I was in two minds about publishing my last post about life after adventure, it’s quite scary to put yourself ‘out there’ and lay yourself emotionally bare. What if people thought I was being ridiculous? Well, it turns out I didn’t need to worry as — to my amazement — it has quickly become my most popular post. The kind messages I have received have been both beautiful and heartwarming. It seems to have resonated with a lot of people — both hikers and non-hikers alike — something I didn’t expect.
I just wanted to add a note to say that although I said I was reluctant to talk to my friends and family about how I’m feeling, that is purely a reflection on me and not them, because I have a great network of people and I know that any one of them would be there for me in a heartbeat if I asked them to.
So, as I was writing about my post adventure experience it made me wonder what my hiker friends were feeling. I had an idea — I wrote to them and asked them. I asked them to answer 3 questions. Why did you thru hike? How have you found life after adventure? And what are your future adventure plans? I was nervous. What if no one replied? What if no one remembered who I was?! It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made, they came through for me spectacularly and it was a wonderful experience, catching up with them, reading about their thoughts and feelings and finding out their future plans. And I really enjoyed being ‘Puff Puff’ again for a while. I hope this helps my fellow hikers (and anyone else) understand that they aren’t alone in the way they are feeling, and that there is a great network of people they can reach out to if they make the effort.
For anyone out there who is considering a thru-hike or any big adventure — it will change your life and you will (probably) experience the post adventure blues in some form. But the one thing everyone I have spoken to has in common — no one has a single regret about doing it…
Bushtit, 26 — Bandon, Oregon, USA
Why? For me I wanted to see if I could do it. Since finishing I’ve found that I can draw upon the hard days from the trail to motivate myself to get through tough situations in day to day life. I am my own inspiration now.
Life after adventure? I haven’t started working yet. I accepted a position with a construction engineering firm but the project doesn’t start until April, so I have been bumming around since last September. I’m not really looking forward to going back to work.
The future? I would love to do another long hike, but in the immediate future I’ll be watching Tomtit do the Oregon Coast Trail and finishing his PCT hike from my work.
Tomtit, 29 — Bandon, Oregon, USA
Why? It was my partner, Bushtit’s, idea originally. She fell in love with thoughts of thru-hiking the trail, and I encouraged her. I told her it was now or never, and so we spent nearly two years saving funds and planning out our hike. For me it was a chance to alter the course of my life, a point from which to leap forward, escaping the 40 hour work week and pursuing the life I wanted. I have used the hike to transition into the person I want to be.
Life after adventure? Readjustment was rough at first. Even visiting Vancouver at the end of the trail was an overwhelming experience, I couldn’t even muster up the mental strength to pick out new clothes at the store. We went home to the Oregon Coast and continued to live off of our saved finances. The readjustment period went by within a few weeks as we soon found ourselves hanging out with old friends, having dinners with our families, and jumping into personal projects we had been looking forward to. There is still a longing for the trail, both its gifts and struggles, that will always be there, but we were happy to be home. For me the hike was a source of inspiration and of personal growth. I made lifelong friend and gained a more hopeful outlook on the world. Through pain and persistence, angels and magic, I became a stronger person. Societal stresses were a paltry thing and are no longer a burden I carry. I will no longer take my given time on this world for granted and I will reach for everything I desire.
The future? I have been writing since finishing the trail. Bushtit and I have a trail journal/photo book which is set to be published in March, which you can read about on our blog. My second science fiction book is set to be published in June (read about it here). In August I plan to thru-hike the Oregon Coast Trail, a 400 mile trail over beautiful beaches, headlands, and through coastal forests. I plan to document the trip just as Bushtit and I did for the PCT
Puff Puff says: (if someone can think of something better than ‘puff puff says’please let me know and I’ll change it!) Oh man. The Tits. High school sweethearts, crazy adventure together, engaged shortly afterwards — talk about relationship goals! I have great memories of hiking with them in the desert and trying to keep up with them! Tomtit saved me from certain death by being the one to anger the rattlesnake before I had the chance to stumble into it, and Bushtit packed out beer for me! True friendship right there. I wish I had the chance to spend more time with them.
STINGER, 35 — Temecula, California, USA
Why? For the experience of walking so far.
Life after adventure? This year has been the toughest adjustment back into life I’ve ever had after finishing a trail or adventure. I know I have to settle down for a bit to save money for whatever comes next but it’s the down time that makes me only think about getting back out there.
