Back to Reality and the Struggles are Real
It’s been three weeks since I summited Katahdin. These 21 days have been a whirlwind of emotions and I think I’ve been pretty numb to a majority of it. The amount of fun, stress and exhaustion that comes with hiking 2,185.3 miles from Georgia to Maine is an adventure no one can relate to unless they are a fellow thru hiker.
It feels like one morning I’m going to wake up in my bed and it will all have been a dream. I’ve gone through all my pictures to relive some memories, but I can’t help but feel like the trail is slipping away from me. Living in the woods—dealing with terrain, weather and other natural elements—is vastly different from living inside. I no longer have to worry about being soaked all day with pruney feet, hoping my gear is dry and my feet don’t blister too badly. I no longer have to wait days just to get more than 20 miles away. I turn on a faucet every time I want a sip of water or to take a shower. All of these things are bittersweet–they made me miserable at times but the lack of them leaves me feeling surprising unfulfilled.
To make matters more difficult, I found a relationship on the trail. For the past six months, he was never more than a few miles in front of me. We ate together, slept next to each other, dealt with hardships together, and enjoyed wonderful trail moments and trail towns together. Now he’s six hours north of me and I’m facing the real world alone. I didn’t realize how reliant I became on his presence until my trip home.
I took a train from Hudson, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., which involved a layover in New York City. As I exited the train at Penn Station, I was instantly overwhelmed. Due exhaustion, I lost all coping skill on the trail and cry over absolutely everything, so I immediately began to tear up. Then I made myself get a grip, knowing I had to find my train and deal with it. I found the main area in the station, grabbed breakfast and went to wait at the departures board. I put my pack on the ground and sat on it–just like I used to do to eat tuna for lunch–and waited, sticking out like a sore thumb among all the business people. It took everything I had not to burst into tears feeling so alone, so out of my element and so overwhelmed.
I know it will get easier, but that almost scares me more. I like the way of life on the trail—it makes sense. You wake up, eat a quick breakfast and then start walking, always moving toward a goal. You take breaks for food or water or a great view, and after eight to 10 hours you stop to set up camp for the night. After your tent is set up, water is filtered and all chores are taken care of, you make dinner and then go to sleep. My brain has never been so quiet and peaceful as it was then, with six months to do nothing but think. Now that I’m back to the real world, I’ve already watched more television than I planned and am way too reliant on the constant access to internet and a phone charger. I can feel my brain filling up with things that don’t matter.
A goal I never dreamed I would accomplish is now complete, and I no longer have Katahdin to walk toward. I’m sure I’ll have another goal soon enough, but—as miserable as I was at many times on the trail—I’m just not quite ready to part with the AT.
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