How Thru-Hiking Ruined My Life

Earlier this month, after only four months of employment, I quit the first full-time job I’ve had since through-hiking the Appalachian Trail last year. I deliberately chose to derail my own life. AGAIN. (I did something similar in 2016 to go hike the AT.)

My situation might not have seemed all that bad. I was making good money, I liked my colleagues, and although it was a desk job, I got to move around more than I did at my previous job.

But you know what’s really hard to deal with after six months of independence, self-motivation and autonomy on the trail?

Having a boss. 

Through-hiking represents months, if not years, of self-directed goal setting. While planning for and then hiking a long distance trail, you are working towards a monumental goal that you and you alone have set for yourself. Sure, there are plenty of frustrations and even seemingly insurmountable challenges along the way. But when you are doggedly determined to achieve something—for instance, hiking all 2,187 miles of the Appalachian Trail—there isn’t much that can stop you.

After experiencing something that powerfully autonomous, it’s pretty difficult to swallow being told what to do and what you should think is important. Especially by someone whose judgment you don’t respect.

Thanks to through-hiking, you learn that you can survive anything—as long as you believe in what you’re doing. However, if you want to be the kind of person who can keep your head down, obey authority even when you don’t agree, and “survive” a situation you don’t believe in, through-hiking is NOT good training.

If you want to be the kind of person who can keep your head down, obey authority and “survive” a situation you don’t believe in, thru-hiking is NOT good training.

This is not to say that I am not interested in collaborating with others or working with an inspiring leader that I trust. I just have zero tolerance now for putting up with someone else’s bullshit unless their vision, goals and values align with my own.

So, it seems that through-hiking ruined my ability to be patient with bad leadership and suffer through a situation that’s not working—which makes me far less adaptable to the “real world” than I was before.

But what it DID do is show me that I am capable of directing my own life. Because of the confidence I gained from thru-hiking, I know that I don’t need to stay in a situation that is not aligned with my beliefs and needs. By letting go of what was comfortable and safe to throw myself into a challenge that I believed in, I learned to put aside fear and complacency in the name of growth. 

So, it seems that I took the wrong path (or maybe just a detour) after finishing the AT. Oh well. The right direction is soon to unveil itself. Here’s to having the newfound space to find my “white blazes” again!

*    *    *

How can you make space in your own life for opportunities that are more aligned with your values, interests and needs?

 


Here is a video I made towards the end of my thru-hike in which I contemplate what “white blazes” I will follow upon returning to the “real world.”

 

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Comments 32

  • Bob : Jun 27th

    “What do you think?”

    I think that you shouldn’t use a title like that when you clearly don’t believe it ruined your life. It makes the whole article feel real clickbaity and just makes me angrier and angrier the more I read it.

    Here’s a suggestion, focus on making good content rather then relying on a stupid title that clearly doesn’t prepare the reader for what they will find in the article…. you know… the ONLY job a title has.

    Clickbaity titles suck and I automatically can’t stand sites that use them. I know a lot of people who feel this way too.

    Reply
    • Pansy : Jun 27th

      Can’t agree more with Bob! WTH IS SHE TALKING ABOUT.GO AHEAD LIVE YOUR LIFE…Who cares

      Reply
      • Janel Healy : Jun 27th

        Hi, Pansy. Thanks for your feedback. My intention with this post was to inspire more people to through-hike or attempt other very difficult personal challenges because doing so ultimately teaches you to trust your gut; to “say no” when something isn’t right; and to take leaps of faith and trust that “the net will appear” when you do so. I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy it!

        Reply
    • Janel Healy : Jun 27th

      Thanks for your feedback. I will be more cautious about using titles that could be perceived as “click-baity” in the future!

      Reply
    • JY : Jun 27th

      The sarcastic title got me to click on the story.
      I understand people not liking the title.
      It is frustrating with so many deadend misleading links on ye ‘ole web that take a reader far from the subject mentioned.
      However your story popped right up in full and you quickly exposed the sarcasm.
      It will be interesting to see how authentic litetary license will be affected by the count a click culture of the stories and news online.

      Reply
      • Janel Healy : Jun 27th

        Thanks for your feedback! Yes, I purposefully chose the sarcastic title because through-hiking DID ruin my ability to survive in a world where obeying bad leaders (even when you don’t believe what they’re telling you) is a valuable skill! I hoped that most readers of The Trek would find this play on words amusing and would be aligned with my anti-authoritarian perspective.

        Reply
        • Nadine : Jun 28th

          You chose your title… You wrote your story… It’s yours… Freedom of speech? Freedom of expression? … Hmmm…freedom… From judgement. Hike on, write on, live on…you’ve inspired me. Thank you, peace.

          Reply
          • Janel Healy : Jun 28th

            Thank you, Nadine!

