After Springer Mountain
After 150 days of thru-hiking, it’s surreal to be home. Everything seems weird, comforting, overdone, warm, complicated, accessible, and unnecessary all at the same time. A fan with five options alarms me. I had no say in weather the past five months but suddenly must decide how fast the air should blow. Why is it abnormal to repeatedly wear one t-shirt? I’m not sweating, thanks to air-condition, so it’s not dirty. I buy fresh fruit and even better, only carry it to the car and not on my back. Conversations with family warm my heart. I can take long showers, worry free since no hikers are waiting. My mom cooks; it’s what my taste buds craved on the trail. I wash my hands in the sink. Water is right there. The air is stale inside. Why doesn’t it move? Jeans are too stiff. People ask “how was your trip?” and are already saying goodbye before I answer. I’m not sure how I’m expected to feel. Forget expectations, I’m not even sure how I do feel. I’m emotionally drained and the best explanation is, I’m sad. It’s too much energy to decipher more than that. Am I lonely, pensive, desolate, aimless?
A hiking buddy FaceTimes our group. I’m grinning before the connection brings up their faces, overjoyed at their company. Our conversation drifts around; we’re happy to simply be together even if only on the screen. It’s a hard transition from seeing each other every hour to not at all. I mean every hour. We had meals together, hiked together, took breaks at the same time, shared hostel rooms, slept side-by-side in tents, and even peed beside one other.
And then we finished the trail and went our separate ways. Their absence was obvious, especially living in other states. I knew they would still be a part of my life, but we hadn’t figured out how yet.
A group message consists of thru-hikers, nine that began and finished together. These texts and FaceTime calls were special during my transition back. My family was phenomenal and loved with great empathy, but my hiking community understood in a way my friends and family couldn’t. Thru-hikers go from basically working-out daily in fresh-air and sunlight to living indoors again. Our text group are priceless and demonstrate the struggles we dealt with. Our conversations center around shoes not fitting swollen feet, headaches from drinking less water, annoyance with the amount of stuff and inability to locate wedding rings. We discussed post-trail depression and frustration of people not caring. Did you really not notice my absence? We joke about going into REI, an outdoor retail store, and saying, “how can I help you?” I confess to them that one morning while taking my dog outside, it suddenly hit me that I had to pee too. I simply squatted and we peed together in my yard.
A hiking buddy texted this:
Overall, it’s a culture and lifestyle change. During this transition period, there comes a time to decide what to keep from the trail, consciously and subconsciously. I had learned balance on the trail. How could this transfer to my life off the trail?
It takes being aware of the lessons I learned and intentionally keeping them. That’s hard. It gets harder when put back in the same, previous environment. It’s familiar but I'm not. Friends and family want to love me but it’s near impossible to recognize my internal struggles. They will love the way they did before the trail because that’s me to them. Posted pictures and daily blogs couldn’t fully portray the subtle shifts that were made while hiking. Half the time, hikers revert to their previous lifestyles. It’s easy, understandable and comfortable there. But I don’t want to go back to my old ways.
Before the trail, I was a busy-body. It took daily quiet time and a pace of life limited to my two feet to understand this. I didn’t desire returning to involvement in everything. I needed to slow down and correct the priorities in my life, to find my missing integrity. On trail, I prayed each morning, loved my body for its abilities, and took care of those around me. I’d pause to appreciate nature and how God found his way to me me through it. There were moments of doing nothing. Moments that felt awkward at first then gradually, peaceful. Moments of letting go for well-being and accepting the pure quietness of an evening that is near-impossible to find nowadays. They’re subtle shifts in perspective but create deep inward impacts. This wasn’t recognized while hiking; time was needed for that conclusion. Most likely, my understanding will always continue to grow and morph. I’m thankful God used the Appalachian Trail to get my attention.
Read more about Mandy’s AT experience in an earlier post on Glass Top Counter, The AT Balance.
About the Author and Adventurer
Mandy McMenemy thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2018. She is from the mountains in North Carolina and is currently residing in Ohio, writing and raising a puppy. She graduated from UNC-CH. Mandy has strong faith but like TB&C, is loving toward everyone and accepting of all religions, cultures and beliefs.