Saturday, December 17, 2011

Adjusting after the AT

I am excited to begin writing on this blog again. After finishing the AT it seems like a cool medium to share different things that I learned with my friends and family. I figure I’ll use it as a way to answer all the questions that each of you are asking, as well as just talk about different things I’ve learned as they are revealed to me.

Since being off the trail people are always interested in the superlatives: What was the best part? What was the worst part? What was your favorite state? What was the scariest animal encounter? I’ve been fielding these questions, many of which I don’t have a clear answer for, as best I can. Some have obvious answers that stand out bright and clear in my memory (most likely because I am scarred by them!), with others I find myself sounding like a politician deftly maneuvering around the question, talking about several related (slightly off) topic points that I am more comfortable with. It’s just really hard to figure out what the best part was! It’s really easy to figure out the worst part. These posts will come in due time, I’ll try to do about one a day until I run out of topics. So far I have a brainstorm list of things I’d like to write about. They include (off the top of my head):
The worst day ever (as expected)
The best day ever (this will probably be some rambling about how I can’t figure it out)
The things they carried (everyone asks what we packed, and it changed over time)
Trail lingo (there is a whole vocabulary accompanied with the AT)
The least wilderness-y wilderness experience (about how many people hike the AT to have a wilderness experience, but how I think that is impossible on this trail)
Trail culture (the elusive and difficult to explain subculture surrounding the trail. this might also warrant a Trail Names post)
The lessons I’ve learned (still figuring this out)
A typical day (also a popular question)
Sausage fest 2011 (life as the only female for 3 months)
What 500 miles felt like, and 1000, and 1500 and 2000
NOBOs vs. SOBOs (the difference between those who hike north and south)

Anyway, if you have other ideas shoot them at me and I’ll write about it. Maybe one with our recipes and food ideas, or one with the towns we stopped in.

For the first post I figured I’d address the question of “Is it hard getting back into real life now that you’re done?”

The short answer is “no”. I know, disappointing. It’s been over 3 weeks since we’ve finished the 5 month journey, so maybe it is too soon to tell? But still, there was no shock to the system, no pained re-figuring out how to function in a house and with cars. There is a slight chance that it just hasn’t hit us yet that you can’t just stop walking 20 miles a day after 152 days and feel like everything is normal.

I figure part of the reason that the transition feels so smooth is that we were pretty connected during the trip. I would email, facebook and text every time we got to a town, which was at least once a week. I would even call and text from the trail if I felt like it and we had service. We were also constantly receiving letters from people on the trip, and we were taking videos of the journey with the rest of the world in mind. Therefore, we were very cognizant of the world beyond the trail and vicariously interacted with it as we documented our trip.

Another reason that it is an easy transition is that we were such lazy slobs whenever we went to towns, we really never forgot what not hiking felt like. We’d hang out in a hostel or hotel and watch tv all day, order pizza and drink beer. It felt like any other weekend that you just wanted to relax. We also bought an AM/FM radio in Front Royal, VA so we listened to NPR in the morning. Between tv and radio, we were more tuned in to news than I was in college. We also were up to date on all the new South Park episodes this season. We also caught a couple Republican debates. We heard all about the Occupy Wall Street movements around the country. Really, we didn’t miss any of the headlines, we just felt a serene sense of detachment since it was so far from our present worldly concerns. It was great (not so great now).

Finally, hiking by the end just felt so normal! It was like having a job. A job you enjoyed. A job where you set your own schedule. Yes, we did have people point out to us how lucky we were, “You can take a vacation day whenever you want!”. And some hikers, I’m sure, cringe at calling it a job. However, I’m just trying to express a certain feeling where you wake up early in the morning and you know you have stuff to get done (i.e. hike 20 miles). You can’t dilly-dally too much or else you won’t make it to your goal. You push through rough times (rain, cold, wind) in order to complete the objective. You are tired and go to bed, wake up and repeat. Then you get time off (i.e. going into towns for a night or a day) and you freaking love it like it’s TGIF every time. Ya know what I mean?

Luckily I never got sick of hiking. I literally would be walking, my poles clinking next to me as I took my steps, watching the trail disappear before me as I walked forward through an ever-changing landscape of woods, thinking “I can’t believe I’m not sick of this.” I really wasn’t. Ever. I was bored sometimes and in a bad mood, but we’d stop and change things up a bit and continue and everything was good again. I wasn’t itching to finish by the end, but I was also ready for it to be done. I think it was probably just the right timing to finish the trail and 1) not be jerked out of a different sense of reality brought by hiking for so long and 2) not be overdue for my life back in civilization, which I’m sure carries its own consequences.

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