Post-Trail: 148 days.
The Trek Continues.
Hey friends, long time no post!
This week I’m writing because Wednesday marked a special milestone. I’ve officially been off trail longer than I was on trail- 148 days. I originally thought I would have this post ready to launch on Wednesday, but there was just a whole lot more than I anticipated tackling. So, let’s jump to it.
Those close to me know the transition from the PCT to traditional life has been the most challenging season of my life so far. It has tested me in ways I never anticipated, challenging my identity, worldview, aspirations, and mental health. Continuing an analogy I used throughout this blog while on trail, I’m slowly becoming a muggle, losing magical powers of confidence, self-acceptance, pride, humility, and unabridged community.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about the initial transition. Leaving Washington, I cried on the plane as I flew around Rainier, over Goat Rocks Wilderness, and away from the strip of dirt I called home for 5 months. I was already homesick, but I had a lot of uncertainty ahead — that was exciting! Plus, I was fueled by the accomplishment and relief of finishing. And I just really could not wait for queso. 5 months without queso is too long.
In the first few weeks, I was held up by things a bit more tangible- I couldn’t sleep in a bed, my hiker hunger persisted (while my metabolism slowed), and I no longer properly fit in my muggle clothes. I was a little angsty + discontented, but things were alright. However, as those things shook out, I recognized my heart and mind’s refusal to acclimate to my new environment.
I did not (and currently do not) know how to talk about the trail in a way that doesn’t make it sound like another Andrew adventure, or a backpacking trip with friends. My grace was at an all-time low, depleted by questions like “How was it!?” and “What was your favorite part?” Slowly, my experiences with the Divine + unmatched landscapes were beginning to live in spaces they didn’t belong- in language, quick conversations, and lazy check-box styled questions. This was my first time experiencing culture shock to this degree, and I had no idea how lonely it is. Walking into public spaces, I felt like I was carrying a secret. I was also finally addressing the reality of knowing a PCT hiker who drowned in the Sierra, a few weeks after expressing her inability to swim to me. It was a lot. And sure, I saw an option to choose a mask of comfort + cheap familiarity, but Something Bigger (ahem, @God) kept me choosing discomfort and authenticity with self. It blew.
Being back, the challenges exist in a space with no set terminus. In the desert, I had the promise of cold, plentiful, clear water in the Sierra. In the Sierra, I knew the challenges of snow + high water were short term, while wildfires in Oregon and Washington were navigable with flexibility.
Depression, on the other hand, is an uncertain, looming system that has no guarantee of lifting. It’s scary, and honestly just makes doing things very annoying. It’s similar to an indeterminate # of miles through slushy suncups- it immobilizes and handicaps your ability to look forward. Without care, current conditions absorb and capture every strain of energy. It’s weird.
This is where the crew comes in. I’ve said it before (I hope), there is nothing like the hiker community. While Facebook forums host the staple jackasses, those I met on trail have had each other’s backs like nobody’s business. The conversations born through post-trail blues have been some of my favorites yet, riddled with patience, understanding, grace, and support. Lady, Olaf, and I talk every day, while our family group text is always buzzing. Last weekend I got to hang out with G.Q. (Evan) for the first time since Yosemite, and a few weeks ago I was able to hit the slopes with Otter. We’re all going through the same thing, and while it looks different in each of our lives, we all come from a place of humility and fierce love for each other. That’s community.
It’s been nearly 5 months since reaching the Canada, and I still feel like it was just yesterday. Lady, Olaf, and I talk about this often. We’ve all had our fair amount of experiences (we’re adventurers, dammit!), but nothing has shaken us like the PCT. Certain smells + foods will take me back to a certain spot on trail. If I drink water too fast or walk more than 5 consecutive minutes, it is a complete visceral flashback to the hike. I’m transported back in time. I’m sure there’s some science connected to muscle memory and brain chemicals (“brain chemicals” - nice), but I prefer to view it as a treat from God. As time passes quickly, this is His way of reminding me how arbitrary time is. Maybe it’s not as cruel as I imagine it to be. On the same note, how the heck am I supposed to find satisfaction in Austin while being transported back to a place I call home? It’s all very confusing. Thru-hiking will mess you up.
I do want to talk about gratitude for a second. I recently discovered I made gratitude and complacency synonymous in my mind. Pulling a move from A-Ham, I’m rarely satisfied. There’s something more, something I can be better at. That’s my 3 coming out, and it’s brutal.
There’s so much room for gratitude. I’m so grateful for this time for hardship and growth. I’m grateful for any surface-level conversation I have about trail, because it opens the doors to talk about the magnitude of our Maker’s creativity, the importance of time spent outside, and the value of approaching community without an agenda.
Yes, I am mourning the end of my PCT thru-hike. There have been many tears shed, and I’m sad I won’t be able to recreate some moments and experiences. I’m sad that our culture doesn’t care too much about Wilderness. I’m sad I spend almost my entire day inside, when I used to only see the indoors every week or so. But I’m grateful for the unease, prayerful it sticks around. I’m also grateful for a passionate love for the outdoors, and for my growing piece of hope that things can change.
I feel like I’m missing 100,000,001 things in this update, but that is nothing new- there are feelings and heartaches that exist beyond words. And I’m grateful for that.
Until next time,
Ps- As scrappy personal update, I’m currently back in Austin, Texas! I am the Creative + Marketing lead over at Kammok, promoting badass outdoor gear and trying to camping at least once/week. Three weeks ago I broke my collarbone in a skiing accident, so it’s temporarily limited outdoor recreation.
I recently scored two permits for the JMT, so I’ll be headed back to the Sierra with my dad in June headed SOBO from Yosemite. I couldn’t be more stoked. With another thru-hike on the Calendar, weekly therapy, and immediate access to queso, I’ve been able to take care of the ol’ brain. Things are good. I feel loved by our Creator, and that’s the hope I need. Thanks for reading, pals.