So this has taken me a ridiculously long time to write. I am 10 months post adventure and it feels like it has gone by in a flash and yet at the same time the trail feels like it was another life time ago.

The reality is I just haven’t wanted to write. For one reason or another I have been up and down, and I didn’t want to write when I was feeling up because I thought it wouldn’t give an honest representation of life after the trail, and I didn’t want to write when I was down because I thought it would just sound too moany and maudlin. And I also got to a point where I was fed up of sharing my life online. In the end I did a bit of writing in both states of mind…


Post-adventure-blues

Yeah, take THAT post-adventure-blues. I know how to do this. I’ve conquered you. I’m your master now. At least that’s what I thought.

I finished the AT in September and after a nice break in Boston with my wonderful trail angels Debbie and Jim, I was happy to be home for a bit. The AT really wiped me out both physically and mentally, and when I got home I had the wedding to look forward to and then I threw myself into working and getting all the backlog of blogs and vlogs edited and uploaded. 

That is the way to beat the post adventure blues right? Just keep yourself busy. It definitely helps, but this is unsustainable and eventually you burn out, and as time goes on I seem to sink in and out of a depression. Maybe it doesn’t ever get any easier. Maybe it only gets harder.

Before I go any further, let’s just address this word depression. It gets bandied about when people are feeling a bit low, in the way that I have just used it, but it gets used a lot for lack of another more suitable word. Matt Haig (one of my favourite authors) has written a great book about depression – How To Stay Alive – and he describes it really well, but I was listening to a podcast the other day and Ruby Wax was the guest. I nearly didn’t bother with it because as a comedian I don’t really find her that funny, but there is no denying that she has had a pretty interesting life. She compared people who feel melancholic who feel sadness (Melancholy – noun – a feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause), to people with depression, who don’t feel anything at all. 

I am definitely not depressed. Never have been and, never say never of course, but I don’t really think I ever will be. I have definitely at times slipped into melancholy though, especially since finishing the trail.

December was probably the worst. There were times where I didn’t managed to get out of bed all day. I would tell myself I would get up at 10am, but when it came to 10:02am I decided I had missed my opportunity and the next time I could get up was 11am. And the day would just progress like that. When night time came around and it was time to go to sleep, I could still put in a good 10 hours sleep because I was so tired.

On days where I was working 9-5 I would get home and have a couple of hours sleep, get up and eat some dinner and then go to bed again for another 9-10 hours sleep. It got to the point where I thought I should get myself to the doctors and get checked out, but I felt a bit stupid going and saying, hi yeah my name is Alex and I am really tired.

So I went to a walk in centre and asked them to do a blood test because I thought I might be anaemic or deficient in something, and they were great, very reassuring that it isn’t at all silly to go and tell the doctor that you are over tired as it can be an indication of a whole variety of different things, but they don’t take blood at a walk in centre so I would have to go to a doctor.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I didn’t go to a doctor but I have started to feel better, but maybe it would still be a good idea to go.

I would say I am definitely past the post adventure blues stage now, and I have entered the general blues. This time of year, every year for the past 4 years I have been away doing something fun and this year I’m not doing anything and it’s the longest I have been in one place for quite some time. It’s hard.

There is a bigger picture involved and saying stuff like this may sound so privileged or like first world problems – but you can’t control the world you are born into, right?


Working 

I’m working at the moment, whiling away my finite time in a shop. How do I feel about this? Well, I have very mixed emotions.

Firstly let me say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with working in a shop, but for me I worked in a shop in Salisbury when I was 16, it was my first job. Then I went away to university, worked as a graphic designer, lived in my own house near London, and then travelled all over the world. Now I am back in Salisbury and I am working in a shop. Can you see how that feels a bit…weird? Like I have come a full circle and I am left wondering if all that stuff in-between was just a dream.

My parents get a bit annoyed with me for complaining about working in a shop (even though it is completely my choice) because they worked in retail for many years, the difference being they owned their businesses. That is very different to working for a big corporate machine, where if you don’t work in head office you are very much seen as the bottom of the ladder. 

The shop I am working in is Cotswold Outdoor – which is the UK version of REI in the States. It has been nice to be able to build my savings up again, but the main reason I am doing it is so I don’t go mad. If I wasn’t working I would spend a lot of time by myself and I would be going a bit stir crazy. It helps me have a bit of a routine and a reason to get out of bed and leave the house. It saved me from the post-adventure-blues in the beginning, throwing myself into something full on to keep me busy. I carved out a niche for myself in the visual merchandising of the store, something I actually quite enjoy. It’s just a giant logic puzzle, with a splash of creativity and a dollop of common sense.

