How the Trail Provides in Real Life
When I was 20 years old and in college, I discovered what the Appalachian Trail was, and I immediately knew that thru-hiking it was an immediate goal of mine. At the time, I was living in an extreme cycle of drinking to deal with my traumatic past. When I was sober, all I did was think about the trail. I watched videos, I read Appalachian Trials, I etched in Springer to Katahdin on my desk and on coffee tables. I did this because in some way I knew that it was going to help heal me. Even though I had no idea how. Fast forward seven years, and the trail has given me much more than what I had ever dreamed off.
After graduating college, I was short on funds (due to my drinking) and thus, I decided to put my long-distance hiking plans on hold, and enter into an industry that I believed was a good fit for me and one that I was passionate for. I thought I could just deal with my complex PTSD while integrating myself into a sustainable career. This industry was golf courses on the turf management side.
I really was extremely passionate about the science behind this industry, and I poured my heart into the study behind in. Learning every single detail that I could and applying it in the field as much as I possibly could. I gave everything to this industry for seven years. I would work till I puked. Literally. I never went home.
However, this industry never accepted me. I was bullied and harassed at almost every place I worked at. I was at a top golf course in the nation, and I was literally bullied by every single person. I once went in crying to one of the bosses and threatened to quit because I couldn’t take it anymore. This was added on to to the fact that my complex PTSD is mostly due to childhood bullying. The golf course industry didn’t care, and I didn’t have the skills to sustainably work in an atmosphere that was not conducive for my mental health. Thus, I proceeded to go crazy and leave every place that I worked. Imagine a chicken with its head cut off, running around a hundred acres every day. This was me for years. I still got work done, and I did learn and gain valuable skills, but man did I break a lot of equipment and have emotional outbursts.
This was compounded by the fact that throughout this entire time, I had a group of women continuously stalking and harassing me to be on their hook (this I will not go into to because it was an illegal situation and isn’t related to long-distance hiking). This happened for years. The combination of these two ended with me developing continuous suicidal thoughts. That went on for months. I didn’t think I had a way out.
After my last stop in this industry ended in the same way the previous ones had. I decided to leave and find a new role in life. This industry didn’t deserve my devotion. I proceeded to go to graduate school for plant science because I do truly enjoy the in-depth science behind plants. I lost sight of my previous Appalachian Trail dreams. I believed that by pouring myself into a year of study, I would eventually live a sustainable life. Boy was I wrong. After a year of this, my stress boiled over, the suicidal thoughts came back in full force, and I decided to start a long-distance hike on the Appalachian Trail.
I am not going to give many details on how the trail provides in this post, because I want to save that for when I am on the PCT. However, I want to describe what the Appalachian Trail has provided me with in the real world.
Three-plus months on trail and 1,618 miles later, I have further developed my skills to deal with my traumatic past that no form of psychotherapy has ever given me.
While long-distance hiking, you spend hours and hours alone. This does come with some boredom, but it also comes with a refocused mind. This leads to many life breakthroughs that real life would never provide. It is very important to write these down while you are on the trail, because when you reenter society you will lose track of all of the progress that you have made, and any of the life decisions, or life-altering moments that you may have had.
After getting back from the AT, I haven’t had one single suicidal thought. I have not been clear of this aspect since I was 12. Why the hell would I kill myself when there’s an entire world to hike? That there is a place where I fit in. Where I can live sustainably in.
Before the AT, I used to manipulate every person in my life to ensure that no one would hurt me. I don’t do this anymore. This is because for three months I literally met about 700 people and every single person was extremely kindhearted.
I literally spend hours every day dreaming about every single detail of the AT that I have hiked, and this enables me to remain calm during stressful situations. This is something I had not been able to do in the past. When I am really stressed, I go back to the Bigelows, where I am above treeline and have the massive Flagstaff Lake complex and endless wilderness around me.
I used to get nervous when I was wrong, and this led me to try to prove people wrong in order to stop my high anxiety. This would later lead to a strained relationship with my coworkers. I do not do this anymore, because I just don’t care. When you are on the trail, climbing a mountain and trying to beat a thunderstorm, are you going to take a hiker’s pack and hide it in order to prevent them from making it to a shelter? No, you both work together in order to safely get out of harm’s way. Life works in the same exact way. Too many times have I seen people in society squash each other in order to get ahead. This isn’t a sustainable way of living. Life isn’t about how much money you make, or how many followers you have on Instagram. It’s about living a sustainable life on this planet, in such a way that you help give back, that you help people around you achieve the goals that they have. The hiking community has helped refocus this vision of my life.
The most important attribute that long-distance hiking has taught me is minimalism. That I do not have to be constrained to a certain career and a way of living that society has taught us we are supposed to achieve. All I need to live is what is in my backpack, and it all makes so much sense. Having a room, an apartment, trunks of clothes, a car, and materialistic possessions doesn’t make sense to me. Reaching into my backpack and knowing exactly where everything I need is makes so much sense. I literally would live out of a van and by the side of every mountain in the country if I could figure out a way to make a living from a van. Until you find a place that is a good fit, and that you can live sustainably in, I wouldn’t settle for anything less. There is an entire world that you can find joy, peace, and harmony in that will give you so many more benefits then any materialistic possession or job will ever provide you with.
The trail continues to provide in ways that I do not see coming. I find myself clinging to the memories I have on the Appalachian Trail. I don’t care. The trail is my home and always will be.
On a side note, I am not the best writer, and in real life I tend to go on rants about things I am passionate about. If that leads to poor structure in my posts, so be it.
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