From Tides to Trail : Finding A New Community After Leaving the Military

Mile 460. As I reflect, I left my job in Hawaii over a year and a half ago. It was a hard transition to hang up my Navy uniform and pursue school. It didn’t go well. While I had support, I found  more than anything that I was missing my brothers and sisters in arms. I missed the camaraderie and bond I shared with so many. I missed that community. 

Once I began the AT, I learned the trail had a community with flavor all its own. Those who understand the uphill struggle, how to balance daily miles with campsites, and the practicality of trail families while “hiking our own hike”. Connections are made which are much deeper than the friend request on Facebook or follow on Instagram.  The AT Thru-Hiker Community shares a lot with my time in service and the family I made while serving.

Here are some of my observations how the two are similar: 

TMI – Too Much Information 

As with the military, hikers can turn into some of the raunchiest people after only a few weeks away. Caution is thrown to the wind and oversharing becomes the normal. (Posting excessive photos on Instagram is nothing compared to listening to the stories around campfires at the end of a long day) Want to know the consistency of someone’s poop? It doesn’t matter, you’re going to hear about it! Heard about a pink blazer (hiker out for love)? So has the entire trail. 

What Feuds? 

 Military veterans will always extend a hand to another veteran especially with dealing in life’s tougher situations. Veterans have seen another side of the world and understand how hard it can be to go back to the “real world”. Hikers share a similar bond in helping over harming those who share this one-of-a-kind journey. While it’s not a deployment, you may endure some of the hardest challenges in your life to date so connecting with others can help alleviate the stress of a broken toenail or mental wall. Town brawls may happen, but oftentimes I’ve seen that support is given over criticism. Lose a dog? You’ll have an entire resource of knowledgeable trail patrons to help you find it. Soaked and tired after a long day? I’ve seen twenty hikers squeeze into a ten person shelter instead of turning new arrivals away. Hostels that were full for the night wouldn’t let me off the phone until I had contacts and numbers to other possible lodging. That’s what makes a family. 

Semper Gumby – Always Flexible
Ever been given an order than seemed impossible? Semper Gumby! Named after the clay character as a parody of the official mottos of “Semper Fi” (Marines) and “Semper Paratus” (Coast Guard), the military knows it has to be flexible and hikers know this feeling all too well. Can’t make the miles? Camp where you end up. Bear snags your food? Better go into town. Too windy in the Smokies? Go around! Seldom is there a point where someone is ever left stranded when life or the trail throws a curveball. I’ve even seen a full ration redistribution in a shelter after a hiker said they didn’t have food due to unforeseen circumstances. Things work out and the community is always flexible. 

Knowing How To Have a Good Time

After a long, hard day, there is something about unwinding around a campfire that really helps remind you of why you chose to be out in the woods for so long. In the military, I’d always find my buds ready to shake off the day’s woes with good food and drink. Out here? Partying, singing and being light-hearted means that whoever you are, you are welcome. Want to talk about your day? Go right ahead. We all understand your struggle! Someone will be there to listen. Then, you continue with your night and enjoy being a part of this incredible world. 
I love my Trail families and how much they support me in all the similar ways my veteran family always will. I hope you have had or will have the same opportunities. 

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