It is also nice to be connected to a community of colleagues, something I do miss from the world of work, and I am lucky to work with a great bunch of people who have mostly been there, done that and are now doing this for the same reasons as I am. And working in a shop is easy isn’t it? You can’t take your work home with you, you shut the door and you don’t have to give it another thought until the next time you are in. There is zero stress – other than the few colleagues who are really messy and the odd really horrible customer. My commute is a 5 minute walk down the road. I get to pass on my knowledge to people who are just taking their first steps into adventure, and I get to talk to the kids who come in to get their kit for their Duke of Edinburghs Award. And of course let’s not forget the discount on outdoor gear! That’s a great little bonus!

On the flip side; the pay is pretty terrible, a lot has changed in the last 20 years, the pay rates are not one of those things. Some of the customers are total wankers – no need to be rude to shop assistants people, or think you are better then them because they work in a shop. The work holds no importance, you are just another number working to make someone else rich. 

The good seems to outweigh the bad though and the comfort comes in the knowledge that it’s temporary, and it is my choice to be here.


Talks

A side benefit of working in an outdoor shop is that I got to organise a talk about my adventures. So when I’m not writing about them I am talking about them! 

Along with fellow adventurettes – Jo Bradshaw and Wendy Searle – we delivered 2 sell out nights at the Cotswold store in Salisbury, 60 people per night. I like talking, but I get really nervous beforehand, mostly because of self imposed pressure to make it really good. I think it paid off though, the evenings were a great success. 

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YouTube videos

Well, the videos have been a bit of a weird thing. I never set out with a plan for the videos other than – I would like to take some more video because I enjoyed looking back at the ones I took in Indonesia.

One thing I knew I didn’t want to do was to create another documentary that glorifies the trail and only focusses on the good bits, making it look whimsical and enchanting, with a plinky plonky soundtrack. I don’t do that with my blog and I didn’t want to start doing that with a video.

What ended up happening was it turned into a bit of a video diary. With the lack of companions in the first half the trail, my phone became my friend, someone to talk to, someone to moan at, someone who would listen if I wanted to get something off my chest.

Looking back on the videos I took for the first time once the trail was over – having never reviewed any of the videos on the trail – my first thought was: blimey don’t I moan a lot! No matter how hard I try I will always moan about being too hot or hiking uphill, it’s just the way I am made, I am not an eternal optimist, but I realised that it is easy to talk about stuff when you’re not having such a good time, whip the camera out, have a chat to it, get whatever is bothering you off your chest, feel better, move on. My camera became my friend. When you’re having a great time you are in the moment, enjoying yourself and my first thought isn’t to get the camera out and record.

The videos I have shared are a 10-20 minute snapshot of my 24 hour day. I feel like some people forget that when they are watching! My main reason to share the videos was not to gain a new set of followers, it was to enhance the blog and give the people following my adventures the chance to add more of my personality into what they are reading. I feel l like a lot of people have watched the videos in isolation and therefore aren’t getting the full story, in fact, with taking on so much this time around I feel like neither medium got the complete story across and they have to be consumed in tandem.

And that was a lesson learned. 

Of course the editing of the blog and the videos totally overtook my life when I got back to England. The wifi along the trail was unbelievably terrible – it was better in Indonesia – and I didn’t have a support team of people editing them for me, so when I got home I spent several solid 12 hour days and every spare moment I had working on getting everything edited and uploaded. 

The videos are nowhere near the standard I would have liked them to be, I would have liked to have had some music and I would have liked to have edited them down a bit further and I would have liked to have included some of the more scenic clips with my voice over so you didn’t have to just see my sweaty face bobbing around in front of the camera constantly. I would have also liked to have included some of the photos to give some parts more context, but I just din’t have the time to do it. 

I enjoy watching videos, I am not sure how much enjoyment I get out of creating them. 

After spending so much time, so intensively on the blog and the videos I just wanted a break from it, so I turned off all notifications and forgot about it for a while. 


Social Media 

YouTube is a weird place, that’s where most of the trolls hang out. If I don’t like something I stop watching it, but some people out there feel the need to leave a horrible comment explaining how much they hate what you’ve done. Honestly, I have no idea how all these ‘influencers’ cope with all the negativity and hate they receive. 