            Reply
          • Darrell Chapman : Jun 29th

            HYOH!! 🙂 Great job even with a click baity title. Wonderful to hear that you completed your thru-hike! What an accomplishment. Best of luck with going forward on the triple crown.

            DC

            Reply
        • Christopher Klemetson : Jun 28th

          I’m in Daleville,Va on my thru-hike. I enjoyed your article. I think the trail has reinforced my stance towards bs that I will or will not tolerate. AKA Inspector Gadget

          Reply
    • Elliot : Jun 30th

      I understand the hate for clickbait, but I totally understand the title and have thought this same thing many times since I returned from my they (nobo2015). I was 18 when I started my hike and planned to go to college to be a teacher afterwards. I did go to school, for two semesters and dropped out during the third because I hated the lack of freedom and feeling of being stuck. These feelings come straight from thruhiking. Hiking the AT effectively ruined my chances at any semblance of a normal life, but I have been living in a van for 18 months, and depart Sunday to mountain bike the length of the Rockies and plan to hike the PCT in 2018. So it may have ruined my life in one way, but it made it so much richer in another. I wholeheartedly agree with her use of the title for this article.

      Reply
      • Janel Healy : Sep 23rd

        Elliot, you sound rad! Thanks for your comment. I will see you on the PCT next year!

        Reply
      • Tommy : Nov 24th

        Hey there Elliot, hope you get this and respond. I read your comment and would like to get in touch with you or something to speak about life on the trail and living in a van. 7 months ago I went on my first vacation to hike for a while, and loved it. Came back home and found a new job that pays well, and I am in school. Being 20, on the verge of 21, really is making me change my mind, because even though we have time on this earth, time is but the essence and isn’t forever. Last month I went on another trip and this just put the final edge on me. I have been thinking about this forever. Every day goes by, I think about how I’m not in the right place… I don’t feel right where I am. Everyday for 7 months. I really don’t know what it is, but I would like to discuss on how you income is and any suggestions you might have. I don’t enjoy normal society anymore.. too much of the same thing everyday of working, sleeping, then rinse and wash over and over until I die. Doesn’t seem ideal because I would rather live to see and live to be free rather than under someone. Thanks for reading.

        Reply
  • House : Jun 27th

    Arrogance

    Reply
    • Janel Healy : Jun 27th

      Hi, House. I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy this post. My intention was to inspire people to attempt very difficult personal challenges such as thru-hiking, because doing so teaches you to trust your gut; to “say no” when something isn’t right; and to take leaps of faith and trust that “the net will appear” when you do. It seems that message didn’t properly get conveyed. My apologies.

      Reply
  • North : Jun 27th

    Bio says communication specialist… with the title used for this article it’s more like communication manipulator…my life is more fabulous than yours because I hike and commune with nature and I get people to read my article by saying it ruined my life instead of being like all the other hikers out there talking about there Adventures and insinuates I’m a better person then all the little people because I don’t do what you do and I have the financial means to not have job and be able to hike all the time…

    Reply
    • Janel Healy : Jun 27th

      Hi, North. I’m sorry that my post offended you. My intention was to inspire more people to through-hike or attempt other very difficult personal challenges because doing so teaches you to trust your gut; to “say no” when something isn’t right; and to take leaps of faith and trust that “the net will appear” when you do so. I apologize that my message wasn’t clear!

      Also, I actually don’t have the financial means to hike all the time–I am using a small savings from my 4 months of working to take the time to find a better career opportunity instead of sticking with a job that I wasn’t growing from. I was hoping others in similar situations would find my message inspiring and empowering.

      Reply
    • Betty : Jun 28th

      Wow, look at you! How you feel hurt by this article.

      Reply
  • Robert : Jun 27th

    I enjoyed it. I’m getting ready to start half the trail this week in PA. I like the play in the title. I enjoyed the insight from your perspective, from your life. Hope to read more…

    Reply
    • Janel Healy : Jun 27th

      Thanks, Robert! Enjoy your time on the trail! I’m both envious and excited for you that you get to be out there. I am hoping to do the PCT next year if I can save up enough money this year…but so far that is proving difficult! Haha.

      Good luck.

      Reply
  • Drew : Jun 27th

    Thank you for sharing your insight! Well written with a clever title that made me want to find out more. I hope you keep living life on your terms and continue finding new challenges. It’s easy to criticize, but it’s rarely easy to step outside one’s comfort zone. One of the greatest adventures of my life was traveling remote Ireland by bike. My adventure lasted only weeks, but it is a memory I will always cherish. I hope to have more great adventures. To life! To adventure! To individuality!

    Reply
    • Nadine : Jun 28th

      Yes! To life!!
      Where DO people get off being so critical and analytical… They need to chill out!

      Here’s to your next adventure… Small or large, short or long…it’s a short, fast life here…certainly wish people would celebrate others and themselves generously without judgement.

