Getting back from long trips like the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail is one of the hardest parts of the experience. To readjust to what most people think of as a normal life, you need to change every aspect of your existence. Coming back from the PCT, I thought I had a better plan than I did with the AT, but I’ve realized there’s just no way to get back to a normal life without some bumps along the way.
My friend and fellow PCTer, Tom, mentioned on his trailjournal several days after getting back home how difficult the initial adjustment can be, sometimes to comic effect. It’s not always quite so entertaining, however. Many hikers deal with post-trail depression as their life of constant endorphins and simple goals turns into a life of relative physical inactivity, complicated decisions, and less direction. The only way I know for dealing with this is to have a plan and to keep the mind busy once I return from a trip.
On the Appalachian Trail I ran into a previous through hiker leading a group of kids on a hiking trip for an experiential education program. In talking with him, he warned me of the dangers of having nothing to do when you get back from a long hike like the AT. He told me that he had finished the trail, then sat in front of the television for three weeks with nothing to do. That sounds depressing enough even without the AT before it. He told me he gained weight, ate junk food, lost contact with his trail friends, and couldn’t find a job once he started looking. You don’t need someone to tell you that that’s not a good way to get off the trail.
After the PCT, I started looking for jobs before I even came back into the US. I was short on money, of course, but even more important than an income was a schedule. After months of very structured days, I needed to come back to some kind of a daily schedule or else I might wind up like the guy from the AT, surfing the internet constantly and wasting time with video games. I was able to keep myself busy with some projects I had planned while on the trail, but there’s only so much I can do to keep my mind occupied without the carrot and stick of a paying job.
The only problem with my plan was the lack of jobs available in general. On the PCT I was able to avoid current events and news for the entire summer, but once I got back home I had a harsh reminder of the national unemployment rate. My usual sources for work, experiential education groups and seasonal hiking club jobs, are now a hot commodity that people seem to hold onto for dear life. I had to look much harder and in more places than usual to find anything available.
It took over a month to finally get set with a new job, which now seems like the easy part. Next up was finding a place to live. That did not go smoothly, either. I rushed to find an apartment, quickly choosing something that I thought looked livable, but within a few days of moving in I realized I had made a mistake. On the trail I could easily sleep at an unsatisfactory campsite and leave early the next morning, but it’s not so easy with an apartment. I ended up leaving the place without much notice, inadvertently pissing off my new roommates and making their lives just as stressful as mine for a while. I’m not proud of that at all.
Now I’ve got a job and a place to live, but there’s still more that needs to be done in order to fully adjust to life off the trail. I haven’t yet gotten used to living on my own in the city, but I’m getting there. My body also hasn’t fully recovered from the trail. My knees are a little creaky, my feet still susceptible to toe stubbing and crunching, and I’m still trying to figure out what this intestinal garbage is that I contracted early on in the trip (it’s not giardia or crypto, but it’s something annoying).
I guess I’m finally on the right track, at least. I haven’t done a lot of hiking yet, but I’ve managed to commute to work on my bike a few days so far. It’s a 13-mile ride each way, which means I’ve biked more in the past few weeks than ever before. It feels good to be active, even if it’s just for a few hours a day. Next up, I’ll need to get up to the White Mountains or the Mahoosucs to do some day hikes. Then, eventually, I’ll get myself back into some weekend trips, then longer trips, and… who knows what big hikes are next!