The End and A New Beginning
It’s been two weeks since I took my last steps on the trail.
I miss it everyday. I’ll admit, my biggest fear has yet to happen. I thought I would be rolling in post-trail depression the day I came off Katahdin, but I have been blessed with nothing but happy thoughts. Maybe it’s because I have been keeping myself busy that I’m just running away from the inevitable feelings that will eventually grab me. Even thought I’m grateful my head isn’t about to explode in grief from the absence of the trail, there are moments when I miss the trail and wish nothing more to get dirty.
Last night, I went to bed with muddy legs after mowing the lawn because I missed stuffing my mud-caked, dirty legs into my sleeping bag each night. I looked down at my legs, glanced at the shower only a few steps away, made the choice not to shower all the mud off and risk dirtying my nice, comfy bed. Even something so simple as mud brought the trail back to me for that one moment. It was then I realized I am not done being a thru-hiker. I will never be done being a thru-hiker.
I think my biggest fear is no longer post-trail depression, but adapting so quickly to societal life that I will soon forget all the memories and experiences that define the best era of my life.
I remember thinking after taking my last steps on the trail how looking back from Georgia to Maine almost seemed impossible. The whole experience appeared as a blur.
That scared me.
I just spent 6 months out in the woods where every day was a wild ride from sunrise to sunset – how can I only remember it as a flipbook? I realized I have to do something to keep these memories from slipping out of my mind. I have to keep writing about the memories and prevent them from getting lost in dusty file cabinets secured at the back of my brain.
I didn’t take many pictures on the trail, mostly because my camera kind of broke before Erwin, TN after I stupidly took it out in the rain. I never really regretted something so much (both breaking my camera and not taking pictures, it seems). Sure, my camera sucked, but I would rather have crappy pictures than none at all. I scroll through my AT pictures so often, jogging my memory of the moments that were once so alive. But I can’t help but ask myself – what about all those moments where I don’t have any pictures? Can I still remember them?
I’m scared of forgetting so much. I’m scared of losing what the trail taught me. I’m terrified of re-emerging into society and thinking that maybe I do need all this “stuff.” That maybe this AT hike was just a “phase” and that the “real” world will always be waiting.
I want to punch myself in the face anytime those scary thoughts pop into my head. But I’m afraid I might just end up with a big bruise.
I never want to forget the people that I met. There are so many times on the trail where I wish I could’ve turned back and told everyone how much I loved them and gave them a hug instead of just assuming I would see them again. Because for the most part, towards the end, I did never see them again. And while experiencing Maine on my own was a very unique and tough learning experience, I wish I had more closure with all the beautiful souls I met along the way. I wish I would’ve put more effort into the relationships I made along the trail, because in the end, what else truly matters? I can hike from Georgia to Maine, and that’s wonderful, all wonderful, really, but if I can’t share those memories with people, what did I truly learn about being out on the trail? To anybody I hiked with on the trail, I love you. And I hope to see you one day soon.
I miss being called Cider everyday. I even miss the wet shoes and socks and sitting on a rock and crying and all the trail magic and swatting at the stupid gnats and staying up past hiker midnight talking with friends and the gnarly climbs where I could barely breath and saying hi to everybody and feeling weird and awkward all the time but also feeling like I never felt more at home in the world. I want to remember all that I missed, even if it burns a hole in my heart. But I’m glad I don’t have to feel sad about it.
The truth is, I am happy and relieved to be done with the trail, because it means I accomplished my dream. I am excited to see where the next chapter of my life will take me because I don’t want to be living in the past.
But I know my backpack will be calling my name soon. My sleeping bag will appear in my dreams, begging to be used. My trekking poles will begin to prod my busy brain.
And they will ask me, “Cider, you want to go for a walk?”
And I will have no choice but to drop everything and gladly adventure to the road I have yet to travel.
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