      It was a relief to read your comment 🙂

      Reply
    • Janel Healy : Jun 28th

      Thank you, Drew! Traveling Ireland by bike sounds incredible! I would love to do a long distance bike trip someday. Maybe I’ll ride the Divide instead of walking the CDT 🙂 I appreciate your comment. Take care!

      Reply
  • Carol Haley : Jun 28th

    Regardless of others’ comments and opinions, the exact thing happened to me. Except I only lasted 6 days in misery, whereas the old me would have hung in there with misplaced loyalty. By chance, did we meet? Plodding Bison, 2016 “attempt” (Trying again at departure point next month)

    Reply
    • Janel Healy : Jun 28th

      Hi Carol, my trail name was Ninja Hoops and I was a northbound flip-flopper, so I doubt we met. Good luck with your attempt of the AT this time, and congrats on knowing when to say “no” and get the hell out of situations that aren’t working for you! I think it’s a particularly important skill for women, because we are trained to be agreeable and smiley and just go along with things. Well, f*** that! Hehe…

      Reply
  • Todd : Jun 28th

    I saw the title and was intriqued. You make it seem that you have to exit life to share your experience. I have also been lucky enough to see the small cars from far away and wonder about their lives… I didn’t have to be on a hill to realive it though. But no did know i did not want to be one of those cars doing the same thing on a daily basis. So, I put a sale sign in my house, packed my car up and threw the dog in and moved 2400 miles away to start again.

    You don’t need camping to have an epiphany… just desire to be different.

    To me, it sounds like you went away to clear your head and now you’re ready to get back to the rat race maybe with a different perspective but the rat race none the less. (Follow your white trail. Aka path in life)

    I truly wish you the best.

    Reply
    • Janel Healy : Jun 28th

      Thank you for sharing and for your encouragement, Todd! Take care.

      Reply
  • Betty : Jun 28th

    Great article Janel! It’s so much easier to criticize and hurt people. I have no respect for these haters here. Thanks for sharing your story. You inspired me. In october I am hiking the camino Portugues for a month. A beautiful trail along the coast of Portugal.

    Reply
  • Tom : Jul 1st

    So maybe you could just go back and change the click bait title to something more appropriate? The point of your post was interesting and well written but I too clicked into the article thinking I would offer some encouragement only to find that none was needed.

    Reply
  • Ralph : Jul 2nd

    Hi Janet. Some people sure are sour and lack understanding of metaphor and ironic language. I think that the title may turn out to be fairly accurate. Having experienced near-complete freedom, independence and self-sufficiency, you may well find it impossible to fit yourself into anything resembling a steady job. You may have to work for yourself, simply because you are unable to do otherwise. Some years ago, I was called to a job interview that I did not really want, out of town. Found that the manager had not read my resume, was not interested in me and was rather rudely dismissive. Was relieved when not offered the job, as the money would have been too good to refuse. Decided that I wanted my own business – just me. Ran it for 27 years, with some breaks. Never made much money, but enjoyed the independence and had various adventures. This may be the sort of path for you. However, be warned that some frugality and control of expenses is necessary. Good luck with it.

    Reply
  • Pando : Jul 4th

    First, I don’t think the title was deceptive at all. I took it as a tongue-in-cheek comment about a very real event. Maybe it could have been titled, “The AT spoiled me for anything else…” but I got it. Maybe I’m just odd but I was able to decipher what the main theme of the article was going to be. Perhaps that’s because it’s something I often wonder about…that very thing. It’s something I often ask myself, “How the heck do you integrate back into the ‘real world’ after being so self-reliant?” After spending 6-ish months doing something you love how do you sit at a desk, at a job, and not daydream you’re anywhere else?

    I have a hard enough time respecting many previous employers as it is. I already find it virtually impossible to find a 9-5 job fulfilling (Yes, that’s my own issue and something I need to work on or around) But after thru-hiking the AT I can imagine it would be more difficult to endure the egos, self-dealing, materialism and incompetence that seems prevalent in corporate America. Although, on the other hand, I like to think maybe hiking the AT will make me more understanding and sympathetic of others’ positions. I won’t know until next year…if I’m lucky enough to finish.

    Either way, I appreciate this perspective. We hear so much about how much “better” people are after a thru-hike (and that’s true because it seems to improve a lot of personal traits), but it’s nice to hear that that quest does come with some pitfalls in reintegrating.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  • Luke : Aug 8th

    Wow! What a bunch of idiots. Obviously all the negative feedback comes from people who have not thru hiked. “Click bait” title? If you’ve ever thru hiked before, you TOTALLY understands what she’s talking about. Your piece is spot on. I can’t stop thinking about thru hiking since my first one in 2011. It consumes you. I’ve just discovered your vids on Youtube. You provide some of the most raw, insightful, and moving commentary about thru hiking and life in general. Keep on slaying them Ninja, and ignore the trolls.

    Reply

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