Done Walking (At Least for a Little While)

I know I’m way behind on telling this story, but I had to give all of you an update. We did it! PB and I completed our year of hiking, which included 4,500+ miles of walking and the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest something like 83 times. I got frostbite and scurvy (but recovered, thankfully). A skunk tried to climb in my sleeping bag at 3 a.m. and I was woken up by wild, nocturnal ponies in a snowstorm. We hiked five miles with a wolf and got to see a baby bear bathe in a stream at 12,000 feet. We climbed the tallest mountain in the lower 48 at night.

Seriously, guys. We lived outside for a whole year.I plead insanity. But much-needed insanity. Many people thru-hike because they come to a crossroads. They need a new challenge, an adventure, something to help them escape or take on the next stage of life. Jeez, that’s why I did it at least. Plus, I had some stuff I needed to prove to myself.

For the majority of the Appalachian Trail, I thought I was failing as a thru-hiker. Every day was so hard. I had a meltdown every other week. My body hurt all day, every day. By the end, I felt like I had finally shed some kind of exoskeleton, two sizes too small. I was exhausted, but victorious, and I had 20 days to plan another thru-hike.

I went back to New Hampshire to recover, which, as much as I love my family, does not typically lend itself to rest and recovery. My parents are always excited to see me and my brothers, but they also work full time and need help clearing out our old stuff when we come by. I was cleaning houses, trying to catch up on my AT stories, and plan all of the resupply and travel logistics for the PCT. Plus, my mom bought us all matching grave plots and wanted to talk burial plans. I come from a strange family.

But, I got it all done and headed west, where I got to hike the trail I had truly been dreaming of. Instead of fighting the weather, my body, and the ridiculous PUDs (pointless ups and downs), I got to hike. I got to enjoy the majestic views all around me and be amazed every day. And yet, with 250 miles to go, I ran out of steam. The aches and pains came back, the weather turned, and it felt like the AT all over again.

We were flying across ridgelines, hiking 25+ miles a day at 3.5 mph through the desert. The sun rose at 7:30 a.m. and set at 4:30 p.m. Frost was collecting on the sleeping bag each morning, and my hips hurt too badly to sleep. We were hit with alternating storms of snow and freezing rain. I know we hiked through the winter this year, but I just didn’t have it in me to do it again. We holed up in town on storm days and flew down the trail as soon as the skies cleared, but our energy reserves were tapped.

For the last two weeks on trail, I couldn’t wait to be done. I needed real food and an actual bed to sleep on. I needed to be done. A year is a really long time to hike. Now, I have been finished for a month, sleeping, and trying to fit back into civilization, but I still can’t bring myself to go into grocery stores. I have no idea how I’m going to go back to working full time. I washed our backpacks today and it just about wore me out. Then, I started looking through photos from this year and realized, like so many hikers do, that I miss it. You just can’t get that kind of stunning beauty and feeling of presence in the real world.

Good grief, I may have to do another long trail. Not for a little while, I still need time to try something new, plus I do have to work for a living. But I just miss those mountains. I don’t miss sleeping in a broken tent that I can’t sit up in (going with a freestanding one 100% next time), or eating Snickers and tuna anymore (I can’t stand the smell. I can’t even look at it), or being so cold I can’t sleep, but I do miss seeing nature in all its glory each day.

Do you know how vibrant nature is? Do you see how gray civilization is, with all of its paved roads and concrete buildings? Civilization is gray. I know just about every hiker feels this at one time or another, this post-trail depression, but I wouldn’t call it that. It’s more like a… post-trail realization. A sense of floating in a timeless bubble, where things that used to matter, like doing laundry, or going to grocery stores, doesn’t hold any importance. Those things don’t matter (well, I guess you probably should do your laundry. And eating is kind of important.). Not like seeing a lynx walk along the trail in front of you, or watching a mountain cast its shadow over the landscape as the sun sets.

But you know what? It’s going to be OK. I have learned so much this year, met so many incredible people, and now I just have to learn to apply those aspects of hiking to everyday life. I can always go backpacking—that’s what is so great about it. Everything I need fits in a backpack. I can run away to the mountains anytime I need to. And, believe me, I will. Thank you all for following along and supporting me and PB throughout our year of adventure. And most importantly, thank you, PB, for being an amazing partner. Now, off to plan the next one!

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