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. 

Injury

Sprained ankle leads to post trail depression

Icing an ankle in the Tuolumne River.

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.

Goodbyes

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?

What Next?

Living out of a car isn't great for post trail depression

The woods have always been my truest home.

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.

Friends help combat post trail depression

Staying connected with the trail and with my friends on it helped me get through the worst of post-trail depression.

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.

Finances

the trail is worth any possible 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

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Comments 1

  • Avatar
    Odin Wallace : Dec 17th

    Thank you for sharing. When I quit the trail last summer, sitting on the sofa absorbed in television, food, and beer, became my life for 5 months. Many pounds later with no energy, I began planning this 2020 hike. I am starting early in February and taking my time on the trail. Give me a shout out. I have just better than modest means but am always willing to help a fellow hiker. Even if you are just curious about the trail up ahead.

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