Life After a Thru-Hike
Do you remember when you used to ‘play pretend’ as a child? Me too.
Ironically, those are some of my favorite memories– the ones I ‘made up.’
Playing pretend is something we all do for fun as children. We place(d) ourselves in worlds of dragons, dinosaurs, witches, and fairies.
I liked to make believe I was a witch who lived in a whimsical forest where mushrooms were bigger than Volkswagens and animals could freely speak with me.
I also lived in a giant pumpkin (to be honest I still wish this were all true).
For me, books like The Odyssey, Of Mice and Men, and (of course) the Harry Potter series helped to fuel my imagination. Fantastic minds such as Homer, John Steinbeck, J.K. Rowling, Dean Koontz, and George Orwell transported me into new worlds.
There is something about the human condition that forces us to yearn for adventure.
For some people, watching movies and TV, reading books, listening to podcasts and music, playing and watching sports, and visiting amusement parks doesn’t suffice. Many people frequent bars, have promiscuous sex, and dabble in drugs in an attempt to fill this void. But overtime these ‘activities’ become dull, as well…
Whether you think any of these acts are superior to any of the others is superfluous to the fact they all serve a common purpose.
Most of us zombie to and from our unfulfilling nine to five jobs with a veil over our face. We rely on first world luxuries such as books and TV to captivate our minds– distract us for just a few hours. (Please don’t get me wrong, I think my world would cease spinning if I couldn’t access Netflix, books, and podcasts).
There are a few people who decide it’s not good enough anymore to vicariously live through characters behind screens and pages. It’s not thrilling anymore to get drunk and high.
Some of these people rock climb, bungee jump, or even parachute out of planes.
And others thru-hike. But what’s life like afterwards?
Monsters Don’t Live Under Your Bed or in Your Closet– They Dwell in Your Mind
Thoughts from an airplane:
“I’m so stoked to see my cat– I hope he doesn’t hate me.”
“Wow, I get to shit on my toilet. Thank you, God.”
“My bed is so much better than my sleeping bag.”
“How long should I wait before I shave?”
“I can’t believe my thru-hike is over.”
“Can I do this?”
The last few thoughts of that profound (sarcasm) excerpt from my internal monologue are eerily similar to my thoughts during my flight to the Appalachian Trail (AT) six months prior.
After about two weeks the novelty of a warm bed and a full refrigerator began to wear off. It’s been about five months since I returned home, and I still feel like I am re-assimilating into society. I’m a waitress at a bar and grill. I’m trying to figure it out.
It feels like the majority of my days are filled with vapid conversation– I’ve thrown myself back into an abyss of facades, and sophomoric interactions. We’re all still playing pretend, with our fake smiles and bullshit small talk. Monotony has slithered it’s way back to my front door, and I’m refusing to invite it back in.
The only person who has been remiss here is me. I let myself slide back into a hedonistic lifestyle. I haven’t been living consciously.
And this is why I am so grateful I have the opportunity to write for this amazing website.
We’re All Stars in Our Own Plays
I mentioned in my last blog that some hikers viewed the AT as separate from reality. If the AT experience isn’t a part of reality, then I’m at a loss for what is. The immense pain and euphoria, which graced my body during that time is more real than anything else I’ve ever been through. It forces you to be present– to be in your body.
Society doesn’t want you to be present. Society strives to strip imagination away from young people in order to create easily manipulated, selfish drones.
I know, I’m beginning to sound like a lunatic. Fair enough.
How does imagination relate to the trail?
The trail is a mental cleanse– by stepping away from the trivial aspects of day-to-day life you’re inviting your mind to refocus. However, as it’s clear above, this progress isn’t permanent. One has to constantly work on their mental health– just like fitness and nutrition, consistency is key here.
I’ve been a good girl– working (my ass off), paying my bills, exercising, blah blah blah, but it’s clearly not good enough. Therefore, I’m setting short term goals for myself in order to get out of this insipid little rut.
- Hike at least once per week
- Try something new biweekly
- 20 minutes of sun per day
- 20 minutes of moonlight per day
- DO SOMETHING THAT SCARES ME
I’m stoked to start this new project and share it with you all.
Like the trail, life has ups and downs, but we’re not privy to the topography coming up ahead. Our best is all we can do.
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Is good to hear, that someone else has similar thoughts. After my first long distance hike it felt strange at first to be back to reality, to this walk-in closet called normal life, full of stuff. After a while it became normal again. I went to work, I saw my friends and my family, I did stuff. But something happened. I had another approach to nature, to being on my own, to silence. I felt the hiker’s high. The naked feet on the ground after a long day of walk. Like they take roots. Like the red cheeks of a child after a long cold day playing outside. The comfort of not having to be under a roof. This deep happiness inside.
And my list is very similar to yours 🙂
I did a MEGA thru-hike through the winter in 78-79. We didn’t call it NOBO or SOBO then; we called it GA-ME or ME-GA. It took me 10 months – away from family, most friends, coworkers. I had a high school buddy with me down to Front Royal. He took a bus home on 1/10/79 due to a walking pneumonia, and I continued on snowshoes through the Park. It took me another 5 months to finish. I knew before the trek ended that I was ending the biggest extended vacation of my life.
A month after I returned home, I was working alone on 2nd shift as a Respiratory Therapist in a 7 floor, 279-bed hospital in south Boston with ventilators scattered throughout the hospital. Retrospectively, this was by far the worst job of my life. But the stubbornness the gave me completion of the Trek also helped me to negotiate the challenges of that job and subsequent Life.
Thanks for sharing, I was wondering if there was a let-down reaction ! As is life a ying and a yang and the solution perhaps is finding the balance , which is where you are heading. Good luck and thanks for sharing