When I thruhiked the Appalachian Trail I kept a journal over at trailjournals.com. Actually for the decade prior to hiking I read other people’s journals on this site and really that’s what inspired me to hike in the first place. Anyway, now that I am getting ready for another hike I can’t help but think back to that hike and how awesome it was. This was one of my last posts from that journal. I originally wrote it on October 1, 2013.
“I told myself that I wouldn't be one of those people who keep writing posts after the trail and that I would make only one more post a month after I got home but it's so hard to break the habit. I think about the trail everyday and even if I didn't my body would remind me of the trail. I am still sore and hungry all the time (pretty sure Melkie is too because he has already gained all his weight back). It is so hard being back "in the real world," I definitely feel like I've lost something by coming home. I liked my life before the trail, now I'm not so sure. There was a bumper sticker on Miss Janet's van that read "The AT ruined me" and I truly think it did. My life will never be the same. No, I'm not depressed (although that does happen to a lot of thruhikers when they return home), I still go to work everyday with a smile on my face but I realize that on the trail I had a total sense of freedom that disappeared the minute I came home. It feels weird to walk downtown and have people walk by me without a hello or acknowledgement. It felt so normal to talk to everyone I met on the trail and now that I am back it feels so abnormal. Every week on the trail there would be some random act of kindness and I am sure it happens here too, it's just not as noticeable here. I miss my trail friends, I didn't have to explain anything to them because wherever I was on the trail, they were at the same place and had gone through the exact same things. And I had never realized before how much we are marketed to but since I have been back the advertisements and commercials have been driving me crazy telling me I need plastic surgery or teeth whitening to succeed in life. Whatever! And that's another thing, on the trail I felt so beautiful and so happy and more myself than I had ever been. I felt strong, like I could conquer the world (even when my feet were killing me and my body was falling apart I felt so strong)! Everyone around me was just as beautiful and just as strong and infinitely happy even though we weren't wearing make up or deodorant or even brushing our hair. We looked and felt amazing! I remember one day when it was raining and I was totally drenched and dirty, Hobo took a picture of me (he said I reminded him of an old ragamuffin doll his daughter used to have). It's one of my favourite pictures, you can't tell that I was wet and dirty and totally worn out all you can see is how happy I was from my bright shiny eyes and my big silly grin! Since I've been back to the land of mirrors (on the trail I might see a mirror once or twice a week at most) I am reminded of imperfections daily (if not hourly) that I hadn't even thought of the whole time I was away. Was it because I was far away from anyone who would care what I look like (let's face it I wore cut off pj's for at least a month) or is there an unrealistic pressure society puts on us to keep up appearances. It was even more noticeable when my beautiful daughter came home for reading week and spent hours in front of the mirror with all kinds of products for her face and hair. Do we really need all this? Do we need any of it? And the stuff! Why do we have so much stuff! We carried everything we needed on our backs and I admit that it felt amazing to come into towns and enjoy so much luxury but I can't believe how overwhelmed I felt the other day in a department store. Why are there so many choices, I ended up leaving not even buying the few items I needed. Friends and co-workers have started Christmas shopping already and sometimes it's hard to bite my tongue when they speak of all the stuff they need to get for Christmas and the money problems they have. It seems like everyone I know at home is stressed out, was this what I was like before I left? Is this what I will return to? While I was away I noticed some of this when I would call home and hear a stressed out voice on the other end of the line or when all I would hear about is problems when I called home but I find it so hard to believe that I was like this or that I will ever be okay with living like this again. I have experienced total freedom and peace. I remember someone once said that thru hikers were adrenaline junkies who couldn't wait for the next peak or thrill and that I would understand when it was over and I was craving for the next long trail but I'm thinking it is the beauty and peacefulness that has me addicted and the total freedom to be me that I want to somehow get back. I'm not opposed to hiking another long trail but I would much rather try to figure out how to live my life here with the same freedom and peacefulness and beauty that I felt on the trail. What can I do to avoid this money hungry, perfection seeking stressed out society? It's pretty unrealistic to think I can just go back to the woods maybe the AT has ruined me! Good night world!”
Well, that was back then. It’s so hard to believe how much my life has changed in these past four years! I quit the job, got rid of any obligations I had and moved onto a short bus.I am so fortunate that my spouse who didn’t hike with me was willing to adapt his life so much. We travel around barely a part of “normal” society. It’s not quite the same as the freedom I felt on the trail and we do have to stop and work when our funds get low but it is freedom! And it is peaceful! I know now that I will never return to that stressed out segment of society that has to do everything a certain way. I will never feel that I have to do things out of obligation again. Helping people because I want to is so much nicer than helping someone because I felt obligated to. And I seem more willing to help anyone I meet now. I’m less skeptical and I think more understanding of others.
I wonder how different I will be after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail?