The Hardest Part Is Coming Home
In the cold early Maine morning Luna and I climbed into the car surrounded by the mountains that had been our home for nearly six months. It didn’t seem much different from the months of hitchhiking, popping in and out of towns and visiting places we’d never been and most likely will never be again. Just another ride to who knows where. I phased in and out of consciousness over the course of the twelve hour drive home. All of the sudden the mountains were gone. There was nothing but cornfields and the tree line off in the distance. What in the fuck just happened?
Coming home was surreal. I literally had no idea what to do. I spent the four years prior to completing my thru-hike at The University of Toledo studying cultural anthropology. In my courses the term “culture shock” popped up again and again, but until I came home from the Appalachian Trail I never really grasped the concept. Defined, culture shock is; a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation. This definition hits the nail on the head. Upon returning home I simply could not relate to the world around me.
I always assumed that culture shock would hit while being immersed in a new world and not knowing how to take in all the new information. In fact the contrary seems to be true. It’s coming back to where you came from after a new experience when culture shock comes into play. While diving into the new environment of the trail everything was thrilling and novel. Every day seemed to bring on new challenges, new faces and new vistas. Coming home brought the same bed, the same house and the same worries that surrounded me pre-trail. The shock hit and it hit hard.
Post Trail Depression.
Post trail depression is no joke. I often tell people that the hardest part of the A.T. was coming home, and I mean it. No matter how difficult the hiking seemed, there was always a sense of freedom that one does not often get while working 9-5. On the trail I could simply stop, eat a pound of beef jerky and take a nap if I felt like it. Coming home I had to worry about finding a job, paying the bills and all of the things associated with the average American lifestyle. It was disconcerting and overwhelming.
I remember sitting in my living room and doing nothing for months. Besides the occasional trip to the store I just sat there. Luna and I slept on our sleeping pads on the floor for I cannot recall how many nights because it kept an aspect of the trail in our lives. After the little money we had ran out we had to break down and accept our new/old reality and finally make an attempt to find work. It felt like bashing my head in with a hammer. After years of dreaming about escaping the workforce and assholes telling me what to do day in and day out, why would I want to go back?
The Worst Resume You’ve Ever Read.
I knew upon returning home that I needed to do environmental work. After living in the woods for half a year, it was the only decision that made sense, but in Northwest Ohio environmental work isn’t necessarily the easiest work to find. I took an under the table job as a live sound guy, not a glamorous job, but it paid for the groceries. After nearly five months of going to the library to apply for jobs since I couldn’t afford internet service, I landed a seasonal job at the Metroparks of Toledo as an outdoor skills instructor.
My boss later told me that my resume was one of the worst that she had ever read, but my experience of thru-hiking had made me qualified for the job. After eight months of employment I was jobless yet again. This time I had gained an entirely new set of skills and had become certified as a Naturalist, something I had been wanting to do for as long as I can remember.
While unemployed yet again I applied for a job at a small, nonprofit environmental agency called Partners for Clean Streams figuring I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. By some stroke of luck I landed the job. Today I spend my time advocating for clean waterways in my hometown of Toledo, Ohio. All of my time spent drinking beaver pond water in Maine must have really struck a chord deep down inside of me. It definitely is not as thrilling as coming up a steep ascent and catching some of the most astounding views that planet Earth has to offer on a daily basis, but it gives me an opportunity to share my love of nature with the world and to make a difference in my community.
Do Great Things.
Doing great things will lead to even greater things. Coming home from a thru-hike can make us feel so helpless because we tend to focus on our immediate circumstance and tend to lose faith in our future. If you believe in yourself and put forth enough effort you will overcome. It is much too easy to play down your accomplishments in the face of the doubt and depression that come upon returning home, but you just hiked over 2000 miles on foot of your own free will and you will achieve even greater things if you keep that in mind. Once you find what you love, jump in head first and don’t worry about the consequences for they shall be AWESOME.
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