AT in the first place. I was so thankful to have Myles there to enjoy it with me- I felt like I was on vacation with my best friend and it was nice to have him to talk about our experiences on the trail and ideas for what is ahead. The trail has taught me many things and it will be interesting to see changes in my daily life when I am back home. This experience really has been about the journey and not the destination. I came out to the AT since it scared me, even up to the last day on trail, and I knew it would make me a stronger person. From this experience, I have learned how to overcome my fears and be more independent. I have experienced the importance of community, daily exercise, and spending time in nature. But most of all, I found out how to become a true mountain lady. 🙂 I can honestly say that I can’t pick one highlight from the trail, not even seeing the last white blaze on Katahdin, since this whole experience truly was about the journey rather than the end.

I am truly amazed by all the love and support I have received while on he trail. I am thankful for the trail angels and hostels along the way that have made me feel at home when I needed it most. I have always been scared of hitching, but am so thankful for those that gave us rides along the way to towns along the trail. I am thankful for “before” trail friends (Archie, Mike, Joe, Jill, Josh) that have visited me on the trail and provided a reprieve from the daily monotony of trail life. I am also thankful for the support and visits from my family. It was fun to share trail life with you all and my excitement in sharing it with you all reminded myself what I loved about the trail. I am also thankful for my fellow thruhikers who helped me on a day to day basis. From providing food when I foolishly ran out of supplies to a hearty laugh when times got rough, I will remember you all with fondness. Especially for my trail families along the way- I definitely wouldn’t have made it as far as I did without your companionship along the way.

Most importantly, I want to give a big thanks to momma bear for keeping me alive with food drops along the way. Being on a special diet, I would have died without having food mailed to me. I know it was a big task and I will be forever trying to show you how much I appreciated it! Lastly, I thank God for giving me the strength, courage, and health to make it to the end. It was a journey I will keep with me for the rest of my life.

My support team my final night on trail, including Momma Bear, Myles, and my grandparents

My support team my final night on trail, including Momma Bear, Myles, and my grandparents

So the big question now is what next? I will be relaxing at home for a bit to rest these worn bones and to see my family who I have missed so dearly. After that, who knows. Maybe a little more adventuring, but I have a feeling I will be returning to Columbus, OH in the very near future.

Much love and congrats to all my other thru hikers! I am proud of each and every one of you for even attempting such a feat.

Yours always,

Mola

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Comments 6

  • Avatar
    Claudia and Andrew Carberry : Sep 30th

    Well Said, Mola! We had a similar summit experience, where we thought it would be emotional, but wasn’t. I cried when we got to Millinocket and realized it wasn’t a zero/nero day.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Shauna Sergent : Oct 5th

      The ending was definitely a surprise and I am glad to hear that others had a similar experience! It just didn’t feel like the end until I was actually home and away from it all. I hope post AT life is treating you well!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Deadwood : Sep 30th

    Hey Mola! It’s Deadwood! Thanks for sharing your feelings regarding your summit. My feet have been killing me since the end of the hike just like yours did, and I also didn’t feel much at the summit. Until later, that is.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for sharing. I’m really starting to miss the good company of my fellow thru-hikers! Take care!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Shauna Sergent : Oct 5th

      Hey Deadwood! So good to hear from you. I definitely miss seeing everyone and it still warms my heart to hear from people from the AT! Hope you are settling back into “normal” life and able to go on some fall hikes. 🙂 Happy Trails!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Darrell Krause : Oct 5th

    Hey Mola. I’ve been struggling to get back into the real world. The hike was such a great adventure with so many highs and lows it’s hard to know what’s next. Katahdin for me was really amazing and the last half mile or so had me almost running and teared up with emotions. The people I met along the way and generosity is what I will remember the most I think. The numbness in my feet and toes is still here and I wonder for how long. I’m still considering the Ozark Highlands Trail this fall for a shorter revisit to the woods and hiker lifestyle. Good luck to you. See you down the trail.?
    “Other Brother”

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Shauna Sergent : Oct 5th

      Other Brother! So happy to hear that you summited! Sounds like you had an amazing experience. I looked up the Ozark Highlands and it looks beautiful… definitely a good place for a post AT hike! Hope you are getting lots of rest for your poor feet. Hope to see you again some time in the future 😉

      Reply

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