Post Trail: My Return to Wisconsin

I’ve been home for a week and a half now. The train ride home with Whistle was fun, but once we split up in Chicago where I headed north and she headed south, I was a mess. I felt like I had lost the last piece of my life for the past six months.

My brother picked me up at the train station. The ride on the freeway was fast. Too fast. When I got to the farm where I live, I was shell shocked. I was shell shocked for most of the next day too. People were excited to see me and I was just generally overwhelmed. It’s good to be here though. A week and a half since getting home, I’m comfortable riding in vehicles again and I’ve mostly relearned how doors work. Wearing cotton feels nice and I’m happy to be able to cook in a kitchen again instead of on a camp stove.

I went back to work a day and a half after getting back to Wisconsin and I think that helped me to avoid the dreaded long distance hiker depression that befalls many when they return home. The first few nights back in my own bed I didn’t sleep well at all and found myself rummaging through my stuff in the middle of the night, assembling large piles of things to donate to the Goodwill. Why do I have so many pens? Isn’t one pie pan enough? I don’t even like these water glasses, why do I still have them? Is it necessary to own five decks of cards?

I haven’t unpacked my backpack yet. I can’t bring myself to do that just yet, which is kinda gross because there are things in there that need washing.

I’m able to talk to my hiker friends daily about our shared experience of reintroduction to society. It helps to know that other people get confused at the grocery store too. What am I supposed to eat if not Knorr pasta sides and snickers?! The fresh fruit and vegetables have been one of my favorite parts of coming back. Tree-ripened fruit is always available right here on the farm and I can just walk to the neighbor’s to pick my own fresh veggies.

I miss the trail though. I had a dream about the trail last night. It kept calling me back and I didn’t have much money and kept protesting that I couldn’t make it if I returned. I miss the views and the peace and the walking and my friends. Yesterday I walked back home from the bank. It’s just three miles, but it felt good. I was very happy.

If you asked my friends and family if I’ve changed, I’m not sure what they would say. I would suspect they don’t see much of a difference. I feel calmer though, more confident and less restricted by constraints like money, distance, possessions and time. I also live more in the moment and don’t sweat the small stuff. I find I get annoyed at others who do sweat the small stuff. You’re in charge of your own happiness. Life is what you make it. Why not make it fun and happy?

When people ask me about my trip, I never really know what to say. “It was phenomenal,” just doesn’t seem to cut it. There’s no way I can do my journey justice. You just had to be there. Another thing people ask me is what my next adventure will be. I’d really like to do more hiking in higher elevations. Maybe go out west and hike the Pacific Crest Trail or spend a winter in Wyoming or go overseas. The truth is my next adventure is beginning much sooner than I anticipated and it’ll be another life changing event. I’ll share the details later.

The best thing I think I’ve gained from thru hiking the Appalachian Trail is a greater sense of freedom. I’m so incredibly glad that I set out on this journey. The relationships I developed along the way inspired me as much as the nature surrounding me. I feel so blessed and so grateful for each and every day and I’m excited for what life will bring me next.

Post Trail: My Return to Wisconsin

9/16

I did it! All the way from Springer, Georgia, folks!

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The climb was awesome. I left my trekking poles on the side of the trail halfway up because they were just getting in the way during all the boulder scrambling. The morning was rainy but by 10am it had cleared and thankfully we weren’t climbing on slick rocks. I’m still sporting this cold so breathing is hard and I had to take it slow climbing up Maine’s highest peak. 😉

We were above tree line for over two miles and it felt like walking on mars. It was really windy with wind chill in the thirties. As I crossed the tableland, a flat section on the climb, that’s fairly easy, I started to realize what I was actually doing, instead of solely focusing on my foot and hand placement. I am finishing the trip of a lifetime. I’m summitting Katahdin. I’ve been walking toward this one peak for six months. This is it! This is the end!

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After some more steep rock climbing, I got within view of the sign. Carpenter was right in front of me. There were six or seven other thru hikers at the top and they started hooting and hollering. I got to within 15 feet of the sign and started crying tears of joy. It was incredible. I hugged that dirty, old sign and then my hiking partner. We made it!

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We took a bunch of pictures on the top and had a snack and everyone called their moms. “Guess where I am, mama? On top of Katahdin!!”

Oh, what a wonderful world and a wonderful journey. I can’t even really comprehend fully what it all means to me right now. I’m so happy.

The hike down was rough on my knees and I slid down lots of rocks and boulders on my butt. It was strange going down a mountain the same way I came up. First time I’ve done that on the trail. I knew what was coming. And I retrieved my trekking poles. At the bottom we were greeted by other hikers and hiker families. We got a ride to Millinocket from Codewalker’s mom. Now Jabberwocky, Carpenter and I are sharing a hotel room and making plans for getting home.

Thank you readers for reading about my journey and for all the comments. I read every single one and they really helped give me a boost when I was down and needed it. I’ll do some post trail blogging too if you’re interested in keeping up with my reintegration to society.

Wow, just wow.

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9/16

9/15

Got a late start today. We only had to go to birches campsite at the base of Katahdin. We checked in with the rangers. I’m the 438th thru hiker to sign in this year at Baxter State Park. Woo!

Today is beautiful, yesterday was beautiful. It’s too bad we couldn’t summit today. Oh well.

