Post Hike

After finishing my thru-hike, I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted to write an entry about my return home and the post thru hike experience, more for myself than any other reason. This is an often overlooked and under contemplated part of the thru hike. I did not give it as much thought in hindsight as perhaps I could have. With that said, I also knew that I needed to wait for the proper time to lapse to truly put things into the proper perspective. I believe that time has arrived, coincidentally or maybe in part because I am sitting at home as the COVID-19 virus is doing its dirty deeds here in the United States and across the world.It has often been said by thru-hikers, that the hardest part of a thru-hike is returning home. When you come home, your puzzle piece no longer fits into the puzzle, that has been a common analogy. I too experienced this and had to adapt and find my new place. There is no going back to what was “normal” before the hike. I changed and going back to “normal” would be going backwards, not forwards. Trying to fit into what I was, was not something I tried…that was the past. The trail changed for the better. Some of the changes were obvious to me and others were more subtle. The post hike experience was a process for sure. This blog entry hopefully will shed some insight into it (that future thru hikers may or may not find value in), but by no means is it complete.Waking up in the hostel the day after completing my thru-hike in glorious Maine, began the odd journey back into so called civilization. I got into a van with several other hikers. The hostel staff drove us about 45 minutes to the closest bus station. It was the longest trip in an automobile I had over the past 5.5 months, but I was still with other thru hikers, probably the only people who can understand what happened on the trail and relate to what comes next, not that others didn’t try. I got dropped off at a gas station in the middle of nowhere Maine, but a bus came and picked us up to bring us to Bangor, Maine. This was the nearest larger city with services. I had purchased a plane ticket the day before.The bus came and I climbed on and sat down. It was a large comfy tour bus. What was I doing on it, it was going to be a fairly long drive. I was going home to my family, girlfriend, friends, and my other life (whatever that was now). After a short time I and the other thru-hikers grew unusually quiet and went into deep contemplation. I was seeing how fast the bus was moving, sometimes I could see the most beautiful Mount Kathadin (the end of the trail) in the distance and getting further away. Knowing full well it had taken me a week to walk that far…then it became two weeks…and it all happened at a pace in the bus that blew my mind and seemed so very unreal and unnatural. Seeing the mountain fade into the distance, pieces of my heart were tore to shreds to be leaving. I start seeing more people and buildings and highways, shopping malls and all of that stuff as I get closer and eventually into Bangor. The bus dropped me off at a bus stop by a shopping mall. I needed to find a cab for a ride to the airport, as the bus did not go there. I see a cab sitting behind the bus and I walk up to the cab driver in it, as I approach I see she is eating a salad for lunch, the window rolls down and the driver asks if I would like a ride, I said yes please, but I say I can wait until you are done eating, so I found a place in the grass and just sat down. Thru hikers learn to just roll with things and not stress over the clock, what is meant to happen will happen when it is meant to. The driver was done eating and called me over and I got in. I quickly then figured out the driver was a male dressed as a female, pretty well made up I must admit. We had a nice and fun conversation on the way to the airport, another trail related human connection!I got dropped off at the airport. It felt huge to me, but it was a small airport compared to most. It was the right size for that area and it was a nice airport. People were rushing about at different times and the public address system calls out announcements very loudly. As I was sitting in the airport in Bangor, Maine, I was seeing more different people in this one day than I had in the last 5.5 months of my life on trail. I was wearing an Appalachian Trail shirt I picked up at the last hostel, so I could travel in something fresh and so I did not smell like a thru hiker to others. I literally wore the same clothes everyday for 5.5 months, except my beloved blue shirt that literally rotted off me. I got up and went through airport security and they saw my shirt and asked if I was a thru hiker, I said yes and they were so nice they opened up a security line just for me to go through, so I did not have to wait in line. I was so grateful and they were really nice to me. I really did not want to leave Maine or the trail, but I did want to get back and see the people that were special to me and start the next phase of my life and relationship.I boarded a small plane in Bangor. I was in a plane, flying around 500 miles an