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Climbing Katahdin signaled an abrupt change in my life.
No longer did I have to pack up the tent and hike all day, find and filter water, or make sure I got to the next town before my food ran out. One day I had an all-consuming goal; the next day I had nothing.
After six months of knowing exactly what I was doing and where I was going, I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do or where to go.
There were no more white blazes to guide me.
At first I kept busy cleaning my gear and sorting my pictures. I visited with the friends and family I hadn’t seen in six months; everyone wanted to hear all about the hike. But then I got bored. I didn’t have a job lined up, and there was no structure to my days.
The hiker appetite didn’t go away when I stopped hiking. I tried to keep walking a little every day, but I couldn’t walk enough to keep up with the appetite, and all the weight I lost on the trail crept back. It wasn’t long before the adventure of my lifetime began to seem like only a dream.
I struggled with identity. On the trail, hiking was not just what I did, it was who I was. I belonged to a group that was meaningful to me. Even the hikers I didn’t know recognized me as one of them. When we walked into a town, the townsfolk knew what we were about. But back at home, I didn’t have that. Even the people who knew about my hike could never truly understand the experience I’d had. People on the sidewalk looked right through me; there were no clues to any common bond we might share.
After sharing open camaraderie on the trail, I found no such thing at home, and I withdrew behind my protective cloak.
Some Things To Expect After The Appalachian Trail
• Expect that your clothes won’t fit. Most people lose weight on a thru-hike.
• Your appetite won’t go away. You may have stopping hiking, but your metabolism is still cranked up. If you don’t stay active and watch what you eat, you will quickly gain weight.
• You may feel at loose ends and wonder what to do next, similar to the let-down after Christmas. Find a new project to focus your energies on.
• Your friends will tire of hearing trail stories all the time. It will still be the center of existence for you, and ten years later, you will still preface a story with, “When I was on the trail…” Everyone else, however, will quickly lose interest. Visit trail forums online where there are always people who want to talk trail.
• Trail habits may carry over. You may be overly conscious of water usage. Some hikers have trouble sleeping in a bed, and will continue to sleep on the hard floor.
• Your priorities may change. After living with so little, you now wonder why your house is stuffed with so much clutter.
• Your old job or relationships may no longer fit. You are not the same person who began the thru-hike six months ago, and the people in your life may not understand the changes.
• You may find that you are never able to settle down to what is considered a normal life.
An Appalachian Trail thru-hike is a life-changing experience, and you may find that you’ve awakened the wanderlust gene.
Nancy Shepherd is the author of My Own Hike: A Woman’s Journey on the Appalachian Trail. As an accomplished thru-hiker she also maintains her own site right here.
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