On Thursday, September 12th, I finally summited Katahdin and finished my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. It wasn’t until near the end that I came to the realization of just how far I had travelled and how difficult it was, but I definitely feel a massive sense of achievement. I celebrated by getting a hotel room all to myself and lying in a soft bed watching TV all day, which is something I had been dreaming about on every rainy day for weeks. Right now I’m in New York City taking a post-trail “vacation” and visiting friends, then on Monday I’ll head down to Virginia to stay at my mom’s house and start applying for jobs. I managed to impress myself by finishing under-budget, one of the biggest challenges the trail presents, which has given me some extra leeway to enjoy myself.
In reflecting on my experience, I’ve realized that the trail helped me grow a lot. For one thing, it’s basically impossible to spend all day every day just walking and thinking for months without addressing a great deal of trauma and figuring out how to fix some shit in your life. The trail also presents an array of challenges, from the physical to the emotional to the logistical to the budgetary to problem solving to the commitment of taking on a long, arduous task and completing it. I never much worried about finishing because I tend to be a very determined and strong-willed person – I always finish what I start one way or another. However, it very much tested my skills in planning and dealing with logistics, and especially quick decision-making – something I’ve always struggled with. I’m hoping that those skills and all of the things I learned about myself stick with me as I ease back into everyday life.
I realized that a lot of the time on trail when confronted with something beautiful I would start thinking “ain’t God great.” This was ironic because I don’t really believe in God per-se. Instead, I see the idea of God as a metaphor for a lot of things. In this case, it’s a metaphor for the idea of the world – like “isn’t this place beautiful”. Also ironically, I tend to believe that the world is actually just a sort-of bad place. I’m not much of a pessimist, and I’m actually usually an optimist, but that just happens to be my view of the world as a whole. I don’t think it’s particularly tragic, that just seems to be the way that it is. What I do to keep that from weighing on me is look for those “ain’t God great” moments, the one where everything feels perfect and you’re reminded that even if the world is a bad place at least this one thing or this one moment is good. I find more of those moments in nature than anywhere else, which is a large part of why I’m so drawn to it. Part of my motivation for this trip was to find more of those moments, and I was not disappointed.
Probably my favorite part of my thru-hike was getting to spend months simply immersed in the woods and mountains. It’s still true that nowhere has really felt like home to me the way that the Appalachian Mountains do. It allowed me to reconnect with a part of myself that I mostly suppressed living in the city for so long. While I’m not quite ready to move back to the mountains yet, it was important for me to remember how connected to them I am. It was also a great way to almost cleanse myself of big-city life for a little while and remember than plenty of the things I thought of as essential actually aren’t necessary at all.
I’ll be leaving New York on Sunday night to head down to Virginia and continue recuperating while looking for jobs. I don’t want to move back to NYC but I also don’t want to live in the Shenandoah Valley. Initially I was considering moving back to a rural area, but I think I’m still in a phase of my life where I want to live in a city so I’ve made a list of potential cities and will be looking at job opportunities in all of them. In the meantime, I hope to get a substitute teaching gig in the Valley so I can make a little money while I look for something permanent. It might be a challenging couple of months, but part of why I did this adventure now was because I was ready for a change, and now I have the opportunity to enter a new phase in my life.
Although there were plenty of things that I didn’t like, the good far outweighed the bad on my AT hike. It gave me lots of time to contemplate and heal parts of me that I didn’t even know needed healing and let me head back into the woods for a full five months (and five days). It challenged me to grow and be a better person. And it also just gave me an opportunity to meet new people and see new places in a new way of traveling.