Thankfully, 99% of my small audience are absolutely lovely and kind and supportive. I did get one woman, Susan Stoltz, who really didn’t like what I was doing on YouTube. I published one video titled – Appalachian Trail day 29. So. Much. Snot. – which I knew was going to be controversial. Snot is pretty disgusting after all, for those people who know me really well they would be pretty surprised that I filmed a snot rocket as they know just the sound of someone ‘hawking a loogie’ is enough to make me gag, and I get reminded often about that time I was 11 years old and vomited inside my jumper whilst trying to escape from my friend making ‘the snot noise’. But not one to shy away from the realities of a thru-hike, I thought the irony of it would be pretty funny. It made me laugh anyway. 

Susan had this to say: “Why do you think we want to watch you blowing snot out of your nose? So far you’ve shown no joy in your hike…just a lot of dismal and dreary comments. There are other AT and PCT hikers that are happy doing what they are doing. I like watching their videos so much more. Don’t need any more of your snot.”

Fair enough, Susan didn’t like it, but Susan had the opportunity to stop watching. Instead she carried on, and she also carried on leaving comments about how much she hated my videos. 

So I blocked her. Bye Susan! 

I published a video for every day of my hike and they have received between 100-500 views for each one. The one I published titled – Appalachian Trail day 29. So. Much. Snot – has had over 4,800 views. 

Go figure. 

My love hate relationship with social media continues. It is so demanding. It is draining on your mental health and it is such a time waster. But I wouldn’t have stayed in touch with so many friends across the world without it and it often presents opportunities that you would have otherwise heard about. 


Injuries

I have always been lucky and I have never had and serious problems on the trail or after the trail – other than my hips giving me problems but that has been something throughout my whole life and not just related to the trails, if anything all that walking seems to have helped them.

This time is a bit different, the physical recovery has been tough and long. I think I have done some semi-serious damage to my knees, my left one in particular. This was the one that gave me the most trouble while I was on the trail. Three months on it was still giving me a not insignificant amount of discomfort. It has improved a lot since the end of the trail, but even now, nearly 10 months on it is still not 100% right. 

To start with I could barely walk on it and if I sat still from more than 5 minutes it was take a while to get going again. But now, after 6 months of doing absolutely nothing I have been exercising again and trying to regain some of my fitness, and the knees only really hurt when I do lunges, and I have no problem at all in skipping the lunges! 

The whole tripping-over-a-stick-and-getting-my-hiking-pole-ripped-out-of-my-hand incident did me no favours either. I have had ongoing issues with my neck as a result and for about a month I had real trouble sleeping and in the mornings I would hardly be able to move my neck. Thankfully this seems to be improving with time. I have had some massage therapy, but it continues to hurt to raise my arm straight above my head, which shouldn’t be happening. After increasing my exercise a bit the shoulder is really starting to effect my day to day life to the point where I have sought medical advice and tomorrow I am going to the hospital for an X-ray and and ultrasound. Of course I have already Dr Google diagnosed myself with a rotator cuff tear. 

Of course none of these things were helpful with the post-adventure-blues.


Taking a break

It wasn’t until February that I gave myself a proper break and I got myself over to Lanzarote to see my parents. If there is one thing that makes you feel better it’s surrounding yourself with the people who love you unconditionally.

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Food and weight

Every time I come back from a trip I am skinny. I often don’t feel it at the time – which makes me wonder why I am constantly trying to ‘lose weight’, because if I don’t feel skinny when I am skinny then what’s the point? I might as well just be happy as I am. 

Every time I come back from a trip I am determined to stay skinny and not put the weight back on. This never happens. I like eating. I like food. I am also your typical comfort eater. When I am sad I don’t lose my appetite, I eat. And when I am happy I also eat. My belly is very much in a lose-lose situation. 

Thankfully I was able to get my favourite meal cooked for me by my Aunt when I got back  – this is what you call roast beef and all the trimmings.

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Right now I am in a position where I am pretty comfortable with my weight. I am in-between a UK 8-10 (US 4-6) and that’s ok. I am not super skinny but I am ok with that.

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Heartache

Well, the good news is that I didn’t get my heart broken this time around. Didn’t get involved with any dead-end boys and all my friends stuck with me.

That’s progress!