hour or so. The speed was blowing my mind away and the pace of society. I kept thinking to myself, “Where am I, what is all of this.” This was just the start.My plane landed in New York City, NY. I got off my plane and entered the airport…OH MY GOD where the hell am I…what is going on….everyone is rushing, the energy and the noise is so high…food and drink is so plentiful and so easily available, toilets and toilet paper and everything so easy to find…I feel like I am walking around having an out of body experience. This may be a very slight exaggeration, but it is how I truly felt, from this point forward for at least the next several months for sure. I think I would be able to understand how a cave man would feel if you just picked him up from his remote cave home and dropped him into New York City. Well, I am sure he would be more shocked and scared than I was, but…what a change!!! I was truly in shock at the transition from life in the woods to urban society, for real. I boarded a plane in New York City after a short layover. I boarded a large plane for the flight back to Minnesota, where I lived when not on trail. Just before departing, a plane pulled in next to our plane, lots of flashing lights, many police, fire fighters and military people were standing along the plane at attention…that plane was carrying the remains of a soldier who was killed overseas in service to our country, our plane pilot announced. A lady in a row over cried…my heart sank as the flag draped coffin was removed from the plane and loaded into the hertz. Some things in life are important, this was one…many other things are trivial that we worry so much about.I was in a total fog. The plane takes off and we fly across the country in a few hours, a distance that took me 5.5 months to hike on foot, in all types of weather and rough terrain, a lot of time alone, some great times with other amazing thru hikers, trail angels, hostel owners and town people at times. I land in the Minneapolis airport…I am in shock with all the people and the pace of life. As I walking I see my parents, my sister and her family and my girlfriend…they are holding signs and balloons…and so happy to see me.. I was so happy to see everyone…soooo much…but I was really in a state of shock and did not know what to do…I loved being welcomed home like that…but I was in shock from everything and in full sensory overload and really unsure what to do in this environment. It’s hard to explain to someone, if they have never understood it for themselves, being in shock. I went back to work about two weeks after returning home, needed some time to try to adjust. Try. At least maybe get a start on trying to adjust. I was welcomed back in a really great way. I was grateful. I remember all the good people and how happy everyone was to see me back, it meant a lot to me. I had no idea how many people knew about my trip and were following it and cared. I gave several lunch time presentations about my trip at work and each one was filled to capacity, I was truly surprised that many people would be interested, but I was and am so grateful.I came off the trail loosing over 60 pounds. I did not miss them. LOL I just needed a lot of time alone when I got home to adjust and process. It was hard to explain what I was feeling, needing and experiencing. I did not want to be alone, I wanted people to understand what I was experiencing and how overwhelming it was being back and to know I really needed time to adjust and process the life shock of being back in so called civilization. LOL. Driving scared the hell out of me for a long time and the reaction times needed and everything having to do with driving and the other drivers. The pace of life and energy was just so much being back, it was a little scary and overwhelming to be honest…maybe more than I little, to be honest. I was a marathoner/ultra marathoner before I left on the hike. When I got home, I literally could not even run across the street, it was soooo very painful. My body had eaten so much of my muscle and other tissue away for energy on the trail. I had very extensive nerve damage in my feet and parts of my back, every movement felt life a knife being pushed into me (no exaggeration). I was used to healing rapidly from any physical injuries in the past. Healing was not rapid this time.After not making progress at a rate I felt appropriate…I went to the doctor and got sent to physical therapy. I had to rebuild muscle, tendons, ligaments. From walking on the terrain my legs adapted to (very rocky, slippery, uneven, large elevation changes over 2,200 miles) my feet turned outward for stability, so I had to learn how to walk in proper form on flat ground and rebuild all those soft tissues and nerves that were damaged. Nerves repair very slowly. It took about 3 months after being home, before each foot step did not feel like a knife being pushed through my feet with each step…slowly the nerves regrew…slowly I rebuilt the muscle my body ate for energy on trail and I learned to walk properly again. After that I started trying to run…it was a slow and humbling process.During this