Life After the Appalachian Trail is What You Make of It
I left the Appalachian Trail over two months ago. And I’m here to tell the 70% of you who will join me: it does not suck. On the contrary, life’s pretty awesome right now. Since I left, I’ve worked on my novel, travelled to new cities, and planned a trip ‘round the world starting soon.
Where Have I Been?
Almost immediately after getting home, my parents and I went up to Maine for the weekend (I made it!). After a day of island hopping and lobster celebrations, we went to the outlets because it was raining. Um, stimulus overload. Shopping and people and clothing that didn’t make any sense. It was a shock to the system after a month of the same clothes and environment. Then I got a message from a close friend: now that I was free, I’d be welcome at her wedding – in a week. So in a flurry of flights, friends, and hotels, I headed across the country to California for a beachside ceremony.
After her wedding, I went north, and saw more friends each night for several days. I went to Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, wandered the Ferry Building, breezed through Berkeley, walked through the Google campus, saw the Mission Dolores, went to a trivia night.
I spent most of a day on Alcatraz learning about its fascinating multi-layered history. For example, did you know that it’s the site of the longest occupation in US history? After the prison closed, Native Americans proved an effective point by taking over and claiming it, since it was the same kind of crappy land the Federal Government gave them for reservations. In total, they occupied Alcatraz for 19 months.
My romance with trains got a turn with a 12-hour ride along the coast before flying back across the country and catching another friend’s graduation. But like the Trail, I haven’t been in one place long.
I flew down to Nashville practically on a whim and housesat for a friend I’d never met in person. This trip had added excitement because I flew in three prop planes, which is an experience I recommend everyone have at least once. For two weeks, I collected fresh eggs from their chickens, never-ending strawberries and mint from their garden, and unnecessary amounts of Netflix. I spent time with a cousin I hadn’t seen in maybe 20 years, saw the Nashville Parthenon, and hung out at a honky tonk as a traveling tavern rolled by.
There was a tornado watch, which made for an exciting, terrifying, and sleepless night. Not being from a place that often has tornados, I heard no freight train sound but saw what looked like a spinny sort of cloud and ran for the inner bathroom, grabbing the dog and unwilling cat on the way. Nothing happened.
My friend and her family brought back a puppy, so we had puppy-time and child-time and tourist-time for about a week. I explored Nashville, and my highlight was a backstage tour of the Grand Ole Opry, though Country Music Hall of Fame was pretty cool, too. Then I was off again, this time for a nanosecond stop through DC to see a few people and experience the utter weirdness of surprising your coworkers in a brand new office while still on a leave of absence. I was able to meet with my cover artist for my book, which is all kinds of exciting. A friend and I wandered Old Town before splitting an entire (expensive) bottle of champagne. He pulled up to the station as I watched my train arrive, so all’s well that ends well. Two hours later, I was dragging my suitcase through Charlottesville, Virginia. It didn’t take me very long to realize I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so I cancelled everything and moved my flights up, getting home the day after Father’s Day. It’s only hard to explain if you’ve never felt that way before. Maybe it was my Trail part two: not where I needed to be. The idea of sitting on the front porch of my parents’ house watching the sun set over the mountains, or even a thunderstorm, was much more appealing than aimless wandering through a town I’d already wandered through.
Where Am I Going?
Has it been great? Yes. Will it get even greater? Yes! In less than two weeks, I leave for Hong Kong to visit my best friend. It was one of the first things I thought of when I left the Trail, and now we’re making it happen. After that, I’m off to Sri Lanka to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Next? Well, something. And after the something, I travel to Greece with my mom for a mother-daughter trip 10 years in the making. Thanks for the mindset, AT: If not now, when?
If the Trail taught me anything, it’s flexibility. Things won’t go according to plan, and that’s okay. What do you do with the lemons? I admit I don’t always make lemonade, but I’m able to more and more. For example, we were supposed to go to Thailand with Habitat. But then Thailand began martial law, a military coup, and a curfew (now lifted), so Habitat followed the State Department’s advice and opted to reroute all of us. Now we are headed for Sri Lanka*, and I have my flights and visa and everything. I was pretty excited about Thailand, as I’d spent all this time learning about it, but now that I’m learning about Sri Lanka, I know it’ll be great. I’m excited to interact with new people and give back to the world community. I mean, we’re going to build them a house. How cool is that?
*Sri Lanka got hot recently, too, but not quite as hot as Thailand
The AT flexibility lesson threw me another curveball, just to be sure I’d get it. I’d finally booked my trip with a small group adventure company through India and Nepal, after waiting for my new travel-ready credit card to arrive. So then I looked into this whole visa thing. I’ve been really lucky in my previous world travels – none required a visa I couldn’t just get at the port of entry, usually an airport. With two weeks to spare, I frantically ran around collecting documents and applications and photos to mail to the Indian Consulate in New York, only to realize a day later that it was far too risky to mail my passport and have it processed and returned in time. I’m still not clear on why certain countries require the original passport to issue a tourist visa, but they do, and so I can’t go to India. Not this year, anyway. It was a disappointing and stressful day. But I did finally take a breath and say, “I am going to Hong Kong to see my best friend, and I am volunteering in Sri Lanka, and later I am going to Greece.” So now I’m working on figuring out what comes after Sri Lanka, if anything. Do I take a trip through Cambodia? Do I visit every Hawaiian island and spend time with my brother? Both? Neither? No matter what, these six months have been and will be filled with incredible experiences. I met some of my favorite people on the AT, and I’ll meet more wherever I go next.
Missing the Trail: Check
My family and I do a lot of Trail Magic, and I miss the Trail. There’s no denying that. I went for a hike in the pouring rain and loved every minute of it. More recently my parents and I meandered along a few local trails, including the AT, and delivered a couple of beers and Snickers to the shelter nearest us. I felt like I was home when I was walking the AT. It felt right, and it was awesome to be back out there. I wrote in the logbook, donated my pen, signed it Ent. I saw that at least one hiker I met, LoJack, had already been through. Another I met at Hawk Mountain Shelter, now called Sea Biscuit (Biscuit for short), had stayed with my parents just days before I got home from my Nashville trip. Another night we had a thruhiker, Lighthouse, and I was so excited I could have talked with him forever. Hiker midnight came fast.
So that’s it. Life after the Trail doesn’t have to suck. It takes a little time to come to terms with leaving early, but then you have to get off your couch and make the most of your time here. You’re not going to get it back (the same goes for all you hikers still out there – keep rockin’ it!)
This post brought to you by a tall glass of chocolate milk.
PPS – certain thru hikers will really appreciate this sign my dad had made for me, which now hangs outside my bedroom.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.