The future? Saving for an ocean rowboat to attempt the pacific, but I’ll probably do a couple peaks in India and Nepal before hand.
Puff puff says: Well, Stinger is a bit of a legend on the PCT, having already completed the triple crown he is on his second time around already, but when you meet him you would never know it because he is really humble and unassuming. He always made time to stop and have a chat. Anyone out there want to sponsor him to row the Pacific?…
One Of Us, 24 — Columbus, Ohio, USA
Why? “My parents won’t pay for medical school until I complete the PCT,” I would reply when asked why I’d decided to devote months of my life to such a bizarre endeavor. That question flummoxed me every time, even though I had four and a half months to ponder the answer. “I learned about it in prison,” I added when irritated by the constant interrogations from non-hikers. That usually had the desired effect of abruptly ending the conversation.
I still can’t answer to most people’s satisfaction why I did the PCT. It’s not that it was a spur of the moment decision. To the contrary, I’d fantasized about doing a thru-hike for a few years before I traveled by train from DC to the Mexican border. It’s hard to succinctly do justice as to the reasons why I followed the hike to its completion, especially since it was so different from what I thought it would be.
Life after adventure? Reading countless Appalachian and Pacific Crest thru-hiker blogs and books made me think the challenges would be primarily physical. After the first few weeks, I found the trail to be much more mentally demanding than anything else. As a solo hiker I spent 10 to 12 hours a day in my head. Kpop, country music, and podcasts (with such deep topics as Interviews with Survivors of Alien Abductions) certainly made passing the miles easier. Hiking the trail gave me the opportunity to spend almost the entire day lost in my own thoughts, something we really don’t get the chance to do in the “real world”.
I’d love to be able to say I had profound thoughts on the trail and discovered more about myself, which I think everyone expects, but I really spent most of the time basking in the present. This included enjoying the light show of a thunderstorm on the neighboring ridge at twilight, the hippie who used burning sage to cleanse me of “evil government spirits” in downtown Ashland, and the taste of cold water in the scorching desert just to name a few. So many things I took for granted in Ohio, like hot food and sitting in a chair, brought incomparable joy on the PCT. More than anything else, the trail taught me how little I needed to be happy.
Readjusting to life after the trail was much more difficult than I thought it would be. “It must have felt great to finally arrive in Canada!” I’ve been told numerous times since completing my hike. For me, completing the PCT was much more about the end of a lifestyle than finally reaching the Great White North. The amazing people I met, the feeling of accomplishment after enduring nasty storms, and enjoying the exquisite taste of candy from strangers were much more enjoyable than seeing the northern terminus.
I was fortunate to have another adventure already waiting for me after the PCT in the form of moving to Spain to teach English. To distract myself from the thoughts of “what am I doing and why did I ever leave the trail?!” that plagued many of my PCT compatriots and me, I immersed myself in travel and improving my Spanish. On my weekends I hiked the Rock of Gibraltar, wandered the streets of Paris, and ate grilled octopus in Madrid. In my lowest moments I would wonder why I’m living in a city of six million and not getting ready to hike the Arizona Trail, but I think I’m over that now. I still miss the instant connection I’d have with almost all other thru-hikers, but I have a great groups of friends and am happy.
The future? I’ll be staying in Madrid for another school year, but I still feel the need to get back on trail. This summer I’m hashing out the details of spending a month hiking through Iceland, thru-hiking Arctic Sweden’s 270 mile Kungsleden, and tackling Spain’s 470 mile GR11 from the Basque Country to Catalunya through the High Pyrenees. I’m hoping Andorra is a better trail town than South Lake Tahoe. And, of course, after Spain I’ve got my sights set on Patagonia followed by returning to the US to thru-hike the Arizona and Continental Divide Trails.
Puff puff says: Oh to be 24 again! If I could do my twenties all over again I would do it like this. So many exciting future plans, I am very envious. One Of Us has a wicked sense of humour — “I learned about it in prison” — I wish I had thought of that! He has a really great ‘I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me’ attitude to life which I admire.
Space Kitty, 31 — Arcata, California, USA
Why? I thru hiked because I wanted to feel alive again.
