This post has been by far the most difficult to write, mainly because it has forced me to try and make some sense of my jumbled and conflicting emotions.
Fitting back into life post adventure has not been easy. It’s been similar to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Completing the Pacific Crest Trail wasn’t actually that hard mentally. I started it knowing it had an end. When I reached the northern terminus I was tired, I was cold and I was done with being wet. And although I could have carried on — just turned around and started heading south — winter was coming and the trail was telling me it was time to go. Plus, for me the Himalayas were calling! Heading straight into another adventure does make it a little easier, but eventually, that adventure has to come to an end too.
I am back in England, back in my house and back in the same job I left. My life before is still the same round hole as when I left it, but I’m no longer round — now I’m “square” and I’m trying to squeeze myself back into that round hole. I’ve managed to wedge myself in, but it’s really uncomfortable. I always knew it would be hard but I massively underestimated how hard it would actually be.
“The hardest part of any adventure is coming home”
Now I find myself here — 4 months on from 2 of the most amazing experiences of my life — and it’s hard. The trail and trail life captured my heart and never let it go. I think it’s still out there in Washington somewhere, maybe in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. I miss that life. The one where you have all you need on your back and you get excited by a picnic table. The one where a hot shower is your greatest indulgence and where everyone you meet is your friend. The one where every day is different.
Life is now filled with too many ‘things’. Too many choices, too many indulgences, too many possessions. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how lucky I am to live the way I do. To own my house (which I love), to have nice things around me, to live a privileged, comfortable existence. I have disposable income, I eat well, I am healthy. I have friends, I have family. I do not take any of these things for granted. I have everything I need and more…and yet I still feel like something is missing. On the trail I longed for the next hot shower, clean sheets, a soft bed and a comfortable pillow, a hot fresh meal and water that flows freely from a tap. Now I have all these things at my fingertips and yet I long to be without them.
“I was just contemplating the conflicting desires we all seem to have. Between our need for new adventures, risks and challenges, and our need for safety, security and predictability.” — Mumma Growler (who I aim to meet one day)
There is pressure on you from society to look a certain way, to follow a certain path, for approval by others. To have a good job, to earn lots of money, to settle down and have a family. I find myself caring less and less about what society think I should be doing, and caring more about what I really want from my life. It’s too short to live it by someone else’s rules. So what if I don’t conform?
I am uninspired by my job as a ‘graphic designer’ and by my monotonous daily routine. My alarm goes off at 6:50am, I push it to 7:15 before getting up and rushing to get out of the house by 7:45. I get the 8:09 train and get to work at 9am. I sit for 4 hours wishing the time away until I can go out to get some lunch. I wonder around the supermarket aisles before settling on an overpriced sandwich. I sit again until it’s 5:30pm and I can leave to get the 5:47 train to get to the gym where I spend a couple of hours before going home. I eat. I might watch an hour of tv. I go to bed. Ready to repeat it all again for the next 4 days. Ticking off each day in countdown to Friday. Millions of people do this every day. Why do millions of people do this every day!?
And of course there was that man, the one who ended up breaking my heart. Yeah I know. It’s not the first time. My heart has taken its share of knocks and bruises, but this one — this one has really knocked me for six. Being rejected by someone you thought so much of really really hurts.
“One day, whether you are 14, 28 or 65, you will stumble upon someone who will start a fire in you that cannot die. However, the saddest, most awful truth you will ever come to find — is they are not always with whom we spend our lives” — Beau Taplin
It’s hard not to constantly go over the same questions in my head. What’s wrong with me? Why wasn’t I good enough? What did I do wrong? He once told me that he wasn’t good enough for me and I should have listened to him because maybe in the end he was right. But I miss him every day…and every day I hate myself for it.
Sometimes I feel like it’s all going to overwhelm me. Sometimes all I want to do is crawl under the covers, hide from everyone and pretend none of it is happening. BUT, amongst all of this I have realised that I’m really strong, I don’t let it overwhelm me, I get up and I carry on. I find things to occupy myself. I find ways to improve myself.
“I know what I have to do now, I’ve got to keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring.” Tom Hanks, Castaway
It’s a very British thing to feel the need to maintain a ‘stiff upper lip’ when faced with emotional instability. The Americans are much more open about mental health. When I was on the trail a few people spoke openly about seeing counsellors and I felt a bit embarrassed because you just don’t talk about stuff like that! While I still find it hard to talk about how I’m feeling, I’ve found writing about it to be a soothing and cathartic process.
I love taking about the trail and I hate talking about the trail. No one really understands it unless they have experienced it, but the people I experienced it with are thousands of miles away. I’ve mostly avoided talking to my friends and family about it. It’s such a huge thing that most people don’t know where to start and can’t begin to understand what it feels like. “What was the best bit?” is the most popular question, and it’s the question with an impossible answer. I’m worried that they will think I’m different and that either I or they won’t know how to deal with it.
I guess I am different. I have changed, and I feel it’s been all for the better: people tell me I am quieter — maybe that’s because I have realised the things that used to wind me up before just don’t matter now. I have seriously developed my mental strength. I will never again settle for mediocre. I am empowered to go about making positive changes in my life. I find road rage the biggest waste of energy. I am shocked at how little we interact with each other and how constantly plugged into our devices we all are. I’ve realised just how easy it is to change your life when you put the effort in.
I listened to a lot of podcasts while I was on the trail and 2 really stuck with me — one particularly terrifying one about cosmetic brain surgery! — and the other was about language, more specifically the use of the subjunctive and how some languages, like Vietnamese, don’t have words for ‘should have’, ‘could have’ or ‘would have’. They never dwell on what ifs or maybes, because it just isn’t part of their language. It’s something I do a lot, I often think “if I had done this, then that would have happened”. Listening to that podcast made me realise what a completely pointless exercise this is, constantly living in the past and thinking about things that you can’t change. I have tried to change my mindset, so instead I think “this is what has happened, now what do I do?”. When the subjunctive is so deeply ingrained in you it’s hard to change, but it’s happening gradually.
I have also changed physically. I lost about 10kgs and I feel good! I have definition in 3 of my quad muscles (I’m convinced the 4th one is a myth). I am back at the gym and I have built up all that upper body strength I lost (carrying a backpack doesn’t make your upper body strong contrary to popular belief). I am probably the fittest, healthiest and strongest I have ever been.
I still can’t bring myself to eat tuna or ramen yet.
I met some of the most incredible people out there, a lot of them friends for life, and as I was writing this post it made me wonder how they are feeling about life after adventure. So I wrote to them and asked them. I wanted to offer a more rounded view of post trail life and they came through for me in a spectacular way. I’m so excited to share it with you in my next post.
The call of the wild is constant. I know what life is about there. It’s ‘safe’. It’s simple. It’s beautiful. The trail made me rethink my priorities. I’m not yet sure what the future holds, I’m still working out my conflicting desires for new adventures, risks and challenges and my needs for safety, security and predictability, and I’m lucky enough to to have a few options tucked away in my back pocket — but the one thing I do know is: when nothing is certain, anything is possible…