I’ve been off-trail for almost two months now and my initial thoughts about being back in the “real” world have somewhat changed. On returning I was so glad to be home, seeing my friends and family and getting back into a comfortable routine.
But once the initial relief wore off I very quickly found myself perpetually staring out the window at distant hills, wishing I was back on the trail; looking up at the sky and reminiscing about the long, hot days and the short, freezing nights. The trail has created such a huge disconnect between my body and my mind that while physically I’m back home, my thoughts are still lingering somewhere in the Sierra Nevada, struggling to catch up.
Every so often a memory from the trail flies into my head unannounced and I’m suddenly floored by an intense feeling of nostalgia and longing to be back out there. But the things that stuck with me the most aren’t the sweeping mountainous views or the glorious orange sunsets. It’s the small, unique, intensely personal moments of beauty that would stop me in my tracks and make me feel I was seeing the world in a way that no one else ever would.
The photo below was taken around mile 190, having hiked out of Idyllwild the morning before into a snowstorm while all the other hikers I knew stayed in town or hitched around the bad weather. I woke up to a whitewashed world blanketed in snow, with the morning sun giving everything a magical, Narnia-esque glow. By the end of the day it had all melted away but I was lucky to have had this moment, all to myself.
These are the things I think about when reminiscing about the trail. Of course there were plenty of bad times along with the good, but I find myself looking back with rose-tinted glasses and only remembering (or wanting to remember) the highs.
“One always begins to forgive a place as soon as it’s left behind.”
– Charles Dickens –
Post-trail depression was something I thought I was fully prepared for. I couldn’t imagine myself being particularly affected by it, but I had read and listened to so many accounts from previous thru-hikers that I knew it was something I should be ready for. It didn’t happen right away; it snuck up on me a few weeks later once I thought I was in the clear. The post-trail depression has chosen to manifest itself as a crushing sense of boredom, clouding previously-enjoyed activites with feelings of apathy and disaffection. After the highs and the lows of living in the wild, everything else feels a lot smaller, a lot less important and crucially – a lot less fun. Being on the trail was such a huge part of my life and now it’s over, but it’s still the only thing I think about. As much as I am enjoying the new routine, the new job, the new flat, the new everything – anything afterwards was inevitably going to be a comedown after those five months of absolute freedom and ecstasy.
I keep referring to being back home as “the real world” but this isn’t really how I see it. The experiences I had on the trail were the realest experiences of my life and the hikers, the trail angels, the locals and all the others I met were the realest people I have ever known. Those 2650 miles allowed me to temporarily break through the monotony of day-to-life and experience something so far removed from anything I had experienced before, only to suddenly be plunged back into the familiarity of a comfortable daily routine, a life mitigated by endless cups of tea.
“When I was here, I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think of was getting back.”
– Apocalypse Now –
I find talking about the trail with other people extremely difficult. It is impossible for others to really comprehend what it was like, and likewise it is impossible for me to communicate it. Trying to field questions like “How was your walk?” and “What was your favourite part?” is like asking someone to sum up their entire life in a sentence.
Usually I just respond with a simple, condensed answer like “Oh it was amazing” or “It’s so nice to be back,” because that’s what people want to hear, not a long ramble about a long ramble. But in reality the actual, truthful answer can’t be adequately expressed in words.
That’s not to say that being on the trail has changed me profoundly or given me any huge insight into myself and the world, but it has made me realise that what I value in life more than anything is experiences and memories. Having the means to spend as much of my life as possible outdoors, challenging myself and testing my mental and physical limitations to the breaking point. Everything else is just a means to this end.
I’m already thinking about the next adventure and every day I add some new places and experiences onto my ever-growing to-do list. I’m not sure what the next big thing will be yet – whether it’ll be a journey on foot, or a bike, or a canoe. It might be the other side of the world or something just beyond my front door. Whatever it is, it will take some time to get my plans off the ground, as the PCT has crippled my bank account (and feet) but I’m heading in the right direction. It is safe to say that the PCT is not the end, merely the beginning, so please subscribe to my blog so I can keep you posted on future adventure updates!