February 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
It’s been 4 months that we stepped off the trail and have gone home. Where are we at 4 months later? How did we live the transition from the trail to “normal” life? Are we still struggling to adapt or have we slipped back smoothly into everyday life?
I expected to be a sport junkie. But surprisingly, no, I didn’t feel an irresistible urge to go running. My body didn’t crave exercise. It relished in it though. And it still does. The fast beating heart, the shallow breathing, the strain on the muscles rush the body back to the trail. The mind follows and in no time you’re in a state of bliss. Physical exercise is forever associated with happy feelings. Memories of the trail are engraved in our minds as much as in our cells.
I expected post-hiking depression. There was indeed a period of unrest. It’s never easy to have time but no money as you have no job and you’re broke, and it’s never easy to move back with your mum when you’re nearly thirty. So add the difficulties of getting back to “normal” life after a long distance hike and it can be tough. But unrest is all it ever was. There weren’t the strong and low feelings that I expected. Only the vague and uneasy feeling that something isn’t quite right in this world but you can’t put the finger on it. The sensation gradually faded. What’s left now is a profound nostalgia. We yearn for the trail. We miss our fellow hikers. Every reminder of the PCT tugs at our heart.
People along the PCT looked at us with awe and surprise. They were impressed by our hike. We felt special, we were heroes. What we were doing was extraordinary. It comes then as a bit of a shock to be just another individual among the crowd, to realize you’re running for the train to get to work just like everybody else.
Only by returning home can the traveler grasp the full measure of the mark his trip has left on him. Going home is part of the trip; the experience doesn’t end once you board the plane. Only in a familiar context did we realize that the trail has changed us in deeper and permanent ways. I discovered a whole new confidence. I read more and watch less TV. I am more active, I’ve started projects I had in mind for a while but had never done anything about until now. We have become less materialist, caring about worldly possessions only if they’re useful.
Your mind is free to roam on the trail. There is all this time, space and quiet for your mind to wander. Here the mind is overwhelmed. There are too many distractions. It is full of the uninteresting and trivial details of everyday life – bus schedules, groceries list, jobs, appointments… There is no time and space for meditation. This is what I miss the most from the trail and with what I am still struggling to find a balance.
The secret to transition easily from the trail, with as little clash as possible, is to have something to look forward to. You need something that pushes you to move on and pulls you forward. Isabelle is doing well. She has a new job, a new flat, she moved to a new town. Exciting times are ahead for her. As for me I’m still struggling. I haven’t figured out yet what the next adventure is going to be. So with nothing to look ahead, the temptation to head back to the trail next summer is huge.
We never regretted our decision of leaving the trail and we don’t think of it as a failure. We’re proud we’ve managed to make it so far with our little experience of thru-hiking. Hearing of many hikers who had to stop following injuries, we feel lucky. We could curse picking 2011 for our thru-hike as the crazy snow that year slowed us down but we’re happy our life circumstances made it happen that year because with its beautiful snow 2011 was definitely the year to hike the PCT.
When we reached Kennedy Meadows, we swore we would never hike those 700 miles of desert again. We didn’t understand hikers that kept coming back over and over, every summer, to the PCT, hikers that were doing their 2nd or 3rd thru-hike. When we left the trail in Washington, we said we would be back to complete the PCT but the plan was to resume where we left off, there was no way we were starting at the Mexican border again. But now it doesn’t seem so certain anymore. Talking the other day, Isabelle and I realized we both could envision starting all over again. Once a thru-hiker, always a thru-hiker. No matter we said and we still think section hikers do it the smart way. There’s something in the challenge, the grand goal and the feeling of belonging to this huge family of similarly minded hikers that makes the thru-hike experience unique and makes you long to live it again. Will we? Time will tell…