Category Archives: Post AT ’13
The sun set an hour ago and the air has gotten cool – a wonderful change from the heat and humidity of the mid-Atlantic day. It’s no longer 90+ degrees in the air, though it still has the clinging heaviness that comes with being near the water. But the bricks of the old buildings around you still hold the heat from the day – radiating out as you pass your hand near them.
Your own personal sunset as you walk down the street
I’ve been exploring at sunset more and more, walking past buildings that have been home to generations of families, a church that sheltered soldiers during war, graves spanning centuries. Turning down streets with more modern building, condos and townhomes costing more than I’ll ever make a block away from low income housing, children in playground from both sides of the tracks screaming in the summer delight that they don’t have to go to school tomorrow.
So much history here, so many people. I sat and listened to an opera singer as she hit the highs and lows of a great Italian master. What is she singing about? What is the story being told? You can hear happy and sad all in the same song – longing and regret alongside joyous reunion. People pass her by, a few stop to listen – she becomes just another sound in the backdrop; along with buses and cars, music from shops and blasted from speakers, overheard conversations from tourists. She finishes, red faced and sweating in the dying heat. Walks a small circle around her tips bucket and then takes a deep breath to start anew a fresh song.
Across the street are three crusty young punks – they haven’t showered in weeks it smells like – tourists avoid them and they smell like hikers do after a long stint out. I know the smell, and their needs. I give them some cigs that I was carrying, a pack I never smoke but have for when I go to bars. One offers to swap shirts with me “You’ll get more of a story with this one my friend!” I decline the offer but borrow his guitar for a song, singing about people left behind and the places we wish to go to.
On the walk home the lightning bugs lazily drone over the large field in the park – a city block in size. The twinkle and shine, pinpoints of light in a sea of darkness, alone from the streetlights and windows. The bridge across the river shines into the water, as headlights reflect out into the night. Airplanes come in on approach to land every 3 minutes – the last few of the night. A fat third of a moon shines down, reminding me that somewhere, someone else is looking up and wishing to be somewhere other than where they are.
But even when you’ve known it forever, somewhere you know isn’t that bad at times.
It’s been 5 months since I’ve come back, 6 months since I first had the serious knees pains in the Whites. 4 1/2 since I was told I had a stress fracture in my knee and that I’d walked 450 miles on it.
It hasn’t really gone away. The pain. It still aches – maybe it’s been the cold weather, or the rehab or any number of things. But it doesn’t feel healed.
I did 2.4 miles today – half walking and half jogging. It was supposed to be all jogging but I just couldn’t do it. It was really too painful at times – especially going downhills or inclines.
So now out comes the ice
I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever truly heal. Physically, mentally and emotionally.
Better question – do I want to heal from all of this?
I’m not talking about the physical bits – I very much want them to heal up completely. But do I want to go back to the way I was before? Do I want to go back to offices, schools and a world of concrete? Do I want to return to the trail? I know I’m not the only one with these issues – Lots of other hikers I know are having the same issues with transition and their futures.
Spring Fever has officially hit and a lot of people are talking about new hikes. Hell Acorn has gone from the AT, to the Florida Trail and is now heading to the PCT. Some are talking of CDT, JMT or even the AT again.
But I’m struck by something my friend Chevy, a 2011 thru hiker had said about his girlfriend at the time.
“We got off the trail together, but she never left the Trail. She couldn’t leave it. I understood that, but you have to come back to society at some point. You can’t keep walking away from yourself and your problems forever. So we ended. And she kept walking.”
I feel that pull everyday, to go back out there and be free. It changed me, hiking for that long. But I also was on the trail running away from things, trying to figure myself out and to achieve something. I did those things. Now I’m back in society figuring out my next move.
Maybe it is hiking about long distance trail. Maybe it’s getting a good job that pays well and paying off my student debt. Maybe it’s going back to school for something I want to do. Maybe it’s meeting someone I can spend the rest of my life with.
Maybe it’s all of those things. But for the moment, I think I’ve got to Leave the Trail for a little bit. Concentrate on something that isn’t 20 miles a day.
Because we all have to change, and leave our trails at some point. They all end – there is a finite amount. I’d rather leave more adventures for tomorrow then put off everything for today.
I just think about what Chevy said sometimes and wonder – what happens to those people who never leave The Trail?
Sometimes you need a little extra push to make it.
There’s no shame in that. We all need a little help, sometimes more than a little. Help can come in all different forms, shapes and sizes. You may not even realize it’s help until far after the fact. But however it comes and finds you, it helps you to keep on going.
Ron Haven, of Franklin, NC Budget Inn fame gave a little help at the PA/NJ border. He’d given material help down in NC, shuttling us all around town to the grocery store and buffet in his mini bus from the motel. He told stories and gave advice, made us laugh and helped us to remember to be happy – that while this was difficult it wasn’t something that had to make you miserable.
