An open letter to returning thru-hikers (and long section hikers)


Toadstool hike in Southern Utah

Here's my blog post from a year ago, on the Appalachian Trail.


I finished my thru-hike Dec 9, 2012. It's been less than a year and "real" life seems more normal, but not entirely. I have regular flashes of gratitude for all the luxuries of running, clean water; hot showers; electricity. FOUR walls! Space heaters and swamp coolers. A washing machine and dryer in my own house! Anything that isn't outside is a luxury and a prison in some way. I get sucked into taking things for granted, but I don't stay there. I can just get in my car and drive anywhere I want to go. It's magic.


It's educational to live with only what you can carry on your back. You discover that you can survive with very little. You appreciate basic things like shelter, protection from the elements, clean water, enough food to fuel your body to keep moving. You are moved to tears by the pleasure of an orange, a hot shower or an icy fountain soda. That was my experience anyway.


I want to buy and move into an RV with my pets. I resent property. I don't like maintaining it, grooming it, being responsible for it. My rental house feels huge and sucks me dry. It takes so much energy to keep it clean and organized, heated, rent paid, weeds pulled/mowed. The cats and dog don't help with the chores at all. 


I don't need all this space to prevent me from being outside. It's also really expensive to heat, so I'm only heating one room with a space heater. The animals and I pile on the bed in the indulgent heat and I feel lucky to be so warm. 66 degrees (F) feels awesome in my sweat pants, wool socks and warm hoody. I don't even need gloves yet, but it's not really winter yet. My one room is bigger than most of the shelters on the AT.


 I finished my hike in the winter and was cold for more than two months. I read somewhere that getting cold enough to shiver burns fat cells, so, to make up for the ten pounds I've re-gained post-hike, I sit in the unheated living room and shiver while online. I figure it keeps me tough and acclimatized to the coming winter and outdoor adventures. Or maybe I'm a little strange(r) now. Unsocialized. Partially feral.


I didn't mean to, but I returned to my adopted little town which I love, floundered for a few months and then got a job at an outfitter. I also returned part-time to my old company and work double shifts several times a week. I started choir practice in September for the Christmas concert where I am singing a duet. Singing makes me happy and it's one thing I do entirely for fun.


I sleep less than I want, hike on my days off and sometimes am so desperate for a long trail that I want to run away to any trail, anywhere, I don't care. Then I take deep breaths, exhale, regain my senses and tend to my animals and responsibilities the best I can while planning a big new adventure/project.


I have changed since I went on my AT thru-hike. I don't intimidate easily anymore. I'm not sure why. Maybe because-after hiking 22 miles over mountains with a 42 pound pack in a cold winter rain, three hours of it in the dark with a dying headlamp while climbing over trees blown down by Hurricane Sandy-bossy, grumpy, rude people just don't seem that scary.


I thought I would die a few times on my hike and I had some perilously close calls, but was never seriously injured. So now I believe I am lucky. Others were injured by their falls. I wasn't. Pure luck. I have a bigger perspective and certain things don't scare me any more. However, I'm still scared of spiders.


I'll have to save more money before I go on my next adventure, because I ran out of money with 600 miles to go. My friends and family and complete strangers/trail angels helped me finish. Without you I would not have been able to complete my thru-hike. Our thru-hike. Thank you all so very much. I can never thank you enough for supporting me, encouraging me, helping me and most of all for loving me. I love you, too.


I'm writing a book and taking writing classes. I'm learning more about photography and getting some great pictures on my weekend hikes. I'm going to finish updating the pictures to my new blog and catch it up to the present. I'm planning either an ultra-marathon or maybe the Colorado Trail in 2014 or 2015. Then the PCT by 2018 (probably in 2-5 sections).


My advice to you, returning thru-hiker, is to write everything you didn't already write down. Edit and label your pictures with dates and locations. Keep writing and exploring what happened. Stay in touch with your hiking buddies, even if you have different politics/religions/beliefs. Or make new hiking buddies. Go hiking regularly, even just for a mile or two. It really does help with re-entry. Find a new goal or passion that makes your heart catch fire, and follow it.


Here is a blog post from March, where I talk about how my thru-hike changed me. Re-entry is hard and we're changed forever and it's totally worth it.



Happy Adventures!


I was inspired to write this after reading an amazing blog post by a 2013 thru-hiker home for two weeks. I understand and agree completely with her about pretty much everything she wrote. Read it here.

Some random pictures from recent hikes.
View on Toadstool hike, Southern Utah.
Toadstool sunset, Southern Utah.
My sandy feet in Chacos at Horseshoe Bend, near Page, AZ.
Standing on the edge of Horshoe Bend, AZ