Life after adventure? My readjustment has been a difficult and fascinating experience. I realized very quickly coming back it was going to be a struggle and didn’t realize it was going to be painful in the best way possible. You leave, go through a range of emotions on a daily basis and see more beautiful sights in a day than an average person does in a five year time span, then are expected to fall back into a job and traditional lifestyle after. You can’t undo what you’ve seen and who you’ve become but everyone sees you as the person you were when you left but in reality that person was left behind the second you started hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. So here I am trying to find a balance between who I was and who I now am and slowly progress into this better and different version of myself with shaking legs in a scary world. For me it’s been the opposite in the sense that the wilderness was much less scary than everyday life and I think that’s common for backpackers, that’s why we are there far away, finding solace and silence. Then you are surrounded by people who are all in the same boat with progressive mindsets and regardless of race, religion, gender or origin, you’re bonded because the focus isn’t meeting up for coffee or a glass of wine monthly and maintaining a friendship, it’s making it to water that day, and in a larger picture make it to Canada and the feelings of desperation and enjoyment that come with that can only be shared by long distance backpackers. Then after 5-6 months, those people are gone. My friends are gone. Now here I am a new person trying to find friends in a new town missing my trail friends who were by my side in the most unbelievable experience of my life. Needless to say, returning home has been in summary, like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. My mind wanders and I daydream a lot, and thankfully the places I go are real and I have the pictures to prove it!
The future? Definitely moved traveling up on the priority list. Like to the top. I’ve always enjoyed it but I didn’t realize how much discomfort brings you back to life. First off Goulet and I are heading to Central America (Nicaragua or Panama) for a couple weeks this fall or early next year. Then meeting a couple other hikers in Romania and doing some travel around Europe next summer/fall. After that I’ll be focusing on my dream trip to Nepal and India, and after that well, who knows! The world is my oyster right?
Puff puff says: I resonate with so much of what Space Kitty says. “It turns out that the wilderness is much less scary than real life”. Yes. She has nailed it. Maybe that’s part of my discontent. Real life is scary. Space kitty was always a joy to be around, always cheerful and fun. Again, it would have been nice to spent more time with her. You can read all about her trail experience on her blog.
Fancypants, 40 — Oakland, California, USA
Why? For two reasons: because I’ve loved hiking my entire life — and because I want to live a life full of adventure, in every possible way. Being brave and doing bold things like this is the only way to do that.
Life after adventure? On the surface (logistics and such), it was shockingly easy: I picked up my previous job, am back living in the same apartment I used to have, and spending time with the same friends — all of which are as great as ever, and I’m genuinely happy with all of them. But, on a deeper level, you can never, ever go back: I miss the trail like I can’t even explain, I adored the experiences I had and the friends I made, and it’s made me ache to be Out There more than ever before. This changes you, permanently — and though it’s for the better, that “better” means you’re going to fit in to “normal life” less than before. This is a good, wonderful, and beautiful thing, but, like most powerful and good changes, it leaves you different from those who haven’t experienced it.
How has my life changed? — In concrete and immediate ways, amazingly little, beyond a single huge change (the implosion of my romantic relationship, who I hiked the trail with). In deeper and longer-term ways, a lot: it’s reinforced even further my desire to live a life full of adventure, whether that’s long-distance hiking or travel, where and how I live, or even how I approach relationships, becoming a parent, and things like that. This changes your soul forever.
The future? Definitely — in planning right now.
Puff Puff says: Fancypants basically saved my thru hike. They say don’t accept sweets off strangers but I forgot all about that and I readily accepted some little blue pills from him when I was having a lot of trouble with my hip. I don’t think I saw him again after that on the trail but he was only ever a few days behind me and we stalked each other on Instagram. One of the few people to carry a full DSLR, he drip feeds his stunning photos onto his account, so I get to feel like I am re-living the trail through him. Follow him on Instagram: @midlands. I can relate to a lot of his post trail experiences and I am grateful to have him as a friend I can talk to.
Bumble (short for Bumblefeet, which is the name I acquired as a consequence of wearing bright yellow shoes at the beginning of my thru-hike), 43 — Portland, Oregon, USA
Why? I have been asked dozens of times why I decided to thru-hike the PCT and I still don’t really know how to answer that question. I think the best way to describe my desire to hike the PCT was the result of a combination of many things. Restlessness in my life, feeling uninspired by my daily routines, unhappy with working in a cubicle, for an employer who does not value me any more than the paper my checks are printed on, feeling disconnected form nature, being lazy and non-active. This list could go on and on, but I think what it really boils down to is and overall dissatisfaction with the way I was living and wanting to do something to challenge my personal status quo; to find out if I still have what it takes to overcome real adversity, emotional discomfort, physical discomfort and try something completely out of character for me. The PCT seemed just perfect for the task at hand, and so in 2013 I began making a plan and taking the steps to ensure that in the spring of 2015 I would be ready to hike the PCT.