So when I saw his business card slid into the visitors map at Delaware Water Gap’s Sunfish Pond, he reminded me that even people we met only briefly were still thinking of us, pulling for us to finish. We had never left his thoughts. We were his friends and he was happy for us.
Why do some people keep going when other get stuck in a rut or are unable to complete? The AT is full of this question – some people get off after 10, 20 or 40 miles. Others make it to 500 and leave. More still find themselves close to the end and remove themselves from the Trail. Few actually finish.
Sometimes it’s not a question of want or desire to complete something – there are things that can stop one from finishing far beyond your control. A girl I knew in TN/NC (actually we stayed in the Budget Inn together…) named Genie made it to Damascus and found she had stress fractures in her Tibia. She tried to rest it for two weeks and came back, only to have it fully fracture and took her off the Trail. She had done 1000 miles of the AT as a section in 2011 and was determined to finish. She’s going back out there again this year.
But for most, the decision to leave is a mental one. The reasons are as varied as the people who leave. Some are tired, angry, sick or just plain exhausted. Some built the journey up to something it wasn’t and now upon realizing the truth can’t handle it. Others found what they were looking for and decided that was enough.
The people who stay though, who keep going always have that nagging thought in the back of their head. “I’m here by choice. I could go home anytime.” What stops them from going home?
Some are just stubborn people.
Like everyone else out on the AT, Ron Haven had his quirks and stories. Stories were that he was a former wrestler turned businessman turned county commissioner. Perhaps he was just a guy who owned a motel and learned that the hikers needed help – and started helping. Maybe he really was Jack Black’s second cousin. His history didn’t really matter to us – what mattered was he was there. And like everyone I met onthe AT, Ron Haven made a bigger impact in the small amount of time I was near him then most people in my “real world” back home.
So keep going friends. When you feel as if the world is too much, the miles are weighing you down, just keep going. Left foot. Right foot.
Because any day out here is a better day then one in the office.
For hikers, our packs our the center of our lives. We carry every single thing we have in our packs, and how much you like your pack can make your hike a wonderful thing or a terrible time.
I was talking with a very good friend of mine who is on her way to the Philippines in two weeks, and she asked my advice on her pack choice. She could either take her older external frame pack, a massive 80 Liter item, or a smaller internal frame 70L. She’s not really doing much backpacking, it’s more for base camp haul in/haul out – but she’s still worrying about it quite a bit.
So we talked about it – hikers can talk for hours about their gear. My biggest piece of advice when it comes to packs is to put all your stuff in it, and see how it carries the load – in other words you do the opposite of what comes naturally, which is buy the bag first and fill it up.
I hiked with a Granite Gear Blaze 60L pack in 2013 for over 2,000 miles. By the end of the trail, the back plate had broken completely once, was shattering a second time, it had a hole in the main compartment and water bottle web was completely gone. But it got me to the end, and I still use it today.
This pack took me all the way to the end. It never let me down completely ever. I didn’t always treat it as well as I should have, and it didn’t always treat me well either, but it was good. It shared my adventures and came with me everywhere.
Something my friend said though made me think.
I use the same logic when picking a mate. I see how they fit in my life and how they carry their load.
True statement. Finding someone to share your life with, and picking a backpack out are similar things if you think about it!
- Packs carry your life when hiking long distances. Your mate carries your heart. Both are capable of damaging you if they fail in their duties.
- Packs can be flawed of have a defect, just like your mate. When your pack breaks, you try and fix it – always carry your needle and thread, duct tape. Make-up sex and long conversations are the equivalent I think in relationships.
- Packs can come with guarantees, showing how much the company is willing to stand behind their product. Your mate can come with a guarantee too – in the form of a life-long commitment to you – either via marriage, another social contract or just a promise.
- You get to pick your pack, the same way you get to pick your mate – out of hundreds of other options. Some feel good, others don’t and you never really know if you’ve made the right choice until a hundred miles in.
In the end though, people out preform packs in one major area – they can grow and change. They may get worn out with you, but they don’t get thrown away – not really. Not the good ones.
But then I don’t throw out any of my packs either – I’ve sent a few off in Viking funerals, but I’ve never tossed one.
I have too much respect for my pack – broken or not
I’m wearing my hiking pants
They smell like the last fire we shared.
I’m wearing a shirt
That went 2000 miles
I’ve got a hat on
That still smells like Maine.
Its snowing here and I’m walking in the woods.
Missing things I can’t get back.
You exist only in memory now.
I’d give anything to go back.
While you shake off your hangovers, brush the glitter off your face and deal with the passed out friend on your couch (this was the routine result of New Years in my house for years) I’d like to share a story with you from last night. No, it’s not the story of the wonderful people I met and talked to (including a very smart and attractive teacher), it’s one of hope and missed connections.
