Carry-On on Three Ridges, Virginia, 2012 (picture thanks to Donna Dearmon)
My 2012 AT thruhike was my first long distance hike and I took almost 8 months to complete it. It ruined my former life. Thank goodness. I was bored, unhappy and completely jaded on people. I was angry a lot and frustrated, overweight and argumentative. I worked in animal rescue and regularly saw the worst that people can do to helpless creatures and I hated people, though I loved the animals-which was the one bright spot in my life. It just wasn't enough.
During my thruhike I regularly received trail magic from family and friends as well as complete strangers. People who I might have argued with on the internet about politics or religion helped me, getting nothing back from me but a thank you. We never talked about the things we might disagree on. All that mattered was that I was hungry, cold, tired, in need of a ride, and they offered me help, from one human to another. I am friends now, with some of those trail angels, even though we have very different "beliefs".
I have come away from my thruhike with a new faith in the goodness of humans. I saw evil in humans, too, on the trail and off, but the good was overwhelming. I have faith in humanity again and that makes me incredibly grateful. I don't see it as being blind to the evils of humans, but of seeing more good than bad in individuals.
I trust groups less than ever, however, and feel even further removed from the politics, religions and other things that I hated before my hike. In some sense I could say I hate them even more, but feel less reactive towards them and less inclined to argue with people about them.
I also learned that I am a badass. Seriously. I was night hiking in the rain in December in Virginia, almost done with my thruhike and I realized. I am a badass. I kick ass. I am tough and stubborn and resourceful and determined and I am about to complete this amazing journey (which I did a few days later). The self confidence that came from my thruhike can never be taken from me.
I learned to appreciate basic things, like four walls and a roof, chairs, tables, clean water, hot running water, electricity. I have already lost the constant appreciation of these things, but I regularly have flashes of gratitude for these luxuries of American life that I enjoy. I understand how others in much poorer parts of the world can be happy with much less, because I was extremely happy on the trail, with much less.
I appreciate my luck in being an American much more than I used to. I don't need things anymore. I am working on getting rid of "stuff" I had stored before my hike that I now don't see the need for. The stuff I do keep I appreciate much more. I enjoy it, but don't need it.
I learned to trust myself, my instincts, and the things that are important to me in the companions and people I bring into my life. I learned that life does provide what you need, even if it's not what you want. Sometimes it only provides what you need for the next couple of days and you don't know what will happen after that, but then it provides just enough after that to keep going for the next few days.
I learned to find joy in just breathing and walking, whether in the sunshine or the rain. I felt strength and weakness in my body, and I conquered challenges that scared me.
I came back from the trail and had major withdrawal. I had to reevaluate everything in my life and it took several weeks. I was unemployed and felt that any job other than on a trail somewhere was a horrible idea. I considered finding new homes for my pets so I could go be a ridge runner or caretaker on the AT. I chafed at my responsibilities and regular life. I became a hermit and worked only on my blog and the pictures from my hike.
Finally I realized I could keep my pets, who are my family, and work in the outdoor retail industry and feel as if I had the best of both worlds. I start my new job tomorrow with people who are thrilled to have me because I did my thruhike. I am thrilled to work with them as well, and learn about all the hikes in the desert around me. My pay per hour is almost half of what it was before my hike. It worries me, but I feel like it's worth it to stay in the outdoor world and work with people who understand my new obsession.
I am planning another thruhike, of a western trail. I am still addicted to the AT, and it will always be the one, the first, but I look forward to my new life and I am excited for it. I hope one day to revisit the AT, whether in sections or another thruhike, because I believe it is special in the culture and people who make it what it is.
I made many friends on the AT, who I am still in contact with, and I treasure them greatly. I relate more to them than most of my pre-thruhike friends, who aren't all that interested in what I did and how it changed me now that I'm back. My old friends are just trying to figure out if I'm going to be able to participate in society again. So am I, but I think I've found the way that works for me, at least for now.
To follow my new adventures please come check out my new blog. I'm in the process of updating my 2012 AT thruhike there, and after that will come new adventures and gear reviews.
Carry-On AT 2012