Thru-Hike Follow-Up: Rhythm and Blues

Pssst – I’m currently 1/3 of the way through re-living my hike by posting 60 of my favorite never-before-seen thru-hike photos chronologically over on my Insta: @nicholeyoung1.

Hello, everyone. It’s been a few months since you heard from me. I am home now, back in Morristown, NJ, back to work, back to a life of comfort in my house with my husband in my hometown. It’s good to be home. I missed this community and so many of these people.

Re-acclimating has been mostly easy. Let’s be honest, 5 months of living partially in the woods does not undo 30 years of living in normal society. Some things that were really easy to get used to: seeing my husband every day, fresh vegetables, clean sheets on a soft bed, a variety of clothing to choose from, delicious coffee in the morning.

in Damascus, VA

There were, however, some things that have challenged me and with which I continue to struggle. At first, I had trouble with crowded places with lots of noise. Between that and the overwhelming number of options, my first few visits to the grocery store were pretty stressful. I am trying to find the same peace and silence that I lived with in the woods, and have tried to internalize it and not rely so much on my environment for peace.
I also miss interacting every single day with passionate and interesting and driven people. The community on the trail is small but intense. We bond quickly over our mutual goals and hardships. There’s an instant connection and understanding. Constant group texts and inside jokes on Facebook have helped, and mostly I am just grateful to have met them and to continue to have them in my life. I am also making more of an effort to find people back in the real world who truly inspire me and who lift me up, and cutting out those who don’t.

Yes, these hiker trash goofballs.

The biggest issue and the one most hikers report experiencing is the “post-trail blues”, a very real effect of achieving a huge goal and suddenly not having something to work toward. This is not a hiking-only phenomenon. People often experience a low after an extreme high. Their sense of accomplishment makes everything shiny and happy for a few days, and then they come down and start to wonder…now what? Luckily, for most people, it’s not long before they find a new goal, a new challenge, a new adventure.
I have experienced this post-trail dip. It’s tough coming right back to where I left off, feeling sometimes like nothing has changed… except that now I am an AT thru-hiker. That in itself is a pretty epic lift, when I remind myself of what I accomplished. I am also working on new plans and goals. My knees are still recovering, but I have slowly started running for the first time in years, with the long-term goals of marathoning and eventually ultra-marathoning. I also completed a program at Duke University’s Integrative Medical Center to be an Integrative Health Coach. I’ve joined up with an existing wellness practice, and it’s giving me an excellent sense of purpose to help others realize their healthiest and happiest potential.

What’s your journey? How far have you come?

In short, I am mourning the fact that my trail experience is over but I am so, so grateful for what it gave me and who it allowed me to become. I think about it constantly and remember both the highs and the lows, the amazing and awe-inspiring times alongside the quieter moments that I didn’t know would stick with me until they did.
The big question you may be wondering is, “Was it worth it?” I missed births and showers (baby and bridal) and parties, I missed spending time with local friends, I missed 5 months with my new husband, I lost out on thousands of dollars of income (plus spent several thousand I had saved), and I delayed the rest of my life for half a year. In short: it was absolutely the best decision I could have made. I have zero regrets and can’t think of a single thing I would change.

Supportive Husband is so Supportive!

I could go on for days about how I am changed and what I have learned and how I have grown. Despite my minor panic attack in ShopRite, I have an inner peace and calm that comes from hiking exposed at 4500 feet in a thunder and lightening storm with 70-mile-an-hour wind gusts: nothing else can phase me. I have a deep patience that was grown while traveling 2 miles an hour on foot for an entire summer. I have a huge appreciation for how easy my life is by living in the woods through snow, sleet, humidity, drought, bugs, hunger, filth, and exhaustion. I have faith that I can do absolutely anything after flying to Atlanta, carrying a 20-pound pack up and down mountains all the way home, and then continuing on another 900 miles North.

 I never seriously considered quitting as an option, but I examined it in my mind as a possibility and honestly evaluated what continuing or quitting would feel like.  I wasn’t always cheerful – often I was uncomfortable, grumpy, unhappy, and in pain, but when I look back now and look back in 10 years, I will know that I got it done regardless. Every day I woke up and could have come home, but I chose to continue doing the harder thing. I have no doubt now that moving forward, whatever I want to do, the only difference between success and failure will be simply deciding I want to do it. And finally, the most important thing of all: now I will never wonder if I could have. I will know that I did.

Thru-hike: check.

I am now trying every day to re-direct the intense preparation, focus, and effort that I used to successfully thru-hike. There are hundreds of other things I want to accomplish, adventures that will push me physically and mentally out of my comfort zone. Wish me luck. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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