On the PCT as I neared the finish I remember dreaming about couches, cats and oddly enough my old job. I fantasized about working a set schedule and day hiking just for fun. But more all encompassing were the dreams about other trails. The CDT scared me but the AT seemed so approachable that I spent the next two years working entirely towards another thru hike. I moved to get more specialized in my career just so I could become more marketable to make up for the gaps in my resume. Not hiking another long trail was inconceivable.
2 years can feel like a long time. I started to settle, make friends and even almost bought a house but I backed out because the lure of the CDT had become overwhelming (the AT was now on the back burner). Everything that wasn't thruhiking really only got half my attention. Because I felt like these trails were the most important thing holding my life together.
The CDT was ridiculously hard and stressful but absolutely amazing. I've been told that when I talk about it I tell stories about the craziness and hard times but always have the biggest grin on my face. But it was a hard hike, I dreamed about the AT as I crept closer to Canada. White blazes, grocery stores, short resupplies and never having to navigate sounded like a true vacation and nirvana. Not to mention the fact that some of my favorite fellow thruhikers are absolutely in love with the AT. So I limped back home and worked more temporary jobs, putting "real life" on hold to hike 6 months later. The trail was my real life, the place I longed to be, not the long 12 plus hour shifts I was putting in. Living on a couch wasn't ideal but rent was astronomical and I bargained it was worth it. I was surprised when I found myself actually sad to leave my job. After only 6 months I felt myself settling in again, finding potential friends I was loathe to make plans with because I knew I would soon be gone. But I couldn't shake the need to hike and felt I would hugely regret not heading to the east coast come April.
So I hit Georgia with a conflicted but eager start. Everything was so different! I didn't get lost, the grocery stores were all I had dreamt about and my lighter than ever pack made Georgia just fly by. But I was also hiking with a partner, having to become less selfish and aware than ever before. And let's face it, I struggled. The AT was gorgeous, yes there were endless PUDs but it's such a unique and pretty landscape. I loved all the small creatures, this trail was so much more about the micro than the macro. The towns, shelters and whole culture was a big shift. I battled hiking solo and partnership, with whole new levels of emotional turmoil taking over I found myself retreating. On the other two trails I would have small panic attacks in grocery stores. I'm am indecisive person and when confronted with more than just miles, direction and water sources I start to spin. It's another reason I have found hiking such an amazing retreat. Now I found myself panicking in large groups, not an ideal situation on the AT. Finding peace was easiest when pushing myself, hiking long hours lost in my thoughts. It wasn't until maybe Vermont that I started to feel like I was regaining some balance and starting to really enjoy things again. Let's face it, that was one long slog. Looking back at photos the beginning has great memories but it was a very different hike for me than anything I've done before because if the mental game.
As I headed through Maine I dreamed about The Great Divide Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail, but even more I thought about a kayak and a garden, I missed my coworkers and my cats. The trail has given me some of my very favorite memories but it's a rough relationship.
I've been off the trail for about two months now and have had a whole lot of time for reflection. Not just about the AT but my whole long distance hiking lifestyle. It's funny that this feels like a confession for me. At work I'm constantly asked when I'll be settling down, married, kids, mortgage etc. When hikers found out I was finishing my triple crown the first question was always what's next? And you know I feel guilty saying my first thought still isn't the PNT or the GDT. I'm still dreaming of gardens and kayaks, but also the Wind River High Route and the Sierra High Route, maybe even the Colorado Trail. Everyone has a sweet spot with long trails and I can't imagine leaving the long distance hiking community. I had always heard you do one or you do all three, my problem with that is there are so many more than 3. There are lifetimes worth of trails out there and while the addiction runs deep I'm thinking I need to try tempering it for awhile.
The constant cycle of working towards a long hike is draining and the hike itself is no vacation, it's amazing but it's work. And let's face it, I'm still tired with somewhat fresh memories of hard long miles. So for now things move forward. I don't see a long trail this summer but stranger things have happened. For now I'll enjoy this in between. A break from vagabonding leading to different adventures.
Much more fun than mail drops
Day hikes still are pretty great, Mt Diablo
Officially a triple crowner with a snazzy new hat.
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