It’s been three months since I stood on top of Katahdin in a dream-like state after completing my thru-hike. I can’t deny saying that I’m really still processing everything, and the adjustment back into day to day life hasn’t necessarily been easy.
To most people, well, I probably shouldn’t complain. I’m just now starting work after having the past nine months off which has been pretty awesome but, admittedly, a little boring post hike. But with or without a formal job, the way I view day to day life has certainly changed in many ways.
All of this leads me to my point – the answer to my most frequently asked question about the trail.
When people ask this, I assume they are talking about a geographical location. And your glad I make that assumption – you didn’t want a twenty minute answer anyway.
So, when someone asks what my favorite part of the trail was, I answer The Smokeys, The Whites, and Maine giving brief details of their beautiful contrasting terrain. Quick, the eyes are already glazing over!
But you came here for the long version. So, ask again.
Being forcibly disconnected. From the news, from the Facebook screen I am now re-addicted to, from the calendar, from money, from a rent payment, from car repair, from politics, from alcohol. While in the woods, you couldn’t have convinced me that I would come out glad for the restriction. Did I miss some of those thing in that list while I was hiking? Yes. Am I ultimately happier without them? Yes.
Being in a beautiful place every damn day. Actually every hour and every minute – I lived outside. Think about that for a minute. Every time it rained or stormed and you sat in a car, office, restaurant, home I was searching for shelter getting drenched from head to toe. For six months, I lived outside. With the rain, the sun, the bugs, the mountains, the stars, the lightning, the fog, the hail, the lakes, the rivers, the trees, the rocks were my home. And it was nothing shy of incredible.
Drinking real water. Collecting your own water, putting a visual on that source, purifying it, and drinking it connected me to my home in the woods completely. I was my environment. I won’t say we drank from beautiful sources 100% of the time, but so often we were drinking from natural springs on top of a mountain. It sure does spoil you for that city stuff.
Being in shape for the first time in my adult life. So, I wasn’t necessarily healthy. No one who eats the shit that hikers eat and gets a caloric deficit every day could really call themselves healthy. But, I was strong. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed exercise. Once I got my trail legs, it was game on. Some people criticize hikers for “going too fast” and “not living in the moment.” The saying “The last one to Katahdin wins” is in many ways true. But – I liked going fast. I’ve not once previously considered myself as an athlete. Successfully completing the Marathon Week Challenge (26.2 miles 7 days in a row) and 2,189 miles later, I have tested my limits and really proved myself..to myself.
Having and accomplishing a goal. Every day we had a target destination, we had something to do, a purpose. We also had flexibility. So this section took us longer or we didn’t get the miles done that we wanted to. So what? I was my own boss. Walking was my job. Please don’t think for a second that just because I didn’t work for pay didn’t mean I wasn’t working. This is without a doubt the most work I’ve ever done for the least amount (no) of pay.
Not having people around. Most nights we would camp with an ever changing group, but throughout the day it was mostly just the two of us. So there was no one to piss us off, no one to be rude to us, no one to take advantage of us, no traffic, no large mass of people interaction. But the ones we did see…
…were nature enthusiasts. Though hikers come from all sorts of backgrounds with all different sorts of opinions, you always have one thing in common. You love nature. That’s why you’re here. You’ll sweat and sunburn and blister and bleed and cry just to get to the tops of those peaks, just to get a glimpse of the waterfall, just to see a sunset, just to get closer to Katahdin (which never really mattered anyway).
Strangers were really nice to you. I was absolutely astounded by how nice strangers could be. Over the near six months, we were warmly welcomed into no less than 5 people’s homes, showered with the gift of food, and blessed with encouragement. “Trail magic” is so real, completely selfless, and really made a difference in our hike. Without it, we may not have finished.
So, does that answer your question? ALL of this was my favorite part, why my experience on the AT will always be a treasured part of my life. And with all of this said, I’m sure it’s a little easier to see why the transition stage could be a little difficult. And why we’re already dreaming up our next adventure.
It seems like we can’t stop, so why should we?
Can’t wait to explore the West in April. Pacific Crest Trail here we come!