I have never really understood people who cry when a celebrity dies, but in February the world lost Jeremy Hardy and I cried. You are probably saying who?! The News Quiz, a BBC Radio 4 program has been around for years, but I only really discovered it when I began listening to podcasts on my 2015 hike, and it gave me so much comfort, it was nice for me to hear familiar accents and voices, it kept me in touch with home and gave me a weekly dose of what was going on in the real world, delivered with humour and sarcasm. Jeremy Hardy was a regular on the show and he was so funny. I could listen to each episode multiple times and the sound of his unique voice was so comforting. I will miss him.

Some people touch you life in a way they will never realise they have done, and that encourages me to keep putting this stuff out there, because if it helps just one person then it has all been worth it.


A reflection on the Appalachian Trail

Let’s be honest, it wasn’t my favourite trail but I am glad I did it. Even though it was tough and I struggled physically there were so many good bits that made the whole thing worth it. Mostly the people I met along the way, from the amazing trail angels to the random strangers to my little hiking family. And of course, like everything, the not so good bits are already starting to fade.

I will eventually get around to doing a post that compares the two trails as that was by far the most common question I was asked, and the question I liked being asked the least.  People would often ask me which trail I thought was easier and that would frustrate me because if you thing walking every day for 5 month across a country is in any way easy!…

It is like comparing apples and oranges. They are both fruit in the same way that the PCT and AT are both long distance trails. But they have different flavours, different textures and nutritional values.

In general I would absolutely recommend hiking the AT, and one day you never know I might be back to complete part 4 of my NOBO & SOBO triple crown!


Money 

I have to say a MASSIVE thank you to everyone who supported, and is continuing to support me through Patreon, and to all the people who gave a one off donation while I was on the trail, I cannot describe how much I appreciate it.

I never want someone else to pay for my adventures, I work hard and I pay my own way. But having the help to cover the costs of keeping the blog running is really wonderful and relieves some of the pressure of budget that constantly weighs over my head on an adventure.

Sometimes a massive curveball gets thrown your way and one got launched at me in January when my computer broke. It cost me £580 to get it fixed, yep, that’s five hundred and eighty pounds. That’s nearly half the cost of a new computer!

I would like to offer up a cautionary tale to other people – when you buy electronics in another country, it doesn’t matter if they are a massive global brand like Apple, you are not covered if something goes wrong. The problem I had was that the logic board failed (I was 3 months out of warranty) and if I have bought my computer in England that wouldn’t have been problem, I would have been covered by European consumer law, but I bought my computer while I was in Australia and if I had still been in Australia I would have been covered by Australian consumer law (I actually could have got a return flight from the UK to Australia and had it fixed for the same price!). But I was in the UK with and ‘Australian’ computer, so there was nothing I could do, I had to bite the bullet and get it fixed.

That little experience definitely makes me reconsider buying electronic items abroad.


And finally…Whats next?!

The million dollar question! The only thing people want to know!

To be honest it is kind of frustrating when people ask you what’s next on the day you have finished climbing Katahdin, and you haven’t even had time to process the last few months of your life. Lets just take a moment and appreciate this achievement shall we!

But of course there is always another adventure in the back of my mind and the adventure I was thinking about was the CDT of course. The Continental Divide Trail. That would be the natural thing to go on and do… complete the triple crown.

But, plans changed and instead of hiking I have got myself involved in ocean rowing. In January 2020 I will be rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, and a couple of months after that I will be rowing across the Indian Ocean, from Australia to Africa – becoming the first crew EVER to cross the Indian Ocean from continent to continent.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post which will explain more about it!

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And that’s why I haven’t been able to go anywhere or do anything, because this year has been pretty intense already with the lead up to the row. We are working hard on securing sponsors, we have purchased a boat and we have finalised the two crews. It has all been pretty crazy really and when I talk about it I often feel like I am talking about someone else!

But of course I can’t stay still for that long and in August (which is really soon!) I am back off to America to reunite with Catwater and we are going to hike the JMT – John Muir Trail – together! I am sooooooo excited about it.

I have a few friends who are taking on the CDT this year and I have been watching their progress with interest and envy. The tag line for the CDT is ’embrace the brutality’ and they certainly have been doing that this year. The amount of snow out there is brutal. Some people have chosen to quit the trail, some people have skipped around, some people have pushed on through the snow in skis or snowshoes, and some people have been rescued.

Part of me thinks phew, glad I am not out there this year and part of me thinks aw man, what an adventure that would be…

So that was my little life update. It has been an interesting few months, physically, mentally and emotionally. There have been ups and downs but overall I realise how lucky I am to be doing what I do.

 

 

 

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