stage, I was asked to be on a podcast with these two great guys who canoed from Minnesota to Hudson Bay, Canada…we talked about adventures, it was nice. I also spent a lot of time talking with thru hikers I met on the trail on the phone or through social media. We thru hikers needed each other…for many (not all) of us it was a hard readjustment. The Appalachian Trail gave us the strength to get through anything life can ever dish out. They say the trail provides. It does!While I was on the trail, the girlfriend and I decided to get married after the trail. I had asked my parents what they thought and all of that. Things rapidly fell apart when I got home and discovered some things. End of that life chapter. I am not going to speak poorly of it or what happened. But on some hard days on the trail, it was that love I felt that helped me keep going, so I have to be grateful for what was…There was a neat guy from Minnesota following me on my blog the whole way. So when I got home we made sure we were able to meet up and have a hamburger and beverage together. I thanked him for his support.As my body healed and readjusted, I was able to run a beautiful marathon in Wisconsin.I also took up the sport of skydiving post trail, it is such an amazing experience to jump out of a plane 13,000 feet above the ground. I always get nervous in the plane and when the door opens…LOL…but when I jump and am free falling there is no fear, just the wind at a loud roar…flying under the canopy after I pull the rip cord, it is so quiet and beautiful. Flying the canopy in and coming in for landing the exhilaration level increases. There is so much to think about in the sport every second. I had some beautiful jumps at sunset!I was looking for more life changes after I got back home. So I started learning and playing bluegrass banjo. People say I have gotten pretty good in a short time. I think I have a lot of fun things to learn. I was even professionally photographed with my banjo and published in in some bluegrass/music publications… Taking up the bluegrass banjo was something I did, to help keep the Appalachian spirit with me and reinforce the memories I have of the great people, the trail and music of the trail. Not that I need the help, I will never forget the amazing experiences and people.Around the same time, I went out and got a rather large tattoo of the Appalachian Mountains on my leg. It is so beautiful and so colorful, I love it. I designed with the tattoo artist based on real scenery of the trail.On the trail I also decided to buy a house. I had owned a condo for a long time. I was able to find just what I wanted. I bought a 115 year old, 2.5 story house, with all the original wood floors, original radiators, original stained glass windows, original built ins and wood work, porches, fenced in yard… I think it is super neat. I have met all of my neighbors and they all are great people and a few have said they are glad to have me as a neighbor.I have many friends that I still keep in touch with from the trail. It truly was the most challenging thing I have ever done (mentally and physically). But the trail in nothing but love and friendship, it is truly amazing and life changing. As hard as the trail was and as hard as adjusting to post trail life was…I would not change a thing. I think the trail is always looking out for me and giving me trail magic even way out here in Minnesota. I love the trail and the ways I have changed and the changes in my life that took place as a result. I am looking forward to the next adventure(s) in life. I am not one to settle. I am so grateful for my family, friends, the thru hikers, the trail angels, the trail towns and people, the thru hiker community and supporters.

5 thoughts on “Post Hike

  1. PartAnimal PartMachine April 12, 2020 — 8:28 pm

    The pace of life and energy….

    The pace….

    Pacecar

    Breathe in peace
    Breathe out love

    This is all a test until we return to the trail, remembering how beautiful life can be. Deep down inside, we all know that beauty. Some are closer to that fire than others. I am proud to share that fire with you my friend.

    PAPM

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  2. Good to hear from you, J. Lots of good adventures post AT! Hope you’re doing well and staying safe! MH

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    1. Glad to know you are still alive and kicking too Mike. I read your blog when you post stuff too. Hope you and everyone close to you is healthy and well too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi J- I haven’t been posting since about last May… blog software needs update and I haven’t done it. Had good hikes out in Teddy Roosevelt NP and across Montana and into Yellowstone since then, but no posts. Solos and with grand-kids! Take care.

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  3. I am unable to express myself as eloquently as you do, all I can say is that no Father could ever be more proud of his Son, as I am of you. Thank you so much for sharing. I Love You.

    Like

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