The Post-Thru-Hike Blues
It’s been almost a week since I climbed those last fateful steps up to the summit of Katahdin, and ended the single most earth shattering experience of my life so far. One zero day turned into two, and then I came home and I could no longer keep up the illusion that I was going back to the trail.
I’d heard the term “post-thru-hike depression” before (in fact I know Zach talks about it in his book), and joked about how I’d probably gorge the ten pounds I’ve lost back within a day of normal life. Well, I’m sad to report that the blues are very real. Normal life has hit me like a stack of bricks: going to work, finding an apartment, sorting mail, going to the store. I went from scaling mountains to calling scammers on Craigslist and fertilizing my parents’ lawn.
My first night home I cried hysterically, but I couldn’t say why. I wanted to say I missed my home, though that seemed wrong somehow. I missed my friends, and the certainty of a narrow strip of dirt curling away into the distance. Being away from that life was breaking my heart. (A more scientific answer could have been that I’d been through a lot and was experiencing an endorphin crash now that I wasn’t hiking every day, but it’s more than that).
As it turns out, nothing changes when you’re gone. You change. Coming back, everything is so loud, and fast, and unnecessarily stressful. Cars cruise by you on the highway at top speed while doing 55 seems preposterously fast; being in the open space gives you vertigo; all the stuff you own now seems excessive and suffocating. All the things that used to be important float far away in the distance. They don’t seem real now, just like thru-hiking didn’t seem real on the other side. You start to question why people live like this, and why you’re coming back to it.
Did I not learn anything on the trail? Was it really just a four month vacation, instead of the visceral experience I think I had? What did I learn from it that could even relate to this other life?
I went on a very short sunset hike last night with the meetup group I’ve been spending time with. I thought getting back out there a little bit would help me get my head back on straight. Those who knew me were excited, but I couldn’t bring myself to be happy. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything. 2,200 miles and I ended right where I began, and I can’t even coherently describe the experience of the trail. I just seem like a space cadet, because I’m no longer present. My mind is still firmly in the woods.
When I was hiking I remember talking to a hiker who had multiple thru-hikes under his belt. He said that the first time you come back is really hard.
Well, it is really hard, I can attest to that. I’m sure with time It’ll get better. The real question is, do I want it to? I know more thru-hikes are in my future. I’d love to hear from other former thru-hikers about your post-trail experience.
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.