At first being home was pretty strange, however i’ll be honest and say that making the transition from trail life back to so called “normal” hasn’t been as difficult as I expected it to be. I’m going to outline a few of the things that have been challenging for me and offer a few ideas that have been helpful and therefore hopefully help people going through some of the same struggles.
1) – Adjusting back to my old diet
Adjusting back to my old eating habits has been pretty difficult. Before the hike and for the past two to three years I have been eating a mostly Paleo diet. The benefits of this kind of diet are huge and I’ve had great results, it’s definitely something I plan on talking about in a later blog post. For more informatio on the Paleo lifestyle, check out Marks Daily Apple, an excellent Primal/Paleo resource, I also highly recommend his book The Primal Blueprint. Out on the trail however I was eating FAR from paleo, it was probably the worst nutrition I’ve ever had in any six month period. I made an assessment pretty quickly that there was no way I could eat Paleo on the trail, not enough calories, too heavy and too expensive. Therefore I settled into a rhythm of eating the staples of the thru-hiker diet, pop tarts, ramen noodles and the like. I was surprised that my body handled the huge influx of carbs and sugar as well as it did and I think there are two main factors at play. The first being, I was always hungry and my body would just process everything I ate. The second being, hiker foods are high in carbohydrates and sugars which although is unhealthy for the body in the long term, they are fairly easily processed by the body and turned into energy.
The bigger problem I’ve had is adjusting back to my normal way of eating upon returning home, sounds counterintuitive right? I think it makes sense if you take a second to analyse it. For over six months my body has been processing simple carbs and sugars into energy all day, every day. That fuel is what my body has come to expect and crave, sugar has a very vicious cycle of peaks and crashes and any hiker will admit hitting a slump in energy and cramming a snickers bar to get them up that last hill of the day. However at home I’m now eating lean protein, fresh vegetables and fruit and very little carbs, sugars and processed foods. My body is screaming at me “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GIVE ME SUGAR!!!”. No, sorry dude, you’ve had enough, your cut off. Now im eating in a Paleo manner again my body has to work harder to process the more complex and nutrient rich foods which has resulted in stomach pains, irregular bowel movements (haha “the poops”) and on one occasion in the middle of the night, vomiting (which sucked). Now though, after a week or so of being home I’m doing a lot better. I don’t have the cravings for sweets anymore, my energy levels are more consistent throughout the day and damn it feels good to eat an omelette!
2) – Missing your AT family
It’s been said that the people you’ll meet on the Appalachian Trail are what makes the trail, the trail. The phrase “Trail Family” is often used, “friends for life” they say. Well, let me tell you, it couldn’t be more accurate! I wanted to set off on this adventure alone, I wanted to take advantage of the perks of being a solo traveller. I didn’t want the added pressure of dealing with a friend from home, knowing that if they had issues it could seriously affect my chances of success. Travelling alone gives you one other advantage, you’re more approachable and it’s often easier to drum up conversations with strangers when it’s just you. That being said I was lucky enough to meet three people on my trip that would become my trail family. At the Hiker Hostel near Springer Mountain (which I highly recommend) on the night of the fourth of March I met Blade and Click, about two months into the hike Cheesebeard wandered into the group. The four of us formed a tight bond and we eventually summited Katahdin on the fifteenth of September. There were of course many highs and lows within the group, tempers frayed now and again and we spent some time apart throughout the period. However I think I speak for the group when I say, some of the experiences we shared together in such a tight knit group will live on in my memory forever as the best of days. Without those men by my side I doubt I would have made it. Throw into the mix another twenty to fifty people who significantly impacted my trip and became true friends and you have a social mixing pot that is the Appalachian Trail. Then, after six months, you go home, and those people are gone…
My technique for dealing with this has been to stay in touch with that core group via social media, we are going to do a Skype reunion (drinking beer and looking at photographs) and I know full well I will be seeing these guys again in the near-ish future, absolutely friends forever. Having a core group in your home town is also key, without the support of my girlfriend, friends and family at home this transition would be even harder.
3) – The pace of life in the “real world”, motivation and staying busy.
In the woods you adjust to doing what you want, when you want for five to seven months. Sure, you have to have some self imposed deadlines such as “Eighteen miles today” but other than that you pretty much have no time schedule to stick to. The day after I arrived back home in Helsinki I took the Metro downtown to get my haircut and go to lunch with a friend. As i made the short walk to the Metro station I got a little overwhelmed, the people, cars, trams and bicycles were all moving so fast, everyone seemed in such a hurry. Of course to them it was just a normal everyday, “I’m on my way to work” kind of speed but to me it seemed chaotic. The pace of life is just so different, we make so many commitments in everyday life that often each day goes by in a blur with the feeling of not having accomplished as much as we would like.
I like to consider myself a pretty productive person and now i’ve slowly eased back into that way of life but it definitely wasn’t easy at first. In our day to day lives we have to deal with the constant “chatter”, the monkey mind that says “think this”, “do this”, “why is this person looking at me weird”. On the trail you can let all that stuff just flow, so much so that I found myself losing myself in my own mind and forgetting that I actually existed for a few seconds which was an amazing experience.
It’s common knowledge in the thru-hiking community that after a long distance thru hike it’s normal to come home and get the post trip blues. Think about it, everything you have been striving for over the past six months is over, you’ve been living a life so different from most peoples normal reality, you’ve created a trail family that you may never see again and certainly not in the same scenario. Everything is different and your mind and body knows this and doesn’t appreciate it, it doesn’t like change.
The key in my opinion is to stay motivated and stay busy, boredom is the enemy. Im making a conscious effort to set daily goals and work at achieving them. Some of these include working on the Blog and Youtube, health and fitness goals, spending time with the lady and friends, oh and getting a job. By staying busy I keep myself distracted from the feelings of withdrawal, that combined with some daily meditation to process the past six months seems to be really working well, sure I miss the boys and many elements of the trail but i’m moving forward one day at a time.
Here are a few videos I’ve been working on, thanks for taking the time to read this, you rock.