Contrary to popular belief among non-hikers, I did not have some mental crisis to overcome, some massive hole in my life that needed filling, drug addiction, personal tragedy or any real obvious reason to undertake a thru-hike. I think the book Wild, and the movie Wild has given the general populace the idea that in order to want to be out in nature and hike, one must have a fractured life in one way or the other. I did not feel this way, although, I suppose one could argue that the general dissatisfaction with my life at the time is the same thing. I guess what I am trying to say is that not all people on the trail are emotional train-wrecks. In fact I think most are not and are just people who know that being out in nature is a great way to feed the body and soul in a way not possible in everyday city life.
Life after adventure? Looking back now, the spring, summer and fall of my 2015 thru-hike held some of the best times of my life. Plodding along at 3mph for five months, making new friends, seeing new scenery every-single day, leaving the daily dramas of “real-life” behind for a life of hiking was great. Although there were many times throughout the hike that were extremely challenging. Especially near the end, where I was just so physically and mentally tired that all I wanted to do was be done and get home to rest and catch up with family and friends. Ultimately though, I loved being a thru-hiker. Re-adjustment back into my normal life has been really, really hard. I find myself daydreaming and thinking about my thru-hike about ten million times a day. I honestly cannot shake the thoughts and desire to be back out there.
There is a new stirring in my being that was not there pre-hike, an unshakeable questioning of my life circumstances, a re-ignition of the spark of wanderlust that has always been a bit of an issue for me. I suspect thru-hiking has somehow altered the trajectory of my life in ways that are incomprehensible to me now. I can feel the constant nagging of adventure and a more simple life. I don’t feel I quite fit into my old life anymore, but am scared to make changes that will eliminate current comforts and knowns for the unknown. Metaphorically it’s like growing into a new shoe size and then trying to squeeze uncomfortably back into shoes that don’t fit. The old shoes can be worn for a short period of time, but ultimately they will have to be left behind for the more appropriately sized shoe.
The future? New adventures await. Of what variety, I know not – but I cannot wait to meet them.
Puff Puff says: I didn’t meet Bumble until later on, in Oregon somewhere I think. But he ended up being part of my finishing party which was cool because he is awesome. He was one of the few people I got to experience trail life and ‘real’ life with as we spent a few days in Vancouver. I feel so much of what he feels. I hope he manages to kick that fear and find his more appropriately sized shoes (those yellow ones were a pretty good fit!).
Hawaii, 26 — Florida / Hawaii, USA
Why? answer not provided.
Life after adventure? This is the hard question. It took everything I thought I’d known about myself and the world around me, and completely shifted my perspective. I became more apt to take control of what it was I wanted to do, with full-faith that I could achieve it. It’s a dangerous thing, realizing how strong your mind and body are; what they are capable of achieving. I wanted to continue traveling, and two weeks after being done with the trail and back in Hawaii, I’d landed myself a job in Kenya and was on a plane. It’s helped me re-define what I consider to be important, how I approach things and my attitude toward achieving what I want.
The future? After having spent the past six months post-trail traveling, I’ll be returning back to Hawaii in a few weeks to do some exploring on the other Hawaiian islands / working like crazy before I leave the start the Colorado Trail on July 4th and the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand, early January 2017!
Puff Puff says: Another twenty-something living life to the max. A true free spirit. Can I have my twenties back please? Follow her adventures on Instagram: @fearlesssarah
Marathon John, 58 — San Rafael, California / Miami Beach, Florida, USA
Why? I thru hiked the AT in 2013 and got the bug to hike the PCT.
Life after adventure? Life on the trail is simple and yet back in the real world everything seems trivial. Friendships formed on the trail seem deeper than the real world.
The future? I want to attempt the triple crown, walk the Camino and explore the Alps.
Puff Puff says: Marathon John. A man of few words, but you can’t shut him up when you’re hiking with him!
I am so grateful to each and every one of my hiker friends for sharing their experience with me, and then letting me share it with you. It’s not easy to write so openly and admit to finding life hard.
I had so many responses I had to divide it up so look out for part two…