I’m sick. I feel terrible. My head is so stuffy. I have the sniffles. I’m sneezing. My ears are popping. Ugh. I just want to sleep. The walk today wasn’t bad. I just went slow because my balance is off because of my cold. I’m going to bed early tonight.

I hiked with Carpenter, Jabberwocky and Balto, a kid we just met. He’s a goof.

So, tomorrow is the big day. 4000’+ climb up Mount Katahdin where lies the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. 10 miles. 5 up, 5 down. Carpenter and I have been telling thru hikers since Virginia that they get three wishes on top of Katahdin. I better figure out what mine are. I’m also crossing my fingers for fireworks on top. I’d ask you all to cross your fingers too, but I won’t be able to post this until I come off the mountain. Maybe by some miracle my cold will be gone tomorrow. Hey, I could use one of my wishes to get rid of my cold!

9/15

9/14

After saying goodbye to grim, whistle, clever girl and dumptruck, I watched the hiker parade from the sidewalk and lovingly heckled the hikers I knew. The parade was short. The warrior hikers led the ruckus, followed by music and local organizations and emergency vehicles.

I got a ride to Abol bridge from Stinkbug. I waited there for several hours for Carpenter and Jabberwocky. In the meantime I chatted with Hugs, Chipper and Skinny. I ran into Dragginfly who I met in the Shenandoah national park. He summited last month. He’s originally from Maine and is just hanging out for a bit. It was great to see him. I met his sister too. Skyline and his two friends whom I talked with over breakfast in Millinocket showed up to do a little hiking.

Carpenter and Jabberwocky showed up in the middle of the afternoon. Reunited! They vented about the 100 mile wilderness and how wet and boggy it was. I was in town while it was raining. Lucky me. We camped at Abol Pines campground and had a great night catching up. Oh, saw Codewalker too!

I’m getting a cold. I think I got it from Whistle or maybe it’s the stress of the end of the trail or too much time in town. I started the trail sick, might as well end it sick too.

9/14

9/13

Typical zero day. Laid around watching movies with Shakespeare, then wandered into town early afternoon to see what was going on. Walking into town a thru hiker named Stinkbug picked us up. Then we hung out at the Appalachian Trail Cafe for a bit where I ran into Wanderlust. I hadn’t seen him since Harper’s Ferry.

Our stomachs said it was lunch time so Shakespeare and I went to Angelo’s pizza and got a spicy chicken pizza. Mother Theresa and crew showed up. Later we visited the outfitter and then went to the bar with Headstand and his parents and girlfriend. Grim, Whistle, Clever Girl and Dumptruck met me there and hikers just started pouring in. I congratulated my friends on their completion of the trail and looked at their pictures. It made me all teary-eyed. I’m so proud of them and so happy for them.

I got some food at the hiker feed and then went back to the hotel room to sleep. I wanna get back on the trail. I might see Carpenter tomorrow.

9/13

9/12

I got a ride into Millinocket this morning from a life long resident. He’s lived here about 70 years. It was a 19 mile ride into town. On trail we talk about trail life and real life, but this man told me that trail life is real life and after I get off trail I’ll be going back to artificial things, an artificial world. So, I’ve been thinking about that all day. I think he’s right. Off trail there are so many distractions and we make up all sorts of systems and rules to govern our actions and keep us from focusing on what really matters. On trail we just look out for each other to make sure we’re all safe and happy and we enjoy the beauty of the natural world and appreciate simple pleasures like laying down to sleep at night. Not that those things don’t happen off trail too…. It’s just complicated by worries and expectations.

Enough of that. Today I got breakfast at Ruthie’s which is also where I’m staying. Good food cheap. I washed my clothes in the sink and walked down to the IGA for some food. I also looked into how I’m getting home. Not sure what I’ll do yet. I have to talk to my friends and see if we can work some stuff out.

Shakespeare called the hotel looking for me and a place to stay so I let him share my room and we watched tv and talked and laughed and carried on like thru hikers.

Trails End festival starts tomorrow, so I’ll probably walk around town and see what’s going on. It rained a lot today and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow. I’m glad I’m not summitting on a rainy day. Weather should be good Saturday, Sunday and only a 30% chance of rain Monday.

9/12

9/11

Woke up at rainbow dam after only a little bit of rain over night, cooked coffee, ate breakfast and headed out. The fog was receding over the lake as we packed up and all morning as I hiked I heard loons crying, even heard them in the middle of the night.

After eleven something miles we came to abol bridge where there was a restaurant. I ate way too much and shot the bull with java and Rob. Now we’re at the campsite across the road. I met mama goose and grape and Popeye. We talked with skyline and went swimming in the Penobscot river. Mostly logging trucks roll by on the road here and there is no phone at the restaurant/store. We had some thunder and rain but it blew over pretty fast. I had a great time hiking today and hanging out with fellow hikers.

Tomorrow I’m headed into Millinocket to wait for Carpenter to catch up and to celebrate with grim, whistle, clever girl and dump truck when they finish the day after tomorrow. The night is warm, the day was muggy. I thought I was in Maine?

Life is good. Now I’m laying in my hammock listening to hikers joke and laugh in the distance around a fire. I’m so glad I hiked this trail and met so many wonderful people.

At the rainbow ledges we saw Katahdin again. I could barely cover it with my hand it was so close. It was ensconced in clouds and I knew hikers were summitting as I gazed upon it. How did I get this far? Off to bed.

9/11