Now Serving Post-Trail Depression With Your Beer

I finally accepted things weren’t okay when I was crying in the airport bathroom, dreading my return to Columbus, bartending, and society in general after a brief AT vacation.

This isn’t some immediate post-trail realization. I finished my hike on October 9th. I’ve had ample time to adjust, yet every day I ask myself why I came back to Ohio.

Not because I don’t know the reasons – I do. I came back because it was easy. I came back because I thought I had a place to live. I came back for my friends and because I still liked a guy. But just like my justifications for hiking the AT, they’re all bullshit.

I walked from Maine to Georgia and still let a stupid guy influence my decisions.

I spent most of my time alone and realized that I don’t like the majority of my former friends.

I lived outside for four months and decided I’d rather be homeless again than hide from an overbearing roommate.

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Somewhere in Vermont I noticed the Zach Davis reasons-for-hiking model didn’t work for me. I chose the AT when I was drunk and needed to run away. I kept walking because it was easier than coordinating a return to society. There was no thought process beyond ‘I don’t know what else to do.’

Which is clearly becoming a theme.

Life after trail is a dichotomous existence in which I’m reluctantly sucked into societal expectations yet so aware that there is a place where none of this matters. It’s seeing how much I’ve changed and simultaneously how little I’ve learned. It’s watching the sunrise from my car window and knowing it will never compare to that glowing pink morning on the summit of Mt. Washington.

I wish I would have planned better. I wish I didn’t feel compelled to apologize for how ‘boring’ and hiking-obsessed I am now. I wish I could explain to others exactly what it is that they don’t understand.

I wish I was hiking the PCT this year with my sobo friends instead of the CDT.

For now I’m here, sleeping in my friend’s cold cellar and telling myself to suck it up for a few more months.

‘You can leave the minute you have enough money. Work doubles every day if you have to, just get the hell out of here.’

I’m sure this isn’t typical of all former thru-hikers. I met many who couldn’t wait to be done and go back to their lives. Another check on the life list, add it to the resume. You did it, that’s great.

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But for once I had something in common with the people around me; maybe it was just a sobo thing. It seemed like a general discontent with life before, a love of nature, and a desire to challenge ourselves brought everyone to Maine over seven months ago and is propelling many of us forward to the next trail. The AT attracts some strange individuals, and ultimately those are the people I want to be around.

Soon enough I will be. I’ll meet more amazing people on the CDT and will have views worth the climb again. I’ll be hungry and sleep-deprived and cold but so goddamn grateful to be hiking again.

It’s just hard to remember sometimes that there’s more than Columbus and my bed and the bar.

I recently broke down and told a friend that she was second to my trail family. Not a good thing to say, but it’s true – not just of people but of my life overall. Hiking the AT was the greatest thing I’ve done. None of this will ever come close to laying under the milky way on a trail angel’s farm, high as hell, knowing that for once I’m in the right place with the best people at the perfect time.

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Comments 7

  • Laurel "Duchess of Slug" Seus : Jan 21st

    I feel you.

    Reply
  • KC : Jan 21st

    What do I think? I think you have thru-hiked for the same reasons many do and returned “home” for the same reasons many do but…You are also planning another thru-hike and many do that too. It seems to me that eventually, maybe during the CDT, you’ll realize you don’t HAVE to return to Ohio. I hope so.
    Take charge of your life! If you hiked the AT, you can endure any intermediate discomfort as a stepping stone to where and who you really want to be!
    ~KC

    Reply
  • Alon Ish Rubin : Jan 22nd

    You wrote my heart out. I feel exactly the same.

    Reply
  • Lori L. : Jan 22nd

    Danielle, this article caught my attention because you mentioned flying back to Columbus (I live here). I’m planning to hike the AT someday when my children are older. For now, I read everything I can get my hands on about it, biographies of those who hiked it, and plan and dream. How wonderful that you have already done it! You are younger than I am, and yet already have such a handle on how unimportant all the “trappings” are that dangle so prettily here in civilized (eye roll) society. I so wish I had understood that in my 20’s and even early 30’s. You’re way ahead of many, and if this is the life calling you — I hope you can find it full-time.

    Blessings!

    Lori

    Reply
  • Jessica Tinios : Feb 20th

    You just said it all. I haven’t even started my hike yet, but I’ve been where you are before. Over the last ten years I have left home on many adventures with the hope that shaking up my routine would make me see everything clearly, that all the answers to the big questions might just magically appear. Instead, I have returned home to the same life and the same job serving drinks to the same people. The best I’ve been able to do so far is dream up the next adventure and work my ass off to save for it. I’m afraid of repeating the cycle all over again, afraid that even if I ending up hiking a triple crown my life won’t have any more direction and I won’t feel any more accomplished than I do now. But I think that knowing your dissatisfaction with life is yours alone to fix is important, and I think that trying new things in order to change it is good, even if it doesn’t yield the results you had hoped for. Good luck on the CDT this year. I hope this temporary path is the one that helps you find the permanent one.

    Thanks for laying it all out there.

    Reply
  • Love-it or Leave-it : Feb 24th

    The curse of a thru hiker. This curse may have a bearing on your future relationships. Its’ a good thing to know!

    Reply

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