The Afterlife

“Do you miss it?”

I can’t count the number of times we’ve been asked this since we finished our thru hike on October 11, and the answer is always *YES!*

I miss so many things about the trail. I miss getting up in the morning and having nothing to do but walk. I miss the simplicity of the decisions I had to make. I miss the red squirrels. I miss seeing mushrooms and weirdly shaped trees and cool clouds and mossy waterfalls. I miss meeting new people every day. I miss the ritual of making and breaking camp. I miss crawling into my sleeping bag at night. I miss how well I slept every night! (Except for in the summer when it was hot as hell.) I miss the physical challenge. I miss the quiet. I miss the little surprises and simple joys of each day. Basically, I miss everything.

On the other hand, I don’t miss having to crawl out of a warm sleeping bag into a freezing cold morning. I don’t miss putting on wet, stinky clothes for the 5th day in a row. I don’t miss eating shitty oatmeal for breakfast every morning. I don’t miss the pain in my feet/knees/ankles. I don’t miss having to think carefully about where my food and water is going to come from. I don’t miss digging a cat hole in the morning or starting my day off with a visit to a stinky privy. I don’t miss hanging a bear bag. I don’t miss blistered toes. I don’t miss sleeping next to snoring strangers. I don’t miss the anxiety of dealing with THE WEATHER. I don’t miss racing the sun to get to camp.

Overall, the things I miss far outweigh the things I don’t miss. Even so, I don’t feel a drive to do another thru-hike. Pinky keeps saying he could do another one- which is surprising since this whole thing was my idea to begin with! Look who’s got the bug now!

The Appalachian Trail has long had a strong draw for me. Now that I’ve done it, I feel at peace with it. I could be convinced to do another thru hike, for sure, but I no longer feel the same almost physical sense of yearning that I used to feel. I’m extremely grateful that I feel this way, I was worried my life was going to be absolutely ruined by thru-hiking!

Truly, we still haven’t made it all the way back into the real world (but we are on the brink- I go back to work tomorrow.) Just like on trail, we are moving at the slowest possible pace to both meet our goal and have fun along the way. We procrastinated leaving Maine as much as possible, starting with spending 9 days getting from Shaw’s to Baxter (including an on-trail zero in the 100 mile!)

We got picked up from Baxter by our buddy Krazy Kop. We spent a night with him, then got him to take us to stay a few days with our friend Almost in the next town over. After that, my uncle picked us up and took us to his house for another few days. Five days after we left the trail, my aunt took us in to Portland so we could rent a car and begin the “return tour.” We spent another 4 days cruising around New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania in pursuit of craft beer. Then we crashed with some friends in Northern VA for 2 days before finally returning home. All in, it took us a week and a half to get home.

Since then, we’ve been bouncing around between parents and friends houses. Everyone has wanted to see us, our social calendar has been jam packed. We’ve also been trying to figure out major things, like employment and buying a car. Facing these major life decisions after 7 months of purely deciding “am I hiking today?” and “how far?” has definitely given us some mental whiplash.

As if all of this personal chaos wasn’t enough, its the freaking holidays!

Coming home from a thru hike and almost immediately launching into the holidays has been both a blessing and a curse. I missed our friends and family terribly by the time we were done. Running off to the woods to pursue your dream is super cool until you remember that everyone else was at home existing without you. We’re playing major catch up with our friends and family. Everyone knows about our big adventure, but we hardly know anything about theirs! It’s not like they were keeping blogs!

Post-thru-hike life is such an adjustment. Of the many weird things, one of the ones I am the most stuck on is how to explain it to other people and to myself. People who have never hiked hear about the trail and realize that I am going through something right now, but having never thru hiked they don’t know what it is. I know that I am going through something right now, but what it is changes day by day.

Most of the time it feels like the hike never happened. I think that’s my least favorite feeling. I mean, I know it did, I’ve got the photos and the memories and the persistent plantar fasciitis to prove it. But if I don’t actively tell myself that it did in fact happen, it’s easy to feel like it didn’t. I can tell that there are things about me that have changed, but I’m not always sure what they are. Sometimes I think that I didn’t change enough. And that’s disappointing because I put so much effort into this hike, I should have something more to show for it than a bunch of photos and memories and foot pain!

I felt incredibly fragile for the first few days after we finished. It almost felt the same as the first few days after someone close to me died. I felt raw and like I was walking around with this huge feeling that made it tough to interact with other people like a normal person. I’ve read some articles about “post trail depression” that describe it as more of a grief experience than true depression and this definitely resonates with me. We even went through an anticipatory grief process while on trail (basically starting at the beginning of Vermont and intensifying until the end.) Thinking of it as grief gives me some comfort because, unfortunately, I have a lot of experience with grief. I know how to sit with it and I know the worst of it doesn’t last forever. But I also know that I’ll always grieve for my thru-hike.

So, I guess what I miss the most is simply being in it. Life is so simple yet so full on trail. I think that sense of presence, being fully engaged with your body and your surroundings and the people you meet, is what is so captivating about the trail. The “real world” gives you glimpses of this but modern life just doesn’t deliver in the same magnitude. Certainly you can have those things in modern life, but it takes so much more work to accomplish than it does on trail. I’m trying to hold on to the lessons I learned and incorporate them into my daily life. It’s tough, but so was hiking from Georgia to Maine.

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Comments 2

  • Tony "Papaw Booch" Boccelli : Jan 9th

    Congrats Folks! I’ve been waiting to hear when you finished your journey. Best of Luck to both of you on readjusting and Happy Belated Holidays!

  • Smitty : Jan 17th

    That was great, the changes the hike causes interest me the most. What you thought it would do before you left, I’ll be in shape, I’ll have energy, I’ll be cleansed cured of my demons strong. Then how you see it now. Hard to put in words but you described it as well as could be expected. Thanks for sharing your adventure in your own unique way. Life is grand! Aaahhhhhyyeee!


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