That’s right, its been over two months since I left the trail and to be honest it feels like exactly that amount of time. I’ve been struggling with the common post-trail blues which I really thought wouldn’t make an appearance after a forced early departure, but alas, it’s had me riding an emotional roller coaster for the last two months and thirteen days.
In the first few weeks off trail, I think the “blues” were disguised by comfy beds, excitement over a clean bathroom and the ability to take a shower, a delicious local dumpling place, and of course, seeing friends and family. But shortly after the immediate rush of “new things” wore off, I found myself really missing the trail. I missed the trail even while enjoying time at home or exploring new places in Colorado….and that’s a weird feeling to long for a completely different lifestyle you once lived while also loving what you are currently doing.
Over the last month, my feet have been recovering and I’ve been able to get out and enjoy some hiking in Colorado and start to really enjoy the area we are living since I had left so quickly after our move. We also have plans to take a one month road trip as my last hurrah before returning to work (more to come on that later!). But alas, that aching feeling pops up at least every few days or sometimes every day. Part of the struggle comes simply because social media has allowed me to follow along my fellow thru hiking buddies, but even with some sadness and jealously, I still want to be able to see their progress and cheer them on.
It wasn’t until this past weekend (or was it Monday….I really don’t keep track of days anymore!), we were out hiking in Golden when that familiar feeling of peace came over me. A feeling I felt most every day while on the trail. I started to think about time on and off trail, not the sad and “blue” times but what I had brought with me when I left the trail. I was able to think about all the things I use to do, never thought I would have done, and now how I’ve continued trying to bring those traits back into my every day life.
I thought I’d share with you some of the major reflections I’ve had post-trail.
The very first thought was a discussion our group had after about a month of trail, which was the idea for the AT to be mandatory. Okay, calm down, not mandatory but a suggested journey every person should be encouraged to TRY. Similar to the idea that all high school students or college students should be required to complete a type of community service, I think hiking out in the woods for 2-3 weeks would be just as beneficial. The strength, community, survival, and appreciation for nature that every person would at some point feel, I think would be life changing. Let’s just say every person on trail that we talked to agreed, even locals in trail towns who were feeding these dirty hikers, all had experienced something while on trail that they felt humanity could benefit from (with some basic wilderness training obviously). Okay, sure, radical idea…so I’ll move on.
Here are some other reflections that I’ve had:
- This might sound a little cliche but you are stronger than you think you are. This was one of the biggest takeaways I’ve had. Sure, I knew I could camp and hike but I was a little skeptical of the consecutive nature of these things, let alone with other elements such as when nonstop rain was involved! It was a common saying to hear, from someone else, or just in your own head, to “just keep going.” Five miles uphill….just keep going. Six days of constant rain….just keep going. Below freezing temperatures and gale force winds…just keep going. You get the point. All I’m saying is it became very clear that whether you think you can or can’t do something, try it and your body might surprise you, and also “just keep going” because more likely than not you can accomplish it. Okay, so maybe you can’t, but the trail taught me if you can’t accomplish it how everyone else does, find a new way to climb over it and you can find a new way, your own way, to accomplish the task (this was an example of a mountain with boulders to climb over but the metaphor still applies!).
- A quote from one of my favorite movies describes it best, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Mr. Bueller has a point, and while walking through the woods you do just this. I have never felt more at peace and calm than while on the trail, that’s what I miss most. I’d often look around and see little things that I guarantee I would have not noticed if not walking slowly, through the woods, day after day. Just look around once in a while. Stop and talk to people and find out their story, how they’re doing today. And laugh. I laughed almost every day on the trail whether it was a miserable day or not, simply because people on the trail took the time to slow down and enjoy life. I suggest you do the same.
- Don’t wash your hair every day. I’m serious, I know that you’ve probably heard it before but as someone that once didn’t shower for 9 days on the trail will tell you, it does wonders. Now I’m not suggesting not showering for 9 days, but washing your hair (with shampoo) twice a week will make a dramatic difference on your hair. Obviously still shower and rinse your hair, but keep the shampooing to a once or twice a week act. While exercising use dry shampoo to get those in between days but it will transform your hair, I promise. This somewhat falls into the category of “letting your body figure things out once in a while.”
- Get outside and be active. Note: you could still be active indoors too I just personally love the outdoors and find it peaceful so I encourage you to just head outside and a take a walk. I’m not a doctor and this could be completely unrelated but while on the trail, I never got sick. Seriously, no colds, no flu, no weird diseases from another hiker….and that’s while not washing my hands. Gross huh. Everyone uses hand sanitizer constantly but we rarely would get a chance to use soap to wash our hands until we got to town, so that’s a period of 3-5 days. Most hikers “shake hands” by bumping elbows for this reason but even so, since I was eating and touching my face with these dirty hands, I think my immune system should get a blue ribbon! Now who knows if this is connected at all, but I believe the lack of sickness was due to being active and stress-free, so it wouldn’t hurt to try it….the walking outside once a day, not the lack of washing hands for several days, do that please!
- And lastly, find happiness every day. I mean it, whether you think you’re having a fantastic day or a really shitty kind of day, you can find a little bit of “happy” every single day. These days socially and politically, it’s been a little overwhelming to come back into society even after just two months of being gone. The one thing I found on the trail was it was easy to be gracious and excited about the little things. I may have walked 12 miles in the mud all day long, but then a kind hiker shares their peanut m&ms with me (my favorite!). A hiker can see that you are down so they sing random rock anthems for a solid 5 miles to cheer you up, amazing! Or a fellow hiker is the unfortunate soul to step into ankle deep puddle just a mile in that day, so you lend them your extra socks and get to see the largest smile on the planet when they get to put on a dry pair. It can sometimes be difficult to find the “happy” in the world we live in these days but I promise you, it makes such a difference in the mindset you will have. It doesn’t have to be an event, or day long feeling but simply just 5 minutes to reflect on something that has made you physically smile or maybe just your brain smile. Even on days that I’ve been deep into my post-trail blues, I’ve been lucky enough to have someone around me that always makes me laugh, and these days, walking and watching dogs has been something that guarantees a laugh every so often. I’ve come to realize, that real happiness is a mindset, not a set of conditions, which is occasionally forgotten. So I recommend to you all, to “find the happy,” it’s worth it every single day.
Until next time,