My recipe for combating the post-trail blues
It is absolutely surreal to me that it has been over three months since I finished hiking the Appalachian Trail. It feels like I went from moving at about 2.5 miles an hour on the trail to light speed. I have gotten so absorbed in the day-to-day of my new existence that Tripwire almost feels like an alter ego and hiking 2,189 miles doesn’t seem like something I actually did. Which is totally ridiculous, because the trail changed me in innumerable ways. The way I look at the world and choose to live my life has been completely altered, yet I regard the hike with a strange lack of familiarity. I thought the accomplishment would be so tangible, that I would have swollen feet and killer calves and an insatiable hunger forever. But both my body and mind have changed faster than I expected.
So far, I have (mostly) avoided the post-trail blues. Of course there are days that are hard. There are days that I wish I could just hike all day and be around trail people and eat whatever I want. But generally, I am much happier than I was before the trail, so it’s hard to feel sorry for myself. There have already been several excellent posts on Appalachian Trials with different perspectives about avoiding or beating the post-trail blues. I would check out this post for some great inspiration. Here’s what has worked for me:
After completing the trail, we moved swiftly from one place to another, always with the objective of making our way back to Oregon to find a job and place to live. This is pretty similar to hiking- always working toward Katahdin. I have a job now and I am only working about 30 hours a week, but somehow I feel busier than ever. I have a long commute. We’re trying to go through all our possessions sitting in a storage unit to try to eliminate the need for said storage unit. There’s always household chores to be done. When I’m not actively doing something productive, I have been finding as much time as possible to read, cook, and exercise. Keeping busy from the time I wake up until the time I fall asleep feels a little similar to the trail.
As alluded to above, figuring out an exercise regimen was one of my top priorities after finishing. Limbo lost over 60 pounds on the trail and he is very motivated not to gain that weight back. I only lost about 10 pounds, but I was pretty unhealthy before the trail. Hiking 2,000 miles was a great jump-start to seeking an active lifestyle. The first time I went for a run after the trail, I was surprised how easy it was. Hiking set a new benchmark for pain and being tough, so being out of breath on a run no longer was an obstacle. On days I don’t feel like running, I do High Intensity Interval Training exercises for 30 minutes. And if all else fails, my commute to work is a 45 minute bike ride.
The other side of the fitness equation is food. My trail diet was heavy on processed foods, super high calorie, and I craved those Honey Buns (hello, sugar spike!). By the end, I was actually a little sick of it. I wanted fresh fruits and veggies and home cooked meals. Avoiding processed and overly sweetened foods has been pretty easy, although ice cream will forever be my weakness. The hiker hunger was pretty difficult to manage right after the trail, but I was hungry so often while hiking that the feeling of hunger doesn’t affect me like it used to. Using MyFitnessPal to track my calories in and calories out has been really helpful in keeping a good balance.
Keep moving forward.
On the trail, almost every decision you make is very intentional. There are direct consequences for eating too much of your food, pushing your body too far, or spending the money on an extra zero day. I want to translate that to my post-trail life as well. I don’t want to eat out if the food isn’t really worth the money or isn’t going to really satisfy me. I don’t want to sit in front of the TV just passing the time, I want to be using my time. I’ve never been good at goal setting, but making even small goals to work toward is important, because that’s basically what I was doing on the trail. Even if this just means reading 10 pages in a book, that’s something I can feel satisfied about.
Be open to more adventures.
Coming off the trail with a limited budget, hopping to another grand adventure isn’t an option. But, there are tons of ways to make life interesting without spending a bunch of money. After the trail, I spent 3 weeks on an organic farm through the WWOOF program. The host family was incredibly generous and I didn’t have to spend a dime to live there. In exchange for about 6 hours of work per day, it was a pretty great deal and a beautiful place. Also, the “gigs” section of Craigslist has some gems if you’re willing to sift through the spam. I got to test food at a sensory lab, I tested the beta version of an app, Limbo went to a mock trial, and I got to the second round to model for a yoga clothing company. Being open to trying things that seem weird or random make life a little more interesting. I met a really cool girl at the sensory test whose best friend hiked the AT last year. You never know where you might meet a new friend or how you might end up with a new story about “that crazy time when…”
Figuring out how to navigate the world again after living in the woods is hard. All that stuff I said above is just what has worked for me personally. And like I said, even with all that, it’s hard some days. I just have to remember that what got me to Katahdin was keeping my eyes focused ahead and not giving in to the desire to quit, even when it got really challenging. I’m going to keep doing that, and hopefully it will lead me to my next trail.
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