…The weight. I re-focus my attention to the day ahead of me. What depositions do I have this week? Did I keep track of my billing hours yesterday? I should bring my gym clothes to work. I step out of the shower and begin to get dressed. I notice the scars that have taken a permanent resting on my legs.
I push aside the leftover boxes of Minute Rice and Backpacker’s Pantry in my kitchen cabinet and I grab a banana for the road. The weight. I walk to the bus. I get on the bus. I get off the bus and get on the El. I get off the El. I walk to work. I go up an escalator, two elevators, and a flight of stairs. I sit at my desk, physically present but mentally adrift.
I’ve had four of the best moments of my life this year: (1) the day I got a job, (2) the day I passed the bar exam, (3) the day I graduated law school, and (4) the day I summited Mt. Katahdin. But this year also included some of the worst moments of my life … and every single one of them happened on the trail.
Sometimes, when I’m on the bus, or at my desk, or even when I’m out with friends, my mind wanders to those moments. Those moments of physical exhaustion and mental strife. I remember the days that I was so tired I couldn’t find the energy to eat. I remember the days where every step sent a bolt of pain through my knees and broken toe.
But worst of all, I remember the loneliness. I never knew what lonely was until I went on the trail. I remember taking breaks to cry. I’d put my pack down and I would just cry. For hours. Alone. On the side of a mountain.
And sometimes, when my mind wanders to these moments, I think … why?
Why do we do this to ourselves? Every thru-hiker has been there, whether they admit those moments or not. And often times it is these moments that make people quit.
Hell, it almost got me.
And then I force my mind into a better place and I remember. I remember Emily’s laugh in the tent at night. I remember Bran’s monkey noises over lunch. I remember the joy that one small can of orange soda could bring. So many thoughts come rushing to my mind while I stare at the inbox of my Outlook account or pay the bartender for a round of drinks at happy hour — the smell of pine trees, the fresh spring water, the stars, the cows, the hitchhiking, the trail magic, the clouds MY GOD HOW ALIVE WE FELT and that’s why.
That’s why we endured.
That’s why the trail is magical. That’s why an experience like this stays with you forever.
It’s been four and a half months since I finished the trail and I feel the weight. And I’m not talking about the 20 lbs. that have made their way back to my stomach and thighs. I’m talking about the memories that both haunt me and bring me joy. And it is this weight that makes me feel closer to my thru-hiking community more than ever.
We were warned that the transition home from the trail can be hard. Some would argue that the return to civilization can sometimes invoke more loneliness than even the lowest of low moments on the trail. This happens because most of us return to a life that doesn’t involve people that can identify with what we’ve just endured.
And because we go back to a life of buses, elevators, and Email accounts. But if this entry speaks to you then hear me when I say: it was worth it.
Whether you’ve already thru-hiked the trail or you’re one: it was worth it. And you’re not alone.
Cherish the good memories, and phase out the bad.
Embrace the weight.
And should you ever need a friend to talk to … the Traveling Circus is only an email away.
In 2010, Kate “Ringleader” Imp thru-hiked the A.T. with her brother Brandon “Monkey” Imp and best friend Emily “Lightning” Ginger. Together the members of the “Traveling Circus” captured the peaks and valleys of trail life in a documentary called Beauty Beneath the Dirt. You can check out the film (as well as their blog) at www.beautybeneaththedirt.com/ .