Between Two Worlds: A Week off the AT
Sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting to board a flight bound for Portland, ME, a wave of calm covers my usual preflight jitters. I’ve been off the trail for five days and in another two I’ll be scrambling up Katahdin. Even though I’m jazzed to be spending the next couple days with an old friend lazily strolling beaches and gorging at a traditional lobster bake, I can’t wait to get to Baxter to start my flip-flop.
This week has been hard, and not the kind of hard I’ve become accustomed to on the trail. This week my body has been fighting me, utterly confused by the abrupt change of lifestyle. I stayed up too late and slept in way past 6 a.m. I ate the fresh foods I’ve craved that are not easily found on the trail, yet somehow I found myself missing my morning oatmeal mush. My feet swelled from lack of movement and my back ached from too soft beds. I shared stories and laughed hard with friends I’ve longed to connect with, but many moments felt just a little empty, lost in translation.
Our stories didn’t seem to align or stack up anymore. As time unfolded with my loved ones I knew the emptiness wasn’t for lack of love or joy, but rather the reflection of a disconnect between two very different worlds. I’ve been in this limbo-like place before and the going away and coming back from an adventure doesn’t ever get any easier. Culture shock? Sure, but this time was different, with assimilation and adjustment not being part of the goal.
In fact, the more comfortable I got negotiating interstate traffic, the more unease I felt in my chest. Was my weeklong sabbatical from the trail undoing everything I had worked to become accustomed to over the last few months? I worried about losing my trail legs and my insatiable taste for dried fruit and jerky. I haven’t slept well since being home. My ears find the drone from the AC taxing and my skin doesn’t appreciate the fake breeze no matter how thick the air feels.
In some ways I felt like a stranger in my own home, awkwardly walking from room to room, marveling at how the bookshelf looked so undisturbed in my absence. Once among friends I answered questions that reinforced just how removed trail life is from the traffic jams, Sunday brunch, and 9-5 jobs.
With two days left of my trail vacation my chest finally relaxed this morning when I slung my pack over my shoulders and walked into the airport. The familiarity of its weight and stink was soothing in a weird way that told me I hadn’t lost my trail legs or hankering for jerky or inner drive to walk another 1,166 miles. So Katahdin can wait another two days because I’ve got beach walks and lobster to enjoy with one of my oldest friends first.
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