Post-Trail Depression 2018; Plans for a Better 2020
I can only guess what post-trail depression feels like for those who complete their hike. What I do know is that a premature end to my hike in 2018 definitely sent me spiraling.
Anybody who’s been knocked off the trail by an injury knows how devastating it can be. My injury seemed insignificant: just a sprained ankle. It was just one small misstep; one small tree root 5.5 miles north of Tuolumne Meadows, and though I feared the worst, I hoped I’d be back on the trail within a week. I tried, but it was too soon. After I restrained the ankle a second time I eventually had to accept that my hike was over after all.
The trail is hard, and like any thru-hiker, I had my share of mornings when I’d rather stay in the tent than hike, or town days when I’d rather hang around than hit the trail, but to have it all ripped from me so unceremoniously was like a knife to the heart.
Saying goodbye to my hiking partner as he left Tuolumne Meadows without me hurt worse than all the rest. We’d been sharing a tent for most of the Sierra, but what would happen now that I wasn’t hiking? And what would happen when he went back to Germany?
The unexpected endings were devastating, but then add to that my housing situation and it’s no wonder my bout of post-trail depression was so severe. I spent a week (and most of my money) in Tahoe, and then with few other options, I hitched farther north to my mom’s place in Southern Oregon. I’d gotten better at boundaries over the past years, and I expected to only be there a week or so anyway, so what’s the worst that could happen?
Let’s just say, at this point I’ve now vowed never to set foot in my mother’s house again.
I acquired a station wagon from friends on a promise to pay when I could (only took half a year).
Living out of the back of a car was better than living with my mom, so I went back to trail. I couldn’t hike, but at least I could trail angel, so I just followed my German hiking partner and my other friends north all the way to Canada.
Back to “Normal”
It took until the end of January before I was finally in a housing situation stable and healthy enough for me to begin to repair my mental health and truly climb out of my post-trail depression.
“Fuck it,” I thought, “might as well hike, at least that’s a socially acceptable way to be homeless.” Due to my financial situation in 2018, housing would have been a challenge even if I had finished the trail. I had broken my back in 2017, and despite having always been careful with my money, I ran through all of my savings in a matter of months. Even once I was able to work again, I was only barely paying rent. If I was on the verge of homelessness anyway, at least I could choose what way it would happen.
I had been planning this 2018 attempt for several years, and despite the difficulties, I’m so glad I did what I wanted to when I wanted to; I’m so grateful to have met all the new friends I made on the trail.
Post-Trail Depression 2020?
Luckily my finances are in a better place now, so while 9, 10, or 12 months from now I’ll likely encounter another different bout of post-trail depression, I won’t have to choose between homelessness and living with people who are bad for my mental health.
In fact, I know exactly where I’m going after the trail. A city I’ve visited but never lived in, and an apartment I’ve seen on a phone screen but never in person. It’s home, though, because a certain German hiker I met in 2018 is waiting for me there. Staying connected with hikers is what got me through post-trail depression last time, and I couldn’t pick a better hiker to find my way back to this time.
I’m so glad I get to attempt the PCT again in 2020, and I’m not afraid of the end like I was in 2018 because I know finishing the trail means getting to go home
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.