The time has come to say farewell America. I’m sitting in Seattle airport waiting for my flight home and reflecting on what has happened over the last 6 months.
I think I’m finally ready to say I’m proud of myself – I’ve only gone and walked 2660 miles across a whole country, across America! It’s easy to think what you’re doing is normal, especially when you are surrounded by others who are doing exactly the same thing as you. It’s only when you get off the trail that you realise you really are in a very small minority. Compared to how many people are reported to have started the trail this year, not that many completed the whole thing. I never once imagined giving up and I never felt like quitting. For me failure was not an option.
It took me a long time to be ok with skipping a section, but the fireman who commented on my blog to say ‘thank you for respecting the closure’ confirmed I had made the right choice for me. It has always been my opinion that thru hiking is going in a straight line from one place to another. But, just like life can, the trail throws a curve ball from time to time and, just like in life, it’s how you deal with it that counts. I am so pleased I went back to do the section I missed though. Not only because I would have felt the trail incomplete, but if anyone had said to me ‘yeah but you missed 100 miles’ I wouldn’t have been able to resist the urge to punch them in the face.
Readjustment is a real thing. After being in the woods for 5 months going back to reality can be completely overwhelming. On and around the trail people are amazed by you and what you are doing, everyone is friendly, everyone stops to speak. In the city you are invisible, just another face in the crowd. You can’t rely on the generosity of strangers to get by from day to day. You can’t pee the moment you have to go. There is noise and light all the time. It’s no longer acceptable to wear the same clothes for 2 weeks without washing them. You long for your kind and to be able to talk to someone that understands you. You feel lonely even though you are surrounded by people. Being in the city and wanting to run away to the woods is a similar feeling to being a grown up and wanting to be 5 again – when everything was simple.
Readjustment has been made slightly easier for me because I’ve been in Vancouver and Seattle and I just feel like I’ve been on holiday. Vancouver was brilliant but tough on the senses. Too loud. Too smelly. Too bright. But then I got to escape back to the woods for 5 days. And then Seattle has been a little easier. I find the noise the most difficult. In the woods you can find complete silence. You stop and listen and all you can hear is your own breath. Hold your breath and you can hear nothing at all. In the city there is alway noise, even at night there is a whir or a hum. I’ve lost my filter, I don’t filter out background noise anymore, it’s all just coming through at the same level. Going back to commuting and working is going to be the really hard part – where every day is the same and you live for the weekend, I can’t pretend I’m looking forward to that.
And of course there’s the food. I’m not sure I ever really got the true ‘hiker hunger’. I felt hungry but could only ever eat a small amount, it was only when I got to Manning park that I felt I could have eaten the entire menu. I was worried that I would still want to eat chocolate and sweets when I got off the trail, but I can’t face them – along with ramen, tuna, Cheetos, instant mashed potato, knorr pasta and rice sides and tortillas. I can do ice cream though (thank god!).
The human body is incredible. My body is incredible (and not just because I lost 10kg!). It carried me 2660+ miles fuelled on processed crap. My feet never gave me any real problems, only 3 blisters and 2 corns. My hips, which have always given me problems, threatened to take me off the trail but they pulled through and performed brilliantly. I’m fitter now than probably ever before, but my body is only good for one thing. Walking. I can’t do anything else. All other muscles have atrophied – I can’t even do a squat anymore! My body needs to walk. If I sit for more than 10 minutes (which I do, frequently) the hiker hobble will set in – still! I wonder how long that will last?!
A lot of people describe me or what I have done as ‘inspirational’. That’s a big word. I’m not sure I can accept it. Although it does give me great joy when people write to me and tell me they have been inspired to get outside or go and provide trail magic or open their homes because of reading my blog. It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
The most frequently asked question is ‘what was your favourite bit?’ And it’s a question I find impossible to answer. Every section and every day was special for its own reasons. But these are a few moments out of the thousands of memories that stand out…
The moment I realised I was actually doing this. I will never forget that moment. The moment I looked out over the desert and I danced like there was no one watching (because there wasn’t) and then cried because it all felt so overwhelming.
Outrunning the storm and escaping to Palmdale – as I sat outside the abandoned forest fire station watching the hail storm with Growler and Cool Breeze who I had only known for about 48 hours, feeling disappointed as we had pinned all our hopes on there being cheery firefighters drinking coffee and eating doughnuts in the warm cosy fire station that would rescue us from the approaching storm – it suddenly hit me how ridiculous my situation was, I’m sat with two strangers in the middle of nowhere America contemplating sleeping in a rodent infested shipping container full of salt bags. What the hell am I doing?! I know…I’m having the time of my life…
The thousands of miles I walked with Growler and Cool Breeze. There were ups. There were downs. Literally and emotionally. But most of all there was fun and laughter. So much laughter. And of course, no longer strangers anymore they will be friends for life.
Being on my own. I never came to the trail to be on my own. I came to make friends and meet new people. But I enjoyed being on my own much more than I thought I would. Knowing you can conquer the wilderness by yourself is quite empowering.
Washington. Washington kicked my butt. It was one of the toughest sections of trail, I had all of the weather, all of the terrain and more elevation change than the Sierra. But, it was so so beautiful.
But it’s the people that have been the best bit. All the people I have met along the way who have made the experience such a fantastic one, far too many to mention but you all know who you are. All of the Thru hikers, section hikers and trail angels. Lots of hikers have been making it to the border. Cuban B, Stummy, the Swiss Army (who road walked for miles around the Washington fires like the true machines they are!), Smokey the doctor, Halfslow, Suds, Costco, Kat, the Tits, Ace, Catwater, Crunchmaster, Marathon John, Hawaii, One of Us, Dana (or Roadside Attraction / Goatsy / Butters / Oreo / Double Dip – there must be some sort of award for having the most trail names?!), Mechanic, Courage, Cardboarad, Ladies Man, Marvin, and lots of others who I’ve probably missed out… Congratulations my new found friends, and if you ever find yourselves in the UK make sure to let me know!
I haven’t been doing this alone. It turns out that good ole ‘Merica – land of the free soda refill – isn’t that big and scary after all. Ok, it is really big, in fact everything is massive, but it’s not scary. People here have been mind-blowingly kind and generous. People have opened their homes to me, donated things to me, taken me out for meals, given me rides, helped me in every and any way they could. My Mum and Dad who show me unconditional love and unwavering support – not only for this trip but every day of my life – have listened to me laugh and cry on the phone and have been there every step of the way. In ‘normal’ life in London it’s easy to feel lonely. People you know are busy getting on with their own lives, and it’s easy to feel like you’ve ‘got no friends’ at times. This trip has made me realise what a truly awesome set of friends I have. The care packages have been outstanding and the messages of support from friends, family and complete strangers have been heartwarming and so important in helping to overcome the mental challenges of the trail.
And of course a huge thank you to everyone who donated to CancerResearch UK. £3650 raised so far!
Has it changed me? I expect so. I think it’s too early to tell, and my friends and family will be the ones to tell me I’m sure. All life experiences change us a bit, whether they make us stronger or weaker, harder or softer, fatter or thinner…no one ever stays the same.
I feel so lucky. Like the luckiest person in the world right now. It has been the most incredible few months and I would love to just go back to the start and do it all over again. Thank you for reading, it’s been a blast. It’s been everything I wanted it to be, and so much more.
Next stop? Nepal…