Looking for a Hefty Dose of Nostalgia? Go Backpacking after a Thru-Hike
I recently went on a lil’ hikey hike with a friend of mine. Said friend was one of a very small, and very late, SOBO bubble I was a part of—we all hit Springer together on Jan. 26 this year. Long story short, I reached out via text awhile back and we were able to meet in Denver (I live in Chicago, he’s in Los Angeles) for an extended Labor Day weekend. My mom and brother live in Denver, so we had a spot to stay and a free ride into the woods. We did four days hiking around Rocky Mountain National Park, and guys? It was so beautiful and fun. Then we spent one night/day chilling with my niece and her nanny—my mom—which was also really beautiful and fun.
Still, I had some feelings. To be honest, I had so many feelings, which I did not foresee. I felt great to be out, but also sad that I had to leave at the end of the weekend and fly home to work. I’m a social worker right now and there are not a lot of jobs in health care that don’t consistently remind you that there is a lot of shit going on in the world. Not that you can totally escape that knowledge by going hiking, but it was nice to have a break from the daily bombardment. And then also, and what I’m going to elaborate on right now, is that I felt so nostalgic for my trail days. I have written and felt so much about how hard that thru-hike was. It was SO hard. I cried so much about how hard it was. But, and it happens to all of us, the tough stuff sort of fades out the longer you’re home. You start to just daydream about the good stuff—the food, the friends, the views. Just getting out and wearing my pack and using my gear had me rehashing so many nice memories.
There were a few things that had me reeling during these four days. One was during the first night, when I stepped outside to pee in the dark. My ears, while alertly listening for the sound of dangerous wildlife in the vicinity—we saw three moose on the spur to our campsite on night one—heard nothing. I remember similar moments on trail, not always during a pee stop, but only when I was still. If you’ve ever hiked or camped alone, you’ve lived this. The silence is so intense, and your solitude suddenly yanks you into a place that is not available in civilization. Total lack of stimulation and interaction, even if just for a few minutes, any time of the day or night, is so unlike anything we experience during a day off-trail. Even if you are able to provide quiet moments for yourself in your home or around town, there’s still Wi-Fi, cell service, a train horn, your neighbors. There’s still the looming possibility that man-made noise will interrupt. It’s different on the trail, in the woods, off the grid.
Also, I woke up on the morning of day two in RMNP, and my feet felt the way they did on day two of my thru-hike, and then every day for the next seven months. They had tightened up while I slept, having adjusted to their relaxed position. When I woke up they were stiff; my first few steps getting out of my tent required a painful stretch. With a few more steps they loosened up, and once I was packed up and hiking, the pain was gone. It made me miss the trail. This is crazy. I woke up with this momentary stiffness and soreness in my feet for seven months straight. What kind of psycho feels sentimental about that? (Spoiler alert… this kind of psycho.)
I felt a little sad about my loss of strength. The longest day we hiked on this trip was somewhere between 12 and 13 miles. It felt good and, while I felt like I could have done a few more, I was relieved I didn’t have to. Six months ago, 12 miles would have been a jaunt and my body would have welcomed more miles, bigger climbs. I was a badass. Don’t get me wrong, I did 12 at decent altitude after eight months off-trail and I felt good. I haven’t devolved into a full-on blob yet, but I was reminded that there is no way to maintain thru-hiker strength without thru-hiking, especially when living in Chicago.
Finally, I wore shorts and short sleeves during most of this hike, as the weather was impeccable, and found myself examining my body for scars I already know are there. I’ve got one on my arm from walking into a tree branch in Maine. There are a multitude of scars on my shins from kicking rocks in the Whites, and then again in Pennsylvania. What used to be calluses on my feet are now just weird little bumps that gross me, and likely others, out. Then there’s this scar on my heart…
This little trip was so great, guys. There was so much fun had, so much nature enjoyed, so much catching up done on this little stretch of trail we hiked. Plus, family for dessert. Seriously it was awesome, but it also certainly made clear that ain’t nothin’ quite like a thru-hike.
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