What is Normal?
It took Durpadur and I 2 hitches to get down I-95 to Portland. I thought it would take longer than that, so I gave us 2 days to do it. That just meant that we had a free day to explore Portland. With having a waterfront and being the home of 14 breweries, we did just that.
My flight was leaving the Portland airport at 8 a.m. I’m not used to schedules anymore, so I was paranoid I was going to miss it. This caused us to decide to just sleep at the airport. We took the city bus from downtown to the airport thinking it would be a long ride and we could collect our thoughts before returning to reality, but we were there in 5 minutes.
It was still a little early, so we decided to grab a few drinks at the airport bar, only it was already closed. Looking around the airport made me sick to my stomach. The smell, people running in a hurry, and the loud speaker all overwelmed me. I had my first of many breakdowns and we decided to just sleep outside. I’m not sure how much I actually slept that night, but woke up to my alarm for the first time in what felt like months. I bought a Whoopie Pie for breakfast, but couldn’t even eat it due to my lack of appetite. We sat outside of the airport for a while. We exchanged bandanas that had gotten us through our entire hike, in lieu of friendship bracelets. We said our goodbyes and I made my way towards the departure area as he made his way towards the Greyhound station.
I cried like a baby while going through security. The full body scanner went off right over my heart and an officer had to pat down my chest. She jokingly asked me if I was just heart broken. I did not think that was funny. I couldn’t stop crying. Some random stranger came up and gave me a hug while I was in line to board my plane and told me everything would be okay. Would it? Other than being separated from my family, I was so happy on the trail. No schedules, no allergies, no city noice… I really was heartbroken over the trail. I boarded my plane. I put my ear buds in and turned on my “tent playlist”, which relaxed me many nights on the trail. It took me 4 and a half months to walk from Georgia to Maine, but it only took me 4 hours to get back home to the south…
Some people have to give up a car, a home, or a job to attempt a thru-hike, but I was fortunate enough to have these things waiting for me upon my return. My house looked different, but it was the same. You know how everyone’s home has a distinct smell to it? I actually smelled what other people smell when they enter my house for the first time.
I took a long shower. I tried to shave my legs, but only about 60% of the hair came off. I gave up. I took a blow dryer to my hair. I didn’t even use blow dryers in places that supplied them along the trail. I took a hair straightener to my hair. I dressed myself and put on panties for the first time since Waynesboro, VA, when I decided to refuse to wear underwear for the rest of my life. I not only put on a cotton shirt, but my favorite blue jeans…. BLUE JEANS! They felt heavy. They were too big in the waste. I put on a belt and buckled it on the smallest notch, which caused my jeans to bunch up. It felt weird to fill up a purse instead of a dry sack or a cheap NYC bag I got on clearance. I didn’t care… I was hungry.
I ate dinner at my place of employment. I touched base and let everyone know that I was indeed back. I had my favorite appetizer, my favorite pizza, my favorite dessert, and my favorite beer. I threw everyone off when I ordered a shot of whiskey instead of the only liquor I would touch for years, Rumplemintz (I now know the error in my ways, don’t hate). I made plans to start working in the real world again….
I fell asleep that night, but I didn’t stay asleep. I woke up pacing. It was too quiet. My bed was too big. I didn’t try to go back to sleep for long, so I made coffee and stayed up to write.
The next day, I went to clean my bathroom and just started crying for no reason. The smell of bleach and lysol, which I have always loved, made me nauseous. I ripped my closet apart. Why did I have so much clutter? Did I even wear 75% of these clothes on a regular basis? I went through my drawers and made a huge dent. I filled 2 lawn sized trash bags full of clothes to donate. I ripped apart my bathroom closet. Why did I have so many partial bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Why did I have untouched bottles of body sprays and perfumes? I’ve never wore those. Why did I have so many types of razors that I tested out and kept, even though they apparently didn’t work?
I realized that there were too many shortcuts in life. Over the past centuries, or even decades, life had become too easy for us. Do we appreciate it? Yes… but… at the same time, do we take it for granted? Absolutely! For most of us, we don’t have to find new property and make a home each night. We have a bed waiting on us after a long day, not one you have to blow up and unpack. We don’t have to unpack our home, only to pack it right back up 10 hours later. We don’t have to sleep in our own filth every night. We don’t have to wait to filter or treat water so it’s safe to drink. We don’t have to find the perfect hiding spot to poop. When we crave a certain food, we can usually get it right away. We don’t have to worry about how long it will take us to get from here to there. We just hop in a car and go. My heart has always had a special spot for those who go through these things on a daily basis, but now I understand it even more. You really don’t need much to survive, but you think you do.
My car battery was dead and my tires were low when I finally retrieved my car. My car…. the car that has taken me to so many mountains and beautiful places. After a long hike, she was always sitting at a trailhead waiting for me. After a long recharge and air in the tires, I drove her through some Tennessee mountains and listened to music. I cried, but I felt…. comfortable.
What is normal anymore? I once knew what it was… or what my version was. Post trail depression and anxiety is real. It hits fast and it hits hard. Once upon of time, I was cocky. Before I started my thru, I knew the chances of getting injured in the early days was possible, but I was “experienced” and that would never happen to me…. yeah, burning knee pain on day 3. I knew people get sick on the trail, but I would always filter my water… yeah, it was my own stupidity for not nurturing my anemia that got me down. I knew that people who started the trail together would either quit the trail together or not finish together, but that would never happen to my best friend and I. I knew previous thru-hikers had a hard time adjusting to “normal” life upon their return, but I had my shit together and know no sadness or displacement. Yeah, right… I was wrong… so wrong…
I’ve been in the real world, the “civilized” world, for 12 days. It’s still not normal. Will it ever be? I’ve gotten 2 nights of good sleep. I’m on a schedule now, which drives me crazy. I have always been so schedule oriented. I had to be here on time and there on time, but now… Now, it doesn’t make sense to me. You mean to tell me that if I want Taco Bell or pizza, I only have to get in my car and drive 2 miles down the road? You mean to tell me I have clean clothes to wear every day? I can really fill up an entire grocery cart with food and not worry about having to carry it on my back? There’s no rationing water? I can poop in my own toilet and not worry about stepping in a popular poop spot behind a tree? I can make a call any time I want and not have to wait for reception? You mean, I’m earning money again?
It’s weird… it’s weird and I don’t like it. The Appalachian Trail is the most beautiful mistake I ever made. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad mistake. It’s a great mistake. We get too caught up. The shortcuts, simplicity, and schedules are something we never realize are happening. I didn’t realize how easy I had it… everything! The Appalachian Trail isn’t just a hike, it’s an eye-opener. You’re left with depression and anxiety, but I believe this is so you can better your life. It’s so you don’t forget that you lived out of a back pack for months. It’s so you don’t forget that you didn’t have to wake up to alarm clocks. It’s so you realize that you have to work for the basic necessities in life. Sure, we work for the food we crave, the neighborhood we want to live in, the bells and whistles on a car, and the lifestyle we want… but all of that is not necessary. I cry. I cry because things are too complicated now. I don’t like having 30+ restaurants to choose from. I don’t like having to worry about whether or not my clothes match. I frankly don’t care about the news. I’ve blabbered for paragraphs just explaining the last 12 days. I never knew I would feel this way, but I have a feeling it will lead to better things. I let the trail go, and if it loves me, it will come back to me.
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