Everyone today is talking about resolutions and their plans for the upcoming 365 days. What they are going to change about themselves, who they are going to become.
Instead we’re going to talk of the power of hope. Fate.
This was on every single light post for 6 blocks in either direction of the bar.
Before we had such nifty things like facebook, craigslist missed connections or cell phones, you were so limited by ways you could try and get in contact with someone you missed. You could put an ad in the paper in the personals column. You could go back to the same bar every night and pray they would show up. You could try this tactic, and make posters and place them all over town. But all of these relied on hope that they’d see it, or that fate would bring them back into your life.
This lady made a mistake – I don’t know what it is, or how it came about. All that matters in my eyes is that she went so far, and tried so hard to rectify it. She made a grand romantic gesture and put herself out there. She used all of the means she had available and more than anything, wants things to work.
I want them to work out for her too. We all should be so lucky as to have things work out for us.
It’s a new year. You have all the opportunities before you that you wish to make. Some of us will sit back and let life takes it’s course. Let fate steer us along the path. Others will stand up and take action. Try and make the river flow in the directions we want, change the path we walk.
Some will learn that the directions they want to go in aren’t feasible, despite everything they wish and desire. They’ll build walls and dams to divert the flow as long as possible. But water always wins in the end.
I think the smartest among us will build boats – and follow the river. They’ll control their speed and course, make decisions on when to stop and what branches to take. They’ll work with fate, and become not as a master to the river of fate, but as a companion.
I encourage you to think about what you really want this year. What hopes you actually have that you don’t ever say – except in the dead of night when no one can hear. Those hopes you have? Those should be the ones you follow and act on. They are the ones I think that are important. Promise yourself you’ll listen to them.
Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a better day.
If nothing else, one day you can look someone straight in the eyes and say “But I lived through it. And it made me who I am today.”
― Iain Thomas
At this time of year, we are all in the habit of looking at where we’ve come from in the past year, what growth we’ve made. We ponder what the new year will bring, and make promises to ourselves about what will do to improve ourselves.
For myself, 2013 was a roller coaster ride. I went from depressed and longing, to utter happiness and accomplishment, then back to being morose. I started the year in my eyes as a failure and ended as a winner when it came to hiking.
Highlights of the year 2013
- Walked 2185.7 miles
- Met some amazing people
- Saw sights I never had before
- Made discoveries about myself, and the person I am
- Feel in love
- Was cheated on
- Made a grand romantic gesture, sans boombox
- Started playing music again
- Accomplished what I set out to do
Everything on that list, baring one, were things I did. I had ups and downs, good times and bad. I followed my dreams and was rewarded. I was also punished for decisions I made along the way.
In the end though, after 365 days I’m older and a little wiser. I’ve accepted the fact that my parents know what they’re talking about, and mom is usually right. I should follow my dreams and make plans for the future, budget and commit to things. I should let people know how I feel, and especially tell the people that I care for that I love them.
I don’t know what the new year will bring. I can’t look into the future like that, though sometimes I wish I could. All that really is for sure is that you can’t change what has happened, nor can you forget the things in the past. Embrace them. Accept them. Make them part of who you are. Take the things that hurt, the people that you miss and use those good memories of them to plug the holes in your heart and soul.
The things that hurt you in the past year have made you stronger – I know that because we’re still here.
I hope the coming year brings joy and happiness. It limits your sorrows and dulls your pain. May we all heal a little in the year 2014.
Thank you for reading.
Every year when I was in college I made sure to put away a little money so I could buy myself something nice that I wanted. Usually it was something I was going to get myself anyway, or something that would have been too complicated to ask for. My first real suit was a gift to myself at Christmas. (Seriously guys, do yourself a favor and go get a good suit, shirt and shoes to match.)
This year I didn’t do anything for myself. Chalk it up to the plan that fell apart, the failed relationship that blew up in my face, post-trail depression. Lack of money is a big part of it. Whatever the reasons, I didn’t do something that had become a tradition for myself.
I got this in the mail yesterday.
It’s just a piece of paper – but it carries so much meaning to me, and anyone else who has hiked the AT. You are official and in the books as being a thru-hiker.
There is always a lot of discussion among people, especially those who are getting ready to hike and those who have been done for a long time, about what exactly “thru-hiker” means. What the definition is. The generally accepted one is all 2185.7 miles (this number changes every year) of the Appalachian Trail within 365 days.
For me this was reached on June 3rd, when I reached the point where I had gotten off the previous year in November. I had completed all the miles within 365 days – my hike would have been counted as a flip-flop.
I kept hiking north. I went back to Katahdin.
It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
I’ve had a lot of ups and down this past year. I look back to where I was a year ago and remember how I felt. It’s a lot of the same feelings – longing for the trail, despair at being in my parent’s basement again, feelings of depression. But there is something bigger there this year – something important beyond my broken heart for a girl and lovesick soul for the people on the trail.
The realization of accomplishment of something so profound that it has changed my life in so many innumerable ways already.
My hike wasn’t defined by my pursuit of this piece of paper. It was defined by the people I met and the miles I walked. But along with everyone else who finished this year, I am now officially recognized as having done this.
It feels good to have that.
So merry Christmas everyone. I ended up with a gift for myself this year that I couldn’t be happier with. It didn’t cost me much – just 2185.7 miles and 6 months of my life.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
When it comes to what I’ve experienced in life, I don’t always have the right words to express myself.
I’ve always know that I have to use the right words in order to make myself understood. When I write, it becomes a little easier – I have time to think about what I want to say, I’m able to double check and think through each sentence. Writing a real letter is so much easier for me in this way than say, having a conversation online through instant messages.
But when I start to talk to people in person, I don’t always get my point across. It’s hard to convey all the feelings and the depth that I want to.
How you do tell someone how beautiful a sunset was from a mountain top? The special pine scent that wafts up from the valley into the high mountains in the Whites? How when the last flash of light disappeared from the sky, the reds and oranges turned into midnight blues and blacks. How the air tasted sweet and fresh.
Pictures help – but they are just a frozen moment – only telling part of it.
How do you describe that feelings of joy when you wake up next to someone you love if they never have felt that feeling? Is there a way to make someone understand just how close you are to someone, how you know everything about them and can read their every twitch and feeling – read their mind so well that they don’t even have to talk?
For many years I took the shotgun approach to language. If I get enough words and sentences out there that are close to what I want, eventually the person I’m talking to will understand. They’ll be able to pull together enough of what I’m saying to make their own picture.
When I hiked in 2012, I came home and used a more concise method. Trying to get as close to the real feeling and moment as possible, making sure every word and phrase I used was as close to the truth as I could get it. I carried that with me into my 2013 hike.
I still wasn’t able to convey the things I wanted to say with enough certainty. I wasn’t able to communicate what I was feeling – or how I was feeling it with certainty. It was one thing that perhaps doomed my relationship – not being able to communicate what I was feeling clearly.
Last night I went to a open house thrown by my father’s girlfriend. There were two ladies about my age there. We talked for a little and they asked about my hike. I tried to tell them about it – the people, the places I saw. Things I felt. I knew I wasn’t doing a very good job of it. I wasn’t conveying the magic and wonder that the trail gave me.
Until one of them said something that gave me hope.
“You speak about these things with such passion, it makes me want to go out and do this.”
I hadn’t said anything special – I was talking about hikers named Buckeye and Atreyu. Hikers like any other. But she heard the love in my voice. She heard how much I cared for them. What they meant to me.
She didn’t understand the story so much, or the reasoning behind it. It didn’t matter. She felt the magic through my voice, and it touched her.
I think this is one of the first times that I saw someone’s eyes light up with understanding. Not amazement or wonder at what I did – but understanding of why I went back.
The passion that I feel for these people, this trail that they walk on and 2000 miles we spent together came across in my voice and touched someone else.
It’s a wonderful and special thing to be understood, and no longer feel like you’re talking to nothing.
The holidays are two-sided affair for many people. It has promise of family, and the love they bring. But it also has the promise of family, and the stress they bring.
Usually I fall into the second category. Stress. When I’m with primary family – mom, step-dad, brother, dad and his girlfriend… its stressful for me.
It’s only gotten worse since I’ve hiked.
It’s only really gone off the deep end since I came back and been living with my mom and step-dad.
My mom has been supportive of me during this time, my recovery and reintegration. But she never really has understood what I’m talking about, or the obstacles I’ve been dealing with. Its not to say she hasn’t been empathetic, she just doesn’t actually listen to what I’m saying. Not really.
So she suggested we go to a family counselor.
“Your son is broken” was the second thing the counselor said when mom came into the room.
I think it finally hit her – having someone else tell her.
Because since I’ve been back, I have been broken. I’ve been mired in a funk. Brought down by post-trail depression, heatbreak and physical pain.
Post-trail depression is a real thing. It happens to every long distance hiker. It’s easy to see why – you spend everyday living with people, sharing everything with them. At the end, you are ripped from your family and shoved back into a world where at best people don’t understand what you just did. At worst, they look at you with disdain.
So how do you deal with post-trail depression? There are lots of people who have ideas and theories about it.
I’ll let you know when I’m finally over it myself. Because it’s a long long road back from it.
And I’m not sure where I’m going from here.
I’m not sure. But it’s my journey. And I’ll keep walking the whole time.